Change Management

An excellent article on Brexit by Theodore Dalrymple contains this paragraph:

Theresa May did not emerge from a social vacuum. She is typical of the class that has gradually attained power in Britain, from the lowest levels of the administration to the highest: unoriginal, vacillating, humorless, prey to the latest bad ideas, intellectually mediocre, believing in nothing very much, mistaking obstinacy for strength, timid but nevertheless avid for power. Thousands of minor Mays populate our institutions, as thousands of minor Blairs did before them.

The good doctor might not know this, but the rot isn’t just limited to the political classes and national institutions; it extends right through the corporate world too. The description of May could apply seamlessly to any number of managers I’ve encountered throughout my career, just as this could apply to several business units I’ve found myself working in:

Avidity for power is not the same as leadership, and Brexit required leadership.

In my 15 years in the international oil industry I came across very little actual leadership – there were some exceptions – and an awful lot of managers who took the post because it represented the next rung on the ladder and that’s where the system required them to stop for a while. The only thing they cared about was looking good in the eyes of their hierarchy and keeping their nose clean until the next promotion. Their department – its people, processes, and objectives – were seen as an inconvenience in exactly the same way May and the rest of the political classes see the population as an inconvenience.

Yesterday MPs voted to extend the deadline on Article 50 by 313 votes to 312, the winning margin provided by a convicted criminal who attended parliament wearing an ankle bracelet. To the ordinary citizen this is an abomination, but the political classes think they’ve done nothing wrong. I used to see this in the corporate world. We’d do some technical work and the results – usually technical or financial – would make the CEO unhappy, and therefore the middle management look bad. So management would demand the work be redone again and again, abandoning principles, processes, precedents, and best practices, in order to deliver the results they wanted. They’d shop around for whatever methodology would give them the outcome they desired from the beginning, yet convince themselves they were doing things properly. Not once would they reflect on the damage they’d caused to the integrity of their own organisation or the problems they’d encounter in the future. Convinced of their own propriety, they simply didn’t care.

They say politics is downstream of culture, and business is almost certainly downstream of both. The behaviour I describe is so widespread one can only assume it derives from the culture, and has probably always been there. The difference now is the incentives are so aligned that these people get rewarded before everyone else, whereas in previous eras they’d have been shoved to the sidelines by people who operate in a wholly different way. This isn’t just about politics, it’s about the direction the entire society has taken. If things are to change, the incentives to behave badly must be removed and replaced with those which reward different behaviours. Normally that takes both sticks and carrots. As far as I see it, we’re all out of carrots; it’s time to get a bigger stick. Change, in this case, will have to come from the bottom. That means you.

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36 thoughts on “Change Management

  1. “To the ordinary citizen, this is an abomination…”

    Trouble is, many “ordinary citizens” are so desperate to remain in the EU that last night seems fair. A win by a narrow margin, just like the referendum; a bit quirky, perhaps, but what the hell, that’s politics for ya. I bet the Guardian readers are pleased as punch.

    We have a crisis of political legitimacy, but that’s no good when half the population are prepared to ignore it providing they get their favoured outcome. There is talk of slaughtering the Tories at the next election, and that’s great. But it probably means we’ll see Labour and (God help us) Lib Dem gains.

  2. So a fortnight ago I said this about our new dead man walking MD on here.

    “Aptly put and a perfect description of a piece of work that the new 42yo MD at my firm that I am leaving in three weeks, attempted to do this week. I should run a book on how long he will last.”

    Sure enough, and a little earlier than even I expected, he’s getting the arse, which will be announced after the next Board meeting at the end of the month!

    http://www.desertsun.co.uk/blog/9244/#comment-441872

  3. @Sam Vara: “A win by a narrow margin,”.

    As some (correctly) angry MP said in the Commons yesterday (and I paraphrase): Yes, in parliament, by 1 vote. In the country in a referendum by over 1 million. Compare and contrast

    Tories slaughtered – definitely – I will never vote for them again at any level of government, come what may (pun no intended). Labour win – probably. Lib Dem resurgence – moderate I would imagine, a few who would may be tempted by that vainglorious group of twits heading up the… plastic party or whatever the Soubry / Chukka party have decided to call themselves.

