I wrote an article in December 2013 which was kind of vaguely about new year resolutions. As per tradition, I’m back two years and seven months later (?!) to try and assess how I did.

Be less like my father
I may have made some small steps on this. At least I’ve left my wife before getting a girlfriend – the other way around to how he did it. And I’ve not alienated my offspring yet either. Oh and I don’t have a bullshit consulting company of which I am the only employee.

Fix my relationship
Whoops! See above. In fairness we tried, did counselling, but could only agree that separation might help. It did – we get along much better now we’re living apart.

I mentioned the kid before – he is handling it well although he doesn’t ask about it much and either doesn’t really understand what mom and dad living in separate homes means or is internalizing it for future analysis/heartache.

Get a doctor’s finger up my ass
I never did this, but my current feeling is that my low libido was near enough 100% attributable to relationship issues. I at least played a (very small) part in bringing libido-related medical issues into the spotlight.

Organize myself better at work
I wish I could remember exactly what level my work organization was at when I wrote the original article. I’m still not happy in this area though, which is the important thing. My company is not very advanced with useful technologies plus we still have cultural problems that haven’t been addressed.

I should probably do a recounting of how things are at some point.

Get therapy
As noted, I’d already committed to this when I wrote previously. I’m not sure it helped me that much. Maybe I picked up a few things without realizing it. There was certainly no revolution in my thinking as a result of therapy.

Take more prescription drugs
Score! However, earlier this year I decided the drugs were not doing enough for me. I should have consulted my doctor, which would presumably have led to trying out another drug (as I was already on the maximum dosage of what I had) but instead I slowly came off the drugs and that was that.

I don’t know if my judgment was sound, but clearly I should have taken advice. I’m okay though – mood swings and anger management issues are just a part of life, right? I’m getting fewer anger issues now that I’ve cut out trigger activities (gaming).

Exercise more
I’ve definitely improved this, and leaving my wife has allowed me to modify my routine in ways which make exercise hard to avoid. Exercise really does make a good start to any day, just for the sense of achievement it gives.

Generally fix myself
While I may not have demonstrated it here, my mission to be nice to people is progressing. I love helping people at work, although I have days (don’t we all?) when it feels like I can never do enough and people take advantage of my need to be useful.

And in the world of online dating I’ve also tried to be nice, even when those I speak to don’t seem that interested in me or when they want what I’m not prepared to give, I try to keep up a friendly conversation and understand their motives.

Read more
I’ve had no time for fiction and I’m still struggling to keep up with online reading. Having given up gaming I’ve found more time and have started reading self-help books, but I admit it’s a discipline I struggle with. I have a few books lined up though, and maybe will come back around to fiction in time.

Write more
Another whoops, although this is not the only place I’ve been writing. This is, however, the only place I share candid stuff like this.

Finish watching “Angel”
Unsurprisingly I did that, and am currently on another round of it. Shortly before leaving my wife I actually gave up television, so now only watch DVDs (on a monitor – I don’t even own a TV) and I tend not to get into new stuff although I’ve purchased a couple of movies this year. I kind of miss the programs I was following but I also realize that my life is unaffected.

What’s actually a bit sad is how I’m seen as weird for not being interested in TV.

When the BS breaks down… aka My Boss, the Idiot

Picture a management team meeting – my boss plus me and her three other direct reports. We’re looking at a document that’s been handed down from above that we need to act on.

Boss: Now, does everyone understand what [complicated phrase] means?
OMK: I’m not entirely sure.
Boss: [derisively] You’re joking, right?
OMK: No, I’m really not too sure.
Boss: Well, how should I know?

Now that’s a moment to remember.

Dissent or disagreement?

I recently came across this great article about how to disagree with your boss. I realize I’ve been ‘dissenting’ quite a lot recently. As I’ve been focusing on efficiency/productivity (with help from the guys over at Asian Efficiency), I’m more aware than ever of the problems all around me.

I’ve spoken many times to my boss about professional integrity and how it often contradicts how senior management behave. Recently her own very supportive boss (who would fight for his team) was replaced by a disinterested boss (who already has another team) and now she’s afraid to make waves. She’s admitted this herself, and it’s darn frustrating when she passes down senseless decisions that she’s too scared to challenge.

