My work's training is a bad joke and I'm frustrated. My bad?
May 28, 2012 10:39 AM   Subscribe

New job isn't training me in a way I seem to learn in, and it's frustrating me to no end. Is it all my fault?

I started a new job six months ago and was hired as a senior within the team, but I'm still having to hand over all my work to be signed by someone else. I was expecting to come into the job with the ability to just pick things up and instead wasn't allowed to do anything on my own for the first couple months. Seriously, dead simple, repetitive tasks. No dice.

The "training" process has been that I print the screen of the system I'm working in, have to mark it up in pen and then wait for it to be signed by someone else. Very tedious and an incredible waste of paper, but more importantly: I suck at it. It seems that I'm missing enough stuff they still won't give me sign off to do my job independently, and it's becoming embarrassing.

I've asked repeatedly for more to do on my own, but it seems there's always a something I haven't done that would have helped build their trust in me. Nothing I was assigned, mind you, but rather that I didn't think of doing on my own (despite being so crippled in my ability to do anything, apparently).

This is a job where there's a high volume of work and much of it is time-sensitive, so it's very difficult to have a consistent flow because eventually I'll run into something I'm not signed off to do (despite that there's only around a dozen or so tasks involved in the job) and have to stop and wait for a signature, which sometimes takes all day.

I've always been a quick study in other positions, where I've gotten to interact with the actual system and perhaps even make errors and learn from them. I've been a trainer in the past, even, and on more difficult systems than this. And I've never seen a training process like this. Ever.

I'm so frustrated by this whole process (and, admittedly, with myself) that I'll be the first to admit I tune out when I'm having to print uncompleted work to write on and then wait for. I've also been told that they never expected I'd take this long to learn and that other people within the organization know I'm capable but that it's not showing through my actions. It seems to have become a joke within the department, as I was told in jest that I was over-thinking something, which was "surprising for [me]." Sigh.

Am I wrong to not fully blame myself? Or do I just suck?
posted by to Work & Money (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'll be the first to admit I tune out when I'm having to print uncompleted work to write on and then wait for

Obviously, this is the main problem. This is the part of the job you have control over, and you need to set a goal of doing it fucking perfectly. Decide right now that this week you are going to do it exactly right. Exactly. Right. And spend extra time on it, don't check out, refer back to previous tasks where you got feedback and make sure you're not repeating errors, etc. Do it right, for a week. That's all you should think about this week.

Next week, find someone sympathetic who has done this job. Eat lunch with them. Say "I seem to be struggling with this system - how did you get past this phase? What am I missing?" Listen to the answers.

(Also, continue to do your job perfectly.)

It's really easy to fall into the trap of "This work is beneath me, I am meant for more than this, therefore I don't need to pay attention to what I'm doing." This attitude gets a lot of people in their early 20s fired from jobs they really could have kept. It is a Bad Attitude, and you need to concentrate on losing it.

(A little anecdote: Two summers ago I was unemployed and got a job at the Census office. This was the pinnacle of ridiculous government belt-and-suspenders, ancient-tech makework. We let a lot of kids go because they just couldn't be arsed to file things correctly or learn the half-dozen codes that needed to be input into the computer. And every single kid we fired was brilliant. The less-brilliant ones - and wow, we had some - buckled down and did the super-easy work to the best of their ability, and they were valuable assets.)
posted by restless_nomad at 10:59 AM on May 28, 2012 [14 favorites]

This is a bit baffling because if you're really this BAD at something this simple, it's hard to believe they haven't fired you. On the other hand, a training process this defective sounds like a company that just believes you sink or swim, and if you sink they get another one just like you.

If you're asking if this is nuts - okay, it sounds nuts.

However, what I think about it doesn't matter.

It sounds like a company that rewards compliance with dotting i's and crossing t's more so than individual thinking. There's a place for that in what they expect the rank and file to do, but it's weird that the training process is this screwed up.

I think you have two paths, and you need to choose one very clearly and stick with it:

- spend every waking hour looking for another gig. This one is either f'd up or you're caught in some strange situation where the job calls for some kind of talent or intuition you just don't have (or both). It happens.