    @Tim – agree with the same (lack of) class of people invading business. As you’ve pointed out before Boeing has 40 diversity councils but can not longer keep it’s planes up in the skies. Yes, post-hoc, ergo propter-hoc fallacy and all that.

    Parliamentary democracy is being dismantled before our eyes across Europe and has suddenly sped-up here in UK. Competitive markets are being dismantled by legislation and red-tape being passed down from the undemocratic politicos. Leaving it much much more difficult for new entrants to challenge incumbents. No wonder the CBI and big-business cosy up to the shower of shit that make up our political class, both here and in the EU.

    I didn’t really used to think this until the last year or so: Revolution: it is a-comin’. Get in the gym lads and lasses – things are gonna get spicey over the next decade or so.

  4. Lockers:

    Yes, I know that, you know that. It stinks to hell. But there are huge swathes of the electorate who are prepared to hold their noses. Our outrage won’t change anything. I think we are going to get used to a country where politicians are corrupt, and the public don’t care.

  5. Tim for president!

    The establishment classes have divorced themselves from the street they purport to represent – but actually despise. I think it’s time for the street to visit the establishment classes.

    I fear the end of the Conservatives only in so far as that may allow an anti-Semitic Marxist tramp with terrorist buddies to run the place for a while. If the Tories died another righty party would emerge. Maybe a clean skin is better than a tainted establishment refuse sack.

  6. Firstly I think the problem comes from society massively over expanding education. Way too much of a good thing.
    To succeed in education you have to believe or at least convincingly go along with whatever teacher tells you. If teacher is always right the product is a well informed sheep. If, as happens increasingly (since no one is correcting or even challenging errors) teacher is wrong the product is misinformed sheep.
    And companies, especially large ones as well as governments hire on the basis of academic success because it saves those doing the hiring from taking responsibility.
    Until we get rid of the pernicious effect of education, education, education we will remain in trouble. And that’s apart from the gross wastage in time and money resulting from coercing and then cajoling people into spending years in learning stuff they will never use, and attracting people to teach them said stuff, and paying for it all.
    As to Brexit, MPs seem to believe this a passing fancy of the people which will simply be forgotten about in three years. I doubt it, especially if the media return to reporting events in Europe as they happen, but we will see.

  7. That we are ill-served by our politicians is really no surprise; what is surprising is the depths to which the rot runs. We used to think as intelligent, moderate people who when given a fair choice would select reasonably intelligent, moderate representatives for us in the mother of all parliaments. Instead we have found that these invidious people are even more shallow and self-serving than we imagined, and more willing to break the law than we could ever believe.

    The law, as they say, is an ass but we have trusted it is both a well-guided ass and ultimately changeable for a better creature. Until any law, however off-kilter it may appear, is changed it has to be obeyed. This is the bedrock of society. If the law is not followed, we have no society worth protecting. It then becomes a free-for-all with the most devious and unprincipled claiming the prizes.

    This lack of adherence to the law is the one thing that has stung me in my fifty-odd years of being aware of politics and government. We weren’t, we said, like so many places where corruption, greed and self-interest rules the day. But now we are rapidly finding we are just the same. We can see that the rule of law is increasingly flouted openly, and without consequence for those ‘at the top’ while we the peasants are pressured to obey.

    I do not champion armed insurrection. Death and destruction and disruption to our lives has terrible consequences. I know from reading snippets of history that we Brits have steadfastly avoided real, and large scale, rioting and self-destruction. But how much prodding by the illegal acts at the top will it take before cracks in our non-revolutionary stance appear?

    Will it take howling mobs and yards of piano wire to bring some semblance of law, however brutal, back into life? I hope not, but as the gap grows between the elite in their clouds and we the ordinary people being fed crumbs, nothing would surprise me now.

  8. I come across this in the very lowly surroundings of the village cricket club. No one wants responsibility. They all want to have a say in things, and to open the batting or bowling, but no-one wants to take responsibility for doing stuff, or even organising stuff to be done. A cricket pitch doesn’t just spring fully formed out of the ground on the 1st of April every year, making that happen takes time, effort and organisation. Does anyone want to take any of that on their shoulders? No of course not they all hide as far away as possible, leaving the (increasingly few) honourable types to get on with it, and very reluctantly being dragged out for a few hours on a Saturday before the season to help do a few jobs, all the tools and materials needed having been organised by the faithful beforehand. They turn up, expect to be handed a paint brush and paint pot do a few desultory hours daubing, or sit on a roller for an hour or two (the roller having had to be got going and serviced by someone else a month previously) and then go home thinking they’ve ‘done their bit’.