Cut staff to save (no) money
We were given the opportunity to challenge a restructure in our department which would create more high paid managerial staff and fewer ‘worker bees’, move work around, maintain/increase silo working and ’empower’ staff to challenge inefficient working practices. All of this was based on a business case that basically said “this will make us a better service” with nothing to support such a bold statement.

Of course I put forward a challenge making my dissent quite clear. That probably didn’t help my relationship with my boss, who was a key contributor to the business case. My proposals to tweak the restructure to address some of the issues highlighted above were ‘carefully considered’ (but never discussed with me) before being rejected almost in their entirety.

Despite losing quite a few staff, due to poor cost modelling it turns out that no saving has been made…

Time-saving ideas
Following the ’empowering’ element of the restructure, and driven by necessity due to losing staff, we’ve cut down on what we do in my team. We used to do a lot of checking of various things because every once in a while we would prevent something bad from happening. We’ve now recognized the risk as minimal and abandoned that kind of checking.

Bring on the auditors, and a draft report that says we need to do more to reduce risk. With my tongue slightly in my cheek I suggested the wording should be “completely eliminate risk”, thinking they might see some sense, but instead they used the revised wording in their final report! Having been an auditor I know that low risk is fine. *Sigh*

People just aren’t seeing how much time they waste. The other day there was a whole conversation about how something might go wrong with a particular thing and could someone check this, check that etc. In not so many words I asked them not to bother me until there was actually a problem, at which point it would be worth my time. I also pointed out how someone appeared to have spent a fair bit of time looking for possible problems when it would have taken little more than a minute (by running a program) to hit any actual problems… or not.

Generally, time-saving ideas are going over people’s heads, as the rest of this article perhaps demonstrates.

The selling game
Management has invested in a sales training ‘game’. The company selling it has great reviews and it sounds like it really works for sales teams. Did I mention that our department is not a sales team? We’re back office support to internal ‘customers’. We don’t sell our services.

My suggestion that there may be more useful ways for us to spend our time has been taken rather personally by my boss, even though it wasn’t her idea and she is also not convinced that it will be of any use. She basically can’t handle dissent, because she’s paralysed by fear for her job.

Administrative nightmares
As if we don’t have enough actual work to do, HR decided that line managers must record sickness as soon as an employee calls in, rather than them logging it when they return. It’s a (daily) task that isn’t that onerous I admit, but add it to all the other tasks like this that are not part of our productive output and you can lose a lot of productive time.

At the same time as telling me I must comply with this decision, my boss is chasing me for an overdue report. “Lucky no one’s off sick today,” I commented.

What do you do all day?
Department managers were recently asked to report what they and their teams actually do, including time allocations. My first attempt at this was rejected because I included general management/supervision and administration time for myself and my deputy and they “didn’t like it”. Fortunately there’s been no further feedback after a number of weeks, probably because the people tasked with reviewing the data have no understanding of the tasks I’ve listed, making this yet another waste of productive time.

Information technology fail
Me and the IT department have a difficult relationship. It doesn’t help that they seem to employ helpdesk staff straight out of kindergarten. I’ve developed a few in-house solutions that my team support, and we also support some of the purchased solutions. Obviously we rely on the overall IT infrastructure and the administrator rights that only IT possess.

So when the infrastructure fails, we experience a knock-on demand for our support service. And while I don’t technically have permission to email all users, I know a workaround. Having experienced previously the reluctance of IT and subsequent delay in sending out a message on behalf of my team, I took matters into my own hands and got an email out quickly to provide advice for users before they all started calling for help, saving everyone time (including IT as users often call them in error) and allowing us all to be more productive/efficient.

As you might have guessed by now, my actions did not result in praise for my initiative and quick action. Instead I was confronted (or rather my boss was) with an angry email from IT management. Strange, as I’d resisted the urge to start my global email with “So, IT have f*cked up again…”

Meanwhile, IT are keeping quiet about the fact that the network is not up to speed and getting calls from exasperated users like me when they could easily issue a global email that would reduce the demand on the helpdesk. My boss is too scared to respond to the criticism from IT, and again takes my dissent as a personal disagreement with her and doesn’t recognize the effects on productivity.

Isn’t depression funny? (Part 1)

“The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin” is a British TV sitcom written by David Nobbs (based on his book) and starring Leonard Rossiter as Reggie Perrin. At 46, Reggie is bored with his everyday suburban life and work to the point that he starts sabotaging himself before faking his suicide with the intention of starting a new life.


