Why I don’t like freebies

A thought occurred to me last night in relation to yesterday’s post, in which I wrote:

I went to a known supplier and asked them for a quote to conduct a site visit and prepare a full scope of work document. They would be paid for their efforts, and the document would be used for the competitive tender of the job proper.

There’s another good reason for doing this, aside from treating contractors fairly.

Earlier in my career I was involved in some rather specific work for which we needed the input of a specialist contractor. One of the managers above me contacted an American company that fit the bill and we engaged in a series of meetings or, as people in my industry like to call them, workshops (Alexei Sayle got this right).

The American company sent their sales people to the meetings and we sent our engineers. The Americans thought it was a sales pitch and so were working pro-bono. We thought it was a design meeting and believed the Americans were working for free because they wanted to please us. After a few meetings we found the Americans were getting less cooperative. Specifically, they were not producing the abundance of technical deliverables our engineers were asking for, and instead kept giving us generic information and brochures. It was not difficult for me to figure out what was going on here, but I was the only one. When I tried to point out that Americans are generally not people who work for free I was shouted down by engineers with no commercial or business experience whatsoever:

“But they have said they want to work with us!” I was told. “So they need to give us what we are asking for.”

At which point I sat back to enjoy the show. Things came to a head when a load of documents arrived from the American company and they did not meet the expectations of our engineers. We all gathered for a meeting to discuss how we would convey our disappointment, and by now I knew enough to stay silent. Had I thought anyone would listen I’d have said:

“How the fuck are we going to complain about the quality of something we’ve been given for free?”

The reason why I insist on contractors not doing things for free when I’m in charge is because it gives you no opportunity to set expectations and quality standards, and no leverage if what you are given is rubbish (which, being free, it always is). I would much rather pay somebody to do a job and set out exactly what I want than to accept freebies or favours and end up with something I don’t.

Somebody really ought to coin a phrase for this sort of thing, maybe using lunch as an analogy.

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Toys Thrown from Goldman Sachs Pram

This Tweet by the CEO of Goldman Sachs amused me for two reasons:

The first is all the lefties getting their knickers wet over a Tweet – his first – by the CEO of Goldman Sachs. Since when have the left been supporters of colossal, too-big-to-fail American investment banks with suspiciously Jewish-sounding names? I remember the days when governments were in hoc to the big, evil banking corporations which single-handedly brought about the global financial crisis. But when, in a naked display of financial self-interest, Goldman Sachs and others came out in opposition to Brexit the left told us we should all heed their warnings. And now they’re at it again.

The second reason this amuses me is because it’s obvious Goldman Sachs is about to lose a shit-tonne of money over the US pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement. I bet they had all sorts of “green” investment funds and other rent-seeking and subsidy-harvesting vehicles ready to go, which would represent a transfer of wealth from ordinary citizens to the executives at Goldman Sachs. And now Trump’s come and spoiled the party for them.

Good.

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Obtaining services by deception

In the comments under this post, Bloke in North Dorset shares an anecdote:

When I was consulting we were bought out (by a French company) and I was instructed to place a dummy recruitment add in the trade press and use the resulting interviews to find out what was wrong in the various mobile companies. I was then expected to go back to their management with “solutions”, leaving those who’d come for the interview hanging around having wasted a day’s holiday. I told them to fuck off and resigned.

Over the course of my career I have every now and then been asked to invite a contractor or supplier to submit a proposal purely so my own organisation can get a handle on the scope of work and the cost for their own budget. As a supplier of services, I have also been approached by client companies who were after the same thing.

Often an organisation will have no idea how to outsource a project because they can’t even write a scope of work. They need a scope of work because their internal policies compel them to launch a competitive tender, rather than single-source the job. They also need a budget price for the work for internal approval. So they’ll invite a known supplier to submit a proposal on the pretext that they are actually bidding for the job, which will often entail a site visit and preparation of documents at the supplier’s expense. When the client company receives the proposal they fiddle with it, rename it “Scope of Work”, and put it out to competitive tender. More often than not the original supplier who did all the work will lose the bid, usually because their price has been leaked enabling competitors to undercut them, and because there was always a favoured company lined up to do the work in the first place: they just didn’t know how to do it.

It’s a shitty way to treat suppliers, yet I have seen this practice encouraged by managers whose arrogance doesn’t allow them to see how unethical it is. To a lot of people working in client companies, contractors and suppliers are expendable pieces of shit who are beneath contempt. If the supplier is half-smart they’ll twig pretty quickly that they’re being given the run-around and simply decline to participate. Client companies get awfully pompous when a contractor does this, and it’s fun to watch. They don’t quite say “How dare you? Do you know who we are?” but they come close.