    The lack of people either capable or willing to take responsibility (both for themselves and for others) is endemic throughout society now I’m afraid, the number of ‘adults’ is getting increasingly small, as we see in Parliament right now. Its the classic response to socialism – why take responsibility when a) you get no reward for it (and often get penalised in some way) and b) the State picks up the pieces when those who lack any sense of self responsibility f*ck their lives up? The economic consequences of socialism are more apparent relatively quickly, the societal changes are far slower to be made apparent, as there’s a generational drag factor at work. But remove the ‘actions have consequences’ evolutionary force, and eventually you get a very different type of people making up society, as we are rapidly discovering.

  9. Having always worked for smaller companies, I’ve never really seen any of that in action, as smaller businesses don’t really bother with people who aren’t in some way, contributing to the bottom line
    Currently I’m working for a small company that does business for a number of very large companies and I’ve started to see this stuff nipping at our heels a bit
    Not being used to operating in the manner you describe though, we have people here trying to emulate big corporate practices and failing miserably
    It’s like a child copying their parents

  10. “Thousands of minor Mays populate our institutions, as thousands of minor Blairs did before them.”

    I don’t want to defend him, but Blair stood in 1997 with a pledge card that addressed the sort of things the public care about: taxes, schools, health, crime, unemployment. And then he delivered on 4 of his 5 pledges. On the downside, they captured the institutions and were scumming in their later years, and all their spending was ultimately a bubble.

    See, I actually think the Conservatives under Cameron are worse than Blair with regards to being an out-of-touch government. For all their sins, most of the people in New Labour were close to the average man in the street. Some were probably actually a bit poorer growing up. Many had done real jobs, like Beckett and Prescott.

    The Tories post-Cameron have not only come from privilege, but many lack any real experience with average people that would temper that. Osborne never did a real job before he became an MP. He worked for the Conservatives from leaving university. Cameron had a soft job at Carlton for a couple of years, basically as a lobbyist., but mostly just worked in politics. May did a non-job at APACS (basically a monopoly providing banking services). Hancock was an economist at the Bank of England, a job that seems to produce predictions that are as good as spinning a roulette wheel. Rudd was a failed investment manager.

    I mean, sure, they meet people at surgeries and focus groups, but that’s a narrow group of people. It’s lots of unemployed people, disabled people, and the odd nutter. The men who drive buses and run printers aren’t there. And if you work with those people, they aren’t like what the left makes them out to be. There’s lots of people who liked Norman Tebbit’s “On Your Bike” speech because they don’t like unions or dole scroungers.

  11. I actually think the Conservatives under Cameron are worse than Blair with regards to being an out-of-touch government.

    Yes, fair points.

  12. A real Brexit is only a UKIP vote away. That none of you mention that but think that ZaNu and the Limp Dicks– both of whom are enemies of ordinary people every bit as much as the Tories–will pick up votes shows how bad the mindset has become among those who should know better. That makes you part of the problem not the solution. Much of the EU-remain ref support was from the Devil You Know types who have now had a good look at that devil, its pals and its future plans and want no more of it. The EU is dying. The Italian banks alone going pear-shaped will bring it down.

    The scum will have a reckoning.

  13. BOm4–Prescott and Becket were the only two of the New Labour scum who ever had a real job and those for a few short years before becoming political pigs.

  14. I don’t think these things are down to changes in governing party at the top. Yes Blair/Cameron were a more touchy-feely I feel your pain sort of shtick, but thats not going to affect how the receptionist in your GP surgery behaves towards people, and whether she can be bothered to ring back the people she promised she would ring back, thats entirely down to the type of family she (and its almost always she) grew up in, and the place of that family in a wider culture, and the type of person all that made her. And we are just on a downward slide – each generation begets a less responsible one, because there’s no consequences for being irresponsible, and now we are beginning to see the fruits of this rise to the very top of society.

