Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Indirection Misdirection

"Say WHUT now?"
(Image: Wikipedia)

One of the things about office life that has always confounded me is the absolute refusal and/or inability of many, many people to take a direct route.

This morning, I received an email which was sent to me, a few other admins, and a few people I wasn't familiar with. It was in regard to an expense for "John Doe" - how should this be processed?

To the first email, I responded with, essentially, "Good luck/not mine" and went on about my day. To the second email about it (a complaint that nobody ever notes their location when setting things up), I took six seconds of my day and looked up John Doe. Turns out, JD is an employee in IT at our location, corporate headquarters. Admins copied on the initial inquiry? Did not include the admin for IT. Maybe one of the other folks is in that department.

But the point is, this is a person IN OUR BUILDING. This is a person, clearly, with functioning email and possibly even a telephone of some sort. Maybe they even use our instant messaging function! (I took *four* seconds and checked. He does. And users' telephone numbers are imbedded in IM; all you have to do to call them is type their name in and hit the green phone icon.)

I've been a secretary for thirty-plus years now. It's in my nature to shorten routes as much as possible. It's ABSOLUTELY part of my job to be a guide for others to do that too - I make it my business, and it is my bread and butter, to know to-whom-to-go-for-what. Playing Julie McCoy Your Cruise Director is an important function I fill, and I enjoy it most of the time. I especially enjoy assisting my own team when they need to find where they need to go.

So perhaps I am uncharitable for being confused. Perhaps I miss some important part of another person's process when I field their questions. It is possible I'm uncharitable when I think to myself it's just another a LMGTFY moment.

I was about to link that acronym, but you can look it up if you do not know it. It may cause you to blush, or it may give you a smile. (My intent would be the latter, of course, dear readers.)

So my second response, to the second email, was to look up John Doe, screenshot his deets, and cut-and-paste them into an email reply, asking, "Have you tried to contact him?"

It is not for nothing, ladies and germs, I often say I am passive-aggressive for a living. The key to doing it right is to perform the passive-aggression for all the world as if you could not imagine all the world is not smarter than yourself - as if surely there must be some *reason* NOT to take a direct route - while pointing out the direct route.

It's the opposite of the old "My locker door is stuck." "Oh, did you jiggle it?" scenario - where everyone in school in succession asks - and usually tries - to jiggle the catch. Instead of trying at all, when confronted with something we don't know, we just ask someone we think does know.

Let it be said: with basically a *generation* of experience in my job, I don't hate it that people think I am so good that they come to me with All the Questions. It reinforces how good they think I am, when I get 'em there. It reinforces my own confidence, too.

More often than not, my own kids tend to come at me with things that are easy for me, but which are not inherently obvious. There may BE a direct route, but it was not marked. Like the guy who called me this week asking how to extract a receipt from our travel tool. (You can't; our travel agency emails receipts, and email is not where they're used to looking, so they don't. Easy question, maybe - but only if you know that.)

The thing about going to people you know instead of asking the person whose expense is at issue is - this is SOP for every office in every industry I've ever worked in. There is a worship of PROCESS in play, that overrides even the most basic intellect, no matter who walks in the door of an office building. Because process itself can be so confounding, people self-confound, and forget how to get from point A to point B almost prophylactically. Because there are so many things that work indirectly, people don't even look at anything directly anymore - they just ask the admin.

A friend of mine and I often laugh about the years we spent in a department together, before the big changes of 2008. We were in a regulated industry, and we were used to PROCESS (and even prossa-SEEZ, but that's another rant for another day). She and I still get a grin out of That One Guy we worked with.

That One Guy called me one day - he worked at the suburban location, I was downtown, literally in the executive suite. "Diane, what's the process for me to get a box?"

The idea of walking into the copy room and removing a few reams out of a paper box and taking that box was inconceivable.

We are so hemmed in we call the admin downtown to help us find the special requisition form or online widget just to get a box.

But there is more to it than that. PROCESS is one part of the issue, but hierarchy also plays in: people sometimes do not take a direct route because the relevant personage is significantly higher in an org chart than they are.

Direct routes aren't always practical or career-enhancing.

This is where being Just a Secretary is oddly helpful; we're off to one side on the org chart: but we can pretty much knock on any door we like. I will go direct to most any executive any time, and am both allowed and justified to do so.

Is there a problem with one of our drivers somewhere out in the field? Is the Transportation Manager not available? Diane Major goes to the Vice President of Operations, and nobody ever blinks. Is my boss (a Senior Vice President) in a meeting? I can open his door and pop my head in, when even directors and management will hesitate, even when they have urgent issues. I'm not into pestering the CEO, but my boss's boss? He likes me, and I can get in front of him easy as pie when need arises.

So I *understand*. I get why we have lost the thread and become a web. I don't even condemn this, not in itself. PROCESS develops because one too many nits went off and did something unexpected, and they did it with a purchasing card, or the company name on their vehicle, or they just did it wrong. PROCESS isn't a bad thing; and even hierarchy has its place ...

But I still don't get the John Doe question.


Lilac Shoshani said...

I googled LMGTFY... It gave me a smile... :-)

DLM said...

One of my best friends, whom I refer to on the blog from time to time as Cute Shoes, had to Google it too. She and I had a great laugh about that!