Sexist Language in Performance Reviews

Early in March I wrote a post on the future for men in a corporate world which often appears only interested in attracting and promoting women. In it I said:

Where you don’t find as many women is in the technical and production side of a business, i.e. the bit that makes the company money. In other words, women prevail in the support services and men tend to dominate the departments which create the product that brings in the revenue.

The main difference between the production side and support services is that the former is very much goal-driven, while the latter is process-driven. Modern corporations have reached the point that huge swathes of their organisation, perhaps even most of it, is taken up by processes: ensuring various bureaucratic steps are followed to the letter with the involvement of myriad people and with maximum discussion, with the outcome being of secondary importance. It is these areas, particularly in relation to subjects such as HR and financial and legal compliance, that have driven the growth of corporation headcounts in recent years. Meanwhile it is the goal-driven parts of the business, where the process is important but nevertheless very much secondary to achieving a set outcome, which has seen headcounts reduced as automation, outsourcing, and efficiency improvements have been applied.

In short, the percentage of employees engaged in process-driven activities (compliance, HR, legal, finance, general services, etc.) has increased relative to those engaged in goal-driven activities (sales, production, maintenance, etc.) This brings me onto this article in the BBC on hidden sexist language in the workplace that contains this passage:

In performance reviews, women tend to receive feedback that’s vague (“you had a great year” for example) or sexist, such as a disproportionate amount of comments on communication style, while men get clearer feedback about specific skills related to actual job performance.

Of course you wouldn’t expect somebody at the BBC to consider this, but could it be different language is used for women during their appraisals because their objectives are so much more difficult to define, working as they do in process-driven positions? Perhaps men tend to get clearer feedback on specific skills related to actual job performance because they are working in roles where performance can be measured, i.e. in goal-driven roles. When setting employee objectives, managers in modern corporations have been advised to use the SMART acronym: Specific, Measurable, Agreed upon, Realistic, Time-related.

It’s easy to see how this would apply to objectives related to positions in production or maintenance, and especially sales. But for process-driven roles? I bet half the people in the support services couldn’t come up with a single objective that was measurable. How do you give somebody working in a diversity or HR department a SMART objective that doesn’t break down into vague, woolly guff or contain the words “managed to avoid a lawsuit”? An employee in charge of maintenance will be given an objective of 95% uptime on the piece of machinery under their supervision, and come the appraisal will be told:

“Well done, you kept the damned thing running! Your intervention during that unplanned shutdown that occurred at 4am that wet, November night was particularly impressive, as you’d arranged for spares to be kept on hand for just that eventuality.”

But what do you tell somebody who is working in the travel department?

“Yeah, erm…I see you managed to process one stage of the paperwork involved with the booking of hotels and you checked the concerned employee obtained the correct signatures each time, and when he didn’t you sent it back. Oh, and also you were quick to inform that other employee when he was trying to book into a hotel that was conveniently located but, alas, not on our approved list. Erm, well done.”

Or the diversity department:

“Right, I see you have sent out an email informing everybody that it is International Women’s Day. Yes, good. Well done. And your participation in the meeting about which ratio of Africans to Asians we should have on the front of our annual report was appreciated, although perhaps next time don’t point out so loudly that the people in the photo don’t actually work for us and we bought the image from a PR firm.”

Faced with carrying out an appraisal for somebody in a process-driven position with a vague, woolly job description which makes setting SMART objectives extremely difficult, is it any wonder managers simply say “you had a great year” instead of going into details of what they have actually achieved?

I suspect this supposed language disparity between the performance reviews of men and women is less about sexism and more reflective of the sorts of job each sex is employed in. A good way to test this theory would be to look at how women doing the same jobs as men are spoken to in appraisals, and probably the best place to do this would be in sales and marketing departments: they are very much goal-driven and are chock-full of women.

The next step would be to find those employees to whom vague feedback has been given and ask their managers to set some SMART objectives. If they struggle to do so then the employees should be fired along with the managers because they shouldn’t even be there in the first place.

Brexit According to Somebody on LinkedIn

I confess that I do find LinkedIn generally useful in that it allows me to keep a sort of CV online and keep up to date on where former colleagues are now working. Other than that, it isn’t much use: the recruiters who, in the days of $100+ oil, used to contact me via LinkedIn were, to a man, utterly useless.

In the last year or two it has morphed into a kind of weak blog where various CEOs and other industry bosses post unconvincing articles which show only that expressing their thoughts in writing isn’t something they do very often. I received a link to one such post recently on the subject of Brexit:

As a European based in London, the events leading to Brexit have left me amused and irritated in equal measure. As long-term practitioner in FinTech, I am mostly worried about understanding their impact on my industry.

A hint for Managing Partners writing articles on LinkedIn: I haven’t got a clue what FinTech is, and if I don’t, nor will others. I’m not out of the first paragraph of your piece and I’m already having to use Google: it’s Financial Technology. Why not say that?

London is arguably the premier global financial centre.

Indeed, yes.

Access to the rest of the EU is based on the acceptance of shared rules, policies and regulations, a process called “Passporting”. Should the UK wish to pursue a separate regulatory regime, EU Passporting in its current form will cease. Making London the access point to a market of 64m people with a $2.8T GDP — still sizeable but not nearly as large as what it is today.

That last sentence doesn’t make much sense, following as it does a full stop. Did anyone proof-read this before publishing? Anyway, you’ve just said London is the premier global financial centre, so why assume post-Brexit it will only be the access point to a market of 64m people?

