Wednesday 24 April 2019

Fall on your sword, please

Years ago ?2005? during the Celtic Tiger, I applied for a part-time (2 hr / week)  job at The Institute where I now work. After the interview, I was offered the job and after some dithering I accepted. That was the middle of November, so there were 9 weeks to finalise the pay-and-conditions, before I started teaching in January. My interactions with HR were exasperating, so much so that I terminated one phone call with "I can't bring myself to speak to you any more without starting to shout, so it is better if we conduct further dialogue by e-mail - brrrrrrrrr". The details were complicated so I won't bore you with them here but I will say that when the contract finally arrived in the mail, it was a contract for another post with another name at the top. While I was still smarting, I ranted about this sorry interlude with my friend Nick [whom we've met before] who used to be a senior HR manager for a merchant bank in London. With Socratic rhetoric, Nick asked "If you were the hottest property in HR, would you be working for a sleepy under-funded Institute of higher education in the Irish Midlands?" To which the answer must be "No".

Science Foundation Ireland is, apart from the EU, the main source of funds for scientific research in Ireland. They have several schemes and calls and several application deadlines each year. Because we are, finally, in the 21stC, the submissions are all electronic and the website refuses to accept any submissions after the deadline. All automatic, no people involved, so you can't slip an application under the door after the official deadline. In the 00s, I helped my gaffer put many grant applications together and I always found it stressful because I don't do deadlines well. In ~2004 here was a call from the Department of Agriculture's Food Institutional Research Measure FIRM [whc we've laughed at before]. We decided to apply; but the process stalled on the back burner [as we spent the last of the old money doing science] until about two weeks before the deadline . . . when we started to populate the various parts of the Application. The science; the budget; the payroll; the Deliverables; a Gantt chart with all the Workpackages WPs; a PERT diagram to show the dependencies; the scientific summary; the lay summary; the bibliography; the UncleTomCobblology. The deadline was 5pm on Friday. I only worked at the office on Thursdays and I put in a long day, sucking a pencil and writing chunks of text to fill each of the boxes on the form. The arrangement was that when the final draft was approved, the Technician would print it all out and hand-deliver it to DoAg in town. On the Friday, the Gaffer and I were both working from home putting final touches to the application. At lunchtime, I packed it in and went offline & offsite for the afternoon. It was before ubiquitous smartphones so you could escape in this way. I returned in the evening to a succession of increasingly frantic e-mails from the Technician asking for the final final copy for printing and delivery.

It was sitting in the outbox of The Gaffer's computer but not Sent. In 2004, we were still Ould Ireland. At 0900hrs on Monday, the Gaffer phones up the contact in the DoAg. He says (I paraphrase) "Sure we aren't going to start looking at the applications until after lunch; if you can get your application in by about 10am, that will be grand". Which was both endearingly laid-back and infuriatingly complacent and prone to corruption at the same time. The key back then was the post-mark on the envelope. My other boss at the time discovered that, if you took your package out to the central sorting office on the Naas Road before Midnight, then it would be date-stamped within the deadline. That won seven after-office hours for recalculation and polishing.

SFI had a deadline at Noon on the last Friday of March. The Institute is less sleepy than it was in 2005 and several of the more ambitious young lecturers decided to apply for funds. No more than any corporation with proper governance, The Suits of The Institute insists that, while the scientists write the science, the final sign-off must come from The Suits. Well the process failed that Friday. The scientists sent their final drafts off up the hierarchy but failed to get the expected acknowledgement. The Suits or their robot proxies had failed to forward the application to the SFI!  When they were apprised of the deficit after lunch, they tried to submit (late) but SFI server made that rigidly robotically impossible. A telephone call to SFI was met with a firm, almost incredulous, borderline contemptuous, No! That's the bargain we've struck with 21stC Ireland: transparent; incorruptible; inflexible; monolithic; professional; unimaginative; fair.

Anyone going to  lose their job over that blunder?? Either the Suit who should have signed off the applications but failed to do so OR the fellow who designed the mail-bouncer that allowed the relevant Suit to be playing golf on Friday afternoon?
Hint: the HR people who, in 2005, cheese-pared my salary and treated me and my lifetime's experience with contempt are still drawing a salary, still being doctrinaire, confrontational and unimaginative; and presumably still occasionally sending out the wrong contract to potential employees.

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