Celtic Illumination, page 374, Promoting collaborative, critical, thinking.
Things were ticking along quite nicely; no one had been damaged too badly, or killed, yet. I was still two members of staff down, which my team didn’t mind as they were all getting extra work. Normally there would be no problem getting cover if one of my team went off ill, but the problem was Jimmy’s reaction to new members of staff, so we tried to keep him surrounded with familiar faces, so that we were not covered in faeces. I bought steam cleaners and carpet cleaners so that we could all feel a little better about our working environment. Then one day I get a call to inform me that I have a new member of staff, she would come around and introduce herself to me that afternoon.
It was Joe, my manager who had called me, so I hoped he had found me someone good. It was a lady, Mary, in her late fifties, perhaps early sixties. She was a local girl, had never done this sort of work before and was looking forward to getting started. So first thing the following morning she started, we brought her in to work day shifts so that she could learn the job and meet most of the team. She settled in very quickly and got on great with Jimmy. She loved to cook and would prepare proper almost family type meals for us all, as we would normally be pulling easy cook meals out of the freezer. She was perfect; at least on the surface you would have thought that she was perfect. I started getting complaints that she wouldn’t fill out any of the paperwork like the daily diary, or activity books, or even the medication records.
As the system had Joe come to me every month and give me an assessment, I had to give every member of my staff team an assessment each month too. I was still convinced that these were utter horse shite, I mean if a sixty year old lady has managed to find herself a little job, does she really want or need an assessment every month to encourage her to improve her career options? No matter what I thought of them I had to complete them and submit them for Joe to read, which annoyed me. I thought we were there to help people live in the community not play stupid management games. I waited for Mary’s assessment to come around and settled her down for our chat.
Being ex forces meant that I never had a problem with addressing issues, we spoke our minds, told it as it was, or as they say in Ireland, called a Lurgan spade a Lurgan spade. Mary hesitated when I asked her about why she didn’t seem to want to complete any of the paperwork. It took her a moment or two to compose herself but then she told me that she couldn’t read or write. I felt sorry for the woman who must have had to hide her secret for so long. On the one hand I thought she had done so well, filling out the application form and getting the job was one hell of an achievement for her. She was a really hard worker, everybody liked her, she was easy to get along with and Jimmy loved her cooking, in fact I would say it had a calming effect on him.
My problem was the medication, if she couldn’t read then she would not be able to follow any of the written down procedures. I could colour code the medication bottles and have her issue the routine medications that way, but when it came to issuing PRN medication we could have problems. By the way PRN is a Latin phrase, Pro re nata, meaning as the circumstances arise. It is commonly used in learning disabilities and mental health to describe the medication used when the situation requires it. I understand that in the asylums the patients understood that if they were good they were given their medication, even their PRN orally but if they were bad it was needle time. A system that is understood by every person who ever came out of a mental institution?
So once again I needed the wisdom of that fellow Solomon. I felt that my primary duty was to Jimmy and Andrew, to protect them and support them with the best staff team possible, so it would be easy enough to let Mary go. But on the other hand she was a hard working member of the team and she did contribute to the both of them having an improved life. At least I could pass the problem on, so waited for my monthly assessment and explained my predicament to Joe. Joe was shocked, he never knew that Mary couldn’t read or write and I mean really shocked. It was now that I discover that Mary is Joe’s Aunt, there had been no application form in the first place, Joe had simply given her a job.
We agreed that Mary would be allowed to stay on the team; we would all chip in and fill out her paperwork for her. I think I did the right thing, although to tell you the truth I’m still not sure. The one good thing that did come out of it was that Joe agreed that we needed a recruitment drive, perhaps he didn’t want to give any more of his relatives’ jobs and be embarrassed by them. I now needed one new staff member and looked forward to a bumper recruitment day. I was surprised to be told to report to head office on the recruitment day bright and early, but did so. Another team leader was there, the girl who I had stood up for in the managers meeting, Joanne. We could see eager hopefuls gather in the foyer and gave them the once over, as you do, to see if anyone caught our eye, perhaps I might have seen someone I knew from Natural Breaks.
I was quite surprised to be told that Joanne and myself were running the recruitment day. To me recruitment, interviewing, staff selection, was almost a specialist task and it was strange that Richard had not given us any training or arranged any training in interviewing techniques for this event. We were told that we were to get them all in to one room, do the old group interview thing then split them in to groups and have them build a platform from newspapers, then select who we wanted, interview them and report back on who we thought was suitable. I was quite angry because I felt that the people we supported to live in the community deserved better. For me the two sides of the equation did not match up. On the one hand you had people who needed practical support to live in the communities and on the other side, rather than deliver that support; we were focusing on playing at being managers and learning managementspeak.
I can remember walking around, listening to the groups discuss the phrases, or statements, we had given them, wondering if any if them suspected that I didn’t know what I was doing. It was an interesting exercise for me because I knew that in this situation many people might judge a person on how they dressed, or how they looked, or even how they spoke. Although I have to admit every one of them had a Liverpool accent that day. It was also interesting realising that you had a little power and perhaps saying ‘little’ is the wrong thing to say, when you could actually give someone a decent job and improve their life no end. The people we supported deserved better and the applicants deserved better too.
Joanne admitted to me that she felt lost but we had no real option but to soldier on and see what happened. The practical exercise was a bit of a laugh where we gave them all newspapers and sellotape and asked them to build a platform that would hold an egg four feet off the ground. It reminded me of my time at Hereford where I had been told to build a platform to hold my men and our weapons four feet off the ground, I don’t think I had been laughing as much that day. Whether they succeeded or not didn’t bother me, I had no way of knowing what I could deduce from their actions. After lunch we settled down and began the interviews proper, Joanne led on the females and I led on the male applicants.
I found it really interesting that having read the application form and then began talking to the person just how much information you could pick up from them. I don’t know what it was but I seemed to have a natural ability for working people out. But what I also realised was that it didn’t matter what they were saying to me at the interview, it could have been lies it could have been half-truths, for me, the job would determine if they could do it or not. If I thought they were capable then I would give them a chance and the job itself would determine if they would be successful or not. If they could handle waking Jimmy up after their very first night shift, then that to me would have been a much better selection process than building a fecking platform out of newspapers.