The uncertainty post

I mentioned a couple of (a few?) weeks ago that I’d be posting about the uncertainty in my life these days. Then I went away to When Words Collide and all bets were off. The literary festival was great, but the pace was intense.

So I figured I’d give you this piece before I got on with transcribing session notes from WWC. That will start next weekend.

The uncertainty at work

This is a multi-layered situation.

  1. Massive hiring requiring massive training.
    Last December, a first group of internal hires came through my office to be trained. I trained them, was briefly given an acting assignment (all of three weeks in length), and when I returned to the training team, I was given a special project, and thus largely excused from the burdens of training and/or monitoring the 50 additional internal and new hires that started in January.
    In March, I piloted the training that was the result of the special project and then cofacilitated two sessions of Business Writing to help a colleague achieve her certification (good news there – she got it!).
    As the new fiscal started in April, the second round of training and monitoring began. Once more, I trained the local group and it soon became apparent that while my manager wanted me to continue to work on special projects (three this time), that this would not be possible.
    I dove into monitoring, and then into advice and guidance, which, having been ignored to give priority to the monitoring, was backlogged by several weeks. Our mandate is to respond to these requests within 48 hours. Yeah.
    Starting in September, there will be another wave of new hires to be trained and monitored followed by a third in November, which I may or may not have to assist with because the position they are being hired for is outside my expertise.
    I’m steeling myself for several weeks out of town in September, and further training in late November.
  2. We may be losing our manager.
    This is a mixed blessing, because my manager is younger than I am, she has a lot of potential for mobility, and, more importantly, she has the skill set to take her fairly high in the corporate hierarchy. Our manager is a driving force for our team, though. She fights for us, and ensures that we have what we need to succeed in our jobs and careers, and what we need to achieve work/life balance.
    About the time I was assigned the second set of special projects, she received and accepted the offer of an acting senior manager. For a few weeks, she attempted to manage both teams. This soon became untenable, and the training team received an acting manager.
    This was supposed to be a temporary situation, until the assessment process for the senior manager’s position was concluded and a permanent senior manager moved into the position. The thing is, my manager’s in that process. If she’s offered the position, she will likely accept. Or she should, because it’s an excellent opportunity for her.
    In the meantime, we have a very capable acting manager, but one who is unfamiliar with our business line, and the responsibilities of the team. We’ve been there before. When I started with the training team back in 2009, we were without an actual manager for years, and the team had been for years previous to that. It does not make for a good situation. Most acting positions last a day short of four months, and with that many changes in leadership, the team was foundering.
    Plus, there have been several retirements among the executives in the last year or so, and as gaps appear, they must be filled, generally from levels below.
    I anticipate we’ll be in a very reactionary mode for some time while the corporate structure stabilizes.
  3. I’m on the verge of giving up ever moving beyond my current circumstances.
    The last pool I was in, for consultant, expired Dec 31st, 2013. Since then, I’ve applied for no less that five other positions. I’ve been screened out of all but one. That one is also for consultant, and I was almost screened out of it, but managed to squeak by. At the interview, most, if not all of the candidates must have failed the written portion, because they had a second written test. We were supposed to know the results of the assessment by the end of June. I think the board members must be on holiday.
    I’m coming up against a geographical brick wall. Our regional headquarters is in Toronto and our national headquarters is in Ottawa. I live in neither city, nor am I willing to move. This is the reason I’ve been screened out of several of the assessment processes. Even though our work environment is virtual (I currently work on a virtual team) someone in the hierarchy wants to consolidate skilled workers in our respective HQs. I get that, but still feel the patent inequity of the situation. I have skills. Mad ones even. While I’m content in my current position, the coming overload of training and monitoring and the potential lack of, or frequent change in, management makes me much less content in the day job.
    I’m getting to the point, though, where I want to give up the fight. Even if I make it into the next consultant pool, I’m not likely to get anything more than an acting position, precisely because I’m anchored in Sudbury. There’s no indication that the situation will change any time soon.
    Always hovering on the edge of my mind is the possibility of leaving the day job early in order to pursue my writing. Do I want to persist in a losing battle for the remaining years of my career?
    Also, Phil may be looking at reducing his hours, transitioning to a subsistence job, or retiring in a few years (which option depends on the uncertainty at home – see below). Since he works for a charity, and I work for a larger employer, I’ve always made more money that he has. Even when I make an agreement for a self-funded leave, that basically takes us to a rough parity. But I still make more. I won’t take the risk of sinking us below the poverty line so I can write full time. Though if I can write full time, there’s a much better chance that I will be able to make a reasonable income within a few years. What will we do for those critical years, however?
    Quandries, quandries . . .
  4. My satisfaction with my writing life is quickly outstripping my satisfaction with my day job.
    Yeah. So. That’s pretty self-explanatory, but my last point, above, is a concern. A big one. I have no answers.