In the meantime, the EU will undoubtedly continue on its cross-Europe harmonising drive, supported by initiatives like the Single Digital Market programme, making it even more desirable for start-ups, FinTech and otherwise, to be located in an EU country.

Really? Cross-Europe, harmonising EU directives are being welcomed by start-ups? I can see the potential for rent-seeking in the increasingly lucrative field of “compliance”, but genuine start-ups? Which ones?

Both Paris and Berlin have already started positioning themselves as an ideal alternative to London.

Have they? Have the French thrown that veritable thicket of employment regulations in the bin, then? And switched their working language to English? Or are they just hoping banks will not notice all this when doing their cost-benefit analyses?

English, a strong legal system and a good quality of life for expats may no longer be enough to make London the natural choice if access to rest of the continent is curtailed. Large corporates will begin to consider Dublin, Paris, Barcelona and Berlin more readily than before, depriving the UK from the talent pool that global players develop in the markets they settle in.

Yeah, we keep hearing how great Paris and Berlin are for businesses. One is tempted to ask why this was such a closely-guarded secret until Brexit. Others may wonder why Canary Wharf is rammed full of Frenchmen making hay in British-based banks instead of grinding out a 40-year career in BNP or SocGen in La Defense. Perhaps they went for the food and weather?

The European “Right to Move” has enabled foreign firms based in the UK to easily hire talented individuals from a pool of over 500m people. As these people got hired, they improved the quality of the already outstanding UK workforce, creating more interesting jobs that in turn attract more talented people. This process has become a virtuous circle making London one of the most dynamic workplaces in the world.

It is true that London has been able to attract top talent from the EU, and this has been made easier by the rules on free movement. But anyone who’s taken the London Underground will have noticed it is chock-full of Russians, Chinese, South Americans, Africans, Middle Easterners, and just about anybody else. Insofar as the normal British immigration rules are an impediment to companies being able to recruit foreigners from outside the EU, it doesn’t seem to be much of an obstacle.

The current regulatory complexity and costs of hiring non-EU talent would be extended to EU citizens.

And would those additional costs outweigh the costs of moving to France and hiring people there? I think we can answer that one already.

Parliament forecasts that between 2013 and 2017 the UK will need to find 745,000 workers with digital skills.

I don’t mean to be overly mocking, but we’re currently a quarter of the way into 2017. It’s probably taken Parliament until now to get their forecast out. Therein lies the danger of relying on politicians for business advice.

One of the reasons the digital revolution has hit financial services so late is the weight of regulation. The UK regulators are unusually progressive and keen supporters of innovation.

Why, yes.

Firms based in the UK benefit from being regulated by a forward-thinking regulator with oversight that stretches across the EU.

Uh-huh.

Without regulatory “Passporting”, a UK FinTech firm with EU ambitions, would have to open subsidiaries or relocate to an EU country. These additional costs and complexity will inevitably lead to slower growth, need for more capital and eventually difficulty in attracting investment at the valuations of the pre-Brexit days.

So the British regulators are smart and forward thinking compared to those in the rest of the EU, and London benefits from this, as does the rest of the EU. Therefore if Britain leaves the EU, Britain will suffer. Right. Of course, there is no mention of the fact that one of the real concerns among those who voted Leave was that the EU was seeking to impose regulations on the City of London which would have removed any advantage it currently enjoys over the rest of Europe.

London is a leading location for entrepreneurs seeking venture funding.

Yet apparently, post Brexit, this will switch to Paris where companies with more than 50 employees are compelled to establish works councils:

Any company with at least 50 employees must set up a works council (CE). This committee is composed of representatives of the staff and trade unions, with a mandate of 4 years maximum. It is chaired by the employer. It has economic, social and cultural attributes. To carry out its missions, it has hours of delegation.

Which is why my colleagues and I get subsidised lunches, half-price cinema tickets, and travel vouchers courtesy of my employer. I’m sure London’s fleet-footed financial startups are looking forward to administering all of this at their own expense. Sure, many of these companies will be below the 50-person threshold, but if that’s the case then we’ll not need to worry about tens of thousands of jobs being transferred.

Secondly, if business will have to deal with a tighter talent pool they will either grow slower or have to pay more for staff.

Does anyone seriously think the talent pool for financial services will be tighter in London post-Brexit than in Paris, Berlin, or Barcelona?

All things considered it would seem unlikely that the role of London as Europe’s financial and tech hub will not be diminished.

Yes, it will be diminished just as me flushing the toilet diminishes the water level in a reservoir somewhere. The important question is by how much? Unless somebody is prepared to properly look at the costs and difficulties of transferring operations to European cities, we ought to assume they are engaging in little more than speculation and scare-mongering. Which is probably why they are writing on LinkedIn in the first place.

Nissan goes a-rent-seeking

Oh do fuck off:

Nissan has told the British government to spend £100m to attract component suppliers to the UK or risk the future of its Sunderland car plant.

“This is critical. If we don’t really invest in the supply base it will be a house of cards effect,” said Colin Lawther, head of European manufacturing at Nissan, to MPs on the International Trade committee. “Nissan will not succeed in the future, with or without Brexit, unless the government does something to help us in the supply chain.”

So the British people vote for Brexit and find a gun held to their heads and a demand for £100m of taxpayer cash? How many other companies are going to be demanding taxpayer cash to offset any upset Brexit causes to their business? Do these companies hand over extra tax when things go in the other direction?

