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Sunday, August 9, 2009

Rewards and Insults

A while back I got singled out in the company-wide newsletter, sent to thousands of employees across many states. I was the lead article in an issue that only had two articles. Thankfully, it was for a good reason.

Here's how it went.

At work at the power company:

There was a wildland fire that was threatening a major transmission power line, which had to be shut down to protect the safety of the fire crews entering the area. It was likely to trip when the smoke and debris got into it anyway. Being a combination power guy and fire guy in my two lives makes me very sympathetic to the needs of the fire crews under and around my wires.

This time, however, there was a major industrial user on the line which must perform evacuation procedures when they lose power. So, I first called the big customer's control facility and warned them, and then dumped the line. I called them back fairly often to keep them appraised of the situation as it progressed, and kept in touch with the fire dispatchers as well.

Some sort of manager person at the big customer apparently liked my way of handling this incident enough that he wrote a nice note to my boss. Cool.

That night at work at the fire department:

Had a nondescript garage fire. I arrived in the 4th-due piece, which was never used on the call, just parked out of the way. I was late enough that I missed the initial attack entirely. I ended up shadowing one of our new guys as he played Water Supply Officer for the first time, answering his questions and prompting him as needed. He did fine. I really didn't do jack.

One of my coworkers just happened to live next door to this call, and found out I was there. The next day, she wrote a nice note to my boss. Cool.

My boss forwarded both of them to his boss. Ummm. It spiraled out of control from there, and an executive summary of a day in the life of the Grumpy Dispatcher ended up in the company newsletter a few days later.

You know, I really didn't mind, but let's be real here. Doing notifications and dumping power lines is just a small part of my job. It is not extraordinary or difficult. Driving a tanker to a fire and mentoring a new guy while not getting dirty is easy as well. I have had far, far scarier days at the power company keeping people from getting killed, and for sure have had far hairer fire and rescue calls. The only thing this time is that two unrelated nothing events somehow resulted in nice emails to my boss referring to the same day. That makes me a hero? Yeah, the only person laughing louder than you is me.

But the newsletter poke was OK.

I was reminded, however, of two times where the poke was delivered differently. I have to live up to my Grumpy nature and complain.

First case: One of my old Senior Dispatchers had a truly hairy incident where a couple of line guys narrowly escaped death only by his razor-sharp situational awareness and fast reaction. I wonder if I ever have a chance to be half as good as Rich. Anyway, the next day, the boss called him into the office. Rich is standing in front of the desk, kind of disinterested, the boss doesn't even stand up. Boss says some nice words about how Rich saved the day, reaches into a desk drawer and pulls out a fanny pack with the company logo silkscreened on and says something along the lines of how he just wanted to give him something to say thank you. You gotta know Rich, and apologies to any who may be offended, I am only the reporter here.... Rich takes the fanny pack, turns it over a couple of times, tosses it back on the desk and walks out saying "Why don't you just keep your fag bag, I've got to get back to work."

We don't need nor want a reward for what we do. We know what our job is and the consequences of failure. We are not motivated by trinkets or trade show handouts.

Second case: I was frustrated by the lack of usefulness of some of our software displays and was getting nowhere with requests to improve them. So, while on shift and still fulfilling my regular duties, I taught myself how to use the software to make my own displays. I learned where things could be found in the huge database, built some really excellent interfaces, refined their look and feel, etc. Now everyone uses my displays on all the shifts, and I have to maintain them when there are changes - while still doing my regular job - because no one else really knows how they are built or maintained. It's cool, actually, I kind of enjoy playing with this stuff.

The reward from management when it became clear what I had pulled off after hundreds of hours of work on this stuff: A $25 gift certificate to Target.

You know, just keep it. I'm just doing my job, and let's be honest... I am getting paid well enough that a gift certificate is just a fart in the wind, anyway.

However, when I rescue a falling baby while on crutches in the snow or otherwise save the world, I'll probably go ahead and take your gift certificate and buy myself a new DVD or two for the collection, because I do like movies.

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