Saturday, April 14, 2012

A Good Job

Only been in the job for two months and things have already changed. Sounds pretty typical for the Coast Guard. I'm switching accounts from stuff in the Capabilities world to stuff in the Personnel accounts. I think the XO is trying to level out responsibilities for a little more parity between the Reviewers. The current Reviewer for the Personnel accounts has a bunch of other stuff she's responsible for, all of which seems to come due at the same time, so she gets absolutely swamped at certain points in the budget cycle. It'll be a slow-ish relief process as we trade duties, but we've got the time since we're both in the office, just switching desks.

There's a couple of really cool things about taking over the new accounts. I'll learn more about pay, health care, hiring, the civilian work force, reserves, personnel policy in general (think hazing, equal opportunity, harassment, all that), promotions, insourcing, boards, bonuses, housing...than I probably ever wanted to know. I got in to some personnel issues as XO and CO, but this is a *whole* 'nother level. I might actually end up understanding the officer promotion process, which is almost completely opaque to me right now. Zones, year groups, deep selection, passed over, reordering...I know the words, but have no sense of how they get put together to make a workable system.

Also, personnel are involved in *everything!* The service wouldn't exist without its people. Programs are made up of people. Take the people away, and nothing gets done (well, except for CGBI (Coast Guard Business Intelligence)--I think there might be metrics in there that are completely automated.). So if I wanted a job that has the potential to have a major impact on the service, well, I've got it now.
I was talking to the most senior Personnel Reviewer earlier this week. He's getting ready to leave, transferring to Air Station Barbers Point (lucky buggah!!). So I've been trying to pick his brain as much as possible before he leaves. It was actually kind of funny. I went to him about two weeks ago about an issue with civilian employees, and he started going into all these *incredibly* technical budget processes with ease and confidence. I left his cubicle with my head spinning, thinking, omg, not only does he sound like such an expert, it's all so complicated, how the hell does he keep it all straight?! and thank gawd!! he's around with all that knowledge so I don't have to figure it out on my own. Haha...joke's on me...now I've got to learn it.

So anyway, I was talking with him, getting a brain dump about an insourcing issue, which is a good topic for getting into a lot of the technicalities. We broke out the FY13 CJ (Congressional Justification) to look at the FTP (full-time personnel) waterfall (stick with me here) and how technical adjustments correct previous years' vapor creates and go on-budget for mil-civ (military-civilian) conversions which straighten out the funding between PPAs (program, project and activity)...aaauughhghggghhhh!! **STOP!!** My brain hurts! I found myself fervently muttering to myself, "please don't let me ef this up, please don't let me ef this up."

One thing he said stuck out to me though. I don't remember exactly what he was talking about, it might have been the technical adjustment table, but he said it's one thing that no one else cares about. The Budget Coordinators don't really pay attention to it, it's not important to the Reviewers. The Personnel Reviewer is the only one who keeps track of it and makes sure it's correct.

Which made me wonder, if no one cares about it, why is it important to make sure it's right? Nobody pays attention to it, probably nobody even ever looks at it. So why all the freaking hassle and gyrations to make sure it's accurate, especially because it changes damn near daily? I know the colloquial definition of integrity is "doing the right thing even when no one is watching." But what about when no one even cares?

I say in my Philosophy, "...a job worth doing is worth doing to the best of my ability. At the end of my tour, I intend to look back and be able to honestly tell myself that I faced every task and challenge to the best of my ability. This is the only way the sacrifices I have made will have been worthwhile." I think what I meant by doing a good job in that sense was based on how it might impact other people. If I was lazy or slack or just didn't give a shit, someone else had to cover for me, whether it was my XO, my guys, my shipmates on another ship, the shoreside maintenance guys or other support folks...somebody still had to do the job to make sure things continued on smoothly. And pawning off responsibility like that is just *lame.*

Maybe there's some staff member somewhere, either in the Department, the Administration or on the Hill that might look at that table...and throw a fit if it doesn't jive with what we say somewhere else, and make lots of other people's lives miserable trying to figure out what the discrepancies are. Or maybe if it's not right this year, it might not be an issue, but it snowballs and becomes a nightmare in another couple of years for someone else to fix.

And then there's the fact that I'm just not sure I could let details that are well within my control and the scope of my responsibility to slide just because of a perceived lack of importance or visibility. It sort of offends my sense of rightness in the world. I prefer to add order and goodness, be a calming effect instead of offering chaos and bedlam. There is most definitely a time and a place for mayhem, shaking up the status quo, rocking the boat, you might say, but I don't think technical budget tables are quite the right forum. For some reason, it feels like being absolutely proficient with the technicalities provides much greater credibility for being able to offer out of the box thinking and creative solutions.

