I will finish the Oktoberfest story, I promise. But first, a brief intermission. I have made some new friends at work. One is a lawyer and the other a doctor. You would think the lawyer would be the one with the fancy theories on motivation, but you would be wrong! My new doctor friend, who we shall call John (because that is his name), determined through experience that the motivation of Regular Force (read full-time) officers could for the most part be predicted with… The Five Ps.
They are as follows: Patron, Position, Posting, Pay, and Pension. Keep in mind that both John and I are culturally somewhat Francophone, so we mean Patron the same way that someone would say Godfather. Basically, the career officer is trying to satisfy the demands of as many of the Ps as he can, usually in the order I have presented them. But for those of you not in the Service, this almost certainly applies to anyone in a large organization, with modifications I will explain. I will also explain in reverse order, for reasons that will become clear.
Pension: for those of us fortunate enough to have a sweet pension plan, this is literal. Otherwise, think of it as “deferred financial gain”. Basically, satisfying this P is usually a negative action; don’t do something that will hurt your chances of a promised pot o’gold at the end of the Rainbow of Suffering you are currently walking. Don’t break your contract. Don’t quit early. Keep your head down. Put your nose to the grindstone. Don’t rock the boat. Basically, you’re making sure that you are not doing anything that endangers your ability to put in enough time to get the reward. Legal Bloggers (endearingly, Blawgers), especially defence lawyers, frequently refer to the “First Rule of Policing: if only one person gets to go home to dinner, make sure it is [the cop]”. It’s a harsh way of describing the habit some policemen have of being more willing to end a life than risk their own. I make no comment on its accuracy, just that if it is true it is a good sign of protecting your pension. You need to be alive to collect. Soldiers are actually legally entitled to do so in war: it is unlawful to deny a soldier the right to self-defence.
Pay: This one is obvious. For soldiers, it might mean volunteering for things that may get you promoted (thus more pay). It can also be more subtle; there are many officer types who have been “OUTCAN-hopping”. That is to say, they arrange things such that they stay outside of Canada because it gets them more cookies. Who doesn’t like cookies? This can be benign, but it can also be slightly corrupt. There are frequent occasions where people go to conferences where the issue could have been solved by email, because the conference allows you to claim meals and travel. You can think of pay as “immediate material gain”. In some professions (ahem, lawyers), this is codified: you pay for the full hour even if you only use 15 minutes of it. This is where Public Servants get in trouble. Just because the rules “entitle” you to a 15 dollar glass of orange juice at breakfast doesn’t mean you won’t get in trouble.
Posting: This one is geographic in nature. Some places are nicer than others. A military man might arrange his professional skills in such a way that he always gets to go nice places. I’m somewhat guilty of this: I speak French, and volunteered to join a French Canadian regiment. I determined that suffering the culture shock of working in my second language was paid off in full by the fact that Franco soldiers generally get to live in nice places like Quebec City, Ottawa, and Montreal. As opposed to the backwoods hellholes that Anglo soldiers must endure. Sure, the government needs French speaking officers. But it didn’t have to be me. I had a choice. There’s a darker side to this, of course. Sometimes professionals refuse to acquire needed competencies so as to avoid going places. Or they have non-employment issues that could be resolved, but they choose not to so as to pre-empt posting to somewhere they don’t want to go. These are usually family related: “Sir, I would love to go to the Arctic, but my wife can’t find work up there and she would leave me…” Not to say people should always accept divorce in the name of the job, just that sometimes they…stretch the truth a bit. It’s why single professionals often end up in tough places. You can send a single doctor to an isolated clinic much more easily than a married one.
Position: or promotion, in a hierarchical job. Ah, good old fashioned careerism. This is the one that leads to healthy competition becoming cutthroat. This is also the one that causes mediocre individuals to volunteer for high-profile extracurriculars. Sure, the guy can’t find his ass with both hands and a GPS. But he did a great job on this year’s charitable campaign. Or maybe you take up a new sport, because it gets you in the locker room with all the “grosses poches” (big kahunas). It isn’t necessarily evil, it just means that the organization must be careful to analyze whether the promotion-seeking behaviour is A) desirable and B) productive. In my experience, this doesn’t happen as often as you might hope.
Patron: The Godfather. The Boss. The Powers that Be. Oh yes, this one is fraught with danger. An employee has the responsibility to do what the boss says, of course. And in an ideal world, pleasing the Patron would translate to “doing the job exceptionally well”. Sadly, it can also mean brown-nosing. Setting the conditions to become the beneficiary of nepotism, basically. Socializing excessively with the boss. Claiming to share interests. Unquestioningly supporting your superior’s position. Every boss claims to hate “yes-men”, but few bosses enjoy being challenged by subordinates. This one gets me in a lot of trouble, because of varying interpretations of “loyalty”. The easy route is that loyalty means “supporting the boss”. My (admittedly self-important) interpretation is that it means “always giving them the most honest answer I can”. I feel that if my boss’ plan fails, it is at least in part because I failed to warn them that it could. This is a bit naive at times, as A) I am not always right and B) sometimes the boss just wants me to shut the hell up and do it, for the love of all that is good and holy. As you can probably guess, I get smacked around a lot. And I frequently deserve it. Oh well, I can only be perfect most of the time…
So there you have it. John’s Five Ps. As you can see, it can be both good and bad. In the best of cases, you get a diligent team player, who also engages in beneficial extracurriculars. They give your organization a good name. Organizations that have this kind of person are fortunate indeed. In the grimmer cases, you get smarmy time-servers, who leech resources. Most of the time, you get decent employees who have priorities that don’t entirely match those of “the company”. But understanding this theory of motivation can help you make more sense of how things work in big bureaucratic machines.
Consider yourself enlightened.