Mr Lawther said on Tuesday the current “UK supply base is not competitive globally”, making it more attractive for companies to purchase parts from overseas. “We should put a £100m fund together quickly to repower the supply base to make us competitive and to give flexibility, so that in the end under any circumstances we are in charge of our own destiny,” he said.

How does hosing £100m at a “supply base” make it more competitive? What, precisely, is this money to be spent on?

Nissan itself plans to spend an additional £2bn with UK suppliers — almost doubling the £2.5bn it currently spends on British-sourced parts.

Just one paragraph ago UK suppliers were not competitive. Now Nissan plans to increase its expenditure on them to the tune of £4.5bn. Which is it?

He said the imposition of tariffs would be a “disaster” for Nissan that may cost the company up to £600m but added the group will “honour” its decision to build the cars in the UK, though “if anything materially changes, we will review constantly”.

Sorry, what bollocks is this? I can only assume he’s talking about tariffs on importing cars made in the UK into Europe. Why should this be of concern to the British taxpayer? And how does Nissan Japan (say) manage to import cars into the EU?

He said that the northeastern site, which is Britain’s largest plant and the fifth most efficient car facility in the world, produces two vehicles a minute and uses some 5m parts every day.

It’s the fifth most efficient in the world but they’re shitting themselves over Brexit and demanding the taxpayer prop them up?

Customs checks and other measures that led to supply chain disruption will blow a hole in the Nissan’s management of its Sunderland plant, Mr Lawther told the MPs. “Anything more than six minutes a day downtime on the line is a disaster,” he said. “If you’re talking about hours waiting for supplier parts [through customs], that’s absolutely off the scale.”

Oh please! This Lawther clown must think we’re all idiots. Who compares the downtime on a production line to the time taken for materials to clear customs? He’s either an ignorant moron or he’s deliberately trying to mislead us. Then again, he was addressing a bunch of MPs who by definition are a little soft in the head.

In order to maximise its efficiency, the plant only holds half a day’s worth of stock — leaving it vulnerable to any disruptions further down the supply line.

Then increase that stock to create a bigger buffer. Does increasing the storage of parts, i.e. building an additional warehouse, really impact production efficiency that much? This is not fresh produce we’re talking about here.

Since the agency was founded in 2013, the percentage of domestically-produced parts going into British cars has risen from 36 per cent to 41 per cent.

It sounds as though British suppliers are quite competitive after all. Does any other country supply a bigger percentage of parts? Where is the journalism here?

It’s amazing how often these darlings of British industry, the ones that are held up as examples of Britain’s world-class enterprise, are actually neck-deep in government largesse, isn’t it?

Modern Management Explained

An article in the BBC inadvertently tells us what is wrong with modern management:

Many of us shy away from public speaking. A 2014 survey by Chapman University found a fear of public speaking was the biggest phobia among respondents – 25.3% said they feared speaking in front of a crowd.

However, that fear may be limiting our career opportunities. A survey of more than 600 employers in 2014 found that among the top skills recruiters look for, “oral communication” was number one and “presentation skills” number four;

Here’s a novel idea: why not assign those who are natural public speakers to those roles where presentations are a regular feature of the job? Presumably those who fear public speaking have other valuable skills, so why don’t we identify them and assign those individuals to positions where those skills will add the most value? Perhaps this is better than trying to beat round pegs into square holes by insisting everyone should be an expert public speaker, no?

One of the things that pisses me off more than anything is “management” has been touted as a science for decades now, and there are literally tens of thousands of books on management techniques and hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on training courses on the same subject. Sprouting from this has been the rise of the sprawling corporate HR department which is justified on the grounds that personnel management is so advanced these days that it requires teams of experts to assess each employee, ascertain their personality type and skills, and properly assign them so their utility is maximised and teams and departments are properly balanced.

Does this actually happen? Does it fuck: despite HR now enjoying a seat on the board of every major company, we are now being told that they can’t even manage to assign those who are good at public speaking to the roles which involve public speaking, and instead those who are crap at it are being told their careers will now suffer. We might as well fire all the HR staff right now and let department managers handle it all, like they used to.

This is also telling:

traditional management skills such as “managing administrative activities” came down at the bottom.

Having observed how administrative activities are normally managed in any large organisation, I can well believe it. I suspect the reason is because the modern brand of manager sees the day-to-day management of routine activities as beneath them; better to advance their careers throwing spanners into works at regular intervals and speaking in woolly terms about “diversity” and “behaviours”.

Yet a 2014 online survey of 2,031 US workers found that 12% would willingly step aside to let someone else give a presentation, even if it lost them respect at work.

98% would willingly step aside to let somebody else fix their PC, too. Why is giving a presentation considered something everybody should be good at? Or is that all that happens in major companies these days, presentations?

“Public speaking is no longer optional in your professional life,” agrees speaking coach Steve Bustin, author of The Authority Guide to Presenting and Public Speaking.

“It’s an essential business skill that needs to be learned and practiced like any other skill,” he says. “Many job interviews, especially for senior level jobs, now require a presentation to the interview panel”

And doesn’t that just describe the requirements of a modern manager in a nutshell? Competence, diligence, transparency, ability to shoulder responsibility, organisational skills, experience, technical knowledge, and getting shit done are all subordinate to one’s ability to use PowerPoint and sound off in meetings.