There is a better way of doing this, and it’s what I insisted on doing last time I was in such a situation. I went to a known supplier and asked them for a quote to conduct a site visit and prepare a full scope of work document. They would be paid for their efforts, and the document would be used for the competitive tender of the job proper. The amounts in question were trivial but it meant the supplier could not complain about unfair treatment, and I could tender the job with a clear conscience that I’d been completely transparent. In the end the project got cancelled and with the approach I’d taken the supplier didn’t feel aggrieved that they’d done all that work for nothing.

Obtaining “free” services from contractors or suppliers by pretending their submissions are part of a tender is something that happens way too often in my industry and I suspect many others. It’s a practice that does no good whatsoever regardless of how clever a manager thinks he is by “saving” his company money, as it undermines trust. Companies should quit doing it.

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The Modern Business Interview

The BBC reports on feedback from people who’ve been asked daft questions in job interviews, and as usual doesn’t bother telling us half the story:

Katherine Irvine was 37 when she went for a job as a recruitment consultant in Cornwall. She was shocked to find her interviewer was concerned that she was too old and wouldn’t have the energy to do the role.

“It was a group interview and the interviewer commented that myself and one of the others were ‘older’. There was a concern about us being able to work long hours.”

She was then asked: “What do you think? Do you think you’re too old?”

This was probably a fair question. Recruitment consultants these days are basically minimum wage telemarketers: they know nothing about what they’re buying, even less about what they’re selling, and work on a volume business taking a cut of whatever they manage to shift. From what I’ve seen it’s a young man’s game and populated mostly by greasy spivs you’d not trust with a blank piece of A4, let alone a CV.

Katherine was surprised at such open discrimination and informed the company’s HR department who said they were “shocked”.

Sounds as though that HR department is doing a splendid job. I wonder how many people it employs and what it costs in overheads, yet still can’t get company managers to conduct interviews without breaking the law?

Mature student Kevin Helton told us: “The interviewer asked, ‘You used to be in the Army, how many people have you killed?’

“My answer was, ‘Depending on the outcome of this interview, the number might change.'”

Heh! Good answer.

Others have faced a grilling about their personal lives, particularly women of child-bearing age.

Francine is a high-flying solicitor now but when she first entered the job market and applied for a medical secretary role, she was asked if she was going to get pregnant and leave.

I believe companies are entitled to ask this. What they’re not allowed to do is reject a candidate because of their answer. But given how much employers have to shell out when one of their staff takes maternity leave, it’s hardly surprising they ask about it.

“I was 24 years old then and it was one of my first interviews. I turned down the job when they offered it to me.”

So did you get pregnant and leave whichever job you did take? Alas, the BBC doesn’t ask. I would have, which is probably why I don’t work for the BBC giving interviews. But note she applied for a job as a medical secretary and is now a solicitor. Perhaps the interviewers sniffed that she wasn’t fully committed to the role she was applying for?

Even just a year ago an interviewer asked her, “Are you Jewish?”

“In retrospect, I should have said that was none of your business,” she says.

Marc Callow was shocked to be asked in an interview for a recruitment management position if he was gay. “I was that gobsmacked that I just replied ‘yes’. I got the job but it was a portent to what the company was like.”

Companies are forever being told that “diversity” is paramount and more minorities should be hired. This has got to the point that many companies keep statistics on how many minorities they employ and in which positions. But companies aren’t supposed to ask about this minority status in interviews. How does that work, then?

These kinds of questions really have no place in a job interview, because there are laws against discrimination, as Peter Reilly, principal associate at the Institute for Employment Studies (IES), explains.

“In a legal sense, you have to be careful,” he says. “You have to ask, is that relevant to the task? And if it’s not, you shouldn’t be asking it.”

That’s the entire diversity industry out the window then, isn’t it? Indeed, I wish we would go back to those halcyon days when “Is that relevant to the job?” was something we could ask.

That goes for racial issues too. One person told the BBC: “The interviewer said he was surprised I was white because he thought my name sounded black.”

The interviewer must have been as thick as mince to have actually said that. But nothing surprises me about those who turn up in modern businesses.

And this is an entertaining list of questions you should not be asked:

Is English your first language?

The concern is that if the answer is “no”, you might be able to put together an email in proper English.

Are you married?
Do you have children?

Because taking into account an employee’s work-life balance is completely unnecessary. I mean, has a couple ever got divorced because the breadwinner was spending too much time at work, away from home? I don’t think so.

Do you have any criminal convictions?

No, instead you can request a far more intrusive DBS (formerly CRB) check.

What are your sexual preferences?

You can’t ask whether anyone is LGBT but we expect you to employ more LGBT people. You’ll just have to work it out from the adam’s apples, the limp wrists, and the Birkenstocks.

There was a time when job ads would, as a matter of course, contain details of the salary that the company was willing to offer.

But nowadays, as one PR executive found out when he was approached by a well-known tech firm, it can actually be quite hard to pin down an interviewer on that kind of detail.

