Bureaucratese

bureaucracy :-) #jboye14Bureaucracy has it’s own language; Bureaucratese. Over the course of my lifetime, I have learned to translate it on the fly – but apparently this skill is one very few have. In this entry, I will cover a few different words and what they actually mean.

This post will be updated as I things jar my memory.

Acronyms: The more acronyms associated with a bureaucracy, the more inefficient it is. This complexity also leads to potential corruption.

Analysis: A means of finding meaning from metrics or data which may or may not be appropriate depending on the context of the metrics and/or data, as well as what the actual point is.

Bureaucrat: Someone who takes exception to these definitions. Typically someone who has drank the Kool-Aid and is trying to be a distributor.

Capacity: The potential to do something. Unless this word is associated with a concrete way to measure things (see ‘Metric’), it’s a useless word that communicates the hopes and dreams of the Stakeholder writing it.  They might want Funding.

Committee: A group of legal entities, perhaps even Stakeholders, that attempts to do something of worth. It involves meetings, agendas, and all manner of documentation.

Data: A generic term that may or may not involve metrics; metric that comes from forms, as an example, may or may not be useful based on the questions asked and the audience.

Diversity: Diverse, but having little or no conflict that needs to be resolved by people who are actual stakeholders but have no actual say in a committee or group.

Documentation: Something that rarely reflects the reality of a situation in a bureaucracy.

e'<insert word here>’: A 1990s methodology of trying to bring the word ‘electronic’ to bear on matters that are about technology implementation of the word used. For example, ‘eBureaucracy’ would be about using technology to implement Bureaucracy.

eBusiness: What the rest of the world calls business.

eDemocracy: There’s really no such thing. It’s either a democratic process or not.

eGovernance: A reference to policies and processes that the bureaucracies wants to create to make their jobs easier. They usually create committees and have multi-stakeholder approaches to doing this (see associated definitions).

Funding: Money necessary to create more bureaucracy while making sure people who are creating the bureaucracy continue to get paid.

Human Capacity: A reference to people who do concrete things.

ICT: What the rest of the world calls ‘IT’. It stands for Information Communication Technology and assures correspondence has a character that makes people believe that it is somehow different to the popular use of “Information Technology” -‘IT’.

Leverage: A poor reference to physics; the idea is that a small amount of energy can be used to do great things with a lever. When the word ‘leverage’ is used, it’s usually associated with a notion that something will be done. This word, especially when used with ‘Synergy’, typically means you can ignore the sentence since they’re discussing hopes and dreams. Hopes and dreams have a purpose, but in bureaucratese, they are tongue in cheek since bureaucracy chokes hopes and dreams with red tape.

Metric: A way of measuring things; this can be useful if the appropriate things are measured and are simply fluff if the inappropriate things are measured. This word is typically used with the word ‘Analysis’ wandering around somewhere nearby, and thus bears scrutiny to assure that the appropriate things are being measured in the first place.

Multi-stakeholder: See ‘Stakeholder‘. When this word is used, it refers to a mix of stakeholders. Stakeholder bias, the bias implicit in the types of stakeholders involved (such as companies alone) is masked by the use of this word.

Synergy: This used to be a really impressive word that implied collaboration or integration of some sort. Now it’s sort of an empty word, where you can ignore the sentence it is in – especially if the sentence includes ‘Leverage’.

Stakeholder: A legal entity that is involved. The casual reader might think this refers to people – and sometimes it might include people. It is used in various ways in various dialects of Bureaucratese, but typically it means any legal entities involved – from a government organization to a non-government organization, to a business, to a actual human being.

When the word is used, make sure that who the stakeholder is is communicated, and why they are a stakeholder. The reason of why they are a stakeholder is typically associated with what sort of legal entity they are. A company will try to be more profitable, a government organization might wish to have more control over citizens, a non-profit might give you a nice warm and fuzzy intention underneath there is the need to get the next round of funding. Actual humans will typically be interested in opposing at least some of all of that. If there are no humans as stakeholders, members of society, then that tells you a lot.

