We're taking a bit of a breather while the world rearranges its underpants. Meanwhile, the other blog is here.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Always wash your brushes and put the ladders away

Sundry muck-ups and duplications in projects and programmes within the council are tripping people up left, right and centre. If there aren't three groups of highly-paid jackanapes doing a children's web site that never happens there's two groups building a staff consultation system that isn't delivered. If it's not an expensive online forms system that isn't implemented because the IT section say it isn't a priority it's a personnel system that can't tell you how many vacant posts you've got in your service and which says that the bloke who's been sitting next to you all week has been off sick for the past month.

There is always room for such things in any organisation. However, it is getting much, much worse of late. Largely because everybody's beavering away in their own little boxes and nobody's talking to anybody else.

This wasn't always the case.

Time was we had access to the services of Ulmsley Warton, the Team Leader of the old Policy & Research Team. Ulmsley's particular genius was that he could not only remember names he could remember what people did or were doing. As head of the P&R Team he attended all the usual panoply of high-level gabfests, as you'd expect. But then he'd go away and have a think about who he knew was doing something that would either benefit from a particular project, or could contribute something useful to it. And who he knew had some expert knowledge that might be useful. As such he was often the matchmaker or midwife for a lot of useful work.

Oh, to be sure, there'd be all the usual cobblers going on at a high level but at the sharp end of things there'd be unlikely synergies and sharings of ideas and practices and things would happen in their own quiet way. People starting a project would be told as a matter of routine: "go and have a chat with Ulmsley," and he would spare them an odd ten minutes to give them nods and pointers and a collection of useful contacts. Many's the time I'd get a 'phone call from somebody saying: "I've just had a chat with Ulmsley Warton and he said I should talk to you about..." And I have reason to be grateful to him a few times too: "I've just had a chat with Ulmsley Warton and he says that you could use..."

Ah, we don't work that way any more. Ulmsley's retired, I hope his health allows him many active years. And we have a whole bunch of new processes and procedures to make everything utterly impenetrable. When I start chafing at being demoted to lowly serf status in the Library Service (I'm still doing the same job, we just have a different management culture) I'm consoled by the thought that I'm probably well out of it these days.


Gadjo Dilo said...

There is a film in all this, Kevin. Shame that Alistair Sim is no longer with us, I suspect he would've made a fine Ulmsley Warton.

Affer said...

Could you bear a compliment? This reminds me of Neville Shute's writing: crisp and to the point. And rather sad; for despite all our so-called advances in education, technology, systems, blah-blah, 'business' and 'management' today seems to have forgotten how brilliant humans are when allowed to use a few thousand years of evolution.

Pat said...

Ah Umsley - they don't make them like that anymore.
I also love your writing but reading what Affer says I wonder if your writing is prompted by humour or despair. I do hope the formsr.

Macy said...

Mr M - my agreement with the Big American Bank precludes me from giving any details about anything. But if it's any consolation I can assure you that demotivation, inept management and de-personalisation are rife throughout the financial services sector too.

Kevin Musgrove said...

Gadjo: I suspect it's something sequential, like the Perils of Pauline.

Affer: I can certainly bear the spirit of a compliment, thank you sir. The best organisations always find a way to sideline the fads and get the humans systems working for them.

Pat: and thank you, too, lady. It's despair, Pat, real, deep, awful despair.

Macy: I have friends and relatives who have left the sector with solicitors' agreements, I understand completely.

Charlie said...

My wife works with an Ulmsley Warton-type who has been with the company for forty-five years. When she has a question or problem she asks Bill and gets a simple answer straightaway.

The High Priests in Kansas City and Chicago pay him no mind, though. They have their committees and boards and workgroups and IT, but Bill is only a lowly shipping yard manager—a fellow who has been in the trenches for nearly half a century.

Unfortunately, the Ulmsleys and Bills are a dying breed—and NO pun intended.