25 May, 2010

The slow march to a better world

So ... Ted E.'s gentle glide into retirement, then.

The Invertebrate came back from his month's leave, still without a solution for dealing with Ted's switch to officially working part-time from next week. Eventually, though, he and our Associate Director put their heads together (or banged them together, if the outcome is anything to go by) to work out how best to fill the temporary half-time position.

The answer was so creatively retarded even I was surprised.

Our AD inherited a personal assistant, whose contract is up for renewal again. They've been here for around two years now, but in our organisation's finest tradition they've been strung along on a series of short-term contacts. The problem now is that there's not really enough work to fill a full-time PA role (alternatively the role just isn't being properly utilised to support other admin functions, but that doesn't appear to have been looked into).

The joint brainwave? Second someone to fill a full-time role that's half-PA/half-Ted. This is based on the presumed existence of a great untapped pool of people within the organisation who have the right combination of skills and a burning desire to take on two thankless half-time roles.  It also means the current PA will probably end up out of a job, as I doubt they'll meet whatever criteria are set for the role (on the other hand, they only have to be as competent as Ted and less personally toxic, and we'd be ahead of the game. Somehow I doubt this is an area they particularly want to work in, however). When Ted - hopefully - retires at the end of the year the hybrid person will then have the opportunity to step into Ted's shoes.

It's a novel solution.

It also poses a couple of problems. Well, rather a lot of them, really. Ted will be working set days a week*, and one of the things we need is someone to cover the days he's not here. The PA side of the role isn't that structured, though, and on the days when there are planning retreats, team leader meetings, workshops to organise or attend there's a good chance we'll just have no-one. Granted, having no-one is generally an improvement on having Ted, but it's not really sustainable on a long-term basis if the rest of us are actually expected to be able to go about our work or take leave.

I'm also fairly confident no thought's been given as to what happens if the hybrid decides they don't want to continue in Ted's footsteps. I know, I know: that's just crazy talk. After all, unless they've come from a particularly hellish, dead-end team, who wouldn't choose to return to their original team after six months being tugged between two quite different roles, extensively mistrained by Ted, and corrected by everyone else?

But this is all still theoretical, anyway. Nothing's been put in motion yet, so when Ted's part-time status kicks in next week there won't be anyone to cover those extra days. In a best-case scenario, filling the role by advertising internally is going take a minimum of four weeks assuming we accept whoever we get^; more likely we're looking at 6-8 weeks.

But wait! There's more!

A similar logic is at work in another team we work closely with, and where we pay the Pet Tech's salary so they can provide support for a number of things we need done. When Pet Tech v1 took up a more senior position in the same team, he was replaced with someone who didn't have the required skill-set, so Pet Tech v1 had to keep supporting his old role on top of his new duties.

This was not a resounding success.

Now Pet Tech v1 has left for another job entirely, most of the work he used to do is no longer covered at all. Not to worry, though, because management have come up with yet another plan that bypasses the need to advertise externally for qualified staff with the right skills. The Redneck Tech has been acting the acting team leader for the last few months, and was due to return to his normal role very soon.  Instead, he's being offered the senior tech role recently held by Pet Tech v1 ... except Redneck Tech doesn't have a programming background, either.

The solution?  My team will pay for training for both tech positions to develop the skills they should already have had when they were appointed to their roles.

Don't get me wrong. I like both Pet Tech v2 and Redneck Tech, and appreciate the quality of their work. Redneck Tech has been a good, responsive acting team leader, and Pet Tech v2 has, in many ways, been far better than his predecessor at getting the non-programming work done quickly and without fuss (and, more importantly, without descending into talk of shifting paradigms and the latest white paper draft).

This place has a strange and frustrating aversion to actually filling roles properly. There's a strange belief that it's somehow cheaper or more efficient to throw existing staff into new roles and hope the gaps in their skills can be covered before things fall apart. It's the same rationale behind The Invertebrate's appointment as team leader: give the job to someone missing most of the critical skills, belatedly realise something important is missing, and then appoint a second person to cover that gap.

* In a purely technical sense only. What he'll actually be doing is turning up to warm a chair between roaming the building to tell people how his semi-retirement's going. When he's not burning up his sick leave balance, that is.

^ Whoever, or whatever. Privately I expect the semi-human denizens of Accounts will use the opportunity to offload one of their under-performing minions on us. Again, though, this may still be a step up from Ted given how low the bar has been set.

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