Monday, April 18, 2011

As soon as I get on the mic its like the night gets silent © Eminem

Tales of a City Planner – The mid level employee

We have probably all heard the politically incorrect idiom of “too many chiefs and not enough Indians.” Well in government bureaucracies there are a ton of Indians and very few chiefs. Government agencies usually have a glut of mid-level employees. Some of these mid-levelers are very talented, some just happen to be lucky, others have decades of experience and others are still fairly young. But what they all have in common is that they will not chiefs anytime soon. If you are ambitious, it’s like mid-level purgatory.

After being the “new guy” for years, I am now a proud mid-leveler but there are some drawbacks. While I get respect for running and organizing meetings and major planning efforts, I don’t have the power or the bully pulpit to make people make a decision on something. I have to consensus like a mutha’. If I want to get a major planning decision done, I have to get every one to agree on that decision, not half, not the majority but every one. I just can’t totally ignore someone because I think they have a stupid idea. I still have to listen to them and somewhat appease them.

They just have enough power to run their corner but not enough power where they cant listen you and tell you to f*ck off © Lester Freemon from The Wire describing how to talk to mid-level drug dealers.

Case in point, there was a major planning initiative that was being pushed through by several chiefs from my agencies that involved several conflicting parties. Since they were the chiefs they had the bully pulpit to make people listen to them and to steer the ship away from non-productive arguments. Someone makes a stupid comment, chief says we’ll address that later. Someone has a biased viewpoint, chief says lets focus on the mission. Someone disagrees with the overall purpose, chief tells them were moving forward with or without them. The chief gets to make movement and stand against inaction. If the chief makes a comment and is met with silence, that means that you quietly agree and the chief moves forward with that plan.

So what happens when the chief can not make this important planning initiative and sends in a mid-level employee to lead the discussion and move the meeting forward? I’ll tell you what happens, it’s like “I get on the mic its like the night gets silent” © Slim Shady. I got met with the most awkward silence you can have in a crowded room of people. It’s as if they did not appreciate being bullied by the chief and not that the chief’s minion is trying to pull rank, they collectively decided to quietly stare at me while saying nothing. It felt like shouting in a cave because my echo was the only thing that was responding to me. Real quick, if a mid-level planner shouts in a crowded room and no one wants to make a decision, does anyone hear that planner? Fortunately my fellow mid-level planner in the meeting heard the tree fall into the woods but none of the stakeholders heard her either so that was pretty much the end of the meeting.

At the very next meeting, the chief came back and moved the agenda forward with a majority consensus by making the same arguments that my fellow mid-level employee and me had made a week prior.

Eminem - If I get locked up tonight