I love office politics.
I work for a small downtown Toronto university (not the U of T , the other one). This is my most recent vent about the poisoned workplace and corporate culture that is allowed to propogate and supported at the highest levels. None of the vent is particularly new, i.e., bad management, bad decision making, etc., what is new is my motivation for doing this in a more public manner.
- It was announced my contract would not be renewed
- The number of personal attacks on me has increased, and now includes managers starting rumors of my relationship with my wife ending, among other things
- Changes in how my duties are assigned
- Removal of my ability to make decisions without clearance from my direct manager
I have never been particularly happy with my job at RyeHigh, this is partially because I took a significant pay cut to work at Ryerson, partially because this employment was forced upon me by the bank to funding Kristin’s Toronto optometry practice, partially because I live in Human Resources.
After 3 years, I have been able to define a role, a team, a set of responsibilities and projects at Ryerson that are a lot of fun, have provided opportunities for personal and professional growth. I had decided in late March that I like my current role, it let me define projects, deliverables, technology, and would stay for a while anyway (another 2 years or until we’d selected and successfully implemented a new HRMS). There were “strategic” changes that occurred in early June, that resulted the above changes to my position. In addition to the changes mentioned above, the decision was made that we would do no new “development” or maintenance of the existing custom-built systems. These changes have really forced me to evaluate what I want to be when I grow up.
But these changes had me thinking that I was a bad employee, that I had failed the University in some capacity, that I my decisions were negligent and increasing risk exposure. Yesterday, when I started to feel an incredible chest pain and tingling down my left arm. This scared me, to my very core, I don’t want to die at work. I want to love what I do, I want to be proud of my work, and I want to be a good boss and a good employee. But in the past month, while I’ve done the same things I’ve done for the past 3 years suddenly I was a bad employee. This causes me great internal stress and adds to the general stress that is life. In the course of one month, I’ve gone from being a superstar performer to being reprimanded and having my responsibilities diminished, when I’ve done nothing different. The stress has caught up with me, I get panicky, nervous, shaky thinking about returning. Partially because I am going to be asked to do things that I know are risky, that will most likely not produce the desired outcome, and that don’t make me feel proud about my work ("don’t fix the user experience because this is a stop-gap/temporary solution that will be gone in the next year after we implement the new HRMS").
This situation has been building over the past month, and more and more I am being blamed for the same behaviours that I was rewarded for just weeks ago. I am curious at the motivation for this 180 degree turn in the senior management. It was through a series of unrelated conversations about change in general at the University that provided me some new insight and a new hypothesis about why I would become the scapegoat and not remain the golden child.
Warning this is a huge ego trip 😉
Ryerson has hired Sheldon Levy as the successor to the current president. Mr. Levy is starting in the next couple of months, he has worked at a variety of educational institutions (U of T, York U, Sheridan College, UOIT, etc.). He has seen successful academic and built successful research organizations. Mr. Levy seems to have a vision to continue to make Ryerson University a leader. Mr. Levy is a change agent, and he is poised to push Ryerson out of it’s days as RyeHigh into being a real university with a focus on both teaching and research (it reminds me of the transition stories told about the transition from CarnegieTech to Carnegie Mellon University ).
There is a lot of fear amongst the senior administration at Ryerson, most of whom are Ryerson graduates and have never worked anywhere else. They’ve spent 20+ years of their careers, from their salad days to their eventual promotion to senior management only at Ryerson. They remember the old days, the way it used to be, before there was technology, when their responsibilities were very narrow. Rather than looking to supporting the University, faculty members, and students, they defend the little piece of the world they own. Every decision becomes shrouded in the politics of today, yesterday and 10 years ago. I can’t tell you the number of meetings where one of the arguments to do nothing is "David, we made a decision as a group back in 1996 (1989, 1977, 1998, insert whatever date)" Rather than being open for discussion, the discussion is avoided because it will bring out all of the old and current politics. It is assumed that nothing has changed in the world for the past 30 years and that these deep personal and political wounds can’t be overcome.
As a change agent, I look for new technologies, new people, new processes to improve my situation (and hopefully the situation of those around me), some might call this “innovation”. The last 3 years have been spent building throw-away self-service solutions for managers and employees using technology that has been deployed for other purposes. There is the need for innovation all around. Management innovation, technology innovation, process innovation. There are opportunities to improve all aspects of the University. By understanding and embracing the need to build an organization that can be agile, this means that I am threat to the establishment at Ryerson (can you say antiestablishmentarianism). I bring new ideas, new thoughts, new experiences to the team and I challenge the current way of doing things. I have work in and built other successful organizations. I question. I question authority. I embrace change. I don’t assume that the way we do it is the only way of doing it. I assume that we should be building an organziation capable of sustaining and surviving change. With a new leader who has a track record of not accepting the status quo, I could provide fuel to the change fire.