PC

5 05 2008

Those of you who fear yet another iteration of the artificial “Mac vs PC” arguments may relax. I have no intention of ever commenting on that issue.

Those of you who fear yet another iteration of the multitudes of rants about “Political Correctness” may begin the mass clenching of sphincters, because that is indeed the subject of this rant.

I say this in all sincerity: Political Correctness is going to get people killed.

Specifically, it is going to get people killed at the place where I work.

Not long ago, a storm savaged the area, destroying a good section of one nearby city and causing minor damage to my building.

I was inside when the storm blew over, and my only warning was the sounds of skylights being destroyed and large objects striking the outer walls. As soon as the sudden, bitter squall had passed, I hastened down to the front desk to make sure the people there were all right. The main entrance to the building is surrounded with large sheets of glass, and I was concerned that the savage winds and hail might have broken the windows and injured someone.

When I arrived, I found the glass was intact, but there was no one manning the desk. I called loudly and finally managed to get the desk crew to emerge from their hiding place in the back office. It turns out that they had heard the local emergency warning loudspeakers outside bellowing a warning about the weather, and had immediately taken cover … without taking the time to warn everyone else in the building via the intercom system.

I asked a few questions and discovered that the desk crew were not aware that passing the word on the intercom for such events was part of their job. OK. No problem. This is an issue that can be fixed with a little bit of training. It wasn’t my place to do so, but- in the interest of self-preservation- I gave the kids at the desk (including the supervisor) a brief lecture on what to do in this sort of emergency. I resolved to address this matter in more detail the next day.

Unfortunately, the next few days had me away from the office, dealing with some problems in another building- which then turned into problems in several buildings and finally a cross-country video-teleconference and a series of nastygrams. In short, I wasn’t able to get back to the problem for several days.

When I finally had the time to write up my observations and list some suggested remedies for the systemic problems on display during the storm, I sent the one-page document to my boss for his review prior to sending it farther up the food chain for action. Remember, I have no direct authority over the front desk personnel- I’m not even in the same department. The recommendations I’d written would have to be forwarded from my boss to our Department Manager, who could send it on to the Big Boss, whereupon it could be delivered, ex cathedra, to the appropriate Department for action.

No big deal, I thought to myself. This is how the system is supposed to work. Someone sees a problem, reports it, and suggests possible remedial action.

With all that floating through my head, I was somewhat surprised to find myself escorted by my boss into the Department Head’s office. I was asked why I was trying to cause trouble. I was asked why I was trying to create more work for the Department. According to my DH, whoever brings up a problem becomes the party responsible for fixing the problem, with daily reports to the HMFIC until the problem is resolved, with all “I”s dotted and “T”s crossed.

I’m an engineer by inclination and training. When I see a problem with the potential for catastrophic failure results, I immediately begin thinking of some effective ways to reduce the probability of calamity. Most of the time, there are a few simple ways to reduce the probability or severity of any potential clusterfuck. In an engineer’s world, those observations and recommendations get communicated to the responsible party, who would then deal with the issue.

Sadly, too few people- especially Managers- are engineers. Remember what the Flight Safety Engineer for the Challenger’s last mission was told by his Manager to “take off your engineer hat and put on your management hat“. That worked out really well, didn’t it?

I don’t give a shrill soprano hoot in Hell about politics. I suck at politics. Politics gets in the way of getting the job done. In this case, the “job” is correcting a couple of policies in another department that might save a few lives.

Despite my concern for the safety of the people working here, I am now informed that I will not report the problem through the usual channels. My boss and my DH do not want to open a can of worms or rock the boat or … fill in lame metaphor here… and get the people in the front offices upset with them. I am told to edit my observations and recommendations to avoid giving offense to the responsible personnel (and their DH- who is closely connected to the HMFIC). My thoroughly watered down suggestions will be informally conveyed to the appropriate DH in the most politically-correct manner possible. I am told that this will get the problem resolved.

More than likely, this will get the problem resolved.

Probably.

Eventually.

If I bypass the normal food chain to report this, I might get fired. If my boss finds out I’ve written about this, I will probably get fired. Politics is very likely to get some people killed- maybe even me. Given that, a basic risk-benefit calculation is required:

What’s the worst thing that could happen if I do nothing? Worst case scenario: several dozen people in this building get killed because they aren’t aware of an avoidable hazard. Probability of this happening: Low.

What’s the worst thing that could happen if I make a stink about this? Worst case scenario: I end up working for Wally World as a door greeter. Since my job involves a security clearance, I could possibly end up sharing a cell with Achmed Ahmabomberguy in Gitmo. Probability of this happening: Low.

