August 11, 2006

The essential A-Z of working with the Civil Service.

Having to work with Civil Servants should, in my view, qualify the victim for immediate and total remission from Purgatory. And there should be an automatic exemption from Hell and Damnation for eternity as well. In fact, any work done by any person who has had the misfortune to have to work to or under any civil service anywhere should be guaranteed a place in Heaven as of right - even if they have arrived there after being driven, finally, to blow the whole damned mess off the face of the earth. Oh, and there needs to be an automatic passage straight to Hell for the entire Civil Service, particularly those in the Grades above HEO - but especially the entire Treasury and the Revenue staff ...... (NOTE: See Terry Pratchett's special corner of Hell for the King of Demons in "Eric" the perfect way to ensure all Civil Servants have the perfect Hell!)

For anyone who has never had to deal with the Civil Service, the extended post below gives an essential guide to the language Codes you need to know - and how to interpret them!


Advice Please
Means I don't have a clue. See also Get a Steer on That and Run it Past.

A Few Thoughts
This piece of work is utter rubbish for the following reasons...

Area-based initiatives
Ways of pumping HMG money into key marginals.

As Appropriate
See "Under Constant Review"

Ball-Park Figure
This is a complete stab in the dark which I want you to think might be broadly accurate but will undoubtedly change once I've worked out how much the new policy costs.

A posh sounding meeting which involves 2 people at a time chatting - bilaterals imply something so impressive that the purpose of a bilateral is never asked nor is the information often given. Usually meetings with Ministers/Perm Secs/Senior Officials in their swanky office that you have no hope of ever attending, nor do you need to know that these meetings ever take place (other than to provide briefing at 10 minutes notice), reminds you that you are not and never likely to be the boss or have equivalent influence. Bringing ego is essential, otherwise entry is refused.

Blind Copy
None of the official recipients know that you have a copy of this sensitive note, therefore you cannot possibly contribute. But see "For Information" - you'll be damned again when it all goes wrong.

Blue Skies / Blue Skies Review
I'm too important to discuss details but am quite happy to throw in some ethereal, unrealistic and totally impractical ideas which will never amount to anything. (Usually "blue skies" people are paid a massive salary but are rarely seen in the office - out enjoying the blue skies, no doubt, whilst everyone else is enjoying strip lighting).

Bottoming Out (as in "Let's bottom this out" or "wait until it bottoms out")
A very unfortunate turn of phrase. It can be used a way of attempting to actually solve something and get it sorted or (much more likely) a way of describing the fact that we will need to wait (and do nothing at all) and see just how bad it gets before we deal with the consequences.

Breaking Down Silos
Creating new silos or renaming existing silos, to no discernible effect. See "Root and Branch Reform".

An oxymoron - briefs are anything but. The same way that a line to take is always a paragraph.

Bring Forward (BF)
See "In Due Course"

Buy Into
Can I join in too?

Like a Czar, but for less controversial (but worthy) issues. Usually a minister, senior official or high-level secondee, with a nebulous brief to "champion" something, but doesn't have to deliver anything other than to say "This is a good thing, and I strongly support it" every couple of months. When asked what HMG is doing, we can simply point and
say "Look! A Champion!"

Change Management
Finding ever new ways of saying "like it or lump it".

CCing (as in "can you cc me into that")
Ensures that you do not receive full credit for an idea of yours if a senior person is on cc list, as it will then look like their idea. Or a way of ensuring you are blamed for a very stupid idea. If senior person is on cc list it can look like you did not consult them fully. "To cc": To prevent free thought and original ideas from junior officials.

Close Of Play (COP)
The deadline is vaguely at the end of the day - resulting in several more e-mails to establish exactly what the actual deadline is.

Completion Date
The civil service never likes to be pinned down on anything so mundane as a date. Instead, the following scale is used:

01 Jan-31 Mar : In the New Year

01 Mar-30 Jun : Spring

01 May-30 Sept : Summer (if things get really desperate, Summer can last until Parliament is back in session in mid-October)

01 Sept-Christmas: Autumn

01 Dec to 28 Feb : At the end of the year

Comprehensive Review
Just the same as a "Review", only likely to take up to 18 months to be completed. And not change anything.

Comprehensive Spending Review
See "Spending Review". The same idea, but carried out across Whitehall, upsetting even more people. Only HMT are left smiling at the end of it, as they're never under-resourced. Funny, that.

Outside HMG, it means "concerned". Inside HMG, it means that a senior official is about to explode. "Deeply concerned" means the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are riding down Whitehall - and they're looking for you. See also "Surprised" and "Disappointed".

Consultation Document
The Department has already decided what it's going to do. The document will contain one policy dressed up to look like several options, to give the impression that the Department is open to suggestions. It will also have a few ridiculous ideas, so officials can claim to be "Thinking Out Of The Box".

Core Script
Whatever the issue, lever in the latest Departmental buzz words.

Cross-cutting issues
Things on which officials across Whitehall have an opinion, but for which no-one wants to be responsible.

Cross-Government Working
The HMG equivalent of the Cockatrice, the Basilisk and the Griffon. A fabulous beast which exists only in myth.

Co-Ordination Unit
There's hundreds of units scattered across Whitehall all doing the same job in perfect isolation. A new unit is needed to duplicate the work of the existing units and to tell them what they already know.

A figurehead, usually related to a very high-profile (and insoluble) issue, whose purpose is to think the unthinkable, say the unsayable, and thus draw all the flak which would otherwise be directed at Ministers (particularly the PM). See "Champion".

The last word in procrastination. Current big buzz word, means doing everything in your power not to deliver. Especially if you work in the Cabinet Office, most especially if you work in the Delivery Unit.