So I've convinced myself yet again that doing a good job for a good job's sake is the way to go.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Command Swagger v. Murphy-style Smack-down

I'm on the fence again about whether I still have anything to say in this forum. A lot of what I want to talk about, I can't for any number of reasons. Sensitive budget information, easily identifiable characteristics of involved individuals, predecisional (I didn't even know what that word *meant* until two months ago!) discussions about specific programs...all are making it kinda tough to tell stories and figure out how it all fits into the bigger, grander picture. 

But what good is a challenge without a little bit of something to overcome? The blogging will continue until morale improves? (snicker)

I am a firm believer in balance. Whether it's work-play, sweet-salty, tree pose or light-dark, both sides of the coin are needed to make a whole piece. The balance that has me stymied right now is the one between self-confidence and humility. My reflex reaction to this spectrum is that I have a lot more experience with humility than self-confidence. Gawd knows, it feels like anytime I get a bit too cocky about something -- my driving skills (cussing another driver for doing something stupid), my professional abilities (thinking I know the whole story), my interpersonal suavity (haha, I actually typed that with a straight face) -- karma, life, Murphy, call it what you will, comes along and smacks some humility back into my little pea brain, usually with, well...humiliating force. So I feel like I'm well-versed in the modesty side of the equation.

But in the last month or so, I've had some conversations with a couple of people who knew me "back in the day." Like, seriously, back in the day...high school and undergrad days. I feel like I was a *mess* then; no sense of who I was, fumbling through each day hoping the next one would get a little easier, second-guessing every word out of my mouth and every gesture, conscious and unconscious. You know, the usual teenage shit. What's funny though is in these conversations both people said they noticed my self-confidence. "One thing that struck me immediately all [those] moons ago in the [Berea College] library - u have a lot more self-confidence 'than other girls.'" (obviously a text conversation) and (thank goodness for FB message archives):

Fellow Farm Worker: "That means you know what you are doing! You always did too back in the day."
Me: "Lynn was a good teacher."
FFW: "I know you to be a hard worker. A plus."
Me: "There is that...but there's also a lot of faking it. At least when it comes to looking like I know what I'm doing."
FFW: "Well, you fooled me."
Me: "Fooled lotsa people, that's what makes me laugh about it."
FFW: "But you always seemed to know what the heck you were doing..."

Really?!? Seriously?! BahahaHAHAahahaa!!

It is reinforced to me nearly every day how much that farm taught me about, hell, damn near everything...self-confidence, customer service, work ethic, follow through, attention to detail, so many of the things that I count as a core skill. Off-topic, but I don't think I say thank you enough to the people there, never mind tell them how grateful I am that I have gotten to re-experience the farm as a growed-up (or at least as close a proximity of a growed-up as I will ever be). It is *so cool* to go back there and see the basics I learned nearly 25 years ago are still taught and still work.

I remember going to PCO (Prospective Commanding Officers) School as a PCO for the first time before I went to Bahrain...so early 2008...and having one of the other students in the class comment on my "command swagger." I think that too had to do with acting like I knew what I was doing. 

Now that we've established that I really don't know what I'm doing, and most times it's all an act (which I've written about before), what does all that have to do with my situation now? Well, most all the other Reviewers and Budget Coordinators I've talked to about our job say basically the same thing...none of us know exactly how this job is supposed to go, what we're supposed to be doing or the best way to get it done. In a way that's very comforting, to know I'm not the only one who is just kind of stumbling through each day, hoping I'm getting it right. 

One part of this not-knowing-exactly-what's-going-on feeling that is finally starting to sink in with me is that if I think something needs to be done -- it probably *does* and I should just go ahead and do it before a) someone else tells me to do it or b) it doesn't get done because no one else notices it needs attention. But that's not the only part that's kind of weird. It's also that it's part of my job to be proactive. Shoot, no, that's not right...Is it that I have enough of a sense of things (from experience, smarts, or just common sense?) to recognize when something is going to be an issue? Maybe so, and maybe that's weird because the knowing it needs attention, combined with the autonomy to do what needs to be done without having to ask for permission every time...wow, that's just a different kind of job. And it requires a certain amount of ego-based self-possession and motivation to be that kind of proactive.

Yeah, so that's where the balance comes in. I saw a former CO at HQ a few weeks ago for the first time in a while. He knows what office I'm in and cautioned me to "not get caught up in the mystique of the job." Fantastically excellent advice. Because the self-confidence the job absolutely demands must be tempered with the humility to keep it all in perspective...lest Murphy (likely in the guise of an ADM or CAPT or XO) come along with a powerful smack-down.