What Companies (Don’t) Want

Via Adam, this article:

Surveys of the key skills employers seek in graduates continue to place so-called “soft skills” – like verbal and written communication skills, the ability to work collaboratively in teams and to influence others – in the top ten. But a 2016 report found that other skills – such as critical thinking, problem-solving, attention to detail, and writing – top the list of missing skills among job-seekers.

These skills are rated as being important across all jobs and industries. And employees not having these skills costs businesses thousands of dollars per year.

A US survey has found miscommunication costs businesses with up to 100 staff an average of US$420,000 per year. Even more staggeringly, in another study, 400 businesses with at least 100,000 employees each claimed that inadequate communication cost an average of US$62.4 million per company per year.

I can well believe that having employees with the ability to explain themselves clearly, write a concise and understandable email, and prepare properly-structured and well-written reports is of great benefit to a company. I can also believe that such skills would make the top ten in a list of what employers desire.

What I don’t believe is that such “soft skills” are considered in the least bit important when it comes to recruitment, retention, and promotion. Sure, they might make the top ten but one must bear in mind that Mecca Cola probably makes it into the top ten best-selling cola products. There will be two, possibly three, key skills that companies require and the rest are largely irrelevant. For all the talk about the important of “soft skills”, they only ever get mentioned when an HR department is talking up its own importance, someone is peddling a training course, or you’re getting a bollocking for upsetting somebody. A look at the average email or report will tell you that written communication skills aren’t considered very important in the modern business world.

I have my own experience to offer up in support of this statement. I don’t think I’m getting too far above my own station when I say I have pretty good writing skills, and I have the ability to convey quite complex information in a structured, logical, and clear manner. There are better writers around than me, far better, but not many of them are engineers. Back when I was doing my A-levels my chemistry teacher told me I was rather uncommon in that I was a scientist who could write, and advised that I make use of that. I can honestly say that being able to write quickly and accurately has helped me a lot in my professional life, but insofar as it has been recognised by any employer over the past 17 years I might as well type with my fists when drunk. There have been one or two occasions, three at the most, where my writing abilities have been recognised in passing but they’ve certainly not contributed in any way to the positions I have been offered or the tasks I have been assigned. I might be a very, very average engineer who rubs people up the wrong rather too often but I would bet that I’ve been one of the best writers of English in any of the companies I’ve worked for (yes, even the big ones). Out of the technical staff I reckon I’d win that contest hands-down. Nobody even noticed, let alone put it to use.

In short, I’d not pay much attention to what companies say they want; I’d instead look at what they actually do. Revealed preferences, I believe these are called. And they’re not in the least bit interested in whether you can write.

The Future for Men

Via Twitter I stumbled across this blog post about the grim future facing young boys in a world seemingly hell-bent on promoting women simply for being women:

I must say that when I read of Hillary Clinton’s recent video proclamation…that “the future is female,” my mind immediately raced to my four grandsons, ages 3, 7, 10, and 11. What would the two older ones think if and when they heard or read of this statement, which emanated from someone who came very close to being our president (and for whom I had voted)? In fact, what does this say to Clinton’s own grandson, Aidan, who is now eight months old? The message to her granddaughter, 2-year-old Charlotte is clear and encouraging. But what about Aidan? And all his baby boy peers?

Yes, due to the incredible energy and persistence of second wave feminism, the world—read, the developed world—has changed positively for women, and especially for girls and young women.

Just one example: Education. In 1975, men slightly outnumbered women on college campuses, and vastly outnumbered them in graduate school, medical school, and law school. Today, women substantially outnumber men on college campuses, and are essentially 50 percent of postgraduate programs. In fact, in the last several years there have been more doctorates awarded to women than to men.

By comparison, boys and young men have, at best, languished.

That education systems in the West have been transformed to benefit girls, i.e. by putting more weight on coursework and collaborative projects than all-or-nothing exams has been known for years. It has also been noted that teachers and school staff are overwhelmingly female:

Female staff make up an even higher percentage of teaching
assistants, 92 per cent, and school support staff, 82 per cent. In total
80 per cent of the school workforce are female.

There has been very little change between 2012 and 2013 in the
percentage of teachers who are female/male. In 2013, 73.6 per cent of
teachers were female, 26.4 per cent male. In 2012, the split was 73.3
per cent of teachers were female, 26.6 per cent male.

The detrimental effect this has had on boys has been known for a long time. The fact that young men are the most likely to commit suicide is something that doesn’t garner as much attention as it ought to.

The blog post I quoted at the beginning asks what boys and young men are supposed to make of campaigns, often supported by government, which state categorically that the future belongs to women. I myself have wondered a similar thing when it comes to the corporate world. It is difficult to identify a major corporation these days which does not openly cite “gender equality” as one of its core missions and actively campaigns internally and externally for more women to fill the prestigious and better-paid positions. Audi recently embarrassed itself by perpetuating the gender pay gap myth in an advert it showed during the Superbowl in a sign that modern corporations have adopted third-wave feminist agendas without even bothering to check whether the complaints are real, let alone whether the solutions are desirable.

This will come as no surprise to those who have bothered to look at a major corporation. For all the talk of women being underrepresented in modern business, anyone who has had to deal with an HR department will find it staffed almost exclusively with women. Take a look at a marketing department in any given corporation and count the number of men versus women, particularly those in management. Admin and general services aren’t much different, and nor is public relations. The legal department will probably be around a 50:50 split, as will the accounts department. If anything, they’ll be top-heavy with women.

