• author
    • Mardith Louisell

      Columnist and Fiction Writer
    • June 26, 2014 in Fiction

    Two works of fiction (maybe not)

    CHAINS OF COMMAND

    At a meeting three months ago, they discovered a referral procedure wasn’t working. In fact, there wasn’t a referral procedure at all, nor a referral form, although they had all believed there had been both. They thought the problem would be easy to fix because they didn’t have to figure out why a form or process didn’t work. They only had to develop a process and a form, then see how it worked.

    The people who were supposed to get the referrals said they had never received a referral. One referring person said she had referred at least three cases to the people who said they never got any referrals. To sort this out would require detective work and phone conversations on who had been referred and where and when the referral had gone physically and who had picked it up and taken it to where it didn’t arrive.

    To avert the time-intensive investigation, Woman 1 said she’d ask Woman 2 to develop a referral form, then Woman 1 would review it, then everyone would start using it. Woman 1 anticipated it would take three weeks. She wouldn’t try for perfection, just a good enough form so people could make the referrals.

    Key Man was away on personal leave for five months. Woman 1 went away for a month. The Month Two meeting was cancelled. In Month Three, Key Man was back as was Woman 1 but three important people had changed jobs and Woman 2, who had been assigned to create the form, couldn’t come because of a conflict with another meeting. At the Month Four meeting, Woman 1 saw that if anything had been done, no one knew about it. Upon realizing this, she started to castigate everyone at the meeting, then remembered she was a professional and stopped herself after only three sentences.

    After the meeting, Woman 1 left a message for Woman 2, who had been assigned to draft the form three months earlier. Women 2 didn’t call Woman 1 back. Woman 1 called again one week later and Woman 2 called back and left a message because Woman 1 was at a meeting. “Key Woman,” she said on the message, “gave the task to Woman 3 last month, but she’s on stress leave now. I don’t know what happened after that.” Key Woman didn’t tell Woman 1 about the change of assignment to Woman 3 and she didn’t tell Key Man or Woman I that Woman 3 was now out of the office on stress leave. Woman 2 said she would ask Woman 3 when she returned from stress leave. When Woman 2 found out what had been done, she would let Woman 1 know, though Women 2’s tone implied she doubted anything had been done.

    On Monday, Woman 1 will try to get the referral form developed by again calling Key Man and maybe Woman 2 but not Woman 3 because she’s on stress leave.

     

     SPARE CHANGE

    The agency wants staff to adopt the latest work practices, but staff think the new practices are just the latest fad.

    Hired to help the agency staff get up to date, the woman is irritated because she’s worked with them a long time and can predict what they’ll say. Worse, they can predict what she’ll say. She’s hired to give a certain message over and over. Together, they sit in meetings and she repeats what she’s hired to say and other staff repeat what they are supposed to say, which is different from what she’s supposed to say.

    The agency hired her to assure that staff will, in time, say what she says and, in slightly more time, do what she says. Then the agency won’t have to pay her to say it. This is the Organizational Change Goal. Or is it the Objective? Both are desired outcomes, one is generic and one specific but she’s never been sure which is which. They seem so similar. Maybe she’s delivered the Objective and should have delivered the Goal.

    The agency continues to hire her because staff haven’t yet begun to say or do what she says. Sometimes she asks staff what they think she’s going to say and they can always tell her. Sometimes, without prompting, someone will say what she was going to say. Then she remains quiet, looks at the person and smiles encouragingly. Mostly, however, staff members don’t say what she’s paid to say. They keep repeating what the last person like her said, which they learned during the last fad, and don’t say what she’s paid to say.



    • Delightful! But I need a stress leave now.



    • So sad that this is really how it works. I would have drafted the form that day and sent for approval and if no one answered the form, it would be printed by me. I hate this dialogue. I worked in two systems like this. I learned to forge signatures and get the job done myself and when it came time for money rewards, I wrote my own nomination, forged my boss’ signature. Told him what I did. And I won the money.



    • Great! Judith, my stress leave has begun!
      madgesw, you are much more adventurous than I but I don’t know there was ever any doubt!
      Thanks for the comments.


      • Sandy Handsher

      • June 26, 2014 at 8:59 pm
      • Reply

      I can’t breathe. I am so glad I’m retired because I so easily get the breath knocked out of me. You captured it well.



    • Hi Mardi: I had a little difficulty posting a comment on the page… So
      will post it here, and you are welcome to add it if you like.

      Great writing, as usual Mardi. This artfully portrays a corporation I
      just got out of, lots of backtracking, reiterating, duplication,
      back-slapping, and posturing… but no soul !


      • Brenda

      • June 27, 2014 at 12:45 am
      • Reply

      my head hurts


      • Bodil

      • June 27, 2014 at 8:00 am
      • Reply

      This is why I like to work for small organizations. I am inspired by madgesw. Genius! Gotta try it out at my job.


      • Marie

      • June 27, 2014 at 1:25 pm
      • Reply

      Having worked in a huge public organization the last 23 years, I can say it wasn’t as bad as number one but worse than number two. The fads in staff training are truly amazing and disheartening!



    • As usual, your narrative voice is a treasure: captures the absurdity of bureaucracies whatever their institutional affiliation.


      • Elizabegb

      • June 28, 2014 at 10:02 am
      • Reply

      What is your objective in writing these pieces? Of do I mean your goal? 😉 thankfully sometimes some good things actually get done in between all the madness, which doesn’t make it any less maddening. Keep writing. Always a joy to read your stuff. I laughed out loud.



    • Lovely writing; terrible reality. I too got a headache from reading it and also glad that I’m retired.



    • Ms. Louisell,
      Very good. Now this is exactly why I never got a job.
      Donald



    • To all of you who are retired: from one responder: “That was when I decided to retire. At staff meetings you absolutely knew what any given person was going to say about any given issue.” At one point, I vowed I would never participate in working on another logo or slogan. Certainaly a piece there to come.

      Thank you all for the comments.



    • Hi Mardi,
      Chains of Command is a lesson in whiplash and obfuscation. And, I applaud you for making it so clearly unclear. I can say something similar about Spare Change. Would that it were different. All very well put.


      • Ann Moroney

      • July 6, 2014 at 2:33 pm
      • Reply

      Mardi – they’re brilliant, hilarious, profound! They hit the nail on the proverbial head so perfectly – no wonder so many of us / your readers have headaches!

      Brava!


      • Ann Wettrich

      • July 7, 2014 at 9:52 pm
      • Reply

      Look forward to the film release!



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