Saturday, March 20, 2010

Office theory

A few observations about office dynamics.

A nonfunctional or bad worker is a net negative, not a net zero, but a negative, a drain on office energy and efficiency and morale and spirit. Almost anyone who has worked in an office situation knows this routine. The nonfunctional person—slacker, malevolent, incompentent, attitude-negative, or simply cluless—is a pebble in the gearbox. We all know the person at whose desk the workflow grinds to a halt, and the unending frustration of trying to either induce the slacker to act or else racking one's brain to try to find a way around the roadblock. The consistent rude response to any question. Not only must the efficient people do their difficult jobs, but they are forced to expend time and energy on the frustrating task of devising workarounds to move work past this inert—or worse—roadblock.

The #2 person almost always does more work than the #1 person. This observation comes from a capable and innovative water systems chief engineer (the #2 person) who was much busier than his attention-seeking (and to my mind, clueless) water system manager. In any organizations, large and small, public and private, such is the case. The hard-working, compliant, behind-the-scenes person makes it happen, while the boss enjoys the accolades and marvels at his/her own efficiency.

It's not how capable you are, but rather how you present yourself. Persons blessed with a strong, self-confident, seemingly knowledgeable presence (the "baffle them with bulls--t" type) will always trump the competent nebbish-like grind. Knowing your business, is not nearly as important, appearing to be capable and in charge. Case in point: the business assistant for a user laboratory had a confident, easy-to-get-along-with demeanor, but had raised slacking to an art form. She arrives for work every day a half-hour late, and left for home 1.5 hours early. (Ostensibly, she worked through lunch, but according to my Aggie math, even with a working lunch, that is still 7 hours.) Said business assistant did not even know how to open Excel. Unbeknownst to her supervisor, I gave her a few basic pointers in the use of Microsoft Excel. Later, her supervisor exclaimed to me how impressed she was when this employee wowed her with the versatility of Excel. Diplomacy kept me from revealing the size theworker's tiny skill set and the fact that even that much was due to my instruction.

On the backs of others. The corollary to the self-confident slacker is that the fact that the more these people shirk and allow the workload to fall on others, the more efficient they appear to their supervisors. You know the type: the person who lets everything slide, confident in the knowledge that some conscientious grind will swoop in at the last minute and frantically get it all done, while the slacker soaks up the props.