Strategy: Typically a methodology of using bureaucracy to create more bureaucracy, typically an unconscious bait-and-switch while saying that the bureaucracy will be accomplishing other tasks. This almost always entails the need for Funding, as well as the creation of new Acronyms.

Did I miss something? Is there a word confusing you? Drop a comment and I’ll help you clear it up. 

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On Diversity Training

Diversity training has recently become a topic of conversation again, mainly because a Harvard Business Review published, “Why Diversity Programs Fail“. I have my own thoughts on diversity programs as an INTJ third culture kid and as a multicultural.

Here’s a good quote from the above-mentioned article (emphasis mine):

…Despite a few new bells and whistles, courtesy of big data, companies are basically doubling down on the same approaches they’ve used since the 1960s—which often make things worse, not better. Firms have long relied on diversity training to reduce bias on the job, hiring tests and performance ratings to limit it in recruitment and promotions, and grievance systems to give employees a way to challenge managers. Those tools are designed to preempt lawsuits by policing managers’ thoughts and actions. Yet laboratory studies show that this kind of force-feeding can activate bias rather than stamp it out…

The article pretty much lays out the reasons for diversity training – avoidance of lawsuits – and the problems with it.

I remember the first time I suffered a formal diversity training was at Honeywell. A woman of European descent was telling us about how important diversity was, but kept dancing along the legal talking points and therefore wasn’t talking too much about diversity at all.

I chuckled through most of it because it was pretty dumb and was focusing on the differences – not the commonalities. As someone who had to forge his own identity instead of having one handed to him, this all seemed ludicrous to me. And, as usual in the United States, diversity was a black and white issue. Being a shade of brown, it was at times painful to watch since it did seem to create a bias when there wasn’t one.

To say that people don’t get promoted because they aren’t someone that their boss more easily relates to – I call it ‘one of us’ syndrome – is false. As much as a lot of us hate the suck-ups, we know that they get promoted by pretending to be like the boss. When you’re a different culture, that’s harder to do. When you’re a different color, it’s even more difficult. My response has been simply not to suck up, which is why I’m probably not a CTO somewhere now, but I’m perfectly OK with that.

Fast forward 20 years, and while at a non-profit that dealt with bipolar issues, I went through even more diversity training that went completely sideways. In their case, they were trying to deal with the accusation that they were a ‘white’ organization, so I heard a lot about ‘white privilege’ from our Afro-American facilitator. It went completely sideways; the hispanic woman and the two brown guys (I was one of them) were suddenly trying to keep everyone together. We kind of did that, sort of. It was messy.

And with those two as the extremes I’ve seen over the years – the rest were vanilla and boring – I’ve come to some conclusions about diversity training:

  • It doesn’t actually work. In fact, when you have a brown person in a room surrounded by those without pigmentation, that person pretty much feels singled out as the example. Some argue that this demonstrates why it is needed. It’s a self-serving argument; if you hire good people based on merit then you simply get what you get.
  • It becomes a glib talking point for the people who don’t understand diversity: They’ll talk about the pains of having to be politically correct and roll their eyes as they word their emails. In this way, diversity training reinforces the problem.
  • The people who feel singled out may either be apologetic or feel empowered, but neither is a proper outcome in a diverse environment. In fact, they may even feel more sensitive than they did before.
  • The business need for less legal costs (which is really what this is about) never had a great metric to start with, so tangible results are impossible. “We get sued less often” might be true, but it might not, and it has no bearing on the future.

Diversity is messy. It cannot be taught by training. Diversity requires empathy, not sympathy, and it requires people to have a world view beyond their own identity. As a TCK multicultural, I don’t understand why this is such a big issue from my own experience, but it is a big issue for people.

And at the end of all of this – you don’t have to like people that you work with and you don’t have to be liked. You don’t have to have dinner with coworkers, you don’t have to sleep with them (HR might have something to say about that). What you have to do is respect people based on merits, and I’m boggled myself by the fact – and it is a fact –  that even people who speak highly of meritocracy themselves are poor at practicing it.

In the end, there’s only one way to allow for diversity – that’s what it is, it’s an allowance – and that is to build on commonalities. If it didn’t happen during the formative years, it’s unlikely that it will happen afterwards – no matter how much money you spend on the problem.