After more years than I care to think about in service, there comes a point when the operational assumption should be that you know more or less what you’re doing. Sure, that’s probably not true for some people, but I’m fairly sure that I’ve earned enough stripes to be at least considered competent in most situations. Sure, I’m not going to be the most dynamic presenter or dazzle them with the brilliance of my PowerPoint slides, but I’ll get the meat of the matter across in a clear and concise way that our glorious leaders will find informative and useful.
I’m absolutely not asking for carte blanche to do whatever I feel like doing, but I think a reasonable basis to proceed would be to start with the premise that I know how to build slides using a template, I have a better than average grip on the subject matter, and won’t, as a rule, say things to the most senior of senior leaders that would reflect badly on me, you, or the 4 layers of management between me and the guy at the end of the table. As I’ve said before, my goal is to do whatever is going to cause me the least grief in the long run. In this case, that would involve making a solid enough presentation that the number of questions at the end will be held to a minimum. I know I’m still pretty new in this office, but at some point you’re going to have to trust that I’m not going to walk in and call the Old Man a fart knocker and piss my pants.
If nothing else, lets consider that I’m going to be the lowest graded guy in the room by a country mile. The chances of the mighty and powerful jumping up and down on my head for a minor mistake are between slim and none. If the worst happens and I completely lose the bubble, you can always blame it on me as the new guy, so really, no matter how it goes, the bases are all covered.
There’s a special level of hell reserved for the bureaucrats. Conveniently, you don’t have to die to get there. All you have to do is show up, day after day for 40 years and suddenly somewhere along the way you realize you’re already there. You find yourself sitting in meetings that have been held every Tuesday since before anyone in the room was even an employee. You’ll find yourself updating a PowerPoint slide that you updated two months before, and two months before that and backwards in time to the dawn of the electronic age and into the land of acetate view graphs and overhead projectors before that.
Maybe somewhere in the mists of time there was a legitimate need to do these things, but so many of the time killing tasks we face day to day seem like they’re on autopilot that it’s near impossible to tell the important from the other stuff. Want to free up millions of dollars in resources? Cancel every repeating meeting on everyone’s calendar and only schedule meetings that are actually needed. Meetings shouldn’t be a weekly excuse for coffeecake and social time. Poof. Suddenly you’ve saved yourself a million man hours a month. Want to save more money? Never prepare PowerPoint charts unless they are absolutely necessary to express a complex concept. Our caveman ancestors used their words to spread ideas. Surely we can manage to do the same.
If anyone needs me, I’ll be toiling on the next series of charts in the 10th level of hell… my half-walled cubicle. Now if I can just figure out where they’ve put my stapler.
PowerPoint is a tool of the devil. This is apparently obvious to the casual observer after a long week of slogging through slides changing “happy” to “glad” and making sure that every bullet is lined up within +/- one micron. Apparently there’s nothing that makes a senior manager feistier than an ever-so-slightly misaligned bullet. Better for key content to be left out than to risk it violating the sanctity of the holy format. I’ve been doing this a long time now and I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand the hours of obsession that some men can pour into finessing their slides so they’re juuuusssssssst right. I remember reading somewhere that perfect is the enemy of the good. In an imperfect world, I’ve always been happy when I find myself in the neighborhood of good. Apparently that is a very lonesome neighborhood.
I like to think that if we lived in some bizarro universe and I were a senior leader, I’d be more concerned with the content over how it happens to be displayed as long as it was in some semblance of logical order. Then again, maybe that’s the part of the brain you give up upon being elevated to echelons above reality. There’s not much chance of my ever finding out for myself, so I’m left once again to ponder the importance of issues of style over substance.
I’m reminded of the Army colonel who was relieved because of this epic rant against PowerPoint. In retrospect, perhaps it would have served the military better to promote the guy rather than tossing him out.
We’ve been over this 20 slide PowerPoint presentation four times now. The last “dry run” – which lasted just shy of three hours – cost about $3500 when you account for the labor cost and overhead of the nine people who were stuck in the room listening to the Uberboss dither about changing “happy” to “glad” and deciding that he didn’t like sentences that he personally added to the charts three days ago. The lunatics are plainly in charge of our asylum.