Where you don’t find as many women is in the technical and production side of a business, i.e. the bit that makes the company money. In other words, women prevail in the support services and men tend to dominate the departments which create the product that brings in the revenue. And this is what the campaigns are trying to change: the problem facing modern corporations isn’t that there are not enough women employed, but that they are not employed in the right areas, i.e. those which require technical skills and pay well. Rather than accept the rather obvious truth that women are under-represented in these areas mostly because they choose not to go into them nor study the university subjects that lead there, corporations have decided to aim for equality of outcome rather than equality of opportunity. In practice, this means promoting women ahead of men in order that the gender statistics balance to a degree satisfactory to the Diversity Department.

Which is fine: companies may do as they please if they think it will help them in some way. But don’t expect young men leaving university (or thinking about going to university) to be overly impressed with a graduate recruitment programme that talks incessantly about women as if men didn’t matter any more: chances are they’ll get the message and think about doing something else.

So what else will they do? Well, that’s the thing, isn’t it? For a while I believed the future of employment lay with giant corporations wedded to government-imposed regulations that kill off smaller competition and create insurmountable barriers to entry. But now I’m not so sure. Whereas I always thought industries were destined to consolidate, now it looks as though they may well do the opposite. Look at my own industry: the supermajors are struggling to come to terms with an era of lower oil prices and have adopted strategies of effectively waiting for it to go back up again. Meanwhile light, nimble shale operators you’ve never heard of in the United States have popped up out of nowhere and are back producing again. The growth areas of employment in France are not giant, lumbering industrial champions but much smaller IT service companies (not many people know this, but the French are really good at IT, particularly stuff like point-of-sale technologies). Logistics is an enormous growth area which the Internet has opened up: how many people does Amazon employ now compared to ten years ago? Whereas years ago manufacturing was done in giant factories, now a combination of the Internet and CNC machines means small-scale fabrication can be done anywhere. At the moment it is still being done in China, but there is every chance that as 3D printing develops further we could see the benefits of tiny, one or two-man cottage industries in every town making things on demand with a delivery time measured in hours beating the current model of making everything in China and shipping it over. It is speculation on my part, but I can see a future in fragmented, tiny enterprises scattered everywhere and linked to the customer by the Internet and brilliant, on-demand logistics. I also think this will represent a better opportunity for economic growth than further consolidation of massive, established companies. It’s hard to see what more can be done with the latter, whereas the possibilities for the former are endless.

Which raises the question: into which model do men and women fit? As I said before, women seem to prefer working in sprawling bureaucracies masquerading as support functions in huge companies. Men tend to drift towards the sharp end of the business where the core function is carried out and the most value added. I am also fairly certain that it will be men who are setting up the small, nimble businesses that aim to cash in on technologies such as the Internet, drones, and 3D printing. There will be female entrepreneurs, but their numbers will be dwarfed by those who are men. For whatever reason, young men in their twenties have a habit of risking all for a big reward instead of seeking security and certainty, at least in comparison to their female peers.

If the future of economic growth and employment opportunities are going to be in smaller, lightweight companies with minimal overheads working in fragmented industries scattered all over the place, the brightest men will be drawn to these areas of the economy. This will only get worse if established employers continue to favour women over men in their recruitment and career development policies, as most are doing now. I appreciate I can’t see the future and I might be wrong about all this, but we could find ourselves in a situation whereby large corporations become the employers of choice for women while the men head off into the areas of the economy that represent the future. And how do you think that’s going to work out for each group?

In short, those taking advantage of corporate policies designed to give better opportunities and outcomes to women may find themselves enjoying a glittering career in an organisation that is being bypassed by small companies of men who collectively wield far more clout. It’s all very well being fast-tracked up the corporate ladder to the rousing applause of your fellow female colleagues, but it won’t mean much if they’re working for the equivalent of Blockbuster Video and Netflix has just launched.

Tomorrow is International Women’s Day and no doubt the Western media will be filled with puff pieces on women in politics, business, and education (unlike in Russia where the girls turn up in short skirts and knee boots, get given flowers, and then go out at lunchtime to get smashed on cheap champagne). I’ll do my best to ignore them, but I reckon in another generation there will be a few household names who will wish they hadn’t chased the men away quite so quickly.

More from the Recycling Commissar

Remember Mark Hall of Businesswaste.co.uk, who was after Nikolai Yezhov’s old job? He’s spamming me again. Let’s take a look.

Calls to government to force Amazon and retailers to take back your packaging

Last week it was re-education camps and indoctrination of schoolkids. This week it’s deploying government force against private companies. Next week he’ll be extolling the virtues of barbed wire and watchtowers.

Popular mail order companies like Amazon and Asos should take back their packaging for recycling and ethical disposal in a money-saving move that could result in thousands of tonnes of waste being recycled.

If it was money-saving they’d already be doing it, wouldn’t they?

In the same way that grocery delivery services such as Ocado take back their own (and any other supermarkets’) plastic bags, couriers should ask if there is any mail order cardboard or plastic packing that needs to go back to the depot, a national waste and recycling company says.

According to BusinessWaste.co.uk, this is likely to boost recycling rates all over the country, and encourage householders and companies to think greener. And it would be great for Amazon’s sometimes-battered reputation, too.