  15. The lack of people either capable or willing to take responsibility (both for themselves and for others) is endemic throughout society now I’m afraid, the number of ‘adults’ is getting increasingly small, as we see in Parliament right now.

    This is exactly right. Everyone wants the trappings of power but none of the responsibility. The EU is absolutely perfect for such people.

  16. With equal justice, you could say the winning vote was provided by any of the 313 MPs who voted for the bill. It’s not like the MPs were polled one by one and the lady with the bracelet was the last to respond. One of the ERG members, who voted No, is likewise a pretty criminal, having pled guilty to forging two invoices for a total of £700.

    Leadership has always been rare. The corporate world has always been full of toadies and phonies. Theresa May isn’t much worse overall than the average career politician of the past 300 years. The big difference must be somewhere else.

  17. One of the reasons that I bailed out of regular employment,even as a contractor, is that I became tired of doing other people’s thinking for them.
    I have learnt subsequently that this malaise of being unable to see past one’s nose is endemic, everywhere. I am a bit poorly at the moment and am seeing this in spades at the NHS.
    By the sounds of things, I’m not the only one suffering from this problem.

  18. A classic example of the rot Tim talks about extending into the corporate world is major oil companies signing on to the Anthropogenic Global Warming scam, although it is obvious to a blind dog on a dark night that the whole thing is based on junk science.

    Why would executives demean their own essential industry which has brought better lives for human beings around the world? Some of it may be the inevitable corporate decay through the promotion of Yes Men (these days, Yes Women); some of it is standard human herd behavior; some of it may be self-defense — after all, the Political Class can so easily destroy any business; and if politicians want to hand out tax subsidies for windmills and solar panels, don’t you have a fiduciary duty to your shareholders to take advantage of their stupidity?

    Years ago, a brutally cynical executive told me to forget about trying to make the world the way it should be; concentrate on trying to understand the world the way it is. If doughty Brexiteers had followed that advice, they would long ago have recognized the UK’s problems are largely due to its home-grown, out-of-touch metropolitan, mediocre, Oxbridge-indoctrinated Political Class. One can only hope that separation from the EU will trigger a real house-cleaning, not just a shuffling of the same characters.

    As for the corporate world of international and national oil companies, my experience is that they can be thought of as a shallow sea of mediocrity, continually roiled by tempests in teapots. From time to time, those storms throw up a sandbank of competence — which can persist for some time before being washed away in a political storm.

    The best advice to the young engineer would be to focus on identifying those islands of competence — try to get onto one of them, work hard and do your best once you are there, and learn from the competent individuals. But don’t get emotionally attached to the island, because it will eventually get washed away and you will need to swim hard to get to another one.

  19. a cynic writes… on April 4, 2019 at 11:32 am said:
    If it helps Dominic Cummings has finally started rebuilding (scroll to the bottom).

    Thanks for the link. Added to my RSS feed.

    I know this is OT, but this beggars belief:

    After this farce, the Commons Privileges Committee asked if I would give evidence to them.

    I agreed in early September 2018 but said that WE SHOULD ALL BE UNDER OATH TO TELL THE TRUTH.

    They went dark for months until just before Christmas then replied that No, they didn’t want to promise to tell the truth and sadly they weren’t able to make such a promise(!) but would I come anyway.

    We tentatively agreed 31 Jan and I stressed again that WE SHOULD ALL BE UNDER OATH TO TELL THE TRUTH and their arguments against this were laughable.

    The whole things definitely worth a read. I’ll be donating to him when we go in to another “people’s vote”.

  20. watcher,

    I do not champion armed insurrection. Death and destruction and disruption to our lives has terrible consequences. I know from reading snippets of history that we Brits have steadfastly avoided real, and large scale, rioting and self-destruction. But how much prodding by the illegal acts at the top will it take before cracks in our non-revolutionary stance appear?

    On one of my many Army education courses, this one for promotion to SSgt in the mid ’80s, we were discussing this with the education corps Major instructor. He had a 1st in modern history from Cambridge and was a fascinating bloke.

