A Job for Life?

Today I achieved a fairly momentous milestone; I am now an ‘official’ official. After 9 long months, my probation period is over; it struck me today what that actually means. It means I am now essentially welcome, if I so desired and unless I commit some heinous crime, to work for this institution for the rest of my natural life. I though this might merit some quiet reflection.

Over the last nine months, one thing has become abundantly clear. I am not a very good secretary. Not that I ever thought I would be; I have done it before, for brief periods, in fact there aren’t many jobs I haven’t done, but it doesn’t mean I’m good at it. Repetitive administrative tasks bore the bejeezus out of me, I have no eye for detail whatsoever (in fact detail sort of frightens me) and I sometimes answer the phone with a heavy sigh before I speak. It was an ok job when I was just doing it as a stagiaire, or when I had left teaching and didn’t know what else to do so I was temping, but facing the prospect of doing this for all the rest of eternity is, well, fairly chilling!

Of course, it’s not going to happen. I am just at the start of my career, and there are numerous pathways open to me in terms of career development, so that’s not really what I’m worried about. What concerns me more is whether or not I am a good fit for this organisation. The last 9 months have been far from easy. If my unit is a microcosm which reflects it’s culture, structure and ethos, it looks like I may well be in for a lifetime of frustration and disenchantment…

Having previously worked only in the public sector, and specifically local government in the UK, I seriously believed that a large, multi-cultural, supranational body would be light years ahead in terms of its organisational culture. I somehow missed the fact that it was built on the foundations of the stodgy, bureaucratic public administration principles of the French system. This is not an easy fact to come to terms with, especially when you know and understand your preferred working style.

For instance, it came as no surprise to me when, having filled out the tedious Margerison-McCann TMS questionnaire, I came out as a ‘Thruster-Organiser’. Normally I am pretty sceptical about these sorts of psychometric tests, it’s almost as bad as someone handing you your astrological profile – utter guff that is so bland you could easily convince yourself it’s talking about you. But I was quite impressed with this, so much so that I handed my full profile to my husband to read and he asked if the person who’d written it had met me. The point is, it very accurately told me a lot of things I already knew about myself, but when applied in a work context, could spell trouble for me working in this organisation:

1. I am analytical yet decisive; I like to take decisions based on facts and evidence. This does not bode well in an organisation which seems to endlessly discuss and debate things without ever wanting to make an actual decision. I write the minutes in meetings, and I have to seriously call a halt to proceedings at times in order to push someone to declare whether or not a decision has been reached. Usually not.

2. I like to organise and implement systems. Not for fun, but because it reduces the risk of duplication and wasted effort. You would think, then, that I would enjoy all the rules, procedures and hoop-jumping. But no, I would only argue for following the rules or system if it actually adds value, rather than for the sake of doing things ‘by the book’ because nobody wants to take any actual responsibility for their actions.

3. I am results-oriented. My motto is ‘do it now and get it finished’. I have never seen quite so many pilot projects in my life. Am not quite sure of the point of any of them.

4. I don’t do negotiation, problem-solving or working-around. I don’t broach issues softly in order to ‘ensure that key stakeholders are on board’. If I can’t see a clear pathway to achieving an objective, I hack one out with a machete. Ok, that’s a bit dramatic, but I’d always rather ask forgiveness than permission. Which is why I had to sit in a meeting today asking ‘forgiveness’ or at least justifying taking action on something which was simple and straightforward, yet should have gone through a chain of command first. Eugh.

5. I am clear, to the point of being brusque on occasion, about my opinion. For better or worse, you will never be in doubt where you stand with me. My impression so far is that this is not a key prerequisite for management; I have lost count of the number of times I have come out of a meeting unsure of whether anything was agreed or not, or whether an idea was accepted or rejected. It’s anyone’s guess whether it was a ‘yes – yes’ or a ‘yes – no’.

But above and beyond my ‘preferred working style’, my previous experience has taught me that in terms of organisational development, it’s the culture that matters, and no amount of arguments about efficiency and effectiveness will gain any traction if it’s not part of the overall ethos.

On the upside, however, culture is essentially about people and their attitudes. Which means that it can be changed. Progress can be made. And it’s this which interests me; at the end of the day, I can’t see what value I could add to an organisation which was already efficient, effective, agile, responsive and 100% fit for purpose. Even though on the surface it would appear to be the worst possible fit, I am either optimistic or daft enough to believe that there must be others who feel the same way as I do. The only way that things will change is by making it happen. And, if I didn’t think I might be able to make inroads over the next 35 years, well then I wouldn’t be a ‘Thruster Organiser’, I wouldn’t be Jo Fry and I would never have left my cosy life in sunny Devon to come here and commence phase 1 of my plan for world domination!


About Joanne Fry

LocalGov manager, aspiring writer, Politics and Public Policy bore, Feminist, ballroom dancer, dog lover. All views my own.
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