Sunday, August 03, 2008

So This is How Our Government Works?

One of my current clients is a government ministry – one of the large ones at that. I’m working as part of a team, on a special project which is arms-length from the actual ministry, but still answers to that ministry – so I am told.

Everyone except the most senior of managers is a contractor. Most of those on their very first contract – some working in their very first “real” job – either they were in more administrative low-end/low-paying roles previously, or they are recent graduates.

Some are on contract for the very first time, having been on staff for many years before – these people are bitter and angry with the system, and they make it known. I’ve chatted with a few who complain about the lack of benefits, the lack of job security, and the lack of real leadership.

Well, the first two are common in contracting – there never are benefits, and job security doesn’t even exist anymore for those on staff. Look at BCE – the parent company of Bell Canada, the nation’s largest telecommunications company – they just announced last week they are trimming their workforce by three-percent – or 2,500 jobs. General Motors, Ford, even Chrysler have all announced staffing cutbacks. Air Canada, the nations only national airline, is cutting jobs too.

Lack of leadership – now there is a legitimate beef – especially for a publicly funded government project.

One of the benefits of being a veteran contractor, is that I have the experience of experiences. I work for big multi-global mega-corporations with hundreds of thousands of employees worldwide, to simple start-ups and mom and pop shops with barely enough employees to count on one hand. I’ve worked in offices where suits and ties every day are the norm, to ones where blue jeans and t-shirts are considered high-end fashion.

I experience many corporate cultures, and many leadership styles. That’s what makes me a good consultant. I learn from those who are good leaders, and I learn from those who – such as this government client – aren’t very good leaders.

I take the lessons from the good, and remember them, so that I can apply these lessons to other clients. And I learn what not to do, or even better, how to resolve issues created by poor management.

While experiencing these lessons from those who excel in their leadership roles is energizing, exciting, and empowering, it is far more painful to learn through the experiences of poor leaders.

Bad leaders never think they are bad – it’s not their fault things never get done on time or on budget – even though they have the final say on those things, and make the plans which lead up to those things – nope, not their fault at all. They always blame someone, or something else.

A true sign of a bad manager or leader is someone that comes to the table with blame, guilt, anger, frustration and other negative feelings about their team, their projects, or how others perceive of them, their team, or their projects.

The sign of a great manager or leader is someone that comes to the table with solutions to current and potential problems, is full of warmth, hope, energy, and drive. These people have nothing negative to say – even when times are tough and things look very bad. True leaders always have a way of turning major stumbling blocks into slight bumps – they are problem solvers, not creators. They speak highly of themselves, their teams and their projects – they know they have the right people to do the job – no matter what.

You’d expect government agencies and their projects to be on the ball when it came to sound leadership theory – hell, the universities and colleges are partly funded by the government, so they should be living the latest MBA theories.

But they aren’t – and they are costing us all.

Poor leadership increases the overall costs of anything those poor leaders touch – simply because they take so long to get things right, if they even ever do get those things right.

Turn-over of contractors and staff alike is higher under a poor leader, which is an added cost. It costs the average company about $5,000 to recruit and hire one new person – since I started this project just over a month ago, I’ve seen three people leave!

Tax payer dollars shouldn’t be funding poorly managed projects – but there probably are so many we never hear of, no one ever really knows about these things.

This project, as so many before it, will probably go well over budget, and be swept under the political rug when the next election comes, so as to not be noticed by the media.

I’ve only been with this client for just over a month, and I’ve already spent two-weeks worth of time re-doing the exact same thing I’ve already done, several times, just because none of the higher-ups can figure out which way is best. Hey, I charge by the hour – keep it coming! These foul-ups have cost this client thousands of dollars in under two-weeks, just to have me re-do something. That money is your money – tax payer money – but it now pads my growing bank account, because I charge way more than some junior contractor, and far more than a staffer to do my job.

That’s the true joy of consulting and the pain at the same time. I make more with clients that really haven’t a clue, because they don’t know how to manage themselves, and it creates more work for someone like me who is highly organized.

Though the pain and agony of working with bozos instead of prize winners probably will shorten my life – stress kills.

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