So the thing about Project Bob is that he’s really not a bad person. He’s simply a product of his environment – the public sector. He started out as someone who wanted to do good, to be effective, to reach those who needed help – and he still is that person. Only now he has been patiently trained in ‘the way things are done around here’.
Now this manifests in two ways, and these are particularly relevant to anyone from outside local government who has had to do business with him.
First, he has a special language. He’s heard of the mythical beast known as Plain English, but he’s never seen its footprints. He takes great care over each phrase, each paragraph in his regular reports to make sure he is creating the right impression. Suggest that he makes it a little less jargon, and he will accuse you of ‘dumbing down’ and ‘underestimating the intelligence of your audience’. “Everybody knows what that term means” is a favourite phrase.
Indeed they do. It means ‘if I laid it out in words of one syllable it would sound bad. My way sounds better.’
There’s also the argument that ‘this is for an internal audience’. Well ok … Don’t your colleagues also deserve to be given accurate information without any bullshit? I think they do.
Second, he has a special time-sense. To him, ‘as soon as possible’ means something quite different to someone outside the walls. It varies, but possible meanings include:
‘After I’ve checked with the senior managers involved’ (anything up to 3 weeks depending on how much access he has to those important people)
‘Not before the next committee meeting’ (usually around 2 months)
‘Once I’m sure of the figures’ (2 weeks to get the numbers, 1 week to make sense of them, 1 week to make the chart look good)
By the way, these estimates don’t even necessarily refer to consecutive days or discrete blocks of time.
So something that you need an answer for within the week, and in your own organisation would be resolved by the end of the day, will take him so long that you’ll begin to wonder if he is dead, ignoring you, or trapped under something heavy and unable to signal for help.
How do you work with this? It’s frustrating and time consuming and much of the time it’s the reason why the community and voluntary sector can’t or won’t work with us, and end up going ahead without us. It’s also the reason why the private sector appears to be so pushy. They know they have to start bugging us in February if they want a contract signed by Christmas.