Diary Commitments
The Minister is far too important to go to your insignificant little event.

DirectorMore impressive title than "Head".

Director General
A long-standing Director who needed encouragement to stay in the job a bit longer.

Used by members of the SCS to express the view than a particular junior official is quite possibly the most incompetent person it has ever been their misfortune to come across. Similar to "concerned", but deployed in
order to destroy any last remnants of self esteem the official might have. See also "Surprised".

Draft Please
Graft for hours producing a coherent and impressive letter so that I can fulfil my teacher-fantasy by needlessly amending it.

Elephant Traps
Cock-ups in waiting - a term retained from the days when we still had an empire. To the FCO, we still do.

I'm not delegating this boring task because I can't be bothered to do it. I am empowering you.

Entrepreneurial Culture
Civil Servants are always being told that they should be more entrepreneurial in attitude. This means working 12 hours a day to make something happen, and being paid very little for doing so.

Factoring In (as in "Can you factor that in")
Can you tell me about all the hard work you have done on this issue so I can present it to the Minister/Official concerned (end result is blame if it goes wrong, if it goes well boss gets credit).

Fast Stream
The HMG equivalent of "Top Gun". But with overtones of sending small children up chimneys or down coal mines.

Final Draft
An Oxymoron. The so-called "final" draft is the only version on which anybody provides comments, as they can't be bothered to look at the five previous drafts. Use of the word "draft" is always dangerous, as people assume it means that you are open to rewriting the whole thing at any stage.

For Information
Don't even think about commenting on this, I really don't want your help or smart ideas, but if anything goes wrong, I'll remind everyone that you knew exactly what was going on and therefore it's your fault.

Freedom of Information (FoI)
A long standing civil service joke. All politicians believe in FoI, until they gain office and realise how much hassle it all is.

Get A Steer On That (from you)
I don't know how to decide on this one either - can you make a decision for me and I'll nick any good ideas you have.

Happy To Discuss
There's a whole lot more here than meets the eye and that I haven't told you. Should ring alarm bells. If you do actually want to discuss, I'm never available.

Holding reply
Forgot to do a Minister's case/Treat Official? Quick, draft a letter explaining how complex the issue is and that you're consulting with colleagues. Gives you another couple of weeks not to do it in. See also "Interim Report".

Hope This Is Helpful
I'm well aware that it is not helpful at all. Please don't contact me again.

Identifying Key Messages
See "Core Script". Can also be used to justify why we sent a Cabinet Minister to the middle of nowhere, to speak to an irksome local TV/radio hack, and a local journal that sells 103 copies a day.

In A Timely Manner
See "Urgent"

In Due Course
In a very long time if I remember.

Inclined to look favourably upon...

Information Management
Posh term for filing.

Interested in your views
This is a load of old c**p, but I don't want to be the first to say it.

Interim Report
A short document explaining why the full report will be late, how complex the issues are, and how hard you're working on it. With luck, people will forget about the whole thing until you've moved to another post. Similar to a "Holding Reply".

A way of lending importance to an idea.

Its Not Rocket Science
Well, it's not!

Joined-Up Thinking
Now a deeply unfashionable term, meaning "talking to other departments, or other parts of your own department, more than once per annum".

Kick Into The Long Grass
Don't want to focus on this one at the moment or for the foreseeable future. Basically it's "Parked" in a long stay NCP car park.

Let's Drill Down Into This Issue
I've got no idea what I'm talking about, but want to show that I think there's a whole lot more to it than a part time expert like me would even dream about. It may even be a candidate for a PIU project. But can also be used as delaying tactic (see "Parked", "Kick into the Long Grass" and "Toothpaste out of the tube").

The purpose of "Seedcorn Funding". By spending a derisory amount of money, this will somehow magically persuade an industry to put in 10 times as much. This never happens.

Loop (as in "in the loop" or "not fully in the loop")
A very important phrase especially for those who are not fully in the loop as it can cause resentment and lead to temper tantrums. It is a measure of how important (or indeed impotent) you are as to whether you are in or out
of the loop at any one time.

Management Initiatives
Every few years, Ministers and senior officials decide that a Dept. is dysfunctional, and "something must be done". "Something" usually entails recycling the management initiative before last (or the one before that), repackaging it, and pretending that it's new and exciting. Generally, an initiative has an active life of 18 months, then hibernates for 5-7 years until "something must be done" because the last initiative (or two) didn't work. See "New Ways of Working".

A fruit, somewhat like an orange - colourful, full of juice, and tasty. Nothing at all like a top-level civil servant.

Manifesto Commitments
Funny, I could have sworn I had some lying about, but I seem to have temporarily mislaid them. Note: Manifesto commitments exist in a grey area - if they're easily achievable, they're a Government commitment. If unachievable, they're party political and therefore raise propriety issues.

Media Handling Strategy
How the hell do we interest anyone in this. Or conversely, how the hell can we bury this. Not to be confused with "Spin" - which doesn't exist.

Menu of Options
A list of several stupid and/or pointless options, to make people (particularly Ministers) believe that they have a choice. Similar to options contained within a Consultation Document.

A common misspelling of "Millstone".

Minded To Think About
Classic civil service. Doesn't mean anything, but sounds like it might.

Ministerial Submission
I know a lot more about this subject than you do, Minister, but convention demands that in the interests of public accountability I must write a clever note in which I pretend to seek your views.

New Ways of Working
Old ways of working, presented in a glossy pamphlet. See "Management Initiatives". Note: "New" does not necessarily mean "better".

On Board (Or Not On Board)
A favourite delaying tactic linked to sharing (or copying) ideas. Getting as many other people on board as possible is important as it results in further meetings/cc-ing others into e-mails and often bilaterals too.

