Archive for December 2009

You couldn’t write this…

December 17, 2009

Just a quickie, after getting stopped by security (as discussed earlier on this blog) the Council has decided to hit back by finishing the sprucing up of one of the lifts that has been out of action for a while.  It’s so close to being finished that they’ve stuck the branding stickers from the lift company on it.

Sit down you stair Nazi’s – Schindlers Lifts have arrived.


Health & Safety and Equality Considerations for Christmas Songs

December 14, 2009

The Rocking Song
Little Jesus, sweetly sleep, do not stir;
We will rock you, rock you, rock you,
We will rock you, rock you, rock you:

Fur is no longer appropriate wear for small infants, both due to risk of allergy to animal fur, and for ethical reasons. Therefore faux fur, a nice cellular blanket or perhaps micro-fleece material should be considered a suitable alternative.

Please note, only persons who have been subject to a Criminal Records Bureau check and have enhanced clearance will be permitted to rock baby Jesus. Persons must carry their CRB disclosure with them at all times and be prepared to provide three forms of identification before rocking commences.

Jingle Bells
Dashing through the snow
In a one horse open sleigh
O’er the fields we go
Laughing all the way

A risk assessment must be submitted before an open sleigh is considered safe for members of the public to travel on. The risk assessment must also consider whether it is appropriate to use only one horse for such a venture, particularly if passengers are of larger proportions. Please note, permission must be gained from landowners before entering their fields. To avoid offending those not participating in celebrations, we would request that laughter is moderate only and not loud enough to be considered a noise nuisance.

While Shepherds Watched
While shepherds watched
Their flocks by night
All seated on the ground
The angel of the Lord came down
And glory shone around

The union of Shepherd’s has complained that it breaches health and safety regulations to insist that shepherds watch their flocks without appropriate seating arrangements being provided, therefore benches, stools and orthopaedic chairs are now available. Shepherds have also requested that due to the inclement weather conditions at this time of year that they should watch their flocks via cctv cameras from centrally heated shepherd observation huts.
Please note, the angel of the lord is reminded that before shining his / her glory all around she / he must ascertain that all shepherds have been issued with glasses capable of filtering out the harmful effects of UVA, UVB and Glory.

Rudolph the red nosed reindeer
Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer
had a very shiny nose.
And if you ever saw him,
you would even say it glows.

You are advised that under the Equal Opportunities for All policy, it is inappropriate for persons to make comment with regard to the ruddiness of any part of Mr. R. Reindeer. Further to this, exclusion of Mr R Reindeer from the Reindeer Games will be considered discriminatory and disciplinary action will be taken against those found guilty of this offence. A full investigation will be implemented and sanctions – including suspension on full pay – will be considered whilst this investigation takes place.

Little Donkey
Little donkey, little donkey on the dusty road
Got to keep on plodding onwards with your precious load

The RSPCA have issued strict guidelines with regard to how heavy a load that a donkey of small stature is permitted to carry, also included in the guidelines is guidance regarding how often to feed the donkey and how many rest breaks are required over a four hour plodding period. Please note that due to the increased risk of pollution from the dusty road, Mary and Joseph are required to wear face masks to prevent inhalation of any airborne particles. The donkey has expressed his discomfort at being labelled ‘little’ and would prefer just to be simply referred to as Mr. Donkey. To comment upon his height or lack thereof may be considered an infringement of his equine rights.

We Three Kings
We three kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts we traverse afar
Field and fountain, moor and mountain
Following yonder star

Whilst the gift of gold is still considered acceptable – as it may be redeemed at a later date through such organisations as ‘cash for gold’ etc, gifts of frankincense and myrrh are not appropriate due to the potential risk of oils and fragrances causing allergic reactions. A suggested gift alternative would be to make a donation to a worthy cause in the recipients name or perhaps give a gift voucher.

We would not advise that the traversing kings rely on navigation by stars in order to reach their destinations and suggest the use of RAC routefinder or satellite navigation, which will provide the quickest route and advice regarding fuel consumption. Please note as per the guidelines from the RSPCA for Mr Donkey, the camels carrying the three kings of Orient will require regular food and rest breaks. Facemasks for the three kings are also advisable due to the likelihood of dust from the camels hooves.

Away in a Manger No Crib for a bed  –   Social services?

A powerful tool for… Well not a lot really

December 13, 2009

Sometimes it is hard to follow a post before but something has been bothering me all week and it has not been until now that I have had the chance to get it out.

On Wednesday the Audit Commission launched the ‘oneplace‘ website which can best be described as a geekish cross between upmystreet and an accountants dream.

Basically the website is designed to give anyone as much information about the public services in their local area; and by information I mean the result of local inspections carried out by the audit commission and the other bodies who carry out their role elsewhere in the public sector (namely the Care Quality Commission, HM Inspectorates of Constabulary, Prisons and Probation and Ofsted).

