A friend of mine at work occasionally cuts a Dilbert cartoon from the newspaper and brings it by my office (I have quite a collection in my desk drawer, now). What prompts his desire to share is the eerie sense, experienced by both of us, that the senior people in our organization are getting their management ideas from Scott Adams. They fail to see that the Dilbert cartoons represent an exercise in the diagnosis of corporate/bureaucratic pathology, a window on the arrogance, ignorance, cowardice and inefficiency that plagues many, if not most, bureaucracies, whether corporate or government; on the contrary, the leaders of our little agency sometimes give the impression that they consider Dilbert an operating manual.
Case in point. All federal agencies participate in an Employee Satisfaction Survey which is given out annually. Our agency rated so low this year that the Office of Personnel Management reportedly contacted us and asked “what the hell are you people doing over there?” (or words to that effect). Senior management – by which I mean the political appointees and their legions of flying monkeys – called a meeting of the senior and mid-level career (i.e., non-political) managers and hired – you guessed it! – a consulting firm to come in and help us learn how to better motivate our employees.
The problem, however, is not motivation. The problem, it is well-nigh universally agreed, is the politicals, themselves, particularly their capacity for sucking up personnel and financial resources that are desperately needed by the business units of the agency, a phenomenon which is further exacerbated by the creation of a heavier work load per capita as a result of a proliferation of new initiatives requiring the use of more man-hours at the career staff level (with no additional, or in some cases, with fewer people to do the work). Add to the mix an enormous amount of frustration stemming from the spurious and poorly-thought-out rationales for some of the initiatives, and you have an obvious explanation for the poor quality of employee morale.
The meeting turned out to be far more candid that I had anticipated, and the people who dwell “in the rafters”, as we say here, pretty much got it in the neck. They seemed somewhat taken aback, but took it all surprisingly well (perhaps not so surprisingly; they were outnumbered five to one). The result, naturally, is that time-tested venture in futility, a committee, that will discuss the matter and undoubtedly prolong the search for solutions until the next election (when, may it please God, this crew will be on the way out).
Incidentally, I was driven nearly to distraction by a fellow who sat next to me. He has an artificial heart valve, and he ticked for nine and a half hours. Still, better that he ticked than otherwise; he is a decent chap, and I wish him well.