Badministration

Badministration
The Cube Farm
"An ounce of appreciation seemed to power the whole operation."

My first job out of business school found me supervising the Automatic Bank Check Unit of the Individual Insurance Administration Department of what I came to call The Best Of All Possible Mutual Life Insurance Companies In The Greater Portland Metropolitan Area, Bar None. It was the only mutual life insurance company in that area, but it still provided a truly terrific medium for learning about administration, the actual lifeblood of every organization. We learn to think of Business and Industry, even Government, as producing products and services, and they certainly do that, but each expends more effort administering that production, accounting for every damned thing, billing and collecting, and litigating disagreements. Whatever product a corporation claims to create, it's expending the bulk of its energies administering, administrating. The first rule of administration says, "Thou shalt remain steadfastly invisible," for prominence essentially renders administration useless. If every back office ministration means another runaround, it won't matter that you're selling the secret to eternal life, quickly, nobody will feel terribly moved to buy any. The key to effective administration has always been invisibility.

We speak today of 'seamless' transactions, the latest manifestation of a trend evident since people bartered with stones.
Early currencies tended toward the ungainly. Advances miniaturized until, ultimately, actual currency became no longer necessary, gold became paper and paper, chits and credits, ledger entries replaced heavy lifting. Increasingly invisible though exchanges became, ever-expanding armies of administrators replaced the point-of-sale inconvenience with ever-more-intricate back office procedures. In lieu of actual cash, caches of information expanded, legalities proliferated, contract provisions allocated, each with an administrator attached. Behind each blythe handshake in the marketplace, somebody was making an entry in whatever passed for a spreadsheet, and unimaginably intricate machinery hummed safely out of earshot of the actual dealmakers. Long dismissed as mere clerks, these ghosts held the responsibility for making everything work, usually with little compensation or appreciation. They held the sorts of positions that almost nobody held in very high admiration, and no kid coming up ever once held even the hint of an aspiration to end up in for their entire career. Many did, anyway.

Most of those people commuting during rush hour are heading for a cubicle where they will focus upon mind-numbing details until dark. Many will become specialists of sorts, performing work that nobody else in the entire world could replicate, though their own supervisor will probably not appreciate the depth of their skill. Administrators perform semi-selflessly or they do not ever become administrators. They will revel in absolutely arcane understandings of contract terms and procedures binding together payments, audits, systems, and the latest legal findings, all without ever rising into anyone's visual field, for administration seen becomes administration simply failing. These people make so the stuff an executive simply presumes. They sometimes deem impossible what they'll later learn to enable, for they understand how to work any system so that the system can actually work. They work like Jesuits, begging more forgiveness than ever asking for permission, for nobody above or below them in the hierarchy understands what the system can and cannot do. Piss them off too much, and whatever you do, you're screwed. They'll see to it that nothing you subsequently submit ever gets approved or, heaven forbid, processed.

We have been recently blessed with a Federal Administration apparently incapable of effectively administering anything. Interpreting his charter as sanctioning him to endlessly disturb otherwise still water, Our President engineered a general uproar which predictably produced little more than noise and considerable legal trouble. The administrators, who he derisively labeled The Deep State, hardly appreciate the endless complications. They never expected to be called to make public explanations for any unexplainable. Nobody really wants or needs to see how gears manage their meshing, and forcing them into spotlights simply shows, to anyone not already in the know, just how pedantically they operate, for that's their inescapable nature. When the executive tweets, if an executive choses that unfortunate means to declare policy, the underlying machinery squeaks and groans in response. Systems collide. No administration can long abide such governance. Administration feeds on appreciation, the quiet, heart-felt kind. Treating them like mindless workers encourages them to go somewhere else.

I learned in that first job out of business school that nobody ever understood anything I administered. The clerks understood their systems better than anyone else ever would, most especially including myself, a convention which essentially neutered the formal hierarchy chartered to command the grand machine. The better 'superiors' deferred details more than gave orders, and grew to revere the faceless who so seamlessly covered their butts. They stood up when complaints came in and avoided blaming individuals for the systems' many shortcomings. We published procedures which the more talented became skilled at subverting, for all the very best of reasons. We mostly made it up as we went along, understanding that if we could not imagine it working, it never could. We learned to expect little recognition, how to make our efforts their own reward, for only the few more visible were ever rewarded for their achievements, which they never could have realized without our invisible army silently working behind them. An ounce of appreciation seemed to power the whole operation.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved








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