    His view was that the Establishment always changed just enough to avoid large scale rioting and revolution and to pacify the population. Major changes were things like the Corn Laws, votes for some ….. I’m sure readers here could come up with a long list.

    I’d love to talk to him now about Brexit and the way the Establishment is handling it. I feel confident he’d be concerned that they are misreading the situation and missing the genuine anger among the proles.

  21. My observations of the business world stem from 23 years at the Post Office Telephones, British Telecom & BT, and so stretch from a public company run by engineers with no management skills, to a PLC run by managers with no engineering skills! Suffice to say both arrangements had their drawbacks. But what I did see, in the latter stages, was a clear information gap between the lower managers, who were mostly still engineers recently promoted, and the more senior people. A few of those were actually decent folk – one, in particular, I got to know quite well. On several occasions he seemed horrified when I tackled him about everyday problems faced by us “customer facing” engineers. I had to explain that a “Filter” existed in between our respective grades, and was simply middle managers who didn’t want to rock the apple cart – risking promotion, or upcoming early retirement packages. Eventually the “Carrot” was dangled in front of me often enough, and I jumped ship. The few people I know, who are still hanging on, report that nothing has changed…

  22. I feel confident he’d be concerned that they are misreading the situation and missing the genuine anger among the proles.

    Like plod here?

  23. Yep the govt is preparing for the proles – 10,000 police available in 24 hours to quell riots, according to a BBC report today. Brits haven’t got a culture of rioting though, so there will be no Gilets Jaunes here. Some kind of more subtle civil disobedience may work though, but that requires better organisation and the organisers would be seriously targeted. Tommy Robinson shows how the tactic works, poor sod.

  24. The funny thing is that this sort of person likes to criticise rules and laws in the abstract, and when they’re talking about colonial oppressors from the past etc., yet as a boss they rely utterly on rules and laws themselves, because they have no ability to get anyone to do anything any other way, and they will immediately resort to the rules and making threats as soon as there is any dissent.

  25. Hector,

    Man with a hammer syndrome. Also, people’s behavour changes rapidly with power and a lack of self-awareness. Their behavour to people they are in power over will, mostly, be them at their ‘authentic’ worst.

    I see this frequently in companies. Managers will complain bitterly about being treated this way by their bosses, at the same time as doing to their staff. The ability for people to connect these two things is actually very rare!

  26. As far as I see it, we’re all out of carrots; it’s time to get a bigger stick. Change, in this case, will have to come from the bottom. That means you.

    It’s just as Tim said.

    My side-job in 2019 is to discreetly do my bit for the revolution.

    I don’t think the path to a better world involves politics and politicians. But there’s never been a time in the last hundred years more favourable to a political guerrilla campaign of parliamentary monkey wrenchers. I may be wrong, but I sense that ten lads and a dog could start The Brexit Party this weekend and – by the time of the next election – have enough support to form a government. The political platform? Brexit. That is all.

  27. I’ve worked for a few multinationals. The area office gives you the bottom right hand corner that they want and you play with numbers until the budget comes out right.

  28. Men like Dalrymple are worth listening to, but only up to a point:

    The opposition Labour Party was as divided as the Conservatives. Irrespective of what its MPs actually believed about Brexit… its main concern was to force an election that it believed it could win, a victory that would soon make Brexit seem like a minor episode on the road to ruin.

    As long as enough people think like him, and vote accordingly, the Conservative party will continue to exist, and the Conservative party needs to be burnt to the ground and its ashes pissed on before Britain can have a hope of sorting itself out.

    (Note to GCHQ: that was just a metaphor.)

  29. Men like Dalrymple are worth listening to, but only up to a point:

    Yes, he’s one of those who thinks the system is still working and we can vote our way out of the problem.

  30. yet as a boss they rely utterly on rules and laws themselves, because they have no ability to get anyone to do anything any other way, and they will immediately resort to the rules and making threats as soon as there is any dissent.

    Indeed, I wrote about that here.

  31. Yes, he’s one of those who thinks the system is still working and we can vote our way out of the problem.

    We may yet be able to, but certainly not while status quo parties are still extant

  32. I have always thought and said on here many a time and back at the start when May got the job, that it aint gonna happen, not that it helps much but just saying, I am a little surprised at the level of current disgust on this outcome o here.

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