On The Back Burner
Increasingly overtaken by more modern expressions such as "parked" or "kicked into the long grass" but basically means that you just had a cr*p idea or ridiculously complex problem but no one has the courage to let you know that so lets just shelve it and maybe use or solve it later. Also used if a project has resource implications.

Park It
See "Parked"

Increasingly popular and a favourite of No 10. It is even making an appearance in the lobby note. It means "lets just not talk about or deal with that 'issue' and hopefully it will either go away or be dealt with by someone else."

Pilot Project/Scheme
"We don't really want to do this, but the Minister likes it". The hope is that there will have been a reshuffle before having to actually implement anything on a larger scale. Some pilot schemes have run for decades. See also "Subject to review".

Plain English
Words of one syllable, with subtitles for the hard of thinking. No civil servant worth their salt would even countenance using Plain English - that's for civilians and half-wits.

Please Deal
Do all the work on this yourself - and if you want to Get a Steer, tough. See "empowerment"

Please do not hesitate to contact mePlease do not contact me ever again. If you really insist, try in the next two weeks as I'm on leave.

Private Sector Discipline
A favourite mantra of the current administration. By emulating industry, HMG will apparently become a lean, fit, high-output organisation. Note absence of "Private Sector Remuneration".

Propriety issues
I don't want to do this, but can't think of any real reason why I shouldn't. Will this do? See "Purdah".

Pump Priming
A significant amount of funding, used to bribe an industry into doing something that no-one apart from the Government wants. Sometimes it is so low key that it's forgotten about, and the funding continues for 20

A state of grace in the run up to an election. Any amount of delay, cock-up, or plain laziness can be excused by saying "It's all rather tricky during Purdah". Very similar excuse to "Propriety Issues". A term retained from the days of Empire.

Like Bi-Lateral, but with 4 people.

Quick Win
Something has become a lot more complex and difficult than originally thought, but we are publicly committed to achieving something. A "Quick Win" is anything achievable, no matter how pointless and insignificant, which can be quickly completed and presented as progress towards the objective. It is always worth keeping a couple of Quick Wins in reserve for emergencies.

Raft Of Measures
None of these ideas are any good but if we throw them together as part of a "package", at least it will look as if we are trying. See also "Menu of Options".

(I have) Reservations
"If you do this, you're an even bigger fool than I thought you were."

Resource Implications
This will cost money/need some more manpower. So either the Dept. won't do it, or you end up doing it within existing
resources or else. See "Spending Review".

This policy is going wrong but we cannot admit it. Instead, in order to defuse the controversy, we will get someone who knows nothing about the issues to examine them for 3 months, following which they will provide a helpful synopsis of everything we already knew.

Root and Branch Reform
Tinkering with the organisation, and renaming parts of it, to no discernible effect. See "Breaking Down Silos".

A meeting - but that sounds far too dull. Try this one now and again for a bit of variety.

Run It Past (you)
I don't really know the answer but obviously can't admit to it - so can you help me and then I'll incorporate your excellent ideas and take all the credit.

Seed It
Embed a very vague idea in peoples minds and hopefully if it all goes wrong they won't remember it was your idea.

Seedcorn FundingA derisory amount of grant aid. The Department can announce "we're putting resources into X", claim the credit if it works, and distance itself when X fails miserably. Deployed in the vain hope of achieving "Leverage".

Seeking your agreement
Preparation is at a really advanced stage, or it's already happening. If you have any complaints, no-one wants to hear them.

The goal of all civil servants is to be considered "Sound". That you are loyal, trustworthy, and would jump in front of a bus if called upon to do so by senior officials. See "Vision".

Special Advisors
A similar concept to "Special Schools". Would be responsible for "Spin", if it ever took place, which of course it doesn't.

Spending Review
Finding new ways to get blood out of stones, quarts from pint pots etc. For "Review" read "cut". Whenever such a review is launched, it sparks off frenzied scurrying around by senior officials, fear and loathing, backstabbing etc. Never a pretty sight, or a happy ending.

Spin ("Spin Doctoring")
We don't do this. No. Never. Totally against all the principles the Civil Service holds dear. Perish the thought.

Strategic Co-Ordination Unit
There's too many co-ordination units. No-one knows what the hell is going on or who is supposed to be doing what. A new unit to co-ordinate the co-ordinators is therefore required.

Strategic Overview
Similar to a "Watching Brief", but implies that you're actually a) deeply interested, and b) actively considering the wider implications of whatever this is about. In reality you haven't a clue what any of this is about, and couldn't care less.

Strategic Review
The same as a "Review" but marginally more superficial and likely to recommend the creation of a "Co-ordination Unit". Closely related to a "Blue Skies Review".

Subject to review
The next stage after "Pilot Project/Scheme". Used when for some unknown reason the Pilot has not been a complete disaster. Means that the Minister still thinks it's a good idea, but if people scream loudly enough we can pull the plug with a sigh of relief.

Another classic SCS understatement, signifying utter horror, disgust and fury. See also "Concerned" and "Disappointed".

Take Forward
Give the appearance of making progress whilst in fact never reaching a point where the issue has successfully been taken forward.

Target Audience
Establish who if anyone in this world gives a toss (or "believes" depending on cynicism) about what our esteemed public states people say and why they say it. Fully expect this task to be designated a "cc" one.

Take soundings
A senior official has developed proposals which will annoy several other parts of the Dept. Taking soundings means sending it around unofficially to see how loudly people kick up a fuss. Also, of course, for the senior official to appropriate any better suggestions.

Thank You For Bringing This To My Attention
Polite way of saying "Damn, I was hoping no-one was going to mention that/find out about that".