Among whom is Amazon’s reputation battered? Not the customers: they seem to love it. And if not them, who cares what everyone else thinks?

“If Ocado can take back bags, then Amazon should take back boxes and Asos take back packaging,” Business Waste spokesperson Mark Hall says.

Presumably Dulux should take back empty paint tins, Castrol empty oil drums, and McDonald’s empty burger cartons.

“It might even encourage ethical consumers to shop with them, and that would be good for business.”

However has Amazon managed so far without the sagely business advice from people running garbage bins out of North Yorkshire? My guess is in their ignorance they have decided against costly side-operations irrelevant to their core business and concentrated instead on keeping their overheads as low as possible.

Latest government figures show that Britain throws away 4.7 million tonnes of paper and cardboard packaging every year, and only 3.4 million of this is recycled. While this is above EU target rates, a missing 1.3 million tonnes is still lost to the system, Business Waste says.

So cardboard can be recycled an infinite number of times, can it? From what I can tell most cardboard packaging is already recycled from higher-grade paper, and I very much doubt this recycled packaging can be further recycled too many times. In other words, there will always be wastage. Perhaps 1.3m tonnes is too high, but only an idiot would think this is “lost” to the system.

The same figures show that only a third of the 2.2 million tonnes of plastic packaging discarded every year is recycled. Again, this is above generous European targets, but still far short of what can be achieved.

At what cost? Apparently it doesn’t matter.

“It’s hard to imagine 1.3 million tonnes of anything,” Hall says,

I think this says more about Mr Hall’s brain capacity than it does Britain’s recycling efforts.

“But that amount of paper and cardboard would probably reach most of the way to the moon, if not further.”

The moon is about 385,000 kilometres away. The density of cardboard is about 0.7 tonnes per metre cubed. 1.3m tonnes of cardboard therefore has a volume of about 1.9m cubic metres. If this were to stretch to the moon it would need to be stacked in a square of 0.005 metres square, which is 7cm on each side. This doesn’t seem like the best analogy.

Here’s what BusinessWaste.co.uk suggests:

All couriers should ask if there’s “Anything to go back?” when making a delivery. Customers can hand over any mail order packaging, from any source.

Right, so couriers are expected to collect materials of unknown size, type, and quantity when making deliveries. What could possibly be wrong with this idea?

Customers expecting a delivery can leave old card and plastic packaging out to be collected

Leave out? Where? In the road?

Recycled card and plastic is sorted straight from the returning courier’s van into appropriate bins at the depot

Sorted by whom? The van driver? I bet he’s chuffed with his new role. And it may come as a surprise to the geniuses at Businesswaste.co.uk but Amazon uses third party couriers such as Royal Mail and DHL. Are postmen now going to be lugging discarded packaging around behind them as they go about their business of delivering things? Is DHL going to be driving about with a van full of somebody else’s packaging?

Bins are emptied or collected by a commercial waste and recycling company

Such as yourselves, of course.

These bins, while strictly commercial waste, should be exempted from landfill tax bills as they have been collected from domestic sources with the intent to recycle.

Sorry? I assumed this material would be exempt from landfill tax because it is going to be recycled, not dumped in landfill. Did you read this press release before spamming me with it?

This scheme should apply to online retailers such as Amazon, as well as mail order clothing outlets such as Asos which use courier services

And hence your own company can tap into Amazon’s revenue streams. Very clever.

“We see a large and enthusiastic take-up for such a system,” says Business Waste’s Mark Hall,

If there is a large and enthusiastic uptake then the problem is already solved, isn’t it?

“and it should push all mail order companies into considering more environmentally friendly packaging in the future.”

Which they did years ago anyway, without the input from from people running garbage bins out of North Yorkshire. Almost all Amazon’s packaging is made from recycled materials these days.

BusinessWaste.co.uk applauds the efforts of online mail order giants Amazon for their efforts in reducing excess packaging, but they are still occasionally guilty of sending tiny items in huge boxes padded out with rolls of brown paper.

Yes, because the packaging is done robotically using standard box sizes.

“We’d say they’re getting it right nine times out of ten,” says Hall, “But we’re still occasionally getting printer ink cartridges in boxes the size of a small car.”

If only Amazon hired glorified binmen from North Yorkshire to advise them on how best to run a logistics operation.

With the onus on the vendors to accept returned packaging, it would encourage them use much less of it, BusinessWaste.co.uk says.

Why would vendors be using more packaging than necessary? Don’t you think they’ve already thought of this and reached an optimum solution without the input of rent-seeking binmen?

“The transport network is already in place, through the courier companies” says Hall.

I’m sure they’re delighted to know that you’ve commandeered their fleets for your own hare-brained ideas.

“It just takes a brave step in the right direction to make this work.”

Getting the government to force through changes that result in staggeringly inefficient logistics, inconvenience, and higher prices for customers in order to increase the revenues of Mr Hall’s company. Why yes, how very brave.

Soviet-Style Recycling

For some reason I’ve been sent an unsolicited email by an outfit calling themselves BusinessWaste.co.uk. I can only assume they think the contents make them look good. Do they? Let’s take a look.

Whole lorries full of domestic waste are being sent to landfill instead of going for recycling because people are just not separating their rubbish.

This is particularly case where a round has a large proportion of communal bins where the actions of just a few recycling refuseniks can spoil an entire housing estate’s recycling efforts, a national waste and recycling company says.