Now, I must say I have no problem with putting the information on-line and making it searchable. After all, what is the point of doing all of these endless inspections if the information isn’t easily accessible.

However, I do have two problems with this site. Firstly, the justification for the site is weak. Instead of saying ‘we’re putting this information on-line because it’s an easy way to communicate a lot of data to the people who pay for it (the taxpayer that is!). Instead the Audit Commission blanket the airwaves telling us that this website will be:

A powerful tool for change

Quite simply that is garbage of the highest order. To be a powerful driver for change one of two things needs to happen:

1. People read the figures and challenge their local service providers to meet those targets or

2. People move house or provider causing the laws of supply and demand to drive better performance by the authority.

Do the Audit Commission really believe that people will be sifting through the national indicators on-line and rising up to challenge their local authorities poor performance on National Indicator 4 or upping sticks and moving to the London Borough of Hillingdon because of their better performance in engaging their community around Anti-Social Behaviour? Of course not.

If a decade of school league tables has proven anything it is this: Whilst no-one likes bad schools or poorly performing hospitals the publishing of all this data does not lead to radical improvements in the school or hospital simply because of the presence of the data in the public realm. In fact the publication of the data seems to have limited effect. Lib Dem run Liverpool was the worst performing council in 2008 but the whole council was re-elected two months after the Audit Commission had labeled them failing, and as far as I know there isn’t a great exodus under way from the city of culture.

Performance data can and does lead to better performance; you can target resources more efficiently and effectively and identify underlying problems that might not be apparent. And the knowledge that a local hospital is letting too many people die can lead to a public outcry aided by the press. However, let us not kid ourselves that putting the vast majority of this information in the public realm will make even the slightest difference.

It is NOT a powerful driver of change.

And it is especially not a powerful driver for change when the means of comparing between different councils is warped. Camden (it’s early in the alphabet rather than having any significance to me) received two green flags (for good performance). One was for ‘improving the quality of life for older people’, something which is easy to compare between authorities but the other was for ‘Tackling crime in Camden’. How exactly is any other authority going to get a green flag for tackling crime in Camden??? And if the circumstances around crime in Camden are so specific to Camden (possible) then is there any point in trying to compare them with other authorities on a funky new website?

And finally, will knowing that my local area doesn’t have a green flag for tackling crime in ?£$?%^&&* mean I should challenge my authority or even up sticks and move to Camden… No, I thought not.

A nice website for sure but a powerful driver for change this is not.

Just leave, already…

December 11, 2009

In the past couple of weeks we’ve had at least half a dozen people leave the team.  This has been for a variety of reasons – new and exciting career opportunities, promotions, internal investigations – but whatever the reason each has resulted in the dreaded envelope of death:

The Leaving Process.

There is nothing wrong with saying goodbye; short, sharp and to the point this is a nice thing to do without getting overly sentimental.  But that’s not easy enough, is it?

The starting level is a Card, signed by colleagues and co-workers.  This level is where the problem starts.

You see, you need to first take a look at what else has been said to get the general tone.  You don’t want to be too friendly and informal if everyone else is offering cold good luck phrases, likewise you don’t want to be an ice queen if the rest of the team are espousing their every virtue.  There’s also the tricky point about where on The Card you actually pen your words of luck; do you go for a corner, a strategically sound spot but also one that attracts the eye like a dancer from Strictly or do you instead opt for a side or area which attracts the eye like a typical back bencher?  How long should your message be?  Do you leave kisses after your name?

Then there’s The Collection.  Everyone fears Collection time, especially if you are one of the first in the queue.  You don’t want to feel like a cheapskate and potentially jeapordise your own eventual collection, equally you didn’t know them that well…  Do you empty your pocket of shrapnel with an apologetic and gaelic shrug, confidently throw it in there hoping that no-one notices the copper nature of your coinage or do you pop some paper money in and gingerly withdraw some change?

Whatever happens, you have to avoid like the plague any hint of you being responsible for turning The Collection into The Gift.  You will get The Gift wrong, no matter how large The Collection is.  Whether you go for a single large Gift or opt for a smaller one and a bunch of flowers, they will accept it with a rueful smile and a desperate plea for the receipt.

Next comes The Speech, from the highest person in authority you know who wasn’t smart enough to be on leave that day.  They will spend ten minutes giving them the most backhanded of compliments and looking back on every fould-up they ever made, icily dredging up horrific incidents from their past follwed simply by the phrase ‘we can laugh about it all now of course’.  Rest assured, nobody wants to laugh about it.  Ever.

The leaver then does the most play-it-safe speech they possibly can, biting down the bile rising in them and not saying the things they have been promising to say for the last two weeks through a combination of fear and realisation that references may still be required.  They either mumble something incoherent or launch into fifteen minutes of thanking each and every person sitting near them, regardless of actual friendship, giving off the impression that they are in fact a benevolent individual who spreads love and happiness wherever they go (not the self-laothing trogladyte that they actually are).