“The second question was: what’s your current salary? I asked, what’s the range for the role? and the response I got was, ‘We don’t reveal salary ranges, it’s not our policy, so you go first.’ I was astonished,” he says.

“I just thought, that, for me, is completely unprofessional, and I said, ‘I don’t think that’s a very productive way to go forward.'”

The candidate is spot on here. I also find companies’ refusal to indicate a salary to be highly unprofessional, and this is compounded by them having the cheek to demand you tell them what you’re earning now. But this is just one of many ways in which HR and recruiting has gotten much worse over the course of my career. Sadly, the decline has been interpreted by most corporate managers as progress.

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Surrounded by Sycophants

This article on Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign, contains an interesting passage:

In her isolation, surrounded by sycophants, Clinton had no one to tell her she was wrong. A few people hinted at warning against some of these problems, but no one had the clout to make the cautions stick. In Clintonworld, loyalty was valued above all else. Anyone in her orbit who objected too strenuously risked crossing the line and paying the price. They fought among themselves, but none of it reached the throne, and none dared risk his place by insisting on a change.

How many catastrophic failures – political, commercial, military, technical – can be attributed to the above? I could reel off half a dozen right now, off the cuff. The amusing thing is that this sort of situation is inevitable in modern organisations given the incentives placed in front of people. Yet if you point this out you’ll be hounded out so fast your feet won’t touch the floor, with those doing the hounding oblivious to the irony. I guess it’s simple human nature, and there’s not much that can be done about it.

In the few instances where I have been trusted enough to manage a project team or department, I’ve made sure I retained a grumpy old sod on hand to point out where I am going wrong. It might be difficult to hear sometimes, but such feedback is invaluable.

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Why NHS Food Is Crap

One of the things you notice if you work long enough for large companies is that the quality of any given support service suddenly becomes a lot better if the people managing it are themselves users of that service.

When I worked in Africa, the senior management had their own company-supplied vehicles and drivers to take them to and from the airport; everyone else used a shuttle bus. With no senior management ever having to see what taking the shuttle bus was like, you can imagine the state of it.

You sometimes see a similar thing with travel departments. The administrative staff who work in them are usually local employees who generally don’t have to go on business trips in far-flung cities taking flights that leave at 7am. When you come to deal with them, this becomes painfully obvious.

Last week I saw somebody on Twitter complaining about the food in the NHS, and naturally somebody leaped in underneath to claim that this was a result of the catering being outsourced to private companies. There exists a mindset among some people that private companies cannot possibly provide a better service than public bodies because of the profit factor, the veritable planet of evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. But in the case of the NHS the food really is terrible, at least from what I’ve seen and heard.

Thanks to a decade or so traipsing around oil and gas offices, installations, and construction sites I’ve seen a lot of mass-catering and it ranges from extremely good to absolute shite. In most cases the catering has been outsourced to one of two companies: Eurest (a subsidiary of Compass, which is British) and Sodexo (which is French). I don’t know if they supply the NHS with catering services, but I’d be surprised if they don’t. What I found is that the quality of food is dependent on two things:

1. Budget

2. Whether the management or the management’s close colleagues eat it.

One the first point, the budget is the difference between reasonable food and very good food. With the oil industry swimming in money until fairly recently, the food in the canteens was generally pretty good, and offshore it could be outstanding (the food on the Safe Astoria was superb, thanks to a Singaporean chef).

But it is the second point that makes the real difference. The one place in the whole Sakhalin II construction project where the food was absolutely woeful was at the transit camp in Nogliki, halfway up Sakhalin Island. As the name suggests, it was a camp set up for people to spend a night or two in transit between Nogliki, where the train from Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk terminated, and the various construction camps that lay further to the north. Aside from a few poor bastards who were based there permanently, people were only supposed to be there for one or two nights, and it showed. I spent a night there between coming off the Lun-A platform and going to inspect the Piltun lighthouse.  The beds had been bought second-hand from the folk who dismantled the barracks at Auschwitz and fitted with dark brown sheets that were supposed to be that colour. Dinner consisted of a slab of grey meat and watery gravy by an Indian who told me that’s all there was. By contrast, the grub on the actual sites was excellent. Senior managers never, ever stayed at the transit camp.

The reason why the NHS food is crap is not because private companies are providing it, but because the people who administer the catering contract do not eat it. I’d be surprised if even the NHS staff eat it; if they do, they are low-level staff who don’t have much clout with the people in charge. Or perhaps the staff are fed in separate canteens? I don’t know, but the reason it is crap is because those who eat it have no influence over those who pay for it, and those who pay for it don’t eat it. If people want the food in the NHS to improve they should insist that the middle management eat it as well. It would improve overnight at no additional cost.

Of course, this is a long-winded version of Milton Friedman’s four ways to spend money, but it’s fun to spot examples of it in the wild.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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