So there is a recycling system in place that can be rendered useless if only a few members of the public don’t comply with the requirements. Whoever devised such a system should be fired immediately and never employed again in any position other than perhaps to collect rocks from ploughed fields. Anybody – and I mean anybody – who has worked with the general public knows that no matter how hard you try to implement anything, there will be a substantial minority who through stupidity, malice, or both will simply not cooperate.

According to BusinessWaste.co.uk, the only solution could be lessons in domestic recycling funded in partnership between local authorities and the major waste companies in order to get the message across.

So the system doesn’t work because human beings don’t behave as the system expects them to. The “only solution” is re-education camps. Sorry, didn’t the Soviet Union end some time back?

“The truth of the matter is that only around 45% of domestic refuse goes to recycling these days,” says BusinessWaste.co.uk spokesperson Mark Hall,

Is this good or bad? Anyone saying that 100% of domestic refuse should be recycled is engaged in religious worship not reasonable inquiry. We probably should recycle something, but we definitely shouldn’t recycle everything: for each material (or group of materials) we need to work out whether recycling it uses more resources (in terms of energy and cost) than simply burying or incinerating it. Perhaps 45% is too low but this is something that needs to be proved, not merely asserted.

“and one of the major reasons that we’ve failed to get this figure higher is that people still don’t know how to recycle.

Then the system of multiple bins with different collection days at varying frequencies is too complicated or confusing. Whose fault is that?

“And worse than that – there’s people who just don’t care.”

Hence the need for re-education camps and, if necessary, liquidation.

BusinessWaste.co.uk is already well aware that there is resistance to recycling from certain sections of society who are convinced – quite wrongly – that climate change and challenges to natural resources are a “con”, and that there’s no need to change lifestyles.

Who says they’re wrong? Somebody with a deep financial interest in their being wrong? Uh-huh.

“It doesn’t help when we have politicians who say we can ignore the opinions of experts, because this is one thing where all the world’s experts agree,” says Hall.

In other words, experts – such as Mr Hall – should be the ones setting policy and nobody should be allowed to question them. Lovely.

But it’s areas where the message hasn’t got through that practical lessons in recycling can help.

Citizens must undergo a minimum hundred hours garbage sorting, unpaid. For their own good.

One recent example where there’s been such a call is in the Berkshire town of Reading, where some domestic waste collections are so contaminated with the wrong kind of refuse that there is no option but to send the entire load to the town’s already straining landfill sites.

Build more landfill then. Oh we can’t, because of EU regulations written to address issues specific to Denmark and The Netherlands. But wait! We can, because we’re leaving: get digging.

In one estate in the town, communal recycling bins are left overflowing with general waste, and there’s also a problem with vermin, the Get Reading news website reports.

In other words, local governments, egged on by rent-seekers like Mr Hall, have taken a garbage collection system that worked well and turned it into one that doesn’t, then added rats.

The situation has got so bad, some residents are calling for lessons from their council to show their neighbours how to use the bins.

That’s one idea. Another is to give the council lessons in effective waste management which takes into account the whims of the public. Then Mr Hall can be put to work cleaning the insides of the bins that have just been emptied under the new system, and when he’s finished doing that he can start on the garbage trucks.

It’s a call that BusinessWaste.co.uk supports, because it means that the end result could be an end to people’s time and effort being wasted, and an increase in local recycling rates.

And let me guess: BusinessWaste.co.uk just so happens to provide such lessons. For a fee, of course.

Who’s going to pay?

As Meatloaf sang, you took the words right out of my mouth.

“Of course, there’s the problem of funding,” says BusinessWaste.co.uk ‘s Mark Hall, “And that’s where partnerships between councils and the major waste service providers could work wonders.

The partnership being the taxpayer coughs up for the lessons and Mr Hall’s company delivers them. Cha-ching!

“It’s in everybody’s interest to get this off the ground,” he says.

Well, it’s certainly in your interest. I’m not sure about everybody’s.

And, of course, there are savings to be made by not sending whole lorries full of waste to landfill, BusinessWaste.co.uk points out, saying that burying rubbish in the ground is an expensive business, and half-hearted council campaigns tend to fail miserably.

Landfills are expensive? Then why does the EU need to impose regulations and fines to discourage their use? Why does it need supra-national cajoling to get people recycling if the economic argument is already made?

As Reading resident Mark Williams told Get Reading, it’s the same on a local level where clean-up costs are more expensive that teaching people to get it right in the first place: “It will cost them more when they have to get it cleared up. The rats will come back so it’s an ongoing problem,” he told his local news service.

I know what’s happened here. Local governments have been told to recycle instead of dumping everything into landfills, and that requires sorting the rubbish. It is a near-certainty that the most cost-effective and efficient way of doing this would be to take everything to a giant, industrial-sized sorting facility and do it all there. But that would require capital investment as well as operational costs, and councils have blown their budgets on Diversity Outreach Coordinators and supporting fashionable lefty causes. So they’ve simply decided to instruct the citizenry to sort their rubbish at home in their own time and at their own cost, ignoring the obvious concerns that 1) perhaps millions of people individually rinsing out jam jars under the hot water tap probably isn’t energy-efficient and 2) some people are just not going to bother. Usually people declare that the sorting of rubbish takes no effort at all, but alas this idea is rather disproved by the fact that there seem to be people who can’t be arsed to do it. Sure, they may be being lazy but that also proves the sorting requires effort. Perhaps somebody ought to have considered this effort before switching the entire nation’s rubbish collection system to one which relies heavily on not a single person being bone-idle. This is Britain, not Japan.