- if you believe in this job/company/paycheck enough to fight for it, and see light at the end of the tunnel, like a better position down the road or just to lose the water wings in the one you have now, then you have to quit second-guessing the system and worrying about the waste of paper, etc. and devote your mental energy to DOING IT. If their process calls for you to put the cover page on the TPS report every time, but fold it in half before faxing it so that it remains confidential, then do it. Make yourself checklists on post-its and put them around your desk.

Do you have a supervisor or senior co-worker that you halfway trust that you can ask about this, or is it like a boiler room in there? A NO answer to this would push me hard toward scenario #1. If YES, I would talk about this to them. It would be a positive sign that you're aware of the difficulties and might even yield some advice about how to deal with the specifics that we random people on the internet can't really give.
posted by randomkeystrike at 11:01 AM on May 28, 2012

Are you working at a job where, if you make a mistake, someone could get seriously injured or killed? Or the company have the bejesus sued out of them for a misplaced comma? If your job is responsible for life-or-death situations, then maybe they are justified. But from your description, I doubt this - it seems like a garden-variety corporate cubicle job (correct me if I'm wrong). In which case - this hardly deserves the label of "training." It's more like "deliberately setting you up to fail."

I would say this is a toxic workplace no matter what, but a few reasons for this come up:

- Your superiors are running shit-scared of something or another - have they been told that if their division makes any more mistakes, they're toast? Do they have bullying or irrational higher-ups that jump all over them for their team's mistakes? Are they being threatened with layoffs?

- The last person in your position was so incompetent/lazy/whatever that your supervisors feel like they've been badly burned and want to take precautions that this Never Happens Again and thus the micromanaging.

- Your superiors are micromanagers for no particular reason, and don't know beans about training.

- You have been hired, but for some reason they already regret hiring you and this is a way to force you out.

- Or, more benignly but no less infuriatingly, this is a job that is really all about extreme attention to detail, "that's the rule and that's what we'll do," and paying some (deeply crappy) dues before you're "allowed" to do anything.

Can you sit down with whoever has to sign off on your work and get an explanation? Bring up your concerns - that this is impeding you from learning your job and contributing to your team, and is making more work, and more inefficient work, for both supervisors and staff. What are their concerns? What benefits do they see in training you like this? Can they give you specific milestones for you to meet (not just vague "if you do better, we'll give you more freedom")? Where do they see you in six months?

If you can't get straight answers to the above questions, if they truly are toxic and don't care ("like it or lump it, you can be replaced in a jiffy and there is a line out there waiting for your job") or if this is a culture of dues-paying and by-the-book that you don't feel you fit into, then start looking for another job.

Bottom line: it sounds nuts to me unless lives or livelihoods are at stake.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 11:07 AM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've seen this a lot. People come in and immediately think they'll be doing the really exciting, highest profile stuff then are disappointed that they're not going to be because, well, they're brand new. But if the first few things they do are relatively easy and they're sloppy about it, it's going to take even longer for them to work on the cool stuff (if ever).

It's seems like you're spacing out at the exact moment when you need to be doing your work. Check, recheck, triple check, quadruple check everything you do. There's nothing more infuriating than working with someone who always turns work in with at least one error, especially if you need their work to support your work.
posted by sfkiddo at 11:18 AM on May 28, 2012 [7 favorites]

Sounds like maybe whoever thought up the training program came from the military. It's very similar in two ways. The "you do it, I'll check your work until I stop having a reason to check" is irritating, but works. The other part is classic military: if you can't do something mindless and simple right, why would I give you something difficult, dangerous, or requiring judgment calls?

The good news is, in every "training" situation like that I've been in, it only lasts as long as you keep having trouble with it. Stop fighting it. Eventually your supervisors are going to be confident enough with YOU that they skip the nuisance paperwork drill. You find yourself getting signed off on stuff you don't even know what it IS, much less how to do it.

That's not going to happen until you can turn your brain off and stop feeling offended that you aren't doing what you're there for. Truth is, what you're there for is to do what they tell you as best you can. Just do that.
posted by ctmf at 11:26 AM on May 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

have to stop and wait for a signature, which sometimes takes all day.

It sounds like they are giving you enough time to re-check your work so it should be perfect. Maybe detail-oriented work is not your strong suit; personally, in the situation you describe I would be frustrated and look for other work. If you want to stay there though, do your work perfectly, find a mentor/colleague to look it over, THEN submit for a signature.
posted by saucysault at 11:54 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

No comment on assigning fault, but if you're looking for tools, checklists can be a great help, even if the process seems so simple and brain-dead and repetitive you can't imagine you'd need to refer to one. They really work - see The Checklist Manifesto.

I put several in place in an office situation - one in particular for a task that was ultimately very simple and straightforward, but which was routine and boring and not my favorite part of my job. It was a monthly report with multiple components and a couple of things which needed to be checked on before assembling this or that component. No big external pressure, the error was usually caught by me or a colleague, no recriminations or big deadline rush, I would just have to correct it. So it's not the sort of fraught situation you find yourself in, exactly. I put the checklist in place because I just got tired of going back and correcting and reassembling the damn thing - it made something I didn't enjoy take even longer.
posted by clerestory at 11:58 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd like to start by nthing restless_nomad and sfkiddo.

This "training" system is really bad, so that's not your fault. You have been put in a suboptimal position, so give yourself a break: you are not a bad or lazy person for having difficulty with this not-good system.

However, in any work situation you have to adapt to the environment and deliver what is asked of you. I'm not sure what's going on with your company, but perhaps this isn't "training" so much as "change control?" Maybe they don't allow people to chance certain settings until that person has passed a certain bar, and they're still waiting for you to meet that standard. So maybe it would help to reframe your thinking: it's up to you to handle your training, and this pain-in-the-neck change control process will open up when you're done with that.

So figure out what kind of training suits you and take responsibility for implementing that. Read the manuals if that's your style. Ask a coworker to review topics with you. When you have something that needs a signature, instead of scribbling your changes set up a meeting to review the changes with someone, and come with the changes carefully marked up so your coworker can check your work and review any changes with you. Whatever helps you learn.

As restless_nomad and sfkiddo both mentioned, maybe you're pushing back because these dumb little steps are boring and you'd rather be designing and implementing brilliant solutions than wrestling with change control / training. But this kind of garbage is often necessary, or at least serves some kind of purpose. I recently because a TL and have my first direct reports ever. I now spend almost 10 hrs / wk compiling status reports, because that's what the client needs from the TL. Do I like writing status reports for hours? No, I like designing brilliant solutions. But status reports are what keep me employed, and (counter-intuitively) brilliant solutions do not. So I started by getting the status reports right, and I do them first, then I get to make brilliant solutions. So whatever the reason for this painful training / change control process is, getting through it is what's going to keep you employed. So I think you're just going to have to attack it.

Now, there are workplaces that are just so toxic and have so many pointless rules that they're worth running from. If you find that you just can't work within the rules that your job lays out, maybe you need to move on. I've moved on from 2 jobs in the past 5 years where I just couldn't work in the culture and keep my sanity. But this question doesn't have the information needed to make that determination.
posted by Tehhund at 12:26 PM on May 28, 2012

Is it all my fault?

That is generally not the best way to think about this.

Better questions to ask yourself are:

- What part of this is down to me?
- What aspects of this are within my control?
- What could I do as a work-around for what is not within my control?

The more you can see as being down to you and within your control, the more power you have to achieve the outcome you want. The more you attribute the outcome to things beyond your control or other people's shortcomings, the more stuck and helpless you'll become. (cf What psychologists call Locus of Control.)

So look hard, and don't try to minimize your part in bringing about this state of affairs.

Now if there are clearly things that are within your power to do, and you're not doing them, you need to also ask yourself:

- Why in heck am I not doing that?