Finally and most embarrasingly is the Leaving Drinks.  No-one wants to go, the only person who gets drunk is the leaver and that is usually after the rest of their team have left and they’ve attached themselves to a random group of drug-adled locals dancing to Mark Ronson tracks and drinking Jaegerbombs.

Frankly, enough is enough.  This is crippling me financially and ruining any semblance of socialisation that our team needs to develop.  If you’re going to leave consider your peers and do it quietly – a whimper, a box for your things and an e-mail is more than enough thank you very much.

These aren’t the consultant’s you’re looking for…

December 7, 2009

Yes, my geek is showing here; there is a line in one of the Star Wars movies (the vastly inferior new ones by the way, for which I have little time) where C-3PO comments on a droid production line: “robots building robots, how perverse”.

The reason I expose myself to potential nerd-bashing is the phrase itself sprang to mind towards the end of last week when I was asked to attend a meeting regarding some focus groups.  Without revealing my identity entirely, this happens to be an area I’m quite familiar with, having delivered sessions, focus groups and workshops for the better part of 12 years, so I rolled along expecting to sit down with a few key people and work out a quick topic guide before being blackmailed into facilitating one or more of them.

Imagine my surprise therefore, to find that instead the meeting turned out to be a focus group itself.  Surprise is no bad thing in this situation, as I so rarely get to take part in such a group that the opportunity is still a novelty.  A consultant – who until very recently had been part of the team they were now consulting for – had been brought in to deliver the focus groups with stakeholders.  So guess what the first thing they set up was…

That’s right, a focus group to talk about the focus groups.  They had done a little thinking and came up with a fairly decent topic guide, which my fellow participants then proceeded to change in its entirety so that by the end of the session we were faced with the consultant needing to go away and work it all up into a palatable form before no doubt calling another focus group to confirm the discussions of the first focus group which was looking at how to run a few focus groups.

There are several points wrong with this tale.

  • I have a problem with consultants who used to be part of a team being paid (probably exorbitant) fees to come back in and tell them where they are going wrong – shouldn’t they have done that when they received their first pay cheque?!
  • If the process they wanted to talk about was that loose then why are they paying someone so much money to work it out – what on earth are their jobs?
  • I am part of the same team as them and have worked with them in the past – what do they think my job is?
  • A consultant should lead such a process, not pander to whims of staff as it could be construed as stringing a cash cow along for as long as they are milkable.
  • Producing a topic guide takes a fraction of the people a fraction of the time it took us to get nowhere.
  • Come on, a focus group to talk about focus groups?!  Seriously?!?!?!

We spent almost two hours working out the aims and objetives for heaven’s sake – if even these aren’t clear then why should there be nine people in a room with an average wage well in excess of £45000 (including myself who brings that way down as a mere minion) discussing it?!

Call it professional pride here, but if someone else is being paid a lot more money than me to take five or six times as long doing something probably not as well as I could do it then I get a little peeved.

If only Darth Vader’s choke move could be taught through the corporate training brochure, these meetings would be a lot more fun.  And shorter.

Ring ring

December 1, 2009

I’m about to sound like a Luddite but we have a new phone system in the office and it is driving me mad!

In my mind a phone needs to perform some very basic functions:

1) It needs to be able to phone out

2) It needs to be able to receive calls that are meant for you

3) It’s helpful if you can pick up other people’s calls.

4) It’s nice to be able to redirect a call

In order to facilitate all of this you need to be able to log in to your phone and then use the functions easily.

I’m hoping that my four requirements are not seen as too demanding; I certainly don’t consider myself to me a member of the Technorati nor someone who demands more than can reasonably be expected from his workplace.

Despite this lack of demands and the relative ease with which this should be accomplished our brand new spanking phone system seems incapable of doing any of the necessary tasks. Last night on the way home I tried to log out… I followed the instructions on the handy bookmark and after three attempts and with no-one left to ask I went home. I should have known this was only the start of what was always going to be real trouble…

This morning our phones won’t log in or out for longer than ten minutes; the internal system for directing relevant calls has broken meaning I now field calls directed to children’s safety (somewhat too important to be dropped because of a defective phone system me thinks) and the phone just flashes insane messages at us.

So far today I have been told that: ‘Phone Location Unknown’ (It’s sitting on my desk!) and that I have ‘six new callers’ (which seems to be a record of the people I’ve spoken to in the last two days)… I’ve also been told that the phone is ‘rebooting’ at least two or three times!

The new phone system was purchased for three reasons; to offer as greater functionality, to make calling easier and to save money.  Saving money I am on board with but to be honest I’d have taken an old rotate dial phone that worked rather than a complicated web enabled phone that isn’t web enabled (the functionality linking it to our computers has quietly been dropped in recent weeks as the roll out has been delayed again and again) and doesn’t work!