Using my handy-dandy Engineer’s Calculatron, that gives me: Scenario 1: High severity, low probability. Call it a category 3. Scenario 2: Moderate-to-high severity, low probability. Call it a category 4 or 5.

One stink, coming up.

UPDATE

Damn! I positively hate politics! Because everybody seems to be in mortal fear of offending the higher-ups with actual facts, I’ve been forced to do an end-run around my boss (who’s normally a good enough guy that I wouldn’t consider doing so). I made a point of quietly interviewing various people who work at the front desk to see if they had a clue. None of them did, although one girl told me that she had been told not to use the intercom- even during an emergency- without the express permission of her supervisor.

Ungood. Doubleplus ungood.

I then talked to the DH for the guy who’s supposed to be in charge of the front desk personnel.  I told him that the training for the front desk crew needed work, and repeated my concerns about their utter failure to warn the rest of the building about the severe weather. I repeated the information that the front desk was not allowed to use the intercom without permission, and asked the very reasonable question, “What if the supervisor isn’t in the building when an emergency arises?”

To his credit, the Services Department Head actually thought it over. He even agreed with me. I’ve sent him my little memo with suggestions for corrective actions, and he has promised to make sure it happens. We’ll see. I also mentioned to him that I was violating policy by going to him directly. In for a penny, in for a pound. I’ll keep informally checking with the front desk to see if anything changes. In the meantime, we’ll see if my boss or DH finds out I went around them.

I fucking hate politics!

Current status: Irked

Current music: Sunday, Bloody Sunday by U2

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4 responses

7 05 2008
butchrobotpope

First I’d like to say that from what I’ve heard, you handled the situation very well and with a hell of a lot more professionalism than your coworkers.

Second I’d like to point out that I know you – when you get worked up, you don’t notice that you’re chewing someone’s head off. (believe me on this, I’ve got a good memory) Could it be that you came across as too steamed in your document?

Finally I gotta say your situation sucks. I don’t think this is worth risking your job over, but I’m not privy to all the facts. There probably is a good way to make sure these fuck ups don’t happen again, but I don’t know that forcing it would do any good. Fucking bureaucracy.

Isn’t there some automatic review of dept/building response to naturally disasters? Isn’t there someone who is supposed to check these things out? WTF?

7 05 2008
archvillain

butchrobotpope– I have a lot fewer hot-button issues than I used to, but one of them is permitting a dangerous situation to exist because it would cause political problems to call attention to it. That particular attitude sets me off like a rocket.

Since I am aware of my propensity for … aggressive … reactions to this sort of thing, I wrote my memo after sitting on the issue for a day to avoid causing unnecessary friction. I’m a lot more interested in fixing the problem than in preserving anyone’s feelings, but yelling and throwing things wouldn’t help my case. I was very restrained in my original write-up.

Your question about the review process is a good one, and one that I asked. The answer to both your questions is, No. This, I think, is why my boss is so nervous about raising this issue- he doesn’t want to get stuck with the job.

I’m currently working on an end-run around the politics in order to get some action. More on that later.

3 06 2008
betme

It is hard for me to fathom how common sense is always asked to take a back seat to company politics. Today my husband was asked to check a couple tanks at Exxon and report back the levels of oil in each. He already had the answer before driving to that sector of the plant as he keeps detailed records.

He radioed in his numbers and asked for an additional 400 gallons in tank “A”. The Control Manager told him they would send a truck over and fill it with 2,400 gallons, not the 400 gallons requested. My husband tried to explain that it is only a 500 gallon tank, but they refused to listen. All because the DH listed the tank at 2,500 gallons. No one dares to question the DH even though my husband is standing right beside the tank.

Even the driver who came out refused to listen. My husband stood there and watched while they overflowed the tank, trying to get 2,400 gallons to fit into a 500 gallon tank. It HAS to fit if the DH says so. Logic, is it a thing of the past?

3 06 2008
archvillain

betme– Logic is not the problem (or the answer). Logically, the DH would be more knowledgeable than your husband, so your husband was clearly incorrect. See what I mean?

I do not know your husband’s DH, but the species is easy to recognize and widely distributed. I suggest building a “stone bucket” for the DH. Precisely and continuously record all such instances of bureaucratic idiocy, especially the names and titles of those involved. Do your best to get the DH to communicate by email. When the fecal matter encounters the atmosphere-oscillation device, empty out the stone bucket and use it to destroy the DH.

BTW, “Stone Bucket” comes from an old folk tale. Every time this one person in the story did something against his neighbors, the act was written on a stone and dropped into the bucket. Once the bucket was full, the perpetrator would receive each stone at high velocity from his outraged neighbors.

Being intelligent is not a felony. But most societies evaluate it as at least a misdemeanor. -RAH

Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded—here and there, now and then—are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.
This is known as “bad luck.”

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