Unwritten protocols

Hello Friends,

Happy Thursday!

I’ve been deeply immersed in a personal writing project so I am likely to post a little less frequently in the few months. I have come to enjoy my Sunday haiku, so I’m not giving that up. We all have much going on in our lives, and YOU are no exception. But I do want to keep in touch so if you do want to connect and I’m taking an offline hiatus, you can reach me via email.

Do you know the unwritten protocols of your organization?

In the meantime, I wanted to reflect on something I posted about last week, an incident in which I was blind-sided at work by something I never saw coming.

Now that I’ve had the chance to think it through I realized I had not respected the unwritten protocols that exist in this organization. As a clinical researcher by training, I have a love/hate relationship with protocols.

Protocols are awesome because they give you a clear definition of what needs to be done. They are written in language that is specific and precise. Since scientific experiments need to be reproducible and consistent in their execution, protocols are a necessity. When you work with human subjects research, regulations require protocols that are well-vetted, statistically validated and approved by an institutional review board or medical ethics committee.

Organizations often have “power protocols” also. These are the unwritten protocols that take typically 6-18 months at any organization or department (sometimes more) to learn. They are things like:

  • Having a PhD or M.D. counts (especially true in academic organizations).
  • If you have a choice to talk with the PI for a grant, or the chief of staff, pick the latter. She’s the one who actually gets the job done; he’s the name on the letterhead. In a university system, it’s fascinating to me how this mirrors a very patriarchal structure.

I had opened the communication channels during a project in which I was gathering feedback. But I did not bank on the fact that, while I was trying to be system-agnostic in my analysis, the department wanted me to fix the tool they already have rather than to select the best tool.

Now that I understand what they want, I can execute on that. I may not agree with the decision, but others with higher grade levels are determining the parameters. And that’s where I encountered one of the unwritten protocols at this institution: if grant money has been used to build a tool, it would take a LOT for us to abandon the tool.

Lesson learned. Onward.

cristy@meximinnesota.com

2 thoughts on “Unwritten protocols

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