The Coming Of Change – Part II
When I saw the movie Lean On Me with Morgan Freeman playing the legendary principal Joseph Clark, I seriously disliked the man. I found him arrogant, unyielding, and tyrannical. Walking through the hallway with a bullhorn the man was ready to pounce on anyone. It didn’t matter if they wanted to help him in his endeavor to transform his school or not. If people didn’t do exactly as he said or if people did not follow his commands to the letter and expeditiously, he was quick to come down on his faculty, staff, students, parents, and anyone else like a ton of bricks. He responded to each and every situation with an iron fist. He may have transformed Eastside High School, but if I was someone working under his leadership, I know it would have been just a matter of time before we clashed like titans.
At the job, I didn’t realize that when I transferred from my old team to this new one that I would be working directly for a project leader who went to the Joseph Clark school of people management. People in our team were ordered to copy our manager on every email we send and give her a written recap of every meeting we attend and we are not to do anything without her explicit approval. In order to get her approval, we have to fill out documentation that resembles an essay with a six page minimum. More often than not, she would return the documentation unapproved because she felt it needed more detail or that she disagreed with the wording. It was not uncommon for a document to go through three or four revisions and the entire process would take a week. To do the work would’ve taken about four hours.
One of the reasons that I was able to transfer to this position was that the other people on the team did not have all the skills or experience necessary to develop and/or modify Microsoft Access applications. Before I joined, projects were lining up waiting for someone to get them done. Some projects were sitting on the waiting list for as long as two years. When I joined the team I dove into this job with both feet. I got the list of outstanding projects and started knocking them down like dominoes. Often I found that the original program’s design overly complex and screen designs too convoluted to allow a user to intuitively figure out how to use the application. I could redesign an application in the time allotted for a modification.
Our customers were initially afraid. They hated their original applications, but they knew that they worked. Past experience made their database revisions a hassle. Revisions took way too long to start and then too long to implement with lots of bugs and errors that would need to be eliminated. When I initially made the suggestion to rework an application their eyes would get big with fright as if I told them we’re about to catch a roller coaster to hell. I had to win their trust. I had to show them that business as usual is changing. I would show them plans for the new design. They had their doubts. And with trepidation they gave me their blessings to do what I do best. But once they get the new design and saw how intuitive database applications can be, they trusted me to do my job and recommend changes to make their jobs easier. My word became gold and I had a Midas touch.
Several weeks ago my manager gave me a specific task to do in order to implement a project. This was right before she left the office for a week long conference out of town. I started the project per her instructions, but in her absence I decided to take a different path. When she found out what I did, the berating started. I said no more and I simply refused to cooperate further. I wanted my manager to see that I can be just as hard to get along with. We were going to negotiate. She was not going to dictate. Human resources got involved. Upper management got involved. I dragged our customers into the fray. And after all the dust settled, I had to ask myself was it worth it. A lot of people were upset. I was suddenly in fear that I would be fired. I was called into the director’s office. That’s my manager’s, manager’s, manager. A position just a hair under vice president. And the director was not happy. I received a stern reprimand. Unlike the tantrums from my manager that my team and I had been subjected to, the director remained professional in the manifestation of their pissed off-ness. I would be getting a letter of warning in my personnel record. With the letter on my record I won’t be able to apply for other jobs within the company for a while. Who cares really? I love my job. I thought I had gotten off pretty lightly considering the alternative. I would comply.
But a funny thing happened. The next day my manager was very sweet and very accommodating. She wasn’t on her best behavior with just me, everyone noticed a change. I went back to complying with her instructions, but all of a sudden they weren’t all that important to her anymore. All of my projects that she took away from me were eventually returned. After the reprimand from the director, I made doubly sure to get my manager’s permission for anything I did. With an image of teeth clenched in my head, I would ask for permission for everything from working on certain issues for our customers to going to the men’s room, and to date I have yet to be denied a single request. My documentation is accepted on the first submission with only minor suggestions to its content. It’s as if we have a new understanding.
There’s little doubt upper management put a foot up my ass. I suspect the same thing happened to my manager. For a minute there we looked like Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman on board the USS Alabama fighting for control of a nuclear submarine and each believing that he is in the right and the other person is fully wrong. I appreciate my manager. I know I can’t be successful without my manager’s help. But I’m not a pawn for her to simply walk over. There was a better way of handling this whole affair. And I hope I remember that fact the next time I’m in a similar situation. I feel like I dodged a bullet. Right now, I’m just happy to enjoy the change.