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

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Out in the scullery...

With Mary just retired and hard rumours about T.Aldous' retirement running round the Town Hall like mice in a windmill; and with corporate uncertainties such as the two simultaneous high-level reorganisations of the same departments, the possibilities of our being hived off into an arms-length organisation and the massive spending cuts; and with no end of jiggery-pokery going on at regional and national levels; now is probably as good a time as any for us to take stock of our service management.

Regular readers (bless you both) will have noticed that I quite often have some harsh things to say about our managers. This is largely because there are times when I want to shake them until their eyeballs drop out and it's probably safer for me to vent my spleen in this blog instead. I haven't, by any means, given you the whole picture. No apologies for that: it's my blog I can do what I want, so there. But I should at this point make it quite clear that in some respects we're quite lucky to have the library service managers we have. For one thing, they're not stupid, nor evil. They're reasonably intelligent, well-meaning people who are hard-working and conscientious. It's not everybody who can say that. Unfortunately, being well-intentioned isn't always enough, the road to Hell and all that. And putting a lot of hard work into things that don't really matter, while neglecting things that do, isn't good business either. Their effectiveness, individually and collectively, is shot to bits the by way we do things here. And that, in turn, isn't helped at all by Helminthdale Council's conducting business rather in the manner of a Daffy Duck cartoon. But we don't help ourselves.

T.Aldous cops for a lot of the blame for things. Indeed, T.Aldous is the Universal Scapegoat. And to be fair, he is to blame for a lot of the way we go about things. If you're dealing with him there are a few things you need to bear in mind:
  • Nearly everything that T.Aldous does is intended to make sure that if anything goes wrong it wasn't him as done it. Naturally phenomenally defensive by nature, it is a tragedy that he was manoeuvred into the post by Shagger Noakes, who then spent the next ten years giving T.Aldous every good reason to make sure that his back was armour-plated at all times. By the time the idiot Noakes was paid off by the council the instincts were so ingrained as to be inescapable. So we can't do anything that may make us accountable to anybody for having made a decision (I am quoting T.Aldous himself there). This is no way to run a whelk stall, but then if Shagger Noakes were running a whelk stall the thing would have gone bust well before there was any question of hiring any staff and the problem wouldn't have arisen in the first place.
  • T.Aldous has a nagging eye for detail. Which is great if you need to win a war of attrition with somebody particularly stubborn like the Human Resources Department, or downright rude like the Treasurer's Section. Unfortunately, it's not so great when you're a month past the deadline for delivering something and he's still obsessing as to whether or not that comma should be there on the invitation cards.
  • There is no such thing as experience. Things happen. If we get away with it, we've got away with it and there's nothing to learn by it. If we don't get away with it it's because somebody else didn't do something and there's nothing to learn by it.

Having said that, T.Aldous is all too often a convenient reason for people not getting on with essential pieces of work. Quite a few times people have had conversations with him and discovered that the things they had been told for years are impossible because T.Aldous is stopping them happening are not only possible but, once he's found out they need doing, can be done within days or weeks.

It's convenient to refer to T.Aldous' lieutenants as Policy Team, which they call themselves, but one shouldn't take that as some sort of indication that they manage to work in any sense collectively. Far from it: while you can get quite a lot done by dealing with any one or two of them, the minute you need them to act or decide on things as a team you may as well jack it in and take your satchel home. They spectacularly don't work as a team and it baffles them as much as us to watch it happen.

Doreen and Julia are the Group Township Librarians, each responsible for the libraries in half of the Borough. They are both out of their depth, the difference being that Doreen realises it and has huge crises of confidence whereas Julia doesn't realise it and blithely steams through regardless of the consequences. Their positions aren't hopeless: if, at any time, determining the direction of our library service becomes any easier than pinning blancmange onto a buffalo then they have potential. It has to be said that Doreen is the better bet of the two, though. In many respects Julia is T.Aldous-lite, with many of his weaknesses and none of his political sensitivities. Doreen is remarkable for being the only member of Policy Team to realise that she is a personnel manager and that this involves a bit more than doing the weekly returns and the annual performance review.

Milton's the Reference, Information & Learning Manager and in some respects he's got the short straw. The good news is that Doreen and Julia line manage all the reference librarians, as staff of the establishment of the libraries they run. The bad news is that he doesn't line manage the reference librarians and so can't hold them to account when they don't deliver anything more than wet excuses (and too often not even them). The even worse news is that the poor beggar does line manage me. I've come to realise over the years that I'm a very difficult person to manage; I don't do it on purpose and I don't go out of my way to cause problems, but evidently I'm difficult. Milton, in turn, is a difficult person to be managed by. He's a genuinely nice bloke, very supportive, no end of ideas. Unfortunately, it's a bit like going for a walk with a golden labrador: you know where you'd intended going but you never seem to get there because you're spending half the time wondering where the hell he's run off this time. Every so often I have to hold my hand up and say: "yes, I know we could do all those things, and there's quite a few other things that would spin off from them, but what are we actually going to do?" To his credit, he'll take that off me (and nearly anybody else, too, for that matter) but not everybody would have the confidence to ask.

Jack Harry's very much the new boy. He's our Projects & Development Manager. I'm still trying to work out how he's doing. The good news is that he's happy to take responsibility for getting things done and taking any flak for it afterwards. The bad news is that he seriously underestimates the organisational problems with got, particularly with communication. And he's already got that hunted look about him that we all recognise from our looking in mirrors.

The situation's not hopeless, but we can't carry on the way that we are. Fingers crossed for the new year, I guess.


Gadjo Dilo said...

Yes, fingers crossed for the new year, and I hope we will all have jobs then, I myself am going to have to look for work teaching English, so wish me luck!

Pat said...

I'm sure we both realise there is never any malice here and I truly believe - better out than in. Love the labrador analogy BTW and I join Gadjo in crossed fingers.
Good luck to him also.

Barlinnie said...

I feel as though I should really be munching on tea and cake while I sit here reading.

You don't mind a few crumbs on the flare now do you Kevin?

The Topiary Cow said...

Ah interesting summary.

The hunted look---ah, poor chap. Sounds like Jack Harry was young and idealistic and is getting old and cynical quickly.

Wishing you well in your world in the coming year.

Kevin Musgrove said...

Gadjo: many thanks. And every good luck for yourself old lad.

Pat: don't get me wrong, there are times when there is real, deep-felt malice in this blog! (-; Ta for the good wishes.

Jimmy: not at all. Crumpets are good, too.

Ms. Cow: and thanks again for the good wishes. We soon turn them round our way of thinking.

Webrarian said...

All terribly familiar territory. And who line manages the lovely Frog?

And the much-suffering Noreen?

Kevin Musgrove said...

Frog, Bronwyn and Nancy are line-managed by a gap in the proceedings. We have suggested to them that they're effectiely self-employed. They take turns at being each other's line manager for the purpose of approving leave, etc. (!)

Noreen's line-managed by Bronwyn these days.

Perhaps I should do an org chart...

Webrarian said...

Oh, there really is nothing better than a gap in the proceedings. I would guess that Frog is more than capable of managing himself, anyway.

Having done two jobs for the past year, I am now doing four. Mine, the Learning and Information Services Manager (vacant for a year while I tried to get the grading improved), the Reference Librarian (vacant for two years) and the Local Studies Librarian (long term sick...).

At least I've had some success with getting the lissom (LISM - used to be ISM, but I fancied have lissom member of staff) job regraded and that will be advertised in January. You are NOT to laugh at the advert :-)

Kevin Musgrove said...

as if! (-: