Celtic Illumination, part 386, It is easier to resist at the beginning than at the end.
It felt really good to have my new finance system roll out across the Manchester operation. For me it was a fantastic piece of work, in that, it was simple and straight forward; even a fool could use it. Of course there is nothing in a team leader’s job description to say that they shouldn’t be a fool and a dammed good one at that. You would not believe the excuses and mistakes that came in across my desk. I had prided myself on creating a simple and easy to use system, yet, these people, in responsible positions, were unable to follow basic instructions. Some even refused to use the new system as they only understood the old system. I understood enough about resistance to change, in the business place, to know I would face some opposition but what was happening was ridiculous.
The Harvard business school talks about pseudological reasons, chronic quarrels, and sullen hostility as some forms of the resistance one might face, but they never explain how embarrassing it is to see how stupid some people really are. Pauline had decided that as I was in charge of the accounts system, and had implemented the new scheme, that I should oversee the accounts from her houses too. I didn’t mind, in fact the way I had set the system up meant that a shaved monkey and a shaved French speaking monkey at that too, could satisfactorily check the accounts every week. What interested me was that Delia agreed that I should cover all the accounts. In my empire building way I saw this as a bonus. Don’t get me wrong I didn’t want to take over Pauline’s houses; I had enough problems with my own. I was creating a niche for myself, but I couldn’t help but think that there was some sort of arrangement, or agreement, or understanding between Pauline and Delia.
I didn’t know how, or why, or from where, but a clump of job applications had been dumped on my desk. These people had applied for jobs, there were these application forms oh and by the way you and Pauline will be interviewing them next Tuesday. It was interesting that the company did not insist that people responsible for recruitment had any formal training, sort of showed how much interest they had in recruiting decent employees. It also I felt, let down every applicant, as each of them would have put a considerable amount of effort into their application and their CV. But the most important people in the equation, the people supported in the communities, were being short changed, because the system their money was paying for, to ensure only good staff came through the filter, wasn’t there, didn’t exist. Smoke and mirrors, or as the renowned American journalist Jimmy Breslin said, “Mirrors and blue smoke, beautiful blue smoke rolling over the surface of highly polished mirrors… If somebody tells you how to look, there can be seen in the smoke great, magnificent shapes, castles and kingdoms, and maybe they can be yours.”
I know Breslin was referring to American politics but it seems to fit what was happening in the world of learning disabilities very well indeed. I do remember one or two people that came through in that batch. One had worked for the company before, his wife still worked for the company. He had been fired for drinking on duty. Now when I say drinking on duty I don’t mean nipping out for a quick half pint of beer, I mean being found on the settee at shift change in the morning with an empty bottle of vodka clamped to his chest. He seemed to be genuinely apologetic and assured me that he was off the drink. I waited until the next senior managers meeting and then asked if anyone knew the fellow. Two or three of the managers did and I explained that he had re-applied for a job. The general consensus was that he should be given the chance, a close eye would be kept on him and if he fell short of the high standards we had consistently failed to achieve, he would be out. I was happy with that decision.
One fellow did give me a bit of a smile as he had submitted two applications. Admittedly they were two months apart. In the first application he claimed that he had basic educational qualifications, no problem with that, but in his second application he claimed to be a professor of social work with a specialisation in learning disabilities. He was a Nigerian chap and perhaps wrongly but I expected Pauline to engage with him more than I could. Pauline seemed reluctant to talk to him so I began to run through the standard quota of questions. I was about to take him through the guy buying the Teletubbie tee shirt, when he stopped me and asked what Teletubbies were. I quizzed him about his qualifications on the two applications and he answered only as a Nigerian could, explaining that my shoe laces were tied too tightly. I then came up with one very quick solution. I wouldn’t give him a job; I would give him a two week trial.
If he could do the job, which would be reported on by his team leader and fellow workers, he would be given a full time post. If he couldn’t hack it he would be out. I thought this to be a much fairer system but was still faced with the problem of being short staffed across the Manchester operation and not having a budget to advertise. By the way it wasn’t long before the staff at the house where I had sent the Nigerian fellow were contacting me and complaining. Every evening at a quarter to five he would be stood standing at the front door of the house with his coat on waiting for five o clock so that he could go. He would not prepare food, or involve himself in any domestic chores as this was women’s work and therefore beneath him. He wasn’t asked to take on a full time contract with the company, despite being a fully qualified professor of social work who knew absolutely nothing about the Teletubbies. What’s the world coming to?
I felt that I had underpinned the Manchester operation with my new accounts system; I had given it a solid foundation, now I intended to take the company forward with my new recruitment programme. Like Natural Breaks in Liverpool, who determined their success by the number of people from other organisations who came to visit them and learn how they did things, I expected to have queues at the door soon, not just for my accounts system and my proposed recruitment plan but for the other ideas that were now spilling from my head. I was, as they say, on form, I had found my feet. Once again the key components of my plan were simplicity and the involvement of others. We had always said that we were supporting people to live in their communities, more smoke and mirrors. We didn’t support people to live in the community, no one did, we contained people. If they were truly members of a community they would be out and about, they would know their neighbours, be members of church groups, and form action committees.
But it was the fuel strike that brought it all together for me. I had fallen in to the same trap that many people may have. I needed staff so I would place an advert in the local newspaper, and pay for the privilege. People would respond to the advert, apply for jobs and the whole meaningless process would trundle through its paces. When you set it all out it really does become a meaningless process with no real positive outcome. To describe it as a hit and miss affair would be generous in the extreme. I decided that we should focus on the community for each person supported. Each house would now become an individual unit and we would only recruit people who lived within walking distance of that house. This way the staffing situation would not be affected by fuel strikes or transport disruptions.
If the staff lived within walking distance then we should have no problems, plus, if the staff lived within walking distance they were already part of the local community and who better to assimilate the people we supported into the local community than the community themselves. In Liverpool I would drive for thirty minutes to my place of work where I knew nobody, I didn’t know the history of the area, who ran the corner shop, where the local church hall was, who the local police officers on the beat were, who the trouble makers were and where they hung out. It seemed to make sense to me. Advertising in local church halls, shops, post offices, by placing a card in a window cost nothing. A carefully created story for the local free newspaper served as an advert and got good coverage. Each team leader was now responsible for their recruitment, we were even finding ourselves with an excess of staff.
Liverpool now wanted to have a word with me, like the accounts system they were interested in learning about a recruitment procedure that produced an excess of suitable staff for no cost at all, unless you took in to account my time spent placing and creating ads and stories. I was sat sitting with Steve, the director in Liverpool who ran the finance side of things, explaining my new recruitment approach, when the two owners of the company came in. I had seen them before, never spoken to them, they were far too important for something like that. There was a lot of hand shaking and smiling and congratulations on the new project. It was going to be difficult launching this new system in Liverpool if I was over in Manchester, so they were creating a new position for me. Would I be interested in becoming the Deputy Director of Operations, deputy boss of both Liverpool and Manchester, which would allow me to straddle both camps and act as boss should the Liverpool or Manchester boss be absent. Deputy Director of Operations, I couldn’t stop smiling for a week, but I knew there would be some support staff in Liverpool who wouldn’t be too happy with my success. But as I say, these people had started at the bottom and liked it.