Shooting the Messenger

Till Death Do Us Part


Audrey, a tall slim seductive black woman who had immigrated to Canada from St. Lucia, had a temper, which may explain why she was at the top of one manager's list as the person I would have to “deal with” if I was going to turn things around. Landers said he had tried, but all he got for his troubles was a waste basket kicked in his general direction when he interrupted her work.

Landers, a fixer from HQ sent to investigate what was wrong with the CRU prior to my appointment was right. She would have to be dealt with, but not in the way he suggested. Yes, she complained, and yes she was loud, but it was music to my ears. She too cared about doing a good job.

Except for perhaps Fran and Juliette, I probably spent more time with Audrey than with any other employee.

Burroughs Accounting MachinesAudrey was one of the two B80s (Burroughs Accounting Machines) operators. They were another significant step up the evolutionary ladder towards the automated office for those not afraid of heights.

Audrey was more than cooperative when I decided to investigate what these babies could do.

The B80 could be programmed to do things, things like Aging Reports that gave the status of your accounts receivables at a glance. An absolute necessity if you’re going to efficiently manage and follow up past-due accounts.

I arranged for the machines to be programmed to produce, among other things, an Accounts Receivable Aging Report on demand. With these Aging, and other useful management reports that the B80s were now programmed to produce on a regular basis (and the write-off of what I considered uncollectible), the CRU began to get a handle on past due accounts.

I spent time with Audrey not only because she was the key to getting accounts receivables under control, but also because I had decided to give the B80 operators a raise. Classification had not caught up with the complexity and demand of the work that employees like Audrey did with these sophisticated pieces of automated office equipment; they were more than just data entry clerks.

You said that there were two of these machines. What about the other operator?

Of course, Diane.

Diane was still a work-in-progress when I left the CRU. Diane was a closet alcoholic. Unlike another young female employee who enjoyed drinking, and was easier to deal with since she made no bones about it, I did not realize that Diane had a problem until much later.

The B80s shared a separate enclosed space because of the noise they made and the need for a controlled environment where the temperature was constant and dust kept to a minimum. Operating these machines was tedious and stressful. Whether to relieve the stress, because she was bored, or simply to bug Audrey, Diane would quote verses from the Bible.

Typical of alcoholics, she knew exactly what to do or to say to wound or to harass, and to do it when her target was most vulnerable. Apart from that, and being MacArthur's unofficial eyes and ears at the CRU, Diane was quite personable and agreeable to change.

I told her that religion was a private matter, and quoting the Bible out loud on government time stopped. That, and because she was spending less and less time working with the B80s seem to solve that problem.

As work with the B80s decreased with a reduction in receivables (small buyers were also encourage to buy from local retailers of maps and such) Diane was asked to do other odd jobs, including working in the mailroom now that Janine was no longer with us. She liked that, or so it seemed.

I could easily have fallen in love with Audrey. Perhaps I did and will not admit it. She was my type of woman; a woman who knows her own mind.

Yes, but what about Carole?

Yes, Carole had a body, a personality and a drive that when she walked into my office to tell me about a problem and not to worry she had it under control, I was overwhelmed. Carole was a living, positive affirmation that beauty is so much more than skin deep (Carole had a Trudeau-like skin condition). Yes, I was attracted to her, but I was closer to Audrey, having spent more time with her.

This discussion is not beside the point. Read on.

People like Carole and Audrey are the type of people that make government work at a very basic level.

At the managerial level there is another class of employees who are essential to the good functioning of the Federal Public Service; they are the professionals who advised and assist the managers.

As a line manager I could call at any time on the services of lawyers, accountants, engineers, doctors and, of course, staffing professionals. I could not do my job without them.

I did not always take their advice even when I should have. They understood this and did not take it personally, and would even help undue a bad decision on my part. A case in point:

I faced my first staffing action for a permanent position. I was determined to make it the fairest competition ever. To that end, I prepared a purely objective interview questionnaire. There would be no room for any subjective evaluation of a candidate's suitability for the job.

I don't remember if the staffing professional who assisted me told me that this was a really stupid thing do. If he didn’t, he should have, and if he did, this was one piece of advice I should have followed.

The winner of the competition, after adding up the scores was the worst possible choice. I decided to hold another competition. The staffing professional recommended I accept the result so as to avoid a grievance (a complaint) and not cancel this competition and have another. As Chairman of the Selection Board it was my prerogatives.

I cancelled the competition and told the winning candidate why. He understood. There was no grievance.

It is not enough that a competition is fair; it has to be seen to be fair. Nothing destroys the credibility of the staffing process faster than the general perception that the most meritorious person did not get the job. You see it all the time.

The person who everyone expected to get the job was well-liked, knowledgeable and industrious. She had been doing the job on a temporary basis for months, and doing it well. She flubbed the interview simply because she was nervous and missed a few simple questions.

Because I had made no allowance for personal suitability I was faced with, not only appointing the less qualified person, but also a person for whom the girls had no respect. It was not only that they questioned his ability to do the job better than the losing candidate but they also found his morals questionable.

This was not your MTV generation of young women. They did not think it was funny that this young man made out in the parking lot with a girl who had only recently reached the age of consent and had the mental age of someone even younger. The young lady did not work for me.