Sunday, December 2, 2007

Well, at least I was warned

Friday morning, Jann asked Derek and me into a conference room to “chat about staffing”. She closed the door behind us and began by thanking us for our help on the major renovation and expansion project she’d been working on for the past several months. A little hospital in Utah that we did several years ago decided it was ready to upgrade and expand, and suddenly Jann had a major project on her hands. Since Howie’s projects were quiet, she borrowed Derek to head up the drawing set team and field phone calls from the engineers while she handled meetings, the rest of the phone calls, and the specs. However, the drawing team for the project always seemed to be hindered by a combination of scattershot project coordination efforts and the pain of Revit, the new drawing software that is very slowly replacing AutoCAD.

Jann sighed heavily. “Monica…Monica’s doing great. She’s really kicked butt on this project,” Jann began. And Monica, a fairly new intern with less than two years’ experience, sure has kicked butt. She does redlines without complaint, asks questions, learns from everything she’s given. Just a sharp young gal overall.

Jann sighed heavily again. “But Arnie, he goes to meetings with me and it’s like he’s not listening or making very good notes, because there’s always a bunch of comments from the meetings that don’t make it into his drawings. I’m thinking, ‘weren’t you in the same meeting as I was?’ It’s weird,” she said of one fellow with four or so years of experience. “He sends drawings to the contractor on my P______ project, and the contractor sends them right back saying ‘this is not what we asked for or need,’ and I’m just letting him flounder a bit because he needs to learn how to pay attention.” Derek and I nodded, made some comments about how experience is the best teacher, blah blah blah.

Jann continued. “Nicky, I see him come in late, not work through lunch, and leave early, and time and again I’m late to meetings because the drawings I’ve asked him to make for me aren’t ready when I need to leave.”

“And Pete, he’s so easily derailed or scattered, especially with a huge project like this one, and…the other day I was at the copier, and I looked up and he was just sitting there in his chair staring at me! I said, ‘what?’ and he said, ‘nothing,’ and I thought ‘well, get to work!’ It’s weird!” Derek and I cracked up at this, because we too have caught him staring at us. Elliot kept noticing him staring at him as he’d go up the stairs in the office too. As I’ve alluded to before, the guy gives off a creepy vibe. Not harmful or malevolent per se, just creepy.

Jann then asked Derek and me for suggestions on how to get this team to perform better. “I’m trying to give them the benefit of the doubt,” she said. “I mean, it’s not all me, but it’s partially me.” I thought to myself, wow, that’s an understatement. After all, I’m licensed, high-performing, and highly competent, and even I have problems working for Jann. I proposed that at this team’s level, they indeed don’t have the knowledge that allows them to keep moving forward, prioritize their work, etc. Hence, Jann needs to be more specific with the problem employees and find some system in which she can hold them accountable for progress made and keep them on track. She seemed agreeable to that idea.

Then, she began discussing future projects. “I think Monica can help you, Derek, with CA on this project for the first few months. I think she’d learn a lot from it. Arnie’s going to move full-time to the P______ project, and I’m going to put Nicky with Doc. I think Doc could keep him in line.”

“So Pixie, MHRC is about to start a few new projects in the spring, and Out-of-Town Medical Center will be cranking up a remodel project for their operating suite and the West Entry. I think Pete would be a good match with you on that. He can do the drawings, and you can handle the meetings and coordination.”

I nodded, but on the inside I thought NOOOOOOOO!!! Oh dear God, not that weirdo!! Now he’s going to want to be my pal even more! AAAAAGGGHH!!!!

On the drive home, I told Guy about the meeting with Jann. As usual, Guy had really good insights. “First,” he said, “if she’s not willing to guide Arnie at least somewhat and help him understand his mistakes, she’s just setting him up for failure, and she’s gonna keep getting the same shitty work out of him that she’s getting now. That’s really bad management on her part. Second, I think it’s perfect that she’s putting Pete with you. Now, you get the chance to set a clear line with Pete. You’re gonna manage him, and you’re gonna work with him, but you’re not interested in being his pal or cutting him some slack, no matter if he’s older than you or has done whatever in previous jobs. Doesn’t matter. His job is to do the job. If he gives you trouble, you tell Jann and let her deal with it, or avoid it, whatever she does.”

Which makes a lot of sense. Often, many women, myself included, make the mistake of trying to be friends at work. We want to be liked and be pals with everyone. However, that’s not the point of work. The point of work is to get work done, first and foremost. It is to make whatever product or service you provide and to do it well. While getting along with your coworkers is important to a great extent, you can get along without being buddies. After all, I get along with Jann without particularly wanting to work with her on a long-term basis. We make the working relationship work. What this means is, I don’t have to be buddies with someone to work with, for, or over them.

Now granted, architecture has its own pitfalls with this situation. The studio environment of college is such that a group of people spend hours and hours all day, night, and weekend with each other, week after week, and semester after semester. By the end of a four- or five-year college career, everyone in that studio knows most of the secrets and half of the people have slept with each other. That culture permeates architectural offices to some extent—coworkers hang out with each other as social friends outside of work on a very regular basis, and architects often marry each other. At one point, Design Associates had six office couples, which meant that a tenth of the office was sleeping with each other. Both Derek and I met our spouses at DA, though neither of our spouses still work there. Even Alex met his second wife when she temped as a receptionist at DA back in the day. S, there are many factors that make it easier for you and your fellow architects to cross professional boundaries without a second thought.

That being said, there’s nothing wrong with putting up a few boundaries when necessary. I’ve traditionally been bad at doing so in the past, but as I take on a position of more authority and management in my office, I can see that I need to draw the line somewhere. No time like the present. Even more interesting is that Jann told me she wants me to be honest about Pete’s performance, tell her exactly how he’s doing. Well, we’ll see.

7 comments:

BaxtersMum said...

more proof that architects are getting laid on a regular basis.

dammit. I knew I should changed majors.

St. Blogwen said...

Thank God for Guy and his clear-headed perspective!

ms. kitty said...

Good insights from Guy and also good reception of those insights on your part, Pixie. Smart---both of you.

Diesel said...

They need to make a Grey's Anatomy-type show about architects. I probably wouldn't watch it, but it would be one less damned show about doctors or lawyers.

Mile High Pixie said...

You know, Diesel, even *I* wouldn't watch a show like that. Architects can be boring, always talking about shop drawings and cranky owners and how much sleep we don't get and how little we're paid. Wah, wah, wah. But yeah, at least it wouldn't be about frickin' doctors or lawyers, huh?

Ms. Theologian said...

Boundaries good.

Marcian said...

“First,” he said, “if she’s not willing to guide Arnie at least somewhat and help him understand his mistakes, she’s just setting him up for failure, and she’s gonna keep getting the same shitty work out of him that she’s getting now. That’s really bad management on her part. Second, I think it’s perfect that she’s putting Pete with you. Now, you get the chance to set a clear line with Pete. You’re gonna manage him, and you’re gonna work with him, but you’re not interested in being his pal or cutting him some slack, no matter if he’s older than you or has done whatever in previous jobs. Doesn’t matter. His job is to do the job. If he gives you trouble, you tell Jann and let her deal with it, or avoid it, whatever she does.”

Very wise words, indeed.