Welcome to the page that everyone heads to when I write something they don’t agree with – especially if they’re cyclists, or something which involves steroids! Remember: it’s MY blog, so if you don’t like it, just hit the BACK button and go somewhere else.
I started my career in the manufacturing industry. I graduated as a chemist (as in “chemistry”, not the pretend kind), but after years of having to answer to increasingly moronic policies, my patience was wearing thin. It really started to go downhill in the early 90s, with the introduction of “Teamworking” (the capital is important). Everyone was behaving as if this was brand new, and that no one had ever worked together before (much as they did with “coaching” in the driver training industry when it was touted a few years ago). Up until then your technical expertise was valued, but with Teamworking it all went out the window – along with any motivation you may have still had. I mean, you’d spent your entire life studying, becoming good at things in your field of expertise, only to have the world change around you and tell you suddenly that your qualifications and skills meant squat. And it really did happen like that. I spent six years after I graduated chipping away at the prejudices which existed under the old system, but when I finally broke through into management, within 18 months Teamworking tore the goalposts out of the ground and flung them everywhere.
Suddenly, shop floor staff were being awarded certificates (NVQs) just for