I was having lunch with some of my Government friends this week (back in May, to be exact) to catch-up and hear about the latest projects coming up. This is an awkward part of my new job, which I plan on touching on in another post. Like always, we were talking about our grievances or fixes of agency politics, structure, etc., when we started discussing their internal barriers to innovation and bureaucracy. As he and I discussed before, the barriers are two-fold: one is the 130% risk adverseness of agencies (see future post), and the other is the internal conflict between the “3 kings.” As we sat over our Mexican food, salsa flying around the table, here’s what I gathered. To make this a little more interesting I am trying something new: putting this into a movie analogy. I have put this into a Pulp Fiction analogy, so those of you who have not seen this movie (which includes my younger brother, leaving me feeling like a grandpa), stop right now and watch it. Then, take a really hot shower and restart your reading:
#1: The Wolfe – King of the Beach
This is the employee who has put in their time and is ready to retire. He/she would just like to keep the status-quo and ride out their time as an employee until they reach their 30 years to receive the maximum amount of pension. Who wouldn’t blame them? Why shouldn’t they keep the bureaucracy train going? They’ve put in their time, have been dragged through the mud, and are now waiting
The benefits of this type of employee are that they have a massive amount of knowledge (or at least they should, in theory). They know the major players, know who does what, and can pick up the phone and be the “fixer.” Like Harvey Keitel in Pulp Fiction, their value is showing up in a Acura NSX and bossing around John Travolta. They are called into action and will only react once some sh*t has hit the fan. Usually, it will not be as noble of a cause as the Wolf, which is to get Jules and Vincent out of trouble. It will be because the issue affects their path to retirement, which is their main goal at this stage.
The drawback to this type of employee is shown above: they are reactive. They will not move unless a Marseullus Wallace gives them a call and tells them to clean-up the mess. Then, showing up on a white horse, they at least attempt to fix the problem just enough to appease the boss.
#2: The Marsellus Wallace – King of the Fief
This is the employee who has built up their empire or their little kingdom within the agency. He/she would like to protect their investment and all their movements they have done to get to the top. They have usually spent a decade or 2 in the same department and now would like to sit on their pile of gold, like a Scrooge McDuck. Any movers or shakers will be met with swift, albeit political, consequences (unlike Marsellus Wallace’s sending of Jules and Vincent).
The benefit of this type of employee is that, as a boss, you are sure that they will get done what they need to, but nothing more. They stick to the bare minimum to not piss anybody above them off. If anybody challenges them (say, 3 young guys who owe them money), they’ll send their little army (which each King has) against the offender. For certain employees in this category, they are very effective in this method. They can stomp out any internal issues that can affect their kingdom.
This is all done to protect what they have worked for, which is their motivator. They are not looking to innovate or expand rapidly, which is a detriment to an agency’s health.
#3: The Pumpkin/Honey Bunny – Movers and Shakers
Now, let me post a disclaimer that I could have done Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman’s character) as well. I think its a fair analogy, but I would not know how to put the famous scene where she gets stabbed in the heart by an adrenaline pen in context. I mean, how do you put that in such a riveting context of governmental agency politics.
Stream of consciousness aside, this is the employee every agency looks for, at least what they think they want. Management wants people who are self-motivated and self-starters, which eases their burden. They do not need to push their employees; however, if the manager is a Marsellus Wallace, they will get annoyed as they feel they have to reign in their employees. These employees are normally the young bloods or those who are more idealized than the rest. They have yet to be jaded by the constant barrage of negativity by the other employees.
These employees are in constant battle with the other 2 types, as they both threaten kingdoms and shake things up. For #1, this employee tends to challenge their knowledge and seniority. This is not explicitly #3’s intent, as, in their mind, they seek to make things better. They do not necessarily see the current state of affairs in a negative light, but this is how #1 perceives it. For #2, these two have the strongest friction. The mover and shaker (#3) now explicitly sees the king as a hurdle they need to overcome. This comes down to a battle of politics (#2) and stamina (#3).
So, if you could not tell, I was #3 in my position. I felt that I really wanted to do some good in the job I had, and had an obligation to the public to try and make their transport a better place. I ran into #1 and #2 constantly, and, finally, I left the government and got hired on by a private company. I have more control over my destiny, but it is more work and I am at the whims of my clients.
So, this is my best attempt at making this a digestible conversation. If you are in the government, or even if you are not, what kind of employees do you see at your workplace? Do you see a trend?
*I could have used Jules as either #1 or #2 as he is looking to retire. Bruce Willis could have been used for #3, but I am impartial to Tim Roth’s character. Vincent was useless in this story. Sorry John…