Wednesday, January 8, 2014

They All Fade Away....




Back in the day, when I was a wee lad, I recall the lessons that my parents taught me about doing a good job and that being committed and forthright would pay off in the end.  The long slow conservative road was the best route.  It was the old mid-west pragmatic up-bringing that had worked so well for my forefathers.  My parents were basing these teachings on their past and they assumed that the same axioms would apply to my future.  They sort of missed that target, because they could never have seen the likes of Bernie Maddoff, Enron and government bailouts of miss-managed industry.  Thankfully, they didn't live to see those days. 

Looking back over the long list of employers that I have had, it sort of dawned on me, that none of them exist anymore.  At least not in the way that I knew them, if at all. 

After spending my first 5 years out of college working in the very volatile insurance claims adjusting market, I came to the conclusion that the private sector financial sector (which is what insurance is) was just not stable enough.  They opened and closed field offices based on the slightest change in economic trending.  I needed something more stable, so I thought I would give it a go in the civil sector.  

My first job working for the state was with the Arizona Department of Insurance.  The job was supposed to involve investigating violations of Insurance Statutes and referring prosecution files to the State Attorney General.  What the job actually entailed was doing cronie work for the Division Director who was appointed by the Governor.  In my 7 years at this job, no law breakers were ever prosecuted.  But I did end up interpreting and translating a lot of policy language for friends of the governor whose insurance claims had been (rightfully) denied.  [To see more of the lunacy of this position, see my previous blog entry: Educating Mr. Ruben.]  

I recently met up with one of my old co-workers in the Investigations Division of the Dept. of Insurance and asked him how it was going.  He said it wasn't.  The division was defunct, and the 15 people that were working in it were all gone.  He stayed on as a special investigator with the Corporate Division.  His job descriptions was now to investigate insurance corporations that hadn't paid their premium taxes, but the reality was that he was still doing cronie work.  That whole job just faded away. 

I left that job to find greener pastures at another state agency, specifically the Arizona Supreme Court.  The court is a branch of government that has a lot of agencies that it overseas.  I was in one of those agencies that oversaw the children that are wards of the state (i.e. Foster Care). 

This position held out a lot of promise in the beginning, which quickly faded after a few years. I was hired to help automate the processes in the office.  When I first started there, the volume of paperwork was outrageous.  The goal was to eventually go paperless and be able to statistically track and report on the number of children that were in Foster Care.  That was the goal.  

The reality was, that they had dwindling resources and exploding caseloads, so instead of following my recommendations to work smarter and automate, they placed me on the front lines of producing more paper and ignored my pleas to modify the office processes that would have allowed them to do more work with less resources.  Even though there were mandates from the '4th Floor' which is were Court Administration was based and the Governors office, where the budgets were formulated, they still refused to change.  

I decided to tough it out in this environment because I wanted to get some retirement and follow the lead set by my parents to work hard and hopefully it would pay off in the end.  This was a big mistake.  Sorry Mom & Dad, but you could have never imagined this type of incompetency existing in your lifetime.  Working in an woefully miss-managed office for a prolonged period of time has a cumulative effect on your mind, so much so, that after 15 years I was self medicating just to make it through the day.  It was that bad.  Being forced to run a race in led track shoes day after day does not make you stronger, it just wears you down.  

It got so bad that I was eventually let go for not being a 'team player'.  This was probably due to the fact that I was openly critical of management for driving the standards of the office into the ground, ignoring the needs of Arizona's children and wasting money hand over fist to continue processes that had long gone the way of the do-do bird.  (One example of many: Instead of updating the Office Outlook Calendar, they would print out new calendars every day and distribute the paper copies to staff). 

By the time I hopped skipped and jumped down the hallway for the last time there were 8 or 9 projects that I had been trying to push through for the past 10 years that were effectively done. They were all complete or in the beta testing phase.  

Some of these projects involved paperless office concepts, delivery of information to a huge stakeholder base via a secured website, automated exception reports to show loss of data or failure of staff to input data correctly, electronic scanning of documents which negated the need for a file room and electronic training of a huge volunteer base via the internet via the Divisions web site.  All told, conservatively speaking, a potential cost savings of between $50,000 to $150,000 of your tax dollars)

It has been almost two years since I left that job and I have had contact with one or two of the staff that are still there.  They paint a pretty gloomy picture of the place since I left.  None of the projects that were ready to launch have done so.  In fact, they have all been scraped.  They are back to moving mounds of paper at huge expense to the Arizona taxpayer.  Sad. 

This all hit home when I happened to glance at my old Divisions website the other day.  This is the website that I developed that was designed for online training (volunteers / staff / judges) and distribution of reports to various interested parties (courts / judges / welfare workers).  The site has not been updates since I left.  A few of the pages that contained outdated reports and documentation have been deleted, and the others have been left fallow since me departure.  

Fifteen years of effort wasted due to incompetency and the changing landscape of government. Like Douglas MacArthur, it is like watching and old soldier just fade away.  What once held so much promise will eventually be gone.  Glad I won't be there to see the end.

So my parents didn't see this coming.  If you want to get ahead in this day and age, you need to job hope from one employer to the next to stay ahead of the incompetency curve.  Instead or working hard all your life for a single employer and retiring, you will need to constantly be looking for your next position (realistically you won't want to work for any one for more than 5 years, 2 to 3 years would be average) and saving half of your earning for your retirement.  So your primary job in this day and age is to look for your next job and not focus on your current work. 

I miss the world that my parents grew up in.  It seems so much easier and angelic in retrospect. But like all those fabled visions of our youth, they have all just faded away.