Basic Instinct

Recently I took over a task at work that had been done by the same person for many years. She had gotten a new job in another department and my training was rushed to say the least. Because she had done it for so many years, all the knowledge was in her head rather than in a manual. So a lot of my inquiries as to why things were done a certain way were answered with a “because that’s the way it’s always been done” sort of answer. After I took it over all the higher ups decided this was a good opportunity to really inspect this process for any opportunities. As I said there was a real lack of solid instruction so I had to just learn as I went and as I went I learned there was a lot to learn.

Two months into this new task and I still don’t feel 100% comfortable. Everything with regard to this task is highly regulated by the state and audited as part of a much larger year end self easement. So any of me hesitations are only magnified by true consequences. One of the on going problems is that when I have a question about procedure no one knows the answer. It’s the blind leading the blind. The audit has been going on this week and mistakes are surfacing from the previous year. Luckily all of the mistakes were from before I took over but it made our department look bad none the less. The metaphorical shit hit the fan.

Not surprisingly I got an invite to a late Friday afternoon meeting to discuss the errors uncovered in the audit. A meeting late in the afternoon on a Friday is never a good sign. My dread was supported shortly there after when I got a string of emails asking if I had saved certain emails and communications about specific topics. To me that sounded like I was going to be asked to defend myself in the court of office politics. While I stayed calm on the outside I instantly went into defensive survival mode in my head. Although I knew all my actions had gotten management approval I still had a very bad gut feeling about this up coming meeting.  I had a strong suspicion I would be thrown under the bus as the scapegoat. I never thought my job was in serious jeopardy but there was definitely doom looming in the air. In my head I was already preparing my defensive arguments.

When 3 o’clock on Friday came I went into the small conference room armed with printed emails to use in my defense. As the managers all trickled in most were lamenting about what a tiring week it had been with the auditors around. Once we got started I was surprised at how relax and understanding everyone was being. It was not the finger pointing tone I expected but rather a group effort to understand and fix any problems. Everyone openly admitted that we were all doing the best we could and in this case that usually meant making it up as we went along. They wanted to use the meeting to go over the audit so we all could use it as a learning tool for next time. Every gut instinct I had expecting doom was totally wrong. They couldn’t have been more supportive and understanding. I was even surprised at their honestly about their own short comings. One women said,  “Even if you have a question, most of us wouldn’t know the answer anyway.”

I left the meeting feeling revealed and yet foolish. Why did I instantly go into defense mode when no one had ever said I was in trouble? I quickly realized what I thought was my instinct was really misplaced fear left over from my previous employer. Despite having left retail almost 4 years ago, the experience still has an effect on me. For many years I worked in an atmosphere where all of my above mentioned instincts would not only have been correct but understated. It was a company that pitted one person against another and very often good people were fired due to the whim of the manager of the moment. If they couldn’t fire you they would use every tool possible to force you to quit. To give you an idea of the level of dysfunction, during my time there I worked under a store manager, district manager, regional manager, and regional loss prevention manager who were all fired for wrong doing. (theft, sex with associates etc) So to say I lacked guidance from an honest leadership team in the past is an understatement. That feeling of doom came from so many store visits where I was made to feel like everything I did was being cross examined by a jury and I better have a good defense ready to avoid punishment.  I left work Friday afternoon with a smile on my face. I was thankful for being employed by honest people who all working together to try and do the best job possible. I also laughed at myself for going so overboard in my head.

This just proves that not all instincts can be trusted. So the next time the outcome of a situation seems certain because you just know it, take a moment to think about any previous trauma or drama that may skew your perceptions. Sometimes our perceptions and impressions are as much to blame as actual actions.

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