Archive for November 2009

Espionage

November 30, 2009

One of the things that always amuses me about working for the council is the internet diaries and the amount of information we will willingly give up about ourselves in what is basically an open record of our movements.

For those who are not aware of this phenomenon every outlook diary in the council is open to every other member of staff. I can find out what my boss is doing and who he’s doing it with. I can find out where my colleague is having her lunch or where the latest parks meeting will be taking place.

This open diary leads to two practices:

1) The irresistable urge to know what everyone is doing. When getting into the office in the morning it’s just so easy to click on your team’s diary and find out where everyone is… Leading to conversations that go something like this:

So where’s Steve?

Oh, he’s having a lunch meeting with xxx and then moving down to xxx for a seminar before coming back here at 4 and then heading out to Fandangos with the guys in Planning…

Why?

I was just returning his notes; he asked me to leave them on his desk…

Oh

Simply put, it’s not healthy knowing that much about anyone’s life; especially not your boss… Some would say it’s basically stalking.

2) The amusing practice of misnaming what you’re up to.

For example:

Drinks after work with friends from the PCT became: ‘Cross departmental and organisational information sharing session’

Lunch at the local cafe became: ‘Local economy supporting strategy’ or ‘credit munch’

And a quick pint became: ‘Situational brainstorming’

By far my favourite though is: ‘Waste education tool construction workshop’ … And I can’t divulge what that was all about as, yes, you’ve guessed it, it was in someone elses diary!

From other lands

November 26, 2009

I spent a very pleasant evening last night with a friend of mine from another local authority.

My friend is a planner and if her chat is anything to go by a very good one at that. Her planning section is split into three teams; each with a roughly equal workload. However, as luck with have it sector 3 (as we shall call it) has three talented and hardworking planners whilst the other areas don’t, as rumour would have it, quite live up to the same standard.

In many organisations this would mean promotions for the good and questioning of the weak. In this particular local authority it led to my friend being asked into her manager’s office. She was asked in that meeting if she could slow down a little as the senior manager was thinking of removing a member of staff from the sector 3 team due to the fact they were exceeding their targets and the other teams were struggling. The logic being; ‘you’re doing well, you don’t need so many staff’.

This leaves my friend with quite a quandary… To keep working hard, be moved and leave a team already working at capacity fully stretched or stay slow down a little and continue to deliver the standard of service we all know is important to the community.

Thankfully, my friend is a smart cookie and has applied for a one day a week secondment… That should slow her down by 20%, meet her manager’s needs and ensure she’s doing something useful with her time elsewhere in the council.

The fact that the local authority is operating these service improvement secondments suggests that some of their management is in the 21st century… Just maybe not the planning team!

Until next time…

Stairway to Floor Seven

November 24, 2009

The crown jewels. The Prime Minister. Megan Fox’s phone number. Three things that are eminently worthy of guarding with all due diligence, and protecting from the masses at all costs. My daughter’s home-made pasta jewellery. My phone number. The stairs at the Town Hall. Three other things which should not have any need to be guarded by a big burly security operative for any reason whatsoever. Guess which one we just discovered is…

Yep, you’ve guessed it, the Town Hall is officially stair-less. After a nice lunch and good conversation, my co-author and I decided to continue our strange love affair with the stairs by using them to return to our desks. We had walked up on the way to the canteen on the ninth floor from the fourth, both trying to keep talking all the way without appearing to get out of breath at any stage (thus proving our manliness). What could possibly go wrong with our plans to complete the round trip with a similar but downwardly oriented route?

Imagine then our shock when, upon turning what we thought was just another corner, we came across a security guard sitting on the steps. Wondering whether he was in the middle of a cardiac event (we don’t have the fittest or most svelte of security staff at the Town Hall) we inquired as to his health. The response when it came was from an entirely different angle. As of today, we and all others in the building are no longer allowed to use the stairs. He let us go down the single floor to our destination just this once as a favour, stopping just short of asking for a bribe in the process (alright, I made that last bit up – it wasn’t a bribe he was after, just our unending gratitude for his general benevolence).

