Don’t let The Man Keep You Down: 7 Ways to Deal with a Broken System


Beyond The Blue

A couple of days ago, my buddy Rob was bitterly lamenting the cumbersome, time-vampire software program and travel system that his (massive) organization uses to book and fund business travel.  To protect the innocent (and the guilty), I’ll call the system “ABS.”   Rob regaled me with nightmare stories of spending blocks of three and four hours trying to book or process travel through antiquated software and a dysfunctional travel agency.

Earlier this week, he’d been a day late to a professional conference because he’d missed a flight due to ABS’s failure to book a ticket he’d requested.  He’d spent at least three hours for the past three nights on the phone with ABS, trying to get a ticket home.   A few weeks ago, ABS problems made him two days late for an important meeting.

ABS has an inordinate amount of control over Rob’s  life.  As we talked about ABS (over brunch)  Rob turned red and started sweating.  “Things like this make me want to quit my job,” he told me.    I wondered if I should call 911.

Rob’s probably not the only one that deals with  ridiculous, frustrating systems at work.   Travel systems tend to be the worst offenders, but it could be payroll, hours billing, your web server, or anything you need to do your work and can’t dump…yet.    So I brainstormed some ways that Rob…or anyone…could deal with them. Because no one should be having a heart attack at brunch over a crappy travel booking system.

1)   Get someone else to learn the system well, and then delegate it to them.   If there’s an admin professional in the office who’s an expert in the Broken System (“B.S.”), delegate the dirty work.   If there’s a B.S. expert in the house, there’s no reason why you should be beating your head against the wall trying to figure it out instead of doing your actual work.   If the system is really draining  hours and hours of productivity, it’s easy to sell the idea of having the admin pro deal with the BS on behalf of  the non-admin-pros.

2) Come up with a better way.   Yes, I know your organization moves at the pace of a horse-drawn hearse, but if nobody says anything, then nothing will change.  So calmly explain why the system doesn’t work and come up with some good alternatives or ideas for improvement.  Send it up the chain of command.  At worst, you’ve done something more constructive than just complaining. At best, you’ll be a hero for spearheading a meaningful (cost-saving, time-saving) change.

3)   Take time to learn the system well.   If #1, is not an option and #2 doesn’t work right away, then you’ll have to DIY.  Sure, you’re busy, you have clients or projects or actual work.   But learning the system could result in massive time savings in the long run.  Say Rob travels six times a year, and each time he travels, he suffers an average of twelve hours of delays and frustrating dealings with ABS.   So he takes forty hours (five days) to lean how to work with ABS so that each time he travels, he has no delays and his dealings with ABS take only two hours.  At the end of year one, he will have gained 8 hours of time with his clients.  That doesn’t sound like much, but in the second year, he will gain 48 hours, or more than a week, of time with his clients, and so on.   He’ll also be calmer and less frustrated.  He’ll be more focused at work and enjoy his free time without worry.   He’ll also become a valuable asset to his office, able to help his colleagues with their use of the system.  And he might not die of an aneurism at the age of 40.

4)   Make friends with someone on the inside.  Of course, when you’re calling any sort of customer service operation, the LAST thing you want to be is nice.   You’re calling customer service because you have a problem and you’re pissed.  Guess what? The customer service reps aren’t happy either.  They have to deal with miserable folks like you all day long, would you be happy?  There’s tremendous power in being nice to them…. and dare I say…making friends with them.  Be polite. Learn their names and where they’re from, and whether they have kids or dogs or cats.  If you’re nice to them, they’ll be nice to you.  The payoff?  It’s a lot easier to ask for a favor from a friend than to make demands of an enemy.  Plus, you’ll feel better about doing the right thing and treating people like human beings instead of like  evil trolls blocking  your way .

5)   Don’t think about it.  Stop thinking about the BS  unless you are presently dealing with the BS.  Do what you have to do, as much as it sucks, the let go and move on.   A shaman once told me that the best thing you can do for your health is immediately change the energy from a negative interaction.    After a negative or frustrating interaction, do whatever it takes to change up your energy—a walk, some push ups, a tall glass of ice water, a quick call to a fabulously hilarious friend.   This prevents the pent up rage  from following you around the rest of the day, making you inefficient and sick.

6)   Stop believing the system is out to get you.    It’s not.  It’s just a system.   It may be an inefficient piece of caca, but I promise, it is not out for you.  That’s called paranoia, and it’s not helping you.  Yes, it’s awful and stupid, but it’s more awful and stupid  to allow a system to control your health, happiness, and productivity.

7)   Leave.  If an organization’s inefficiencies and bureaucracy truly outweigh your enjoyment of the work,  get out.  Life’s too short to be angry and frustrated all the time.



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