The uncertainty at home

This year, the city has been working on Regent Street, right outside my house. This process has involved the tearing up on my front yard and driveway. A retaining wall is going to be constructed once our gas line is rerouted and the rock in our front yard (which is the same rock in our basement) is hacked away. Our driveway has to be sloped properly and will be resurfaced afterward. There’s no estimated time on when this will happen, but they can’t leave things the way they are for the winter.

Regent Street construction

There has been talk of developing our little street and of extending it through to the other side of the block for years. And I mean YEARS.

The driveway . . . for now

I’ll be clear: this is not happening now.

We’ve been told that it is happening, though. At some vague point in the future. Officially, no one can confirm anything.

In order for this to happen, Marttila Drive has to conform to the dimensions of the cross street. They’ve already made the opposite side of our street conform with Bouchard, which has narrowed the street considerably. On our side, there is a huge rock to deal with, and our house.

Our former front yard

Apparently, there will likely be a new turning lane when the street is expanded. This will cut into both the side and the front of our yard. The proposed retaining wall is already at our front step. Our easement is effectively gone.

This means expropriation.

Really, it’s not a bad thing.

If we had to sell our house, we’d have to invest tens of thousands of dollars to do so, and we probably wouldn’t get the investment back. The value in our property is in the fact that our zoning is commercial/residential, and the property is deep. Yes, it’s mostly Pre-Cambrian Shield, but that’s not unusual in a city like Sudbury. Most developers anticipate blasting.

Plus, it’s not the best place to live with the constant traffic, which includes transports, and the continual noise, which includes inebriated patrons walking home from the bar down Regent.

We’ve been led to believe that the city will make a reasonable offer for the property based on the assessed value. We’re good with that.

My mother lives next door to us (yes, two Marttila’s living on Marttila Drive – it was my grandfather’s property and I’m so over the notion of always having a Marttila live on Marttila Drive, thank you very much) and she will likely opt to sell, if her property is not also expropriated, and we’ll work on some mutually satisfactory solution. My mom’s pretty cool, and Phil and I have already discussed the option of a granny suite, or a duplex, or some other, at this time unnamed, solution.

But we don’t know when any of this will happen.

Last year, one of our neighbours went to an information session and he was told that the development would occur in three to four years. But plans change, and this is why no one Phil has spoken to has been able to tell us anything. It’s so aggravating.

Though our mortgage is paid off, we still have a sizable debt on our line of credit, and a car loan.

This is why I’ve been so reluctant to take any kind of chance on my writing.

I’m still working steadily toward the publication of at least one of my novels, and this year, I’ll have two short stories published in paying markets and I just won a prize for another piece of short fiction (yay!). This still amounts to less than $500 income from my writing. I’m not comfortable with leaving a $60K a year job for that, as wonderful as the publication credits are.

So that’s the deal.

The only stable things in my life right now are my relationship with Phil/my family/my friends, and my writing. It’s enough, and I can still claim contentment, but the rest just makes my head ache.

Thanks for letting me vent.

I’ve tried my best not to descend to the whiny, self-pitying voice in this post. I’ve tried to stick to stating facts, but I know my irritation has likely leaked through. Honestly, these are all first world problems. No one will die, or even go hungry, as a result of any of the above.

Unless I break completely and decide to quit. We might go hungry, then.

I keep this in mind as I wake up each day and I hug my contentment tightly to myself, take a deep breath, and move forward.

I have absolutely no control of all the uncertainty in my life. I can only control my own reaction to it and how much I let it affect my life. Frankly (Frankl-ly?) I don’t feel like giving it that much power.

I’ve bound it in words now. Writing is potent magic 😉

Wishing lots of that for you, my friends!

Break a pencil!

Muse-inks

What I learned observing the Business Expertise Advisor Curriculum

In between my wintery road trips and getting stuck in an elevator last week, I was actually in Toronto for work.

Last summer, while I was still an acting consultant, the opportunity to observe and/or facilitate this course arose. The initial plan was that two sessions would be held, one in January and one in February.

