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

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Constructive Written Feedback: Mission Impossible?

So, I’ve been writing this course for about the past month. All of our feedback training, in house, consists of how to give verbal feedback, in person. In our virtual workplace, where much of our feedback takes place over email or through instant messaging, a new approach was recommended.

The hope is that my course will be seen as suitable for modification and use by other business lines, and for other positions (consultants, team leaders, managers). Yes, my manager has vision 🙂

Special funding was obtained to create and pilot this course, and a second one defining our monitoring process and how it’s changed with the advent of performance management, which two of my colleagues undertook.

Last week, I had the opportunity to stand and deliver.

The target for the course was my colleagues, so facilitating held a special trepidation for me this time around. Plus, my manager was sitting in. No pressure. None at all 😉

The session started out with an introduction by my manager, who also presented me with my long-awaited trainer certification.

You may remember that I achieved my trainer certification last March. The actual, suitable-for-framing certificate was almost a year in the coming. I have it now, though. I’ll take a picture and share once I’ve had the dear thing framed.

I’m a bit of an accomplishment junkie. I frame every certificate of completion, award, or acknowledgement of completion I get. The wall at work is getting a little crowded. Like my C.V. on this site, my certificates are a concrete reminder of what I’ve done.

My manager also advised the team that we had been nominated for a service excellence award for our collective work on the recent new hire training. We’ll see what comes of that.

The course itself was designed in a participant-centered format with lots of activities.

I also tortured them with a pre-course activity, asking them to write four different types of written feedback specific to our positions.

Here’s the outline:

  • What do we already know about feedback (brainstorm)? Is this knowledge applicable to constructive written feedback?
  • Objective and agenda.
  • Administrivia.
  • Icebreaker (two truths and a lie). Rhetoric, a skill we don’t know we use every day. How to tailor our message to our reader.
  • The four kinds of feedback (demonstration).
  • The challenges of giving and receiving feedback (marketplace).
difficulties of feedback

The results of the challenges of giving and receiving feedback activity.

  • How perception affects our feedback.
  • The three principles of constructive written feedback (discovery).
3 principles discovery

The results of the three priciples of constructive written feedback discovery activity.

  • Recurring issues and a five-step strategy to address them.
  • Practice in making our messages clear, concise, and readable (large group, cooperative).
  • Critique of the (anonymous) pre-course assignments and presentation of highlights (small group).
  • Sharing of best practices.
  • Review of objective.
  • Knowledge transfer – participants made a promise to themselves in the form of tasks allowing 28 days of practice to create new habits with respect to constructive written feedback.

The best part of the facilitation was eliciting the fabulous and valuable group discussions we had. My questioning techniques were certainly given a workout.

I had handouts, a PowerPoint presentation, a poster, and a facilitators’ guide, but conspicuously, no participant guide. All of the learning content arose from the class and a several points, participants were asked to capture the information generated from various activities and report back to the class.

My colleagues’ presentation on Monitoring: Beyond the Basics was informative. At our level, we haven’t had much in the way of structure or procedure. Many of us started the job by being thrown into the deep end and learning by doing.

Yes, there is a course intended to introduce us to our job duties, but that is general in nature and geared to our position across business lines and departments. Our new procedures, flow-charts, and reports will give us that much-needed job-specific structure, moving forward.

We might even be delivering the written feedback and monitoring courses to all new and acting advisors in the future, in-person or virtually.

Who knows what will result from this past month’s work? One thing for sure is this: I’ll let you know.

Stay tuned.

This is the learning mutt, signing off for today.