In the past this no-stairs policy has been the case in theory rather than in practice. The stairs were officially for emergency use only, with lifts connecting the floors for normal conveyance related duties. However, some people for health or speed reasons continued to use the stairs, and a blind eye was turned to this by all concerned. When your meeting was just a floor or two up or down it made perfect sense to use the quickest route, and a four minute wait for the lift just didn’t add up.

This situation was exacerbated (yes, I do like that word) further with the introduction of ‘new and improved’ lifts (although how something can be both new and improved at the same time is still beyond me), lifts which require you to tell it the floor you want to go to before you even get in it and which tell you which silver box to use. This incredibly over-complex system means you are regularly left for ten minutes waiting for a lift to be assigned whilst trying to get between floors, hence more and more people taking the healthy option and using the stairs.

Alas, this is to be no more as the powers that be have decreed that it is too dangerous to do this on a regular basis. There must be a danger of people forgetting that when you go downstairs the floor tends to get a bit further away at regular intervals so you have to bend your knees and be a bit more careful than when you are on the ballroom floor. That, or perhaps they are waiting to install some communal Stenna style apparatus in a move reminiscent of something from Wall.E, meaning that we can slide about the same floor in our £900 wheelie chairs, go up and down in lifts or transfer to stair platforms to save the wear and tear on our little leggy weggys.

I for one will now be going home to reassess the potentially damaging situation my house currently presents, and will be putting some more signage and a dozen handrails up to stop my wife and kids from life changing injury when going to use the bathroom. In fact, I might just get a new lift installed, which will have the added joy of perhaps swallowing me whole and refusing to disgorge me the next time the in-laws come round to visit.

Hey, there might be something to this after all…

Don’t use the Stairs!

November 23, 2009

As has been mentioned in previous posts our organisation is fond of healthy living and especially healthy walking.

However, when it comes to being healthy inside the building different rules apply. As with all office buildings there is always a substantial queue for the lifts in the morning. Despite this, and the obvious health benefits attached using the stairs instead of the lift every door leading to the stairs has a big sign saying:

‘DO NOT USE THE STAIRS EXCEPT IN CASE OF AN EMERGENCY’

We’ll just have to forget the impending health emergency that obesity and general slovenliness will bring to the UK population eventually and stick to the crowded lifts… But, why you might ask?

Apparently, when agreeing to rent out the building we forgot to buy some insurance for the stairs…

Words Fail me…

8 Ways To Kill an Idea

November 22, 2009

I saw this on another blog (http://www.samiviitamaki.com/?p=336) and it simply rings true.

Reply all

November 20, 2009

People blame technology for things all the time.  “My alarm clock didn’t go off”, “the train was late”, “my tamegotchi ate my homework”.  However, what most of these people fail to grasp is that invariably it is they that are at fault, not the bundle of plastic, metal and assorted techie goodness that they are passing the buck to.

Never is this more true than in the workplace, and never in the workplace is it more true than when it comes to one of Microsoft’s greatest and most oft-misused ideas: the dreaded Reply All button.

Countless are the examples of important information getting accidentally copied to each and every member of a large group or organisation.  Information such as pay cheques, personal phone numbers, even expenses can have hugely damaging effects on all those involved, as recently was proved by those in Westminster.

However, just as damaging in terms of wasting staff time are those discussions which pale into insignificance when compared to, well, just about everything else.

Over the course of the average year we will have an average of four such discussions take place.  In the past these have included the installation of new water coolers, the changing of vending machine suppliers and the all important problem of the lack of toilet rolls in some toilets.  Don’t get me wrong, all of these are things which need to be brought up, but surely not with every single person in the Council, from Assistant Tea Stirer’s Mate down to Chief Executive.