The Minister was grateful for your submission, which (s)he read without comment
"It definitely went in the red box. It definitely came out again. Did they look at it? Search me, squire." Often means that the submission was a) very dull, b) on an insignificant subject way below the Ministerial radar, or c) both.

Thinking Out Of The Box
A favourite used by bosses who want to patronise staff into action. It means "don't be so boring and come up with something other than a briefing note and photocall!". However, thinking too far out of the box is never a good idea.

Timing: Routine
Shuffle this to the bottom of the pile so we can forget about it for a few months. If not forever.

Timing: Urgent
It isn't really, but we'd actually like this back some time.

Timing: Immediate
Desperately overdue, and should have been answered at least a week ago.

Silly phrase, popular in relation to delivery. As in: "we need to develop a toolkit to solve this issue". Hints at a mystical set of solutions that will somehow launch us towards public sector nirvana.

Toothpaste Is Already Out Of The Tube
An issue can no longer be "parked" as it is now in the public domain, and someone will have to do something about it.

Touch Base
A ridiculous term which has no meaning other than "speaking to someone".

TrafficA way of detaching oneself from a problem by reducing it to a term used to describe congestion. Means we could get a lot of interest in this (usually resulting in working groups being set up so that other people can deal with the impending work load).

Treat Official
Letters from Joe Public, to be kept at the bottom of the in-tray until the official concerned is really bored one afternoon. See "Holding reply".

Like Bi-Lateral, but with 3 people.

Under constant review
Leave it alone, don't even think about it, until the s**t is about to hit the fan, someone tables a PQ, or the Press get hold of it. See also "Watching Brief, Maintain a".

Up To Speed (as in "are you up to speed?)
Have you got a brain? Very vague term which is often used as a way to catch you out. If you admit to being up to speed you can be asked devilishly complicated questions however if you admit to not being up to speed you're made to look a fool as if you are not even able to grasp a short introduction paragraph to a simple issue.

A decision has already been taken.

Vision (or "The Vision Thing")
Evangelical, almost Moonie-like belief in pronouncements from senior management and ministers. No questions, no doubts. Those who lack "vision" are considered dangerously subversive. See "Sound".

Watching Brief, Maintain a
Similar in definition to "Under constant review", but used when you are not the lead on a subject, but senior officials expect you to know something about it.

We Spoke.
Always followed by a full stop. Lets other people know that we have spoken and have a plan, but not what that plan is. Sometimes means "you know what I want, but if it all goes pear-shaped I can claim that you misunderstood me".

Welcome Views
Does anyone have any ideas - I don't (though want to appear very consultative). See also "Get a Steer", "advice please", "Run it Past" and "take soundings".

White Paper
Soft, strong, absorbent - and perforated at both ends.

Work-Life Balance
I'm off early as I am the boss even though there is a big "issue" developing. You will stay here and work late as you are not senior enough to enjoy a work-life balance. You do the work, I have the life.

Work It Through
Often used as a delaying tactic - i.e. we need to really "work it through" so lets have another meeting with other people in as well so we don't have to make a decision now. Or at all.

Working Group
5 or more people sitting in a room failing to achieve anything.

You May Recall
You will if you're any good. Alternatively, "this issue was mentioned very briefly and vaguely in a large, wide-ranging paper that went to your predecessor about two years ago".

You May Wish To Consider
Do this or else.

You Will Recall That
No you won't.

You Will Wish To Be Aware
No you won't, and it's bad news I'm afraid.

You Should Be Aware
Even worse news - not my fault, honest

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:42 AM | TrackBack

July 26, 2006

The management myths.....

Following on from yesterdays post, I felt I had to say a bit more about the myths of management, this time a little closer to my own situation. I am currently working to a management made up entirely of people who call themselves "professional managers" yet none of them have any experience or knowledge (beyond what they have learned listening to the rest of us "professionals" that they "enable" by "taking the management functions off us"), of what we do or how it has to be done. Yet these are now the people who tell me that their efforts make my life easier because they "take all the management tasks off me."

Well, the most noticeable thing about that is the fact that I now spend two thirds of my time writing ridiculously complex reports for them to explain what would be blindingly obvious to anyone who is a professional in my particular profession. They don't make my task easier, because they have increased my workload some 250%. Need to replace a piece of equipment - do a business case explaining why it would not be cheaper to (a) repair what you have, (b) actually need the item and (c) why it could not be replaced with something cheaper. Then, assuming you finally get the wording exactly as the "manager" wants it - he or she presents it to a board of equally ignorant people who then discuss only one part of it - the price tag. The really irritating part of this is that, until recently we had a management team of real professionals - professionals who managed the organisation - and I could put the same request to them without having to explain much beyond that it was (a) essential we replace it and (b) how I proposed to do so. An answer would be forthcoming and we would get on with the process. Not any more - now we have "professional managers" who are unable to make a decision and when they accidentally do make one and it turns sour on them - they expect the "professionals" who are not competent to manage in their eyes - to fix it.

It is very interesting when you take account of the fact that, of my colleagues, some fifteen of us have been senior and very senior managers in our chosen profession and most of us have a number of diplomas in management and several, myself included, have Masters Degrees in it - and I'm not talking the dreaded MBA here. Yet, among our new "Professional Managers" there are only three with Bachelors degrees, the most senior have none, one has a dreaded NVQ (stands for Not Very Qualified) and two have "Diplomas" from the Institute of Management. One of my colleagues who held a very senior position in a similar organisation until he retired has the following: Bachelor of Science, Master of Arts, four Diplomas in various technical matters related to our profession and around twenty years of real management experience - yet he is no longer considered "competent" to manage - an assessment made by our present underqualified and incompetent "professional managers".

