Monday, January 13, 2014

Re-Post: Office Turnover

One of the great things about a writing a blog, is that you can go back and look at history. History that you would have long since forgotten. While looking back through the archives, I cam across the "Dip Shit" Series...based on the concept of a dip-stick to measure incompetency. This little gem dates from 2005. Thankfully, I no longer work for this organization.

I Am Outta Here

I work in a large organization that has has several departments. The department were I work has a main office and a satellite location. Our main office has about 25 staff and our satellite office to the south has about 10. Both of these offices do the exact same work, but there are subtle differences in the way we get our jobs done. Needless to say, one office does things a little better than the other.

Within our organization, our main office is mostly known for its turnover. We go through about 5 to 6 staff a year. By my calculation, that is about 25% turnover a year. Not a number to be proud of. This is compounded by the fact that the jobs that these people do is extremely complex and high pressure. Back in 2002, the standard was to train new staff for a minimum of 3 months before allowing them to do the job on their own. Because of the high turnover and work coverage issues, the training time frame has been reduced to 3 weeks.

The reasons for the turnover are varied but the main reason has been management's inability to 'manage' the turnover. In the past, when staff left, their work load was spread out among the remaining staff. This is not a good idea when it often times takes 3 months to simply hire a new staff person and another 3 months to train them (the job requires multi-tier interviews and background checks). The end result was that the increased workload on the remaining staff caused a lot of discontent and dissent, which in turn caused more turnover.

After about 5 years of this policy (and between 25 to 125% turnover annually) they finally started figuring out that constantly spreading increased work loads around wasn't a good idea. So the solution was to shorten the training time and throw new staff to the lions with minimal knowledge of the job. Again, not a great way to retain qualified workers.

Today, our most recent hire gave her resignation. She has been here for 2 weeks. She makes the 7th new hire in the last 5 years that has lasted less than 30 days on the job. Where is the dip-shit in all of this? I can't point specific fingers. However, our satellite office to the south turns over about 1 employee every two years. The calculator says that is 1/2% turnover a year. I believe the answers are pretty obvious is someone would just scratch the surface.

In the meantime, I don't even bother to memorize the new workers names until they have been here for at least 6 months.

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.  

Friday, January 3, 2014

My journey with Google Glass (so far)

If you have been following me on social media, you know that I am a Google Glass test dummy.  I was tapped to buy one of the first incarnations of this device from Google out in Venice California back in July of this year.  I actually ponied up the $1500 (plus the air fare out there) to get a set.  

At first, it had a certain gee-whiz factor to it, but I wasn't really sure if spending that much money was really a wise investment.  Although, the Google headquarters in California was pretty damn cool.  Sort of like the coolest garage every built.  

Anyway, I played around with Glass but found it rather limited in a lot of things.  I used it a bit, but not that much.  Often it just sat charging next to my iPhone.  After fiddling with it, the potential of the device started to become apparent.  Every other month or so Google would release an update for the device and I would put it on and there would be a new feature....neato. 

What became apparent with the device was that Google was 'thinking outside the box' with the way they were developing the unit.  Instead of trying to make it a better cellphone or camera like the devices that already existed, they were trying to think up ways of doing things that had never been done before or had not been possible.  

With the latest update that recently became available for the unit I sort of had a 'whoa' moment. They are finally starting to flush this thing out and the potential of having something that is always on right in front of your face, that you don't have to hold is pretty impressive.  It starts to let you see the world differently, sort of like Techno-LSD. 

The recent updates to Glass have included the following applications: 

Vignettes.  Something that seems sort of odd at first, until you really experiment with it.  It allows you to embed a small image of what is displayed in the current Glass display panel you are looking at onto a picture that you take with the camera.  WTF? you say.  What good is that?  Well, quite a lot if you experiment with it.  I have learned from my walks around town that you can interpret anything see with this concept and share it.  Just recently, on my walk back to the office from lunch I was climbing one of the many stairways around Bisbee, Arizona that branch out from Tombstone Canyon Road.  As I walked up, I was reminded of the old Hollywood Musical Number "Building a Stairway to Paradise".  Feeling rather creative, I gave Glass a voice command to take a note to my Evernote application and dictated the phrase "I'm building a stairway to paradise, with a new step every day.".  Once the note was uploaded to my Evernote account, I pulled it up in the Glass Display Panel and then took a picture of the stairway I was on.  I then gave it the command to make a Vignette of the image.  Easy Peasy, Lemon Squezey.  Then I told it to upload it to Facebook.  It is out there to look at on my Facebook photos if you want to look at it.  I did all this without having to use my hands or type anything.  

Word Lens:  Another new feature, this application will translate anything that you see through the Glass camera in real time right in front of you.  So if you see a large sign in front of a Russian Restaurant that you don't have a clue about, you can turn on this feature, look at the sign, and as you are looking the letters will rearrange themselves into English so that it reads "Free Food In Honor of Lenin's Birthday".  The best part being, you don't need an internet connection for this feature.  It works internally through Glass....and it has 5 languages built into it (and yes, Russian is one of them). 

The news, read to you by competent voice actors, not some computer voice.  It is like having someone read you stories form the Wall Street Journal while you are walking or driving.  Stories that you get to select.  Sounds rather simplistic, but it makes that noon time walk to the coffee shop a lot more interesting. 

Stava Run: 
Nothing really earth shattering here.  You don't need Google Glass to use this, it is an application that you can download to your phone.  But Glass extends it, to give you a 'heads up' display of your workout / run / cycle, showing you your elapsed time and split times.  It beats holding your phone in front of you while you run to keep track of pace and distance.  

I could go on and on....

As the new year dawns (2014), there has been a lot of press about the eventual demise of Glass and how the concept can't work.  While there is generally no such thing as 'bad' publicity, the pun-dents that deride Glass as a fade that can't work are really missing the point here.  Glass is still in its gestation phase and has a ways to go before it is ready for wide scale public use.  

The same can be said with the smartphone 10 years.  When it first came out, folks didn't really see the social media implications and the connectivity benefits.  But ask the average person today how to get somewhere or the definition of something, that they whip out their iPhone or Droid without even blinking an eye.  Something no-one thought about doing 10 years ago.  The same can be said of Glass.  It is hard to predict what a new paradigm will foster which is what Glass is doing.  

Whether we like it or not, we are all becoming part of a global network.  Those that live in constant fear of a 'New World Order', or loss of privacy are the same folks that did not want a new fangled telephone installed in the kitchen back in the 1920s because disembodied voices coming out of a box on the wall was the work of 'Satan'.  Society moves on and Glass is one of the components of the future.  There will be others.  They will restructure how we think, communicate and create. Change is inevitable.  If you don't like the change, close the door and turn off your connections to the outside world.  You will stand still while the rest of us move into a future that you will eventually have to catch up to.