Not only are these discussions entirely pointless but often aren’t even made up of people discussing the original problem.  Besides a few comments about similar problems in different Council buildings the majority of conversational additions are simply people telling everyone else to stop using the reply all button.  The irony in them using the reply all button to do just that is generally missed by all concerned, and results in gems such as:

e-mailer 1 – “Can everyone stop using the reply all button to reply to these comments as it is filling up my inbox.”

e-mailer 2 – “That’s right, with the problem of only being allowed 2MB inboxes anyway which get filled up with the first picture of a cat being cute sent on a Monday I struggle to delete things quick enough as it is, and these e-mails aren’t helping.”

e-mailer 3 – “If people have something to say can they direct it to facilities management rather than replying to all, as it is really annoying.”

e-mailer 4 – “Not only is it annoying but actually goes against the Council’s e-mail and intranet usage policy.  Still, technically so does making any use of e-mail or the intranet for anything interesting, so that doesn’t actually get us anywhere…”

e-mailer 5 – “And anyway, we shouldn’t be talking about this, instead we should be discussing what we are going to do about the lifts, which take ages to come.  Let’s get them sorted out before worrying about who our office suppliers are.”

e-mailer 6 – “Can anyone explain why we aren’t allowed to use the stairs any more?”

e-mailer 1 – “Look, I’ve asked nicely and now I’m telling you – STOP REPLYING TO EVERYONE!”

e-mailer 3 – “Oh, and here’s a picture of a kitten that looks like it’s got a moustache, isn’t it cute!”

And so the list goes on until we all get told off and put on the naughty step (which is impressive as we are not officially allowed to use the stairs, but that’s a subject for another post).

Seriously, if you can’t be responsible about using the reply all button then frankly you shouldn’t be allowed to use a computer.  In fact, you shouldn’t really be allowed out of the house, or be left alone with anything complicated like shoe laces or peanut butter.

The curse of the calendar

November 19, 2009

I don’t like to piggy back on another post but the last one reminded me of an e-mail received in the office. It has three bullet points but number 2 read:

2. Completing calendars

The manager expects everyone to keep their calendars completely up-to-date with their whereabouts, hence if the calendar appears empty, please note that he will be forwarding work your way.

We all quickly filled up our calendars with long ‘writing report’ or ‘researching’ sessions which I guess sort of defeated the object.

Ironically productivity is inversely proportional to how busy you appear:

1) In meeting – Not very productive but considered to be busy

2) At desk – Moderately productive but considered to be ‘free’

3) Working from home – Highly productive but considered by those in the office to be slacking

Give us a break and let us work!

November 19, 2009

Imagine the conversation.

Boss: “What are you doing?”

Me: “Writing up a risk assessment for the programme I’m working on.”

Boss: “But you’re at your desk.”

Me: “Er, yes…..”

Boss: “Then why aren’t you doing any work?”

Me: “Well, as I said I’m writing a risk assessment for…”

Boss: “How can you possibly be working when you are at your desk?! If you are not in a meeting then you are obviously wasting time and there’s plenty of other work I can give you. For example, make me a cup of tea but be sure to only stir anti-clockwise…”

Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but the gist of it is a true story. Recently we got an e-mail from our Director which said she will be checking our diaries over the coming weeks to see how busy we are.  If we have lots of empty space then she will be handing over some more work to do.

Firstly, at what stage did a meeting constitute a good way to spend most of your working day?  The overwhelming majority of meetings are pointless exercises designed to allow morons to feel important and that they are doing something.  Don’t get me wrong, sometimes they are really useful and end up with some good actions and outcomes, but most of the time I don’t even bother taking a pen as I know there will be nothing worth writing down in it and no actions for me to take.  It’s a bit like being a celebrity at the Oscars; if you are not there people will notice but the show will go on, and if we’re honest the real work is done outside of the show anyway.