Yesterday you made a big deal about wanting someone in the room to flip your slides while you gave the new employee briefing. Today you throw that person out of the room once they got *their* computer set up (I won’t mention that employee then didn’t have a computer to use for, you know, work, for the next 90 minutes). Then you threw out the other “witnesses” in the room who were in a position to argue with what you were about to say to the poor unfortunate new guy. Is it possible that you were going to weave him a web of lies and that the presence of informed people might undermine that? Are your lies so unbalanced now that you can only tell them behind closed doors? Maybe it’s that you’ve told so many that people are catching on and comparing notes now. Better not to risk having too many people in one place these days.
Oh Uberboss, you may have the title, but you’ll never have what you really want. Forget about the respect of your peers. You’d be hard pressed to find someone in this building that even likes you as a human being.
Everyone hates Monday. There’s not much to like about a day that calls us all back from our revels into the 6’ by 8’ cattle pens of our offices. Sadly, as much as I hate Monday, I’m coming to resent Friday just as much. Where it once marked the entrance to two days of non-working bliss, now it mostly marks the day of the week when the wheels fall off. Almost nothing good happens on Fridays.
A sample of my desk journal from a recent Friday morning helps illustrate my point:
0630-0700: Quiet time to answer overnight email
0700-0730: Mr. Turtle stops to chat
0730-0745: Quiet time to check the vacancy announcement boards and look for a new job
0745-0755: Intern stops to chat
0755-0800: Mr. Turtle joins the intern
0800-0815: One of the other managers stops to chat
0815- 0900: UberBoss joins the conversation and schedules a follow-up meeting for 0930.
0900-0930: Prep for unplanned meeting
0930-0950: Wait for UberBoss to finish is 0900 meeting
0950-1030: Meeting about turning one big PowerPoint presentation into several small presentations
1030-1115: Bang head violently against desk
I use to look forward to Friday and the anticipation of the weekend. Now it’s just like having a second Monday in the week.
We’re the government and no self respecting government agency goes more than a day or two without having a meeting. Mostly, given our slightly inconvenient location just outside of BFE, we keep our meetings to ourselves. Sadly, though, there are times when someone vaguely approaching the definition of a VIP shows up. Such an arrival, of course, requires a meeting befitting the distinguished status of the guest. That means the development of many, many wonderful charts… because the more charts presented for your consideration, the more important you are in the hierarchy. And then there’s the hardcopy – because a VIP apparently can’t be troubled to remember something from one minute to the next without having a fist full of paper slides in front of him. Reading the ones projected across the room onto a 8×10 foot screen would certainly be below his lordship’s dignity.
With enough notice, it’s generally possible to make anything happen. Deciding at 8:30 that you want to change half the slides for a meeting starting in half an hour, sure, that’s manageable. But for God’s sake don’t come back ten minutes later and tell everyone they’re late to the meeting… that isn’t supposed to start for another twenty minutes. And then pace the aisle sighing and making comments under your breath about being unprepared. When the only thing keeping someone from beating you to death with a keyboard is an ingrained sense of respect for rank and a desire not to go to jail, it seems best not to antagonize that many of your underlings all at one time.
In my agency, if you can open a PowerPoint presentation, change the master background, and really do anything more than straight bulleted text, you’re designated a PowerPoint Ranger and subject to 24-hour on call status for emergency slide making. Like today. When the boss realized an hour before a meeting that’s been on the schedule for six weeks that he hadn’t made and slides. Of course it’s not an official meeting if there are no slides, so slides we must have.
Here’s a snippet of conversation the followed the boss’ panicked rush to my desk:
A COLLEAGUE *sarcastically*: Did I just see Mr. Walrus ask you for a batch of slides from the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and our agency’s role in the invasion of Normandy?
ME: Pretty much, yes.
It’s PowerPoint. We’re not building nuclear-effing-weapons here (seriously, we’re not). Tell me, please, please tell me that I’m not the only person in the building who can consolidate 40 slides built for six different meetings over a period of 18 months into a 10 slide set, set them on a light blue background, add animation, embed video, and link documents that are available on our archive drive to open when you click the key word? Oh. Wait. Apparently I am.
I earned my undergraduate degree with honors. I made a 3.6 in my MBA program while working full time. I can’t tell you how glad to see six years of college education, ten years of professional experience and a near six-figure salary being put to good use.