CHAPTER 2: MISGUIDED
Blinding Light: This came when I sat down across from the Marketing consultant and she said “People have to like you”. At that moment I felt I was seating, strapped down in a chair in a darkened room, across from an Interrogator who was flashing a bright light into my vision.
“Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door”Ralph Waldo Emerson
I had previously set up as a Project Manager and waved my Microsoft badges about previously, with a web site that trumped up my expertise. “Hey, I could write up outcomes, measure ROI and deliver on KPI”. But I had to look for Marketing support because there had only been a trickle of enquiries and no clients after three months of setting up shop! My mind snapped back to the consultant facing me patiently, watching the clock and assured of her payment.
I grimaced at my predicament of hiring a consultant to use my watch and tell me the time! I explained, in a condescending matter, “I have a product that will increase their efficiency, save them money and enable business growth. It’s strictly business proposal, so why make it personal? There and then, during the ensuing conversation, I had the flashback .
“Down the rabbit hole” – Alice’s Adventures in WonderlandLewis Carroll
Down the Rabbit Hole: My path to self-employment has been strewn with road blocks ever since I graduated from University. I remember my shout of Eureka when I returned to Lagos with the Golden Fleece (Portable PC) in 1986 and declared my IT gateway.
Of course, parents and family scorned me and I had to back track and enter the corporate world working with established Multinational firms. After a decade of this, I once again jumped ship and set up a consulting firm, which promptly failed within two years.
Being the same arrogant, stubborn person I promptly bailed ship and took flight back to United States, with a diversion in the UK to retrain as a Microsoft Engineer. My stint as a contractor in the USA was short-lived because, within a year, the Twin Towers were hit in September 2001 (9/11) and then I rumbled back to the UK to start all over. Obviously, while I was running on the treadmill of missed opportunities time had not stopped.
The span from 1985 to 2001 was a yawning crevasse of failure. So I buckled up to face the new challenge of Ageism in the IT sector, scrounging for a job in my forties. However this was to no avail so I settled for an Administrator role in the UK Civil Service. And this was where I became unstuck!!
“Time and tide wait for no man”Geoffrey Chaucer
Civil Service : I settled down in 2002 to the Civil Service, not realizing this aspect in my life would herald the cataclysm. My first position was in the Operations Research Department working in an administrative role to support a team of Analysts who were highly qualified, minimum qualification being a Master’s degree in a quantitative subject.
This was my remit since the field was close enough to my engineering background and I could up-skill myself in the eddy of the workflow. I was lucky to have good line manager, who shared my traits about goals and objectivity but the warning signs, which I did not see, appeared when he gave me a downgrade from 4star to 3star on my second half-year assessment. Since we had a good relationship, I was able to query him and his answer was that he would have given me a 4star but was advised to grade me 3star by the Division Head, due to my lack of ‘soft skills’. Well this feedback bounced of my thick hide and I simply went about working even harder.
Hey, everyone will use a willing task horse so I was assigned more responsibilities; my line manager backed my grant to study at the Open University. I also passed the promotion board on the second attempt, due to great support and encouragement from him.
Civil Service Reality: I was thrilled to be promoted but the consequence was that I had to leave Operations Research and move into the Business Division as an Executive Officer. And there began my travails. Apparently the backbone of the civil service is made up of those who enter with GCSE, basic qualifications, and through the years (decades!) work their way up the grades.
This also alludes to the ‘The Peter Principle” which states that a person who is competent at their job will earn promotion to a more senior position which requires different skills. If the promoted person lacks the skills required for their new role, then they will be incompetent at their new level, and so they will not be promoted again.
Fast Track: The dilemma was that I was too ambitious for my own good. I was soon plotting for another promotion to Higher Executive Officer and stepped up to HR to follow the procedures.
My new line Manager was a bulwark of establishment, having worked his way up grades and tenured after 30 years! Well, he quickly put obstacles in my way and I soon found myself the “lawn tennis ball” when I was bounced between himself and the Department’s Director. I got poor appraisals and had my probation extended and my protests to HR were squashed, although the Divisional Director actually had to step in at one stage. I belatedly found out that my promotion was unexpected by establishment standards, since many staff actually stay on the same Administrator grade till they retire!!
Bullying: I was certainly glutton for punishment and despite all of bullying, took up arms by taking up a grievance. Hah, I was to find out that the departmental Trade Union chapter had been intimidated by the HR Director and cases were squashed at infancy. But, I was made of stern stuff (then) and full of righteous indignation buoyed by ‘stiff-necked’ (friends would say rigid!) character.
Well I burrowed my way through the Staff Handbook and then found I was actually fighting on two fronts, both the Trade Union and the HR Division. It took a over three years, but I escalated my grievance and the case found went into gear when, after following procedure, single-handed wrote an email direct to the Chief Executive Officer to “cease and desist”. It certainly helped that I had grown up, reading the legal textbooks, that my father had strewn in the study and so my ultimate was on my disability issues.
“I am sore wounded but not slain, I will lay me down and bleed a while And then rise up to fight again”John Dryden