The absurdity of thinking that if you are not talking with people you are not working is beyond belief – when do they think we actually get things done?  Those 1-pagers and briefings that are demanded actually take some screen time to produce, projects need to be properly planned and e-mails need to be responded to; unless of course you want to invest in some kind of brainwave-reading speech recognising robot to obey your every command and churn out whatever you need whenever you need it, responding to every request for advice or support from anyone across any public sector organisation in the city.

What’s that I hear you say, you already have a team of those? That’s right, it’s us, your team who try to be one step ahead of your ever changing whims and make sure that the information you need is at your fingertips before they are even extended in our general direction.

Give us a break. Give us some desk time.

And yes, those are five words I never thought I would type and actually mean.

It’s not just the Council who can spin…

November 19, 2009

Recently I was asked to deliver a project to talk with the public about some local parks and open spaces in the borough.  I developed a pretty good project plan which the parks team agreed, then brought in a team of facilitators to deliver it and reported back the findings.  We did events, surveys, meetings and more, and had about 4000 people talk to us about their local parks and how they wanted to see them develop.

Once this was all over, I was contacted by an IT company who were touting a nice piece of software.  They knew nothing at all about the parks project, but wanted to show off how their software could take the public’s comments and make them easier to understand, so as a test I sent over the comments we had received to see if their claims could be proved.  Whilst interesting, they didn’t actually tell us anything we couldn’t find out by reading the comments ourselves (old school, I know…) so I’ve not used them since.

Imagine my surprise therefore when a Google alert brought this to my attention:

The xxxxxx Solution

The Borough of yyyyyyyyyyy wanted to enable the constituent population to be able to engage on what mattered to them in respect of the parks and open spaces. They also needed to be able to separate out the responses and understand what was important to different parts of the population. xxxxxxx deployed a Community Consultation Dashboard for yyyyyyyyyyyy. This was designed around the specific locations in question and gave them the power to analyse, understand and interpret meaning from the various engagement activities.

xxxxxxxxx worked with yyyyyyyyyyyy on creating effective ways to elicit information from the population. During face to face meetings in the actual parks, respondents were invited to use narrative style in order to describe issues of importance in their own language. This approach encouraged a much richer source of information and a more considered set of perspectives. The Community Consultation Dashboard meant that yyyyyyyyyyy were able to ask “what are your priorities for the parks and open spaces” and then create a fully interactive map of the key themes that emerged.

Now, these are just excerpts from the case study they put out which pretty much implies that they planned, delivered and evaluated the entire programme themselves – which they didn’t.  I’ve got no problem at all with sharing good or bad practice, but these people are trying to sell their product on the back of my hard work!  It’s the equivalent of me forwarding an e-mail from e-bay and then trying to get money from every sale they then make – I had nothing to do with the work they are doing but as they are doing alright I want to get on that bandwagon!

Why can’t people just be honest about what they are doing?!

Spin

November 18, 2009

I love Spin and in a Local Govt context being able to right good spin can really benefit you when dealing with those more senior than you (provided that you are able to sort out whatever your are in the process of spinning!).

As an example a recently submitted report read as follows. The project was focused on attracting women to undertake courses and was not on target:

’30 women came to initial workshop in Quarter 2. The figures need to be broken down by local area. A project officer has been appointed to help target the service in the local areas. Although 15 women signed up to the programme after that workshop only 5 attended due to an administrative breakdown. The newly appointed project officer will help to better co-ordinate the project. The training programme is on hold until the project officer engages sufficent numbers. Spend will commence in quarter 3 & 4 as the primary source of spend will be against the training. Limited spend in Q2 will be processed in Q3 after SLA has been finalised.’

Our Corporate Director then read it and it became:

‘Early phase recruitment met with a high drop out rate. A project officer has been appointed to help target the recruitment in local areas and to better co-ordinate the project. Spend will commence in quarter 3 & 4 as the primary source of spend will be against the training. Limited spend in Q2 will be processed in Q3 after SLA has been finalised.’

You can’t fault the spin invovled in that can you… Does anyone else have any examples???


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