I would observe the course in January with an eye to facilitating it in February. Unfortunately, the second session never materialized. It may not be until next year that I’m able to try my facilitation chops out on this course.

It’s a long time to wait in the wacky world of facilitation.

Here’s what I learned:

1. The course is a very demanding one for facilitators.

Class1One of the facilitators, who had actually delivered the course once in the past, said she didn’t want to facilitate the course again. It’s a fairly cerebral course, and a lot of material is packed in to four and a half days.

The course is intended to be an introduction to the basic duties of an advisor and as such, it covers working on a virtual team, change management, interpersonal relationships, providing advice and guidance, teaching adult learners, and workload/time management. Things are pretty tight and there’s not a lot of room to wiggle. It’s difficult to keep on track.

Because the course starts Monday morning, the facilitators and participants must travel in overtime (something management frowns on), and the facilitators can’t get into the room until the first morning of training. I prefer to prepare as much as possible in advance and to keep activities queued up and flowing well. Having an hour or an hour and a half for set up would be demanding. It also means that I’d have to come in earlier and stay later each day to stay on top of activities and exercises.

2. The course is something that every new BEA should attendClass2

And, the sooner the better.

Many of the attendees of this course had been BEAs for years and had had the course on their performance and learning agreements for years as well.

As a result, we had a lot of great discussion about our quality control processes, technology, communications, and training. I don’t know that a class of entirely new BEAs would have been half so dynamic.

We also had a varied group of participants from different business lines. One of the big questions I had when I started out as a BEA was what other BEAs elsewhere in our organization did and how those duties compared to my own.

Even though I knew there was a BEA course, it was being redesigned when I started as a BEA and was only piloted to select groups of participants in the next couple of years.

In the positions I’d held previously, there was training, weeks of it. Plus post-training monitoring. I learned the role of advisor by doing it, which is fine because it works with my learning gestalt, but I’m sure for others it was a bit of a culture shock.

After the BEA level, most of the training is piecemeal and you have to actively pursue those courses if you want to take them. Task or competency-based training is not mandatory once you’re out of production.

3. The BEAs in attendance thought the course had value for them

Class3This was a concern, because, after one of my colleagues attended a pilot of the course years ago, she did not have many positive things to say about it.

The BEA Curriculum is a course where you derive benefit proportional to the time and effort you invest.

It’s also one in which the participant should have clearly defined goals and expectations of the training. When the modules of the course that hold the most value for them come up, participants are more likely to play a more active role in their learning.

I presented a short exercise about performance management. I prefaced it with Cathy Moore’s flowchart: Is training really the answer?

Once the advisor has determined that neither training nor monitoring is the answer, what do they do? They perform a needs analysis to identify learning gaps and see if they can devise a plan, working with management, to bring the employee’s behaviour into line with the employer’s expectations.

I asked them to come up with some scenarios from their own experience, and once we had a few, divided them up by business line to review a tool in the training package and see if it would help them in those performance management situations.

Several of the participants told me they thought both the flowchart and the checklist were great resources.

So while the BEA Curriculum was not an unmitigated success (I forgot one of the groups in a breakout room and they didn’t return until after everyone else had left—bad Mellie!) I think it was a good course and one that I’ll enjoy facilitating in the future. If I can remember all the tips and trick I learned this time around!

Do you have any facilitation stories to share? New courses learned or delivered? Lessons learned in the delivery?

Do share.

On the road again … or managing life’s transitions

I don’t mind traveling for work, for all that it puts a cramp in my writing life.

This week, I’m attending the training for trainers on Managing Transitions, the change management course that two of my colleagues developed for staff this year.

My employer has embarked on a business transformation strategy and a lot of our staff are being affected.  Even more are feeling the pinch of budget cuts.

Enter Managing Transitions, a course designed to offer insight into and tools to manage change in your professional life.

A colleague and myself drove to Toronto from Sudbury this morning to attend.  Today was the first half-day of class.

A couple of the critical learnings of the day:

  • change is the event; transition is the process.
  • change is often beyond our control, but our reaction to it and attitude toward it never are.
Deutsch: Viktor Frankl

Deutsch: Viktor Frankl (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s the whole Viktor Frankl thing.  You know Viktor Frankl?  Author of Man’s Search for Meaning?  Essentially, he was a prisoner in a Nazi death camp during WWII.  He survived the horrors, but only by making the critical realization that the only thing he could control in his dire circumstances was himself.

Now that’s a very simplistic take on his philosophy, but if it’s piqued your interest at all, pick up his book and read more about it.  See if you agree.  Don’t take my word for it.

