Let me tell you a story

She impressed you. She was professional, articulate, quick to answer, but thoughtful and enthused. That’s why you hired her.

You parade her around the office, introducing her to her new colleagues, welcoming her as the new addition to the family. It’s a flood of new faces. It’s a touch overwhelming but she’s going through the motions anyway.

Eventually you arrive at her cubicle, give her her login credentials, suggest some reading, requisition her a blackberry, drop off some forms she needs to fill out and head back to your office.

She sits down, still smiling, and starts soaking in the atmosphere.


You take it for granted, but the atmosphere feels foreign to her.

She just spent the last 7 years earning her Master’s. She honed her skills in the noisy campus coffee house, armed with an iPhone tethered to her MacBook, surrounded by others doing the same.

Now she finds herself surrounded by drab grey walls, sitting in front of a desktop computer, and telephone with a cord attaching it to the wall.

A cord?

But it’s not just the antiquated nature of her technological surroundings that puzzles her; no, the discomfort is much, much deeper. It’s so quiet – eerily quiet. No one is arguing, in fact no one is even talking. She misses the conversations about the big ideas.

The important conversations.

She listens in as you speak to one of her new colleagues in the cubicle next to her. She is confused by the language you invoke, replete with acronyms and jargon, but what she finds even more confusing is her new colleague’s complete and utter deference to authority.

Did he just surrender?

The entire thing is unnerving.

Yet she tolerates it.

She’s new, her head swirling with the pressure to be liked, to be seen as a good employee, to otherwise make a good impression with her new ‘family’. Her faith, or perhaps more rightly her naiveté, leads her to believe that a larger context will materialize, that eventually her surroundings and her motions will seem less foreign to her.

She is right.

Over time, she slowly learns behaviors from her colleagues and adopts their vernacular. She stops asking so many questions, she goes through the motions, she stops feeling discomfort.

She stops feeling anything at all.

You pass by her in the hall, you smile widely, she mumbles something and keeps walking. You can’t help but wonder what happened to that articulate, thoughtful and enthused person you hired six months ago.

The thought is fleeting, you are too busy to look into it now, you are on your way downstairs to the security desk, you have a new hire starting today.


Ps – if you are looking to step up the open government conversation, I suggest clicking here.

Originally published by Nick Charney at cpsrenewal.ca


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Alycia Piazza

Hmmm – It is hard to say whether or not I agree. So I’m the “she” in this scenario not the hiring manager.

Yes, I think it is easy to get frustrated by the red tape or the turtle’s pace at which things happen, but I also work with a very innovative group who DO have the important conversations. Listen, I may not have the latest technology or the nicest office (to be transparent we may have one of the best offices – lots of sunlight but this space is new and not the one I originally worked in) but I love what I do, the people I work with have not “stopped feeling” and dispite red tape or turtle pace we make things happen. The day I stop feeling – I’m looking for another job. I would make it my responsibility to have a hard conversation with the supervisor – that it isn’t working for me.

Supervisors – if you are hiring enthusiasts and innovators you have to make sure they have space to flourish and grow. Allow them to have a voice – don’t be a naysayer, give them a chance to fail, hear their ideas and offer your expertise as guidance.

Nateria Dickey

I think most of us have faced a similar situation. Really, it is a choice to either conform to your environment or to stay enthused any way you can on this project or that project and make connections with people who are also enthused. Revitalize those that seem to have lost that lust for big ideas and conversations. Make yourself a leader and reinvent the environment. I am not saying it is easy from the bottom level, but giving up is definitely not the answer. I would tell her to hold onto those ideas, join committees, make connections and eventually her wonderful new ideas will have a voice. Here is a book I recommend similar to “Who Moved Your Cheese” it is called “I Moved Your Cheese,” by Deepak Malhotra. Takes about an hour to read and really makes you think about your ability to create your own environment.

Peter Sperry

I believe it was Thomas Edison who said that success was 1 part inspiration and 9 parts perspiration. He went through over 2700 materials to find the right filiment for his first light bulb. I am confident the process of attaching each new piece of thread, wire etc to the electrodes and recording the time it took for it to burn out became mind numbingly boring after the first hour. But it brought light to the world.

The same applies to a great deal of what we do in government. Someone develops a revolutionary idea on how to improve whatwe do or the quality of government. Excitement hits a fever pitch. But now the team has to pitch in with the hard work of making it a actually happen. Big conversations move to researching statutes and regulations, Grand ideas have to be broken down to develop budget justifications and on and on.

Almost all of us would love to skip the dull plodding process of attatching tiny strips of material to electrodes and jump right to the fun deiscussions of how incandesence will change the world. But if we did, who would invent the next light bulb?

Mark Hammer


It took me about 4 years after I entered government to stop feeling like I was an anthropologist, parachuted into Borneo or the Amazon, to observe a tribe that had minimal contact with the rest of civilization. Not that they were “uncivilized”, but boy oh boy was their civilization ever different from what I had known.

I suspect this is a tale that could have been told 100, 80, and 60 years ago, and will be told again 60, 80, 100 years in the future. On a Venn diagram, government, the “real world”, and school have only minimal overlap…sometimes only enough to trick us.

Jay Johnson

It’s an important thing to consider as a lot of new hires will be coming soon to replace the retiring Boomers. If nothing else it’s a great excuse to update and shake-up your workplace.

James E. Evans, MISM, CSM

Hmmm. Let’s play the devils advocate…..

  • Should the hiring official have some responsibility in hiring the wrong person?
  • Shouldn’t the hiring official known (or should have known) what it takes to thrive in the existing work culture?
  • What, if anything, should the hiring official determine as a part of their selection process moving forward?

What do we think will happen to this new employee (@ the security desk) in the next 6 months; if not sooner?

Looking forward to your comments….

Susan Thomas

@James, Hiring in the Federal government is always a gamble. I have hired people that I thought might be high performers who were not. Sometimes you have stealth candidates for positions. People can surprise you, be it good or bad.

Nicholas Charney

Interesting comments, nice to spark a discussion here. I had a number of people reach out to me and tell me that they identified with the story deeply (from the new hire’s perspective).

It was meant to provoke an emotional response, but logically I think the underlying point is we need to do a better job managing our talent and adapting our workforces.

Jenyfer Johnson

I guess when I started working for the govt it was a bit easier transition for me, coming from a govt contractor. I knew a bit more about the culture than someone with no govt experience would. Even so, there was a learning curve, as is for any newcomer to an organization; learning the acronyms, who to see for what, how to get what I needed to do my job and so on. It didn’t get me down or make me feel defeated; it was a challenge and how I got to know people.

Unfortunately my Naval base was hit during the second BRAC round of closures and I transferred to an Air Force base (after 10 years working with the Navy). Talk about a HUGE learning curve! At times it got me down because it was just a different emphasis on certain things but NEVER did I lose my drive to do a good job or look for ways to improve processes or workplace. I think alot has to do with what kind of person you are, do you take things too personally (that aren’t personal) and how self-motivated you may be.

Your job is all about what YOU make it…no one else can make you happy or really motivated but yourself.

Jen Zingalie

WOW! SO true–I feel like maybe you’ve been shadowing me! Although I have promised myself to stay optimistic and to continue to learn and grow. I have decided if things stay “unchanged” I will only stay at most 5 years.

Jen Zingalie

I want to assure I am hard-charging and won’t give up–but the culture of some places IS demeaning and FULL of red tape~~ I try not to believe those things but hard not to when you see it first-hand.