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TO BOSS OR TO DOSS...

27-11-2006

...Or the brewery thatthat couldn't organise and a piss-up in a pub, and othertales of British mismanagement, by Lynn Hawthorne.

I've just come back from the cinema, where I've tried to see the new Bond film. I say ‘tried' because I was unsuccessful.

“There's a problem with the three o'clock showing.”

“Like what?”

“There's a big black line down it. They wrecked the film last night, but it's still watchable….” she said, with a pathetic, despairing tone.

So we, along with three other couples who'd hoped to escape the crowds, hung our heads and returned to our cars. However, instead of going directly home, what we got was a tour of the car park, because the Showcase Cinema at Junction 10 has chosen to dig up their car park in time to coincide with the release of, arguably, the biggest film of the year. And there was no signage.

The other Saturday lunchtime, we decided to pop into Wetherspoon's in Wednesbury for a pint and a sandwich.

“A pint and a half of Abbott's, please.”

“Haven't got any.”

“Pedigree, then.”

“Haven't got any of that, either.”

Two more beers were waiting to come onstream, so my husband settled on Brain's Old Ale, which ran out partway through the first pint.

“Is it quicker to ask what you have got?” he asked, receiving a deep sigh from the barmaid. To add insult to injury, his Ploughman's baguette (obviously a French ploughman) came without pickle. Or red onion. Or tomato. So it was…er….a cheese sandwich.

It took two attempts to put it right and in the end, my husband did a self-assembly job, which we could have done at home. To be fair to Wetherspoon's - something I find difficult at times - they did offer a free drink, so he, sensibly under the circumstances, went for spirit, which they had got.

So my question today is this: what the hell is happening to British management?

Something as basic as stocking beer in a pub isn't exactly rocket science, but Wetherspoon's, so intent on bringing down prices by operating on a shoestring budget, seem to find it tricky. On one famous occasion in Wednesbury, there was a mass exodus when they'd hardly got any stock at all, including food, and everybody poured out and headed for alternative hostelries.

Put your political and cultural views aside for a moment, if you can, and consider the British Empire. It was so successful because British administration was well-organised and so well-practised in overcoming adversity that it developed the art of improvisation. If it couldn't deliver on a promise on Plan A, there was always Plan B. Somehow, I don't think Wetherspoon's have even got a plan….

The rise in the number of customer complaints over recent years is astronomical and, yes we're more likely to complain these days than exhibit the British Stiff Upper Lip, but complaints wouldn't occur in the first place if everybody was doing their job properly. And, more importantly perhaps, if people actually cared about the level of service they were providing. Perversely, some complaints departments are now actually bragging about how busy they are, as though the high level of complaints is a level of success!

But you can't blame the troops if the quality of leadership is lacking. My primary school closed down altogether because of problems we were led into by our esteemed leader. I recently asked a line manager if the work I'd done was satisfactory. His reply was interesting. “Like all the worst bosses, I'll soon tell you if something's wrong.” Umm, quite. Actually, I'd prefer more interaction that than, even if we are all busy. I'm not for a minute suggesting we go all American and overdo it with pleasantries, but a little nod of appreciation now and then will work wonders, don't you think? We don't need a ‘once more unto the breech' speech to motivate us, but encouragement and acknowledgment is enough.

To illustrate this, take the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing as a case in point. In the early days of this current series, the criticism from judges Craig Revell-Horwood and Arlene Phillips was full of vitriol, using words and phrases like ‘heinous', ‘hideous' and ‘limp and lacklustre.' We know it's a dancing competition and there are certain rules and expectations, but, at the end of the day, this is for charity and these are celebrities known for things other than dancing, often still doing the day job alongside learning some very complex and advanced routines.

Inspired by the programme, my husband and I took up ballroom dancing lessons and after weeks of practice, were still finding even some of the basics difficult. And it's very hard not to let your self-esteem be battered when you ‘don't get' something or you see others picking it up more quickly. So to take on difficult routines on a weekly basis and perform them live in front of millions of people is a gutsy thing to do.

Over the last couple of weeks, Craig and Arlene seem to have undergone a personality transplant and are much more positive. Maybe it's because the better couples are left, but the impact of their comments has had a marked effect on the contestants to the good. So being positive and constructive is far better than being destructive and achieves a better result in the long run.

Recently there were some very depressing statistics about employees' views on British management.

Very few trusted or respected their bosses and many were indignant that bosses were perfectly happy to take the credit for ideas that they'd openly stolen from colleagues further down the food chain.

The other big moan was that bosses never listen. During my battles with the Jobcentre, when I've questioned and criticised the ridiculously over-complicated systems operated, the response has usually been that these workers have tried to bring these matters to the attention of the powers-that-be but have been ignored so often, they've given up and lost heart. Losing faith in the job leads to a lack of commitment and then to a lack of service and/or productivity. And it's the public, the customers who suffer.

In the face of foreign competition and the influx of migrant workers willing to accept lower pay and poorer working conditions, Britain needs to get its act together fast. Let's get back to the high levels of quality and service that set the standards to which others merely aspired and be proud again. And let's put genuinely talented and capable leaders back on top to take us forward to the new economic and social challenges with which we are faced.

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