Reggie, while making me laugh outwardly, leaves me with a sense of unease at the proximity of his circumstances (and their mundanity) to my own. Reggie essentially rebels – he becomes brash and brazen, even sparking an affair with his secretary which he cannot consummate through guilt. All of this spurs him on to fake his suicide. But starting a whole new life just makes him yearn for his old life.

By his various actions it is evident to that Reggie is battling with his mental health. This isn’t tackled directly in the TV show. The (first) book is much darker than the TV version: while not spelt out, Reggie’s depression is much more evident in my opinion. The book is less humorous because of it. The book even delves into other characters; mainly Reggie’s plump married daughter (Linda) who is lusted after by her Uncle (Jimmy – Reggie’s brother-in-law). Linda is disgusted by Jimmy, yet she allows him to have sex with her several times. He apologizes every time and every time she says it mustn’t happen again. Both are in unfulfilling relationships, both clearly acting out of depression. The darkness and desperation evident in the lives of Linda and Jimmy is probably why that part of the story didn’t make it into the TV version.

The TV show gives only brief coverage of Reggie’s attempts to find himself after the fake suicide. The first book goes into more depth, showing us various personas that Reggie tries on. He settles into a new life as a gardener but before too long he is leaning back towards his old life, realizing how much he misses his wife, Elizabeth. A chain of events leads to him attending his own memorial service as a long lost friend of Reggie’s. In that persona he is introduced to Elizabeth, who appears to fall for the persona but we find out later that she recognizes him (surprise!) and has decided that if he wants to not be Reggie any more it doesn’t matter to her if they can be together.

We are able to continue exploring Reggie’s condition in two subsequent seasons of the TV show (and accompanying books which I’ve not read). He continues to be self-destructive, firstly (season 2) with a business (Grot) selling totally useless/awful items which – against all odds – is a huge success, and then later (season 3) starts a commune which unsurprisingly fails. At the end of season 3, Reggie has no choice but to return to a job very similar to the one he left in season 1, and his realization of this sets him planning another fake(?) suicide.

I often think of one of Reggie’s final scenes. He is commuting to work on a crowded train, saying “Oh God” over and over in a tone of despair. His fellow commuters look at him not with sympathy but with suspicion. Some know his face – some even know his name – but none can bring themselves to offer a kind word or gesture.

No, depression is not funny.

(This post is labelled as “Part 1” to guarantee that there will never be a “Part 2”!)

Handy email tip

…add “Thanks” to your email signature to save time typing it on the end of every email. For best effect, make sure that your email signature is in a different font/size/colour to your default for the email. That way, everybody can see that you just CANNOT BE BOTHERED to add one simple word to the end of your email to convey the slightest sincerity of gratitude for your readers’ attention.

(Sarcasm alert.)

So the CEO is retiring

…and I guess it’s only natural for the CFO to be thinking of his promotion prospects.

Our CFO realises he won’t just slide into the CEO role, so he’s booked himself on a seminar aimed at the wannabe CEO. Now I have no problem with that at all, and if he’d paid for it from his own well-filled pockets I’d never even have known about it. However, the company is paying for it. This is also not necessarily a huge problem – I don’t know everything that goes on and it’s quite possible that this is part of a corporate management training program and the CFO is being developed to move up to the CEO role. Of course, on that basis, the training would be paid from the CEO budget, or even an HR budget. The fact that it has actually been paid from the CFO’s own budget could just be a mistake.

A CEO (and indeed, a CFO) must demonstrate integrity, honesty, professionalism, ethics, and so on. No dirty secrets, please.

It’s not looking good for the CFO.

Performance Reviews: competencies

Book coverI found this article by Professor Samuel Culbert some time ago and ended up buying his book (on which the article is based).

As a manager, I’ve recently had to use HR’s latest attempt at a performance review approach on some of my staff and am preparing for my overdue review with my own manager. This article is me getting out of my system (hopefully) my negativity about the process.

So we have a set of competencies. We’re supposed to show how we’re living up to these at the required level. Let me just say it: it’s a vague bunch of nonsense which for the most part would be next to impossible to objectively agree that I’ve lived up to. So, as Professor Culbert notes in the article and his book, the review is going to be subjective.

Let’s pick out some of the gems and have some fun!

“Create partnerships and an environment where ideas are encouraged and valued, and support for plans is achieved.”

Did I mention that my employer is “Utopia Inc”? This is like a new years’ resolution – made with the best intentions but frequently not achieved due to the fact that this is not an ideal world. Of course I try to encourage ideas but as a middle manager a) not many people below me have good ideas due to their level or even lack of interest and b) senior management don’t have the time or detailed knowledge to assess/action ideas but won’t empower middle managers to drive change directly.

There’s a bigger issue with encouraging ideas though. Unfortunately, an idea often introduces the notion that existing practice is flawed. Try telling your boss that he could run his business better. For that matter, try telling anyone above you how to do his/her job. Prof. Culbert talks in his book about the lack of honest feedback which the performance review fosters.

“Progress business goals while retaining good relationships.”

I find I can do both, but quite often not at the same time. As managers generally do not reinforce (or are not given detailed awareness of) goals and don’t network among themselves, they end up working in silos and diverging away from common goals and end up at odds with one another. Working in such an atmosphere, staff (including the lower managers) cannot progress business goals. The two sides of this statement are therefore often at odds.

I had a case recently where another manager (“A”) decided to change something that he felt would progress a business goal. However, “A” didn’t consult with other managers whose own business goals with the same root were put at risk. Interestingly, some would share in the benefit from the actions of “A”, although in my case there was going to be a cost both monetary and in terms of ongoing staff time. Long story short: I have not retained a good relationship with “A”. (And “A” has thrown the performance review competencies in my face in response to my honest feedback, despite his own contrary behavior – also see next heading.)

“Don’t push decisions through without buy-in.”

The problem with this one is that people just don’t want to buy in, often without any valid reason. They resist change and don’t want their job to get harder (normally because they weren’t doing it right before). Even when you show them a change will make life easier they don’t always buy in. People are swallowed up by fear of the unknown.

Working in finance, decisions often have to be imposed on, rather than agreed with, the rest of the company. Considerable effort is put into accommodating business needs and providing practical solutions to achieve buy-in, but sometimes we all have to bear the pain.

“Listen to others.”

I try, I really do. The problem is, they often talk such crap! Okay, let’s not call it crap. Let’s call it ‘irrelevance’. I seem to be mainly surrounded by people who like the sound of their own voice but don’t really have much of a contribution.

One of my pet hates linked to this is people who interrupt when you are speaking. What I hate even more is that I let them do this. I’ll confess though that I do sometimes interrupt others, linked to them quoting irrelevant information or background you already know.

“There’s a time for talk and a time for action. So you shut up while I walk out!” :O

“Be a role model for staff by demonstrating expected standards.”

What? Well clearly I make every effort to cover that. That’s my subjective opinion anyway. The ‘expected standards’ are what I decide, as it’s not particularly clear what standard the company expects. So I apply my personal standard to be as good as you can without losing your mind (completely).

“Ensure meetings are focused on outcomes.”

I assume this is only for meetings I organize/request, as I don’t think I can be blamed for the focus of meetings called by others. I tend to decline or ask for clarity when a meeting is requested by someone else (unless I’m already fully aware of the issues and agree a meeting would be productive).

Meetings here are normally because you’ve already told someone ‘no’ (and explained why, after considering their argument) and they are hoping that face-to-face they can cajole/bully you into doing what they want.

“Don’t disrespect colleagues.”

This amuses me. It’s all-encompassing, so I can’t even have a disrespectful thought? Also, what is disrespect? It’s not disrespectful to criticise someone if you have valid (although possibly subjective) reasons for doing so. I’d prefer “Criticism should be constructive and delivered tactfully with empathy.” Prof. Culbert reflects this in his book.

“Ensure adequate planning and timely delivery.”

The only reason I fail to plan adequately or deliver on time is because I’m overloaded. If I stop to plan, even more will get delivered late. It’s a noble aim, but requires realism from those setting targets.

“Lead on resolving conflict when necessary.”

Yes, sometimes people need their heads banging together, but I need to do that while retaining good relationships and without disrespecting those involved. Did I mention that people rarely get fired in this place? (That’s why I’m still here.)

“Never say ‘That’s not my job’.”

If I never said that, half the people here would be out of one. I often do things that aren’t my job. People see me as a knowledgeable guy, and I do like to put that knowledge to good use by helping others. But I don’t have time to do all I can – to do so I would risk ‘timely delivery’ of my actual job. I’d prefer something like “Be prepared to go the extra mile”.