Now few of us these days encounter changes that are so drastic or life-changing as Frankl’s, but it can still happen.  On a day like today, I think back to 9/11, and though it’s been eleven years since the tragedy, it’s one of those defining moments in history.  Everyone remembers where they were when they first heard that dreadful bit of news.

Tribute in Light, 9/11/03

Tribute in Light, 9/11/03 (Photo credit: Brendan Loy)

Me? I was having coffee with my parents before heading off to work.  The morning show that was on the TV was pre-empted by the special news report.  I watched what they would show of it on national TV.  It was surreal.  Disturbing.  Inconceivable.

Another bit of learning from today’s session: it doesn’t matter how relatively big or small the change appears, the effect it has is directly related to how the individual experiencing the change perceives it.

So I’m here for another day and a half, then travel home again Thursday afternoon.

Will likely give you an update on this course when I deliver it at some point in the future.

In other news

Does your CEO tweet?  Does it matter?  Nick Charney calls shenanigans on ‘the 1.3 trillion price of not tweeting at work.’

What ‘open’ means to me.  New on Connecting the Dots.

Just a couple of things of interest in the virtual working world of Mel.

Thanks for stopping by!

The learning mutt needs to sleep if she’s ever going to get up in time for the course tomorrow!

How does chaos become complexity?

Yesterday, I came across this wonderful post by Harold Jarche: Complex is the new normal.

In it, he posits that complexity is the new “normal” state of business and that those who exist in chaotic, or disordered business environments need to shift into complexity to be truly innovative.

For definitions of complex, complicated, and chaotic systems, please refer to another of his posts: It’s not complicated, you see?

The bottom line is that we function in a constant state of change these days, and depending on the specific pattern your business adopts, or falls into, you may have to take a different approach to personal and professional development.

Change and change management

My employer has just hit its stride in the business transformation game and right now, it’s utter chaos.  Add to that budget cuts that are resulting in further staff reductions.  Still business has to be done, training has to be delivered and we all have to find some way to deal.  The environment is hostile, reactionary, protectionist, and uncommunicative.

It’s difficult to remain positive in such an environment.  I must admit, I’m not doing well in this department.

We’re facing one of the biggest and most prolonged processing backlogs ever and employees are getting letters.  No one is safe, I’ve learned.  Even those who were assured that their jobs were not in jeopardy are learning otherwise.

What concerns me is that once the main thrust of the transformation process is completed, and the dust begins to settle, the chain reaction continues.  Several positions are staffed at a ratio of processing staff, including mine.  If insufficient numbers have been culled by attrition (those in a position to are seriously considering retirement) or promotion, further reorganization will be necessary.

Fortunately, I’ll have some time to wait for that nether shoe to fall.

My boss and team are a clever bunch, and they’ve decided to wade into the fray by offering Change Management training to affected staff.  Because I think it’s an important and valuable service offering, I’ve thrown my hat into that ring and will be part of the implementation team.  In other words, I’ll be training again 🙂  My wee trainer’s heart rejoices.

But change management is only part of the puzzle.  In order to pull out of this chaotic nose-dive we’re in, we have to strive for a more ordered, but still deadly flat spin, a more complex state from which we might have a chance of recovering.  If we’re clever.

Failing that, we could always eject.

But how do we achieve a complex state?

In an associated post, In an increasingly complex world, Harold Jarche shares Robert Warwicks’s seven essential criteria to consider in an increasingly complex world:

  • Go out of your way to make new connections.
  • Adopt an open, enquiring mind-set, refusing to be constrained by current horizons.
  • Embrace uncertainty and be positive about change – adopt an entrepreneurial attitude.
  • Draw on as many different perspectives as possible; diversity is non-optional.
  • Ensure leadership and decision-making are distributed throughout all levels and functions.
  • Establish a compelling vision which is shared by all partners in the whole system.
  • Promote the importance of values – invest as much energy into relationships and behaviours as into delivering tasks.

Jarche states that these criteria are a good place to start when trying to align one’s business environment to high-functioning complex from less efficient chaos, something he says he doesn’t see in most businesses these days.

I’m trying.  Sweet googly-moogly, I’m trying.  No “but” face here.  I’m seriously givin’ ‘er.

Will let you know how this all pans out.

Is your workplace in a state of flux?  Is there any strategy in place to help staff adapt and grow?  How are you dealing with change personally?  Let me know.  Seriously … commiserate!