The Government Man has had a busy month so there was a bit of a lull on posting blogs. Today’s tales are again excerpted from my book, Confessions of a Government Man. These little tidbits deal with personality traits and work habits which can drive managers crazy. Do you know people who fit these molds?
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Certain people can’t make a decision or give a straight answer, no matter how simple the issue. One such fellow was an engineer named Mike Lee who was so indecisive that he ultimately earned the contrary nickname of Absolute Lee.
Me – “Do these plans meet code?”
He – “I don’t know. The code was revised in 2003 and it may not be to the current code”
Me – “How high is the building?”
He – “Feet or metrics?”
Me – “Just tell me how many stories?”
He – “There are 13 stories but some are double height so the building has to be considered fewer stories.”
Me – “Well, how many?”
He – “The thirteenth floor was eliminated so whatever number I give you isn’t entirely accurate.”
I once got so frustrated with him that I said, “One last question. What time is it?”
He – “Well that’s a battery clock on the wall but the wall clocks aren’t calibrated so it may not be accurate. I can call the telephone company and get the exact time, by their standards, which may or may not be correct.”
Me – “Can you ever give anyone a straight answer without a qualification or another question? Just tell me what the (bleep) time it is?”
He – “Is there something wrong with your watch? I know a good watchmaker on Canal Street.”
At this point I had enough. “Never mind the time. Just get me the code compliance review. Tell me if this design meets code.”
He – “Do you want GSA code, ANSI or ASHRAE?”
He walked away muttering something like, “What is time anyway, in the overall scheme of life?”
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Another type to drive a manager to drink is someone who has but one task or a single agenda.
With the development of e-mails, everyone got a license to communicate with anyone else, regardless of protocol or the chain of command. Countless times I received urgent calls, emails or visits from people who needed instant resolution of an obscure issue.
I was conducting a very important project meeting when my secretary, Lizzy, entered the room apologetically saying that Mr. Harris (she meant Harrison) was on the phone and he needed to speak to me on an urgent matter. Harrison, known as “The Shark,” received that nickname for his incessant badgering over administrative minutia.
“Please take a message and I’ll get back to him.”
Liz dutifully went back to the office, only to return in two minutes. “Mr. Shark says it’s urgent and he must speak to you immediately.”
“See if Bert (a branch chief) can handle it. Otherwise I’ll get back to him later.”
Two minutes later. “No, he said he must speak to you. It’s very important.”
“OK, OK,” I grunted, while getting up and heading back to my office.
I’m a little unclear as to what happened after that, because the details got lost amidst my ourburst at the Shark, who wanted to know how many people took sensitivity training that month and he had to know it that second. “It’s for the front wing,” muttered the Shark.
“Tell the front wing that the surgeon has his hands in the patient’s guts. Can this wait until the operation is over?”
“I need the information.”
“(Bleep) sensitivity training! It ain’t worth a (bleep) anyway! I’ll have someone call you.”
The last thing I heard before my receiver slammed down was something like, “This is an important repor…….”
I stormed back into the room, apologized for the rude interruption and told Liz who was leaving, “The next time the Shark calls me, don’t even give me the message.”
This incident was followed, as expected, by a memorandum authored by the Shark and signed by his superior, emphasizing the importance of sensitivity training and accurate reporting. As with many of these pet projects, the reports are far more important than the project itself. I trashed the memo.
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In the course of the successful billion dollar Foley Square project various people threw a monkey wrench into the proceedings to cover their own agenda or special interest. Our small business subcontracting is one tenth of one percent below the goal; our monthly report on the use of administrative committees was late; not enough bicycle racks in the plan; what do we do about baby diapering stations; why we bought stone in Canada instead of from a particular representative’s home state; etc.
Perhaps one of the most absurd contradictions of values came the very day of the public announcement of the award of the Foley Square project. I had just returned to my office from the ceremony which was attended by many dignitaries, including Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, New York Mayor David Dinkins and a host of members of Congress. I even had my picture taken with the senator. The autographed photo adorned my office for the duration of my career and continues to be prominently placed in my home office.
Having just been praised by many luminaries for my work as contracting officer on this project, I received a call from one of our in-house administrative titans. I may have had the authority to commit the government to a billion dollars in construction expenses, but my contracting warrant didn’t extend to small purchases, so the purchase order I issued for a $20 subscription to Engineering New-Record was being returned for a counter signature.
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I will post additional book excerpts from time to time. For more information about myself or my book please check out my website, http://www.thegovernmentman.com. For a look inside go Amazon.com.
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