Sunday, June 6, 2010

Minister Without Portfolio

Karen asked in comments how my new job at the beach is going. I don't like to blog about work much, but I thought I'd try to tell you what I'm experiencing.

My employer has temporarily assigned me to another department to assist that department's manager, specifically for one of the areas that manager oversees. The staff working in that area are having trouble managing their workload and are hampered by difficult procedures.

In the meeting where I was given my instructions, phrases like "modeling good practices" were mentioned. The word "support" was used several times - both in the context of supporting the manager, and in the context of supporting the manager's subordinates.

I'm trying to feel my way through this. Am I "modeling good practices" to a staff who need firmer leadership? Or to a floundering manager? Does the manager welcome my presence, or was I imposed on the department by the bosses? Am I upper management's spy? Am I the manager's spy on the staff? Am I an extra body to shoulder the work load? The answer seems to be that I'm all those things.

This makes me nervous because in addition to the ambiguity of my position, I'm wondering if I can meet the task. After a week, I can already see that there are some serious issues here - unrealistic expectations, poor communication, unclear policies, and unbalanced priorities. And there are some problems that need changing immediately or they'll put the business in jeopardy.

Can I really make a difference, streamline the office's operation, make the staff's jobs easier, complete the manager's stalled projects, and keep the bosses happy?

I'm not very politically adept - and, as a matter of fact, in previous jobs I've sometimes gotten into the weeds, politically. I can be impatient, tend to think my way is the only right way, and can often be intolerant of others' weaknesses. I'm trying to be mindful of past mistakes to avoid making them here.

There's a workplace joke about a "seagull manager" - someone who flies in, makes a lot of noise, craps all over everyone, and then flies out again. It's tempting for me to voice all my first-impression observations and demand some changes - but the last thing the department needs is a seagull manager.

[The Man I Love] suggested a better model to keep in mind.

A "Minister Without Portfolio" is a term used to designate a high-level government official with no specific responsibilities, or one that does not head a particular department. A minister without portfolio may be someone with power who is responsible for a carrying out certain part of another minister's duties. He may be there as an adviser to a government leader, or as an emissary from one official to oversee a less senior official's domain.

So to avoid becoming a Seagull Manager, I'm trying to think of myself as a Minister Without Portfolio - a seasoned professional, here to help out, to advise, to lend my expertise. To avoid territorial conflicts, to stay above the fray, and make a positive contribution.

Wish me luck. I welcome your suggestions.

At least the scenery is great!


M. Bouffant said...

I can't offer anything beyond best wishes, as my political skills are probably fifty times worse than yours really are. (Assuming you're being self-deprecating/modest.)

Enjoy the beach, share photos, & remember neither the fun of the beach nor the agony of the assignment can last forever.

Cloudia said...

welcome to MY line :)

Aloha from Waikiki

Comfort Spiral

Gilly said...

Oh my! That sounds a tough assignment! But I suppose don't take sides, be yourself, but don't think you have to be bending over backwards to avoid offending anyone all the time!

After all, you don't want love, but respect! Minister without Portfolio sounds just the job!

(We have one in the UK, too)

Good luck!


You seem perfect for the job. Really.
Perhaps you were assigned this spot to enjoy the beach. Hope you do.

Sue said... sounds as if you have really thought it all through (maybe too much?) and are facing your new challenge with the right attitude. I tend to hate to see things that aren't run properly. I want to take over everything and "fix" it so I get where you are coming from.

cactus petunia said...

I was squirming in my seat while I read that post. I've been there, and the only thing worse than that is if no one told THEM that's why you're there...Good luck!

(I think you're approaching it with the right attitude, if that helps!)

shrink on the couch said...

Not much experience in this area, except that I have been managed many times and always liked it when our opinions were sought out. What types of streamlining maneuvers did we think could help the bottom line, etc.

All that said, I have never heard the term "seagull manager." Big smile of recognition here.

Beverly said...

I have a very strong hunch that you are just the person that can make a big difference.

I'll be thinking of you. Positivity is contagious.

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

Clearly, you are not a "seagull manager" because you have too much tact! I think perhaps my husband may have come into his job of managing a specific project as one of those. I'm a little worried about his retirement, just in case he decides to bring that work persona home.

I think you will do well. Best wishes!