When "managers" parachute into an organisation, it is not unusual to find that within days they take one of two initiatives. If the new manager is from a similar professional background - ie: is a professional in the field they are now to manage - they may begin to institute changes to bring the organisation they have joined round to the way things were in the organisation they have left. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does need to be done sensitively and with due consideration given to the fact that there may be very good reason why it will not work the same way. The second, and more disasterous situation is the one where the new "manager" is a so-called "professional manager" and knows nothing at all of the organisations function and purpose. They parachute in at whatever level and immediately initiate a "re-structure" of the department, or "re-organisation" of the whole organisation if they are high enough up the tree. The purpose is self defence - basically they feel insecure and threatened by the professionals they are now required to manage and whose function, expertise and actual knowledge is knownm only by the fact that a job description may exist somewhere - and the easiest way to ensure you are not undermined or threatened by these nasty types who actually know what they are doing and how to do it - is to make them insecure and destablised. So you change all their jobs around and create new layers above them. It is disasterous precisely because it destablises the entire organisation and that ultimately leads to its becoming unfocused and losing its direction. Everyone heads off defending their own little patch on their own and the organisation unravels very rapidly. Each subsequent "re-organisation" simply increases the instability. Interestingly it has also been credibly identified in a number of detailed studies of business failure, as the single most important factor leading to that failure.

Discussing this state of affairs with a friend in the NHS, she observed that this was what had gone wrong in the Health Service. The medical professionals had been eased out of the management positions and replaced by "professional managers" who managed everything on one measurement only. "How much will it cost if we don't." If not doing an operation will mean getting sued they will find the money - although sometimes they prefer to be sued as this allows them to run back to Whitehall and squeal for more money to waste on lawyers when they could have got the job done right the first time - by allowing the real professionals to manage the operation themselves.

Administration is not a profession, they are little more than glorified filing clerks and should be paid commensurately. Far too many are now earning the salaries that used to be paid to the real professionals who managed, but don't take the responsibility when their decisions go wrong or kill someone. That is the real reason for all the form filling and "business case" preparation they demand - it provides them with a trail to someone they can blame for their own incompetence by saying "but we asked the professionals".

Nice work if you can get it I suppose - after all, you never have to bear the consequences of your decisions - assuming you made any.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:30 PM | TrackBack

July 25, 2006

Professional Managers - a 21st Century Oxymoron

One of the great myths of the late 20th Century is that there is a such a thing as a "Professional Manager", someone who is not an expert in anything except the management function. In short, someone who knows nothing whatever about the actual operation of the organisation, company or service except how to "manage". Interestingly, at a recent seminar on "modernisation of management structures" - shorthand for "get rid of anyone who actually knows how whatever we do is done, and replace them with people who know how to run meetings and write memos" - and had one speaker stand up and tell us that the difference between a "Leader" and a "Professional Manager" is as follows:

When a group is lost in a jungle, a leader will climb the tallest tree, survey the tree tops and then tell his team "we are in the wrong jungle". A Manager will reorganise his team, set tasks and targets, and manage the team out of the jungle.

Funny, he seemed to think that the burst of derisive laughter from almost all of us present, was approval and agreement. It took a while to disillusion him.

The problem is obvious to those who care to look closely at what is happening in public services, in commerce and in industry. "Professional Managers" breed bureaucratic procedures - PRINCE 2 is an obvious, if somewhat extreme example. Because they have no understanding of the functions they are supposed to be "managing" the people they "manage" spend inordinate amounts of time explaining why the procedures they want to put in place will not work, cannot work or will simply prevent anyone from doing the job which is the primary function of the organisation. Prime examples are "Health and Safety" policies which prevent people from changing light bulbs until scaffold towers have been erected, safety harnesses donned and a safety net installed. Another is the manager who demands "make a business case" for everything from buying new batteries for the torch you need to check the interior of a roof void as a building inspector to building a new office extension - but will happily approve the employment of another dozen or so "administration officers", "personal assistants" or the redecoration and refurnishing of a suite of offices for another batch of like minded paper shufflers while essential plant and machinery continues to break down because it is not properly maintained because "we have to make economies" or it is considered "non-essential" to the "core business".

In short, there is no such thing as a "professional manager", there cannot be, since a manager who does not fully understand what it is that they manage, how it is done and how it needs to evolve, is not a manager at all. This is why we see the ever increasing reliance on "committee decision making" - shorthand for "if the committee made the decision I can't be blamed if it goes wrong" - and for "Quality Management Systems" so that we can have "audit trails" to the person to blame when it goes wrong. This myth of the "professional manager" is a pernicious one because it eventually leads to a state in any organisation where communication fails because they peiople who know what the organisation does refuse to talk to the "decision makers" because its a waste of time trying to tell them about things they don't understand. Eventually the organisation splits in two halves, with management thinking all is rosey and the working end knowing its not, unable to do anything about it and just keeping things going because they need to job and the income.

Look at some of the really big business failures and at some of those that have come close to failure and what do you find? Boardrooms stuffed with Accountants, Lawyers and "Managers" who have never had contact with the shop floor and have no understanding of it (The failures in the Home Office provide another excellent example - most of the senior civil servants who write the rules and procedures have never processed an asylum seekers application and wouldn't even know what it looked like!) and senior management who are likewise "professional managers" selected for their ability to speak the language of the "bottom line" but with siometimes even less knowledge of the shop floor than the Board.