From leaflet campaigns to door-knocking and practical demonstrations, a multi-pronged approach could really bring forth results, BusinessWaste.co.uk spokesperson Mark Hall explains.

This idiot really thinks the problem is people not being lectured enough by the government on environmental issues.

“And where the adults won’t listen, we can take the message into schools,” he says.

Start the brainwashing early, comrades! Let’s create a whole new generation of Pavlik Morozovs!

“Children and young people have traditionally been the standard bearers when it comes to changing adult habits on recycling.

So the people most receptive to your ideas are those whose education is incomplete and whose brains are not yet fully developed. What’s that telling you?

“After all, they’re the generation that’s going to have to clear up this mess we’re in.”

Aye. They’ll be the ones paying the price for your dingbat policies, too.

With millions of British people getting their recycling spot-on week-in, week-out. It’s a shame that there are a few who simply don’t get it right and wreck everybody’s efforts.

Wreckers! You couldn’t make it up.

Also, if I’d designed a system with a crucial, fundamental, and glaring obvious design flaw I’d probably be expected to say something a bit more substantial than “it’s a shame”, as if kitty just died of old age.

“It’s these people we have to reach,” says Hall, “The message is everything.”

The beatings will continue until morale improves.

This is a problem entirely of the government’s own making, a government that has been advised by rent-seeking idiots like Mr Hall whose religious-like devotion to recycling is surpassed only by his enthusiasm for treating citizens as if he was living in the Soviet Union, it was 1935, and Stalin had just appointed him head of the NKVD.

Flynn’s Sacking Explained Simply

Having read people’s reactions on social media to Trump’s press conference yesterday, it is amazing how few understand what Trump said regarding Mike Flynn:

No, I fired him because of what he said to Mike Pence. Very simple. Mike was doing his job. He was calling countries and his counterparts. So, it certainly would have been OK with me if he did it. I would have directed him to do it if I thought he wasn’t doing it.

Ben Shapiro’s response was not untypical:

I suspect so many commentators are struggling with this because so few of them have worked in a business environment before. Shapiro is a lawyer/writer/public speaker. The relationship he has enjoyed with his superiors in these professions, insofar as he has any, will be a lot different from the manager-employee relationship most ordinary people experience in the corporate world, especially towards the top when things get a lot more cut-throat.

For me, it is completely plausible that somebody could be doing his job as instructed but, for reasons unknown only to himself, decides to mislead his manager regarding some aspect of it which results in the manager making an arse of himself. In fact, I can’t believe there is anyone who has worked for more than a few years in a modern corporation that hasn’t seen this scenario crop up at least once.

An example. An Engineering Manager asks his Piping Designer if he has finished those drawings. The Designer says “Yes, they are done.” The Engineering Manager calls the Construction Manager and says “Yup, they’re done. We’ll send them to you first thing in the morning.” The next morning the Engineering Manager asks the Designer for the drawings. Turns out they are not completed after all, they’re only at 90% and they need another day’s work. For whatever reason, the Designer lied. The Engineering Manager now has to call the Construction Manager, who has a welder on standby ready to start fabricating, and tell him they drawings are not ready after all. The Engineering Manager looks like a dick who can’t run a department properly, and the Designer is going to get bawled at as an absolute minimum. He might even get fired. But that doesn’t mean that the Designer was doing something he wasn’t supposed to, far from it: he was doing his job just fine, even if the drawings weren’t ready it would have been no big deal. But he lied to his manager and put him in a very bad position. In any organisation, this is unacceptable.

The fact that most of our media commentators, even smart ones like Ben Shapiro, don’t understand this speaks volumes about how little real-world experience that sector has between them.

Czartoryski’s Sale

This is interesting:

The Polish government has bought a world-famous art collection, including a rare Leonardo da Vinci painting, for a fraction of its market value.

The Czartoryski collection was sold for €100m ($105m; £85m) despite being estimated at about €2bn.

The head of the Czartoryski family, which owned the collection, said it was a “donation”, but the board of its foundation resigned in protest.

The Czartoryski Foundation’s management board said it was not consulted about the sale, which was negotiated between Poland’s culture ministry and Adam Karol Czartoryski, a descendent of Princess Izabela Czartoryska, who founded the collection in 1802.

Mr Czartoryski, the foundation’s head, said he was following his ancestors who “always worked for the Polish nation”.

“I felt like making a donation and that’s my choice,” he said.

I have no idea how foundations work, let alone how this one worked, but I suspect Mr Czartoryski (or his forebears) ceded partial control of the Czartoryski Foundation to a board but retained certain rights, one of which was the right to flog the collection.

The Czartoryski Foundation’s board of management said it did not oppose selling the collection to the government, but that it was concerned that selling without due diligence – including estimating a fair price – may be against its bylaws, Reuters reported.

It may be?  You’d have thought a board of management would know this, wouldn’t you? I suspect they are just pissed off they’ve been utterly bypassed by Czartoryski and/or stood to gain something should the collection have been sold at full price.

Either way, it’s hard to see what Czartoryski has done wrong.

Chairman Marian Wolkowski-Wolski told the news agency there was a risk of the collection’s eventual dispersal out of public control.

Erm, it wasn’t in public control when it was part of the Czartoryski Foundation.  What angle are you pushing here, madam?