A lot of the time, what will be going are one or other of the perversities of human psychology. e.g. You think the system is stupid, you resent it, and you are subconsciously more concerned with giving it the finger than doing what you need to do to succeed. Or it might be there's some part of your brain that thinks if you just sit there long enough refusing to eat your broccoli, mommy will eventually give in and take it away. But that part of your brain hasn't been updated since you were six, and it doesn't grasp that this time it's not going to work out that way.

On the flip side, if there is something that you're convinced "should" be easy for you, and it clearly is not, you need to deal with the reality that it's not actually easy, at least not for you. One example of that which might be relevant here is that people usually imagine it is easy to repeat verbatim what someone else just said to them. In fact this is something that untrained people mostly suck at, and they often need to be shown how badly they suck at taking in exactly what was said before they're able to do it.

If something like that is the issue, maybe you can train yourself to get better at it outside of work by practicing on other tasks where you have to do something with 100% accuracy. Discovering the level of care and concentration that it takes to do such things might be all that you need to learn.
posted by philipy at 12:41 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ok, I can't help adding that as a training program person your question kind of offends me.

Let's look at this from their point of view, pulling no punches:

What makes YOU think that you would be any better at editing stuff "live" on-screen, when you keep screwing up describing what you WOULD do? What makes ME, your boss, think that? From your description it sounds like it isn't a TRAINING issue at all. Are you confused on what the goal is? I mean, you say it's "dead simple." But then the work you turn in for review indicates that if I had let you, you would have fucked up my database.

Know what we call that when the person is just incapable of doing it right even though they know what they're supposed to do? A performance issue. Worse, you know what we call it when they know what they're supposed to do, and are fully capable of it, but still don't do it? "Fired for cause," if I can be bothered to document it enough. The fact that people are remarking that you're taking too long to complete this process even though they think you're capable is a bad, bad sign.

You need to identify what actual knowledge/training you need that you don't already have, if any. Then, get it, by actively asking for it. Don't wait for me to figure out "the way you seem to learn in"; tell me what you need. Then, focus on showing me that you can do what I asked you to do. I must have thought you could do it at some point, or I wouldn't have hired you in the first place. You need to do this soon, because right now you're dead weight that's been costing me money for six months.

Oh, and stop asking for other stuff to do. I hired you to do this, not whatever you think sounds more fun.

/tough love

Forget for now that there is an easier or quicker or more efficient way to do it, if only they would let you. Just relax and focus on being the best print-screen-and-edit-with-a-pen guy there ever was. It will all work out fine.
posted by ctmf at 12:50 PM on May 28, 2012 [6 favorites]

If you have really been successful in past jobs, then I would chalk this one up to a cultural mismatch that has snowballed, and get out asap while the getting is good. It's not anything to be proud about, but I once failed in a job all because of the way my bosses approached editing my writing. You wouldn't think that their insistence on hard copy editing would be so important ... Yet somehow it was! I knew I wasn't an idiot and could do the work, but would lose my way every time they refused again to use track changes and I had to type in all their stupid extra commas ...
posted by yarly at 1:06 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

i totally feel for you. i've been in a contract position for over a year now. most of the time i get to do pretty cool stuff, but sometimes—bc i am the one contract person on the team—i have to do the crappiest work that is beneath my skills and abilities. in fact, i was ostensibly hired to do only the crappy stuff, but the fact that i get to do other, cool stuff is bc i've proven my skills and abilities. this is acknowledged by everyone in my department to my face and to others. they will bitch about the fact that i have to do the crappy stuff; they think it's right and proper that i bitch about the fact that i have to do it…but you know what? i do it. very well. well enough that the directors and the president of the company for whom i do this stuff acknowledge and thank me for it—and sometimes reward me for it. and bc i do it well, i get to bitch about it.

so if what you are tasked to do is "seriously dead simple" stuff and you are six months into it and still haven't performed to the level you were expected to, then, yes, it is mostly your fault. why? …I'll be the first to admit I tune out when I'm having to print uncompleted work to write on and then wait for. you think this job is beneath you, and yet you haven't actually been able to perform it satisfactorily. this job/company is either not a good fit for you and you need to start looking for one that is, or you need to buckle down and prove to everyone that you can, in fact, do this job for which you were hired—which you should be able to do because, as you claim, it's so easy. bc no one is going to give you the cool stuff until you show them that you can do the easy stuff very well, or acceptably at the very least.

also? the joking about your performance? you should take that very seriously. it's one thing to make jokes about performance in a professional setting as long as they are ironic but when they're not, and they're about you, you'd better improve your performance or start counting your days at this particular company.
posted by violetk at 1:29 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is just a poor fit. Your resentment about the poor fit is seeping into your work. Hard copy mark ups are actually easier to do - the system I use now is that I will always do hard copy mark ups and make changes as I go. Takes slightly longer but is more thorough. That is actually the only way to know you are actually seeing everything you need to do.

But, really, you came into a senior position expecting autonomy and you didn't get it. Instead, you feel like you're being treated like a kid and you're resentful. You think their system is crap (wasteful, time-consuming) so you're resentful. Your time is being wasted.

The best possible thing would be for you to start looking for something somewhere else.
posted by mleigh at 2:10 PM on May 28, 2012

Response by poster: @ctmf: The thing is that the vast majority of what I'm getting back is right - that's what infuriates me. I've demonstrated ability to correctly do just about everything that comes in, for six months but there's been no incremental freedoms, aside from some very basic stuff. And so, in the course of doing my work, I'm being arbitrarily made to turn in is stuff I understand in concept and on the system.

And that's where I really do, honestly, just get angry. That I'm spending my time writing in pen on stuff that I've shown I know in and out. And I plead with them for more sign-off, and it's never revisited. And there's no clear timeline, except that I should have learned it by now?

As a training program person (especially one who doles out the tough love), I'm sure you do better by the people you train than this.
posted by at 2:12 PM on May 28, 2012

Response by poster: Oh, and thanks all for your input. Much appreciated!
posted by at 2:24 PM on May 28, 2012

Yeah, if you're doing what the sign-off requires, and then they just can't be bothered to actually sign you off, and then blame it on you, then I agree. They suck.
posted by ctmf at 2:24 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

More and more this looks like a dysfunctional training situation, not your fault. You were hired for a senior position - which implies that you had experience and skills required for the position. Everyone needs some training and guidance through the first few months of learning about the new company, its culture, how things work there, its database quirks, etc. However, it sounds as if you are being treated like the most junior of entry-level employees and that is what is wrong.

There is a certain level of micromanagement and grunt work that entry-level employees (often) go through, but it doesn't seem right that this is expected of someone hired at a senior level.

I would, again, try talking to your supervisor (if you have several, pick the one that seems to have the most clout) and ask: What do you hope this specific training will accomplish? Can I have some concrete goals to work toward (as in measurable, not vague "when you do better" type hand-waving)? Keep a record of the time spent waiting for someone to sign off on your work, have that in hand and say, "According to this weekly log, X hours were spent waiting for Joe Blow to sign off on my work. As a result, my team was kept waiting and could not accomplish [goal]." You want to give specific, concrete examples of how this "training" is impacting your workplace and team, as well as your ability to contribute.

If nothing happens as a result of this talk, or they continue to fob you off with more of the "as soon as you improve, but we won't tell you what improve means" vague promises, start going all-out to find another job.

I surmise that there is a reason for such micromanagement and lack of trust; either your supervisor(s) are scared of someone or something higher up and this is their way of saving their own skins, or your immediate predecessor was so incompetent and screwed things up so badly that they feel they can't trust you, the new person, until - perhaps forever. In any event, you have a toxic work environment. If it doesn't change, leave.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 2:56 PM on May 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

Sounds like the upside of having to print things out and get them signed off in pen is that you can take your hard copy, walk over to Joe's desk and say "Hey, I need to do [next step] before 2pm, can you sign this right now, or should I leave it with you and stop back after lunch?"
posted by aimedwander at 7:02 AM on May 29, 2012

« Older Number of prosectors working in Oregon   |   Landsat Island Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.