Another indication of the "Professional Management" is the myth that they do listen. Staff Opinion Surveys are now another of the tools used by these "professionals" and in a recent one done in a place I work for, 87% of staff said they had no confidence in the management team, 3% opted for "no opinion" and 10% said they thought management was wonderful. Unsurprisingly the staff of the management suite equals about 10% of the total staff. Now a leader would be worried by this, but not this crew of "professional managers" - they blithely announced that they had noted that staff didn't understand some of the "tough decisions" they are making, but were encouraged by the fact that 13% of the staff were fully behind them and they would work on encouraging the rest to swing behind them too. Watch this space, the site the organisation currently occupies will be a business park within the next five years.

"Professional Manager" is a complete oxymoron, you simply cannot be professional if you do not have a good working knowledge of the thing you are managing. There is no "two week course" which will make you an expert in any field - if there was I'd have applied to be First Sea Lord years ago - I rather fancy myself as an Admiral of the Fleet. After all, its only a management function sending ships around the workld and managing their supply and crewing. Isn't it?

You can be a "professional" and a "manager" - but you cannot be a "professional manager".

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:14 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 28, 2006

All things considered ......

The last few weeks, if not months, have certainly held their challenges. Not the least of these has been the fact that I have been heavily involved in a redevelopment task which is trying to turn a two week and very intensive course into a one week course with lots of "e-learning" to make up the difference. Now e-learnming certainly has a place in the modern scheme of things, but I have certain very strong reservations about what it can actually achieve in terms of higher level conveyance of knowledge and understanding - especially in highly technical subjects and in situations where a huge amount of the current teaching is not out of books or notes, but out of the heads of the teachers - and is developed and conveyed in the interaction between student and teacher. That cannot and will not happen in an e-learning package - simply because there is no way it can be supported 24/7 by online mentors, teachers of advisers. FAQ's have been mooted as a solution to this, but frankly simply cannot answer all the potential questions and cannot fulfill the requirement to discuss and cross check understanding.

Coupled with a "practical" programme that this is supposed to support that is frankly half baked and does not address half the students required learning needs, and I am not very happy about my professional name being attached to this. This is, in fact compounded by the receipt today, of an "offer to retire - voluntarily" and congratulating me on "my successful application to take voluntary release". Don't you just love management speak?

What it boils down to is that I have been given an option, take a "voluntary" package and go a day after my 60th birthday, or refuse the voluntary package and be retired anyway. Unfortunately they can do this - as long as it is done and dusted by the 31st October. Why? Because the law changes on that date and I would become a very expensive asset in their terms - and one they could not get shot of without making me "redundant" and paying out an even bigger lump of cash.

All things considered however, I am glad that I have finally received a date on which I will no longer have to dance to the tune of the politicians and their minions who have sold their souls to the ideology of the moment in return for what passes for job security these days. In one way I am my own worst enemy in this regard since I have never been able to bring myself to sing the political ditty of the day and have twice chosen to stand on professional principle rather than bow to coercion and follow a path I could not professionally subscribe to. In both cases I was proved correct in the longer term - and had to help put things back on the right track and repair the damage. I will not do so again. This time I will walk away, with a pension that does not cover the mortgage, but will also be free to earn an honest living without the frustrations I have endured for the last four and half years. I do not, at this stage, know exactly how this will all turn out, but I am reasonably confident that it will turn out well.

Ironically, those who trashed everything I and others had built to make our training credible and of lasting value to our students, have now had to confess that we were right and they got it wrong. Already there are attempts to rebuild what was lost, but it may already be too late to save the institution that has provided the professional emergency service Prescott and Blair have all but destroyed. It is now, thanks to the Civil Servants who imposed gender and equality quotas, unloaded civilian management (which means we now have a "director" on inflated salaries for almost every two teaching staff) on us who know nothing of the service, care nothing for the service and take orders from Whitehall. This has disconnected us from our "customers" and lead, thanks to the mantra of "shorter and cheaper", led to competition springing up in all directions. I suppose I should not complain - since I am now in receipt of job offers from several of the competitors, all of whom are offering better rates than the place I have given so much too.

Am I bitter? Well, I suppose I must be, after all, you cannot give as much as I have tried to do without feeling very sore when your efforts are trashed, denigrated - or simply credited to that amorphous "Management". No doubt, when it all goes down the tubes and the place finally closes, we will see the Honours List adorrned with the names of the present Management all awarded CBE, KBE or DBE as appropriate for "services to the emergency services".

Small wonder that the Australians long ago dubbed these as "Cunning Bastards Efforts", "Knowing Bastards Efforts" and "Deadly B***h's Efforts". I am sorry to say that too many of the gongs handed out in the last few years have gone to people whose career choice has been to play the politics - and to hell with professional conduct. If you want to know what thirty pieces of silver look like - just check the Honours List for the CBE and above awarded to any Civil Servant or any member of the "modern" emergency services for their efforts in "modernising" the services. Equally sadly, this detracts hugely from the just recognition of those who receive the OBE or MBE for their truly deserving efforts to improve a service or to serve their community.

All things considered, it is probably time I went, a pity that it has to be with such a bitter taste and a feeling of wasted effort. What an epitaph for a career!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:06 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

September 23, 2005

How cuddly is your attitude?

The latest round in the demoralisation and destruction of the British Fire and Rescue Services is well underway. The assessment of competence, the much trumpetted "benchmark" for promotion, has been downgraded to be only 10% of the assessment process. Something called "PQA's" now dominate the assessments - and it is on these that decisions are being made as to who should be promoted or appointed.

What, you may well ask, is a "PQA"? In this age of acronyms where no one actually speaks a complete sentence anymore without littering the converstaion with strings of acronyms no one else (or a very limited number of cogniscenti) understands, it stands for "Personal Qualities and Attributes" and is supposed to measure how receptive you are to working with people from different cultures, colours or sexual orientation. It is also intended to measure your "political" awareness and to gauge your sense of "community". It has nothing whatever to do with measuring how effective you would be as a manager of an emergency service, or of whether or not you actually know anything about it. A colleague who recently underwent this death of career, emerged saying that the whole thing seemed to be aimed at Politically Correct "Issues" and the perceptions of biase as seen by the interviewer. He found that all the questions were extremely subjective and was very distressed to be told at the end of the interview that he had not made the required level - but that he could expect feedback on his performance and development needs, wait for it - in December! Forty other candidates in lower ranks - sorry Roles - had a similar view when they emerged from this exercise, and surprise, surprise, the Service has now appointed several people from outside the profession to replace the uniformed types so patently unsuitable. And the HR Director involved was distressed and surprised by the level of antipathy she encountered when giving feedback!

This experience among colleagues is not unique, but some have learned how to play the game. Three who have also recently undergone this ordeal and succeeded in getting the posts they were after freely admit that they had researched the sources and trends from other people's experiences and spent the entire interview - an hour and a half in duration - shovelling bovine excrement. It obviously worked, in their opinion, primarily because the interviewers were not being objective but selectively subjective and heard only the things they wanted to hear, immediately moving on when they heard the "right" answer. Other colleagues have not been able to pull this off - and I suppose it speaks for itself that all the successful ones have spent several years actually teaching the "new" management techniques.

To make matters worse, the "assessment" is in several "parts" only one of which is a compulsory pass. You've guessed it, it's the one about culture and diversity. You can achieve or not achieve a "pass" in any of the other sections and still get through as long as you score 100% in the Culture and Diversity section. As an additional incentive, a "Not Ready" result - no one "Fails" - bars you from applying for or serving in an acting capacity in any role but the one you are in for two years. In that time you may not attend or undergo any other "Assessment Centre". So how is it run? Well, for a start, it certainly puts the applicant under pressure. The "Assessor" sits the candidate down, hands them a "Standard" list of questions (Developed and published by that extremely competent and efficient organisation called the Civil Service) and asks you to respond to the first question - then starts a stop watch and tells you that you have five minutes to answer verbally.

Your verbal answers are being written down by hand by another member of the panel - who, as they are not using shorhand and are trying to take your answers "verbatim" - keeps interupting your flow by asking you to slow down. Then you are criticised at the end for not completing your answer in the required time. The response to any protest is that it is a test of your communication skills! This is a test which works well for people who deal in meetings, in esoteric concepts and can blather away about "principles" and "strategies" for Africa, but it is a huge problem for those whose communication is usually on a practical level. It also bears no relation at all to how well someone will perform in an emergency situation, but creates a huge amount of stress and seems designed to exclude the technical people and promote the paper shufflers. The worst aspect is that it is a nationally imposed assessment process devised for office workers and now being used in a service which spends less than 20% of their working time "working" in offices!

So, next time you need a fire engine at your fire/road accident or other emergency, don't expect too much in the way of emergency action. The crew will have been demotivated to the point that they no longer care, and the person in charge will know all about how to empathise with your distress, make a cup of tea and perhaps offer you community fire safety advice and counselling, but not a lot about dealing with the emergency to hand.

And don't forget that we're going to be paying more for this service than we did for the crude, rough, tough and "elitist" service it is supposed to be "modernising". Time to invest in some fire equipment for your own use and protection methinks!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:10 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 12, 2005

How to destroy a public service

The latest piece of ill-conceived damagement from the Office of the Deputy Prime Misery, aimed at consolidating the destruction of the professional UK Fire and Rescue Services, contains some really interesting pointers on how the super intelligences that now run this country from Whitehall think. It probably also tells us a lot about the planet they live on.

Having scrapped the Appointments and Promotions Regulations which created the professional management structure that has served the service and the public extremely well, the latest "New Labour" ideology decrees that the service can be managed more efficiently and effectively by parachuting in people with no knowledge or experience of the service at all levels. The first step was to destroy the rank structure. This was too "militaristic" and "exclusive". Then came the destruction of the recruitment selection and testing criteria, and then the creation of "Role Maps" which are supposed to form the basis of the "Integrated Personal Development System" - note the use of the word "Integrated", it is a favourite in anything this shower of incompetents wish to push as "modernising", and has nothing whatever to do with actually being joined up and relevant - and for identifying what the post holder actually does. In the past, of course, this was usually covered by something called a "Job Description", but the new Role Maps are written in NVQ speak and are thus unintelligible to any but the NVQ industry cogniscenti, and so require constant re-interpretation and "specialists" to provide guidance on selection for role. Another piece of the NVQ upload is the requirement that everyone must now maintain a "portfolio" of evidence to show that, irrespective of your Doctorate in Whatever, you are "competent" to do the job you hold. Now this may sound a little cynical, but what it has produced is experts in the invention of "evidence" and the use of the photocopier!

So, now we have scrapped the selection criteria, the professional progression and the professional management, we have to re-invent something to take its place - so we have reached back into the 1930's and created a system which allows anybody who thinks they can do it better than a professionally trained fire officer to apply for and be appointed to a post at any role/rank above Firefighter. After all, or so the theory goes, any "manager" can take charge and "manage" any function, no matter how technical or complex, because to "manage" one doesn't need to know how the job is actually done. So we now have a consultation document which states; inter alia, that we are looking for a set of selection criteria which must:
(i) Assess candidates against National Personal Qualities Assessments,
(ii) Meet the Psychological Society's Best Practice Guidelines,
(iii) Be relevant to the role, be fair, be open and reflect the core values of the service (which have almsot nothing to do with actually responding to emergencies anymore according to the government document they are found in!),
(iv) require no prior knowledge of the service by candidates,
(v) provide a structure that can be organised to meet the working requirements of people on different working systems.

Now most of those, except (iv) sound reasonable, until you realise that this is all about providing jobs for people who would not have been able to leap into the rank/role they wanted without having to learn or do the jobs below the one they want first. Add to this the fact that the service now has targets for employing disabled persons, ethnic minorities and others seen as "disadvantaged" by previous recruitment and promotion criteria and you can see what this is designed to do. As more of the frontline is eroded to make way for the appointment of more and more "support" we face the sort of situation that the military have - 9 support staff (paper shufflers who never actually handle any of the hardware) to every 1 fighting man or woman.

The entire system as outlined in the new consultation paper is designed to remove all professional fire fighter types from all "roles" above the Station Manager (formerly called a Station Officer or Assistant Divisional Officer!)- particularly the "specialist" roles which are seen as choice jobs for people who don't like to fight fires but think a guide can provide all the knowledge they need - and replace them with New Labour Managers. Heaven forbid that any of these new managers or "specialists" should be paid less than the people they are replacing, but, naturally, they will have no responsibility for the actual protection of the public or any of the "nasty, dirty" technical functions. They will be "strategic" managers who will decide, based on interminable "Business Cases" prepared by the nasty Techy types, where resources, personnel and activities will be placed. They will also determine the "policies" to be followed, fulfilling this in a complete vacuum as they simply will not have, despite "consultation", any understanding of the ramifications of their policies.

The poor unsuspecting public will probably not notice the difference, unfortunately, until it is too late. They will be paying the costs in terms of rising insurance premiums, falling response and rising fire damage and losses. The mindset behind all this is the same one that seems to think that an ever shrinking number of regiments, ships and aircraft can be deployed to more and more "little" wars around the world. Watch this space, the next step will undoubtedly be to recruit the next generation of Ship's Captains, Admirals, Generals and Air Marshals from the ranks of so-called "Captains of Industry". After all, if such "managers" can run the fire service, they can surely run the Armed Forces - and be much less threatening to the Civil Servants and Politicians, because they will be as ignorant of the realities as their political masters.

Yes, if you want to destroy a professional organisation, there is no better way than to destroy it from within. Change the structure, change the criteria for the various roles, change the recruiting, change the progression for the personnel, replace the professionals with non-professionals at the top and then stand back and watch as it slowly self destructs. Remember when you get the next increase in Council Tax, or on your Insurance Premium and are waiting in vain for the fire appliance that used to be available to you locally, to come from 10 miles or more away, that you read it here first.

It will be too late to change things then, in fact, it is probably too late already!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:51 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

July 27, 2005

You could not invent this stuff as fiction ....

Just got this off the FBU news site; note the thinly veiled threat by the officer - one which, 20 years ago would have landed the same officer on a charge for "abuse of authority" under the old rules which Mr Blair and his shower of cretins thought too draconian!

The stage is set for row over fire play

'Lives were put at risk'

FIREFIGHTERS in Cambridge were taken out of action Friday, 22 July, to watch a play about modernisation.

And crews at the city's Parkside fire station have hit out at bosses who, they say, put the lives of residents in rural Cambridgeshire at risk by forcing crews from village fire stations to cover for the city teams.

But fire service managers accused a few dissident firefighters of resisting vital changes to the service and rejecting out of hand positive ways of discussing controversial issues.

The play is part of an effort by fire bosses to engage their staff in a discussion on how the 'modernisation of the fire service' is proceeding. Every member of staff in Cambridgeshire will see it with showings at Cambridge Fire Station yesterday (Friday, 22 July) and on Monday.

A source at Parkside said: "We're up in arms about this - we offered to come in on our days off to receive the training, if that's what this is, but we were told we will be disciplined if we didn't go along with it. The result was that villages will be without any cover at all as both our pumping engines will be out of action, and village crews will have to come to Cambridge to cover for us."

The News attended the first showing of the play, by professional drama group Dramanon, Friday, 22 July.

It features a modern and an oldfashioned firefighter discussing the merits of modernisation.

A number watched the play Friday, 22 July, but remained quiet throughout a workshop afterwards aimed at discussing the nature of the changes they are facing.

The latest row follows revelations in the News acute staffing problems were pushing depleted resources in the service to the limit
* often forcing fire engines and rescue vehicles out of action.

Dave Warren, Cambridge district manager, said: "We have a duty to provide fire cover, and we will. We also have a duty to train our people, and we will.

"We have a responsibility to train our employees, and we expect them to attend. No workplace would allow staff to pick and choose training about new legislation which affected their roles.

"People may decide they will not participate in the discussions - that is up to them - but it is a missed opportunity to have a meaningful discussion about the modernisation of the service.

"However, if there is a situation where people feel that they can't contribute because they feel intimidated by the attitudes of a dominant few, then we are dealing with a totally different situation, which is not consistent with equality and fairness in the workplace."

He said workshops were set up "to enable a full discussion" about changes within the fire service.

23 July 2005

All I can say is that 'damagement' have some very strange ideas about how to win hearts and minds in this debate - and worse, what constitutes a "full discussion". Frankly this really betrays the fact that the management of this Brigade know they have no valid argument to support what they are doing and know they cannot win any rational debate - so out come the threats, the blackmail and the browbeating tactics. Anyone who disagrees with us is attacked as "obstructionist, racist or any other convenient -ist", they can't present a rationale for what they are doing, so they attack the person who points out the flaws. The FBU are most definitely not my favourite organisation, in fact I would generally class them as one of the real enemies of the service I have been part of and loved for more than thirty years now, but they are pussycats compared to the idiots now "damaging" the service itself!

Welcome to the modern management technique as practiced by incompetent managers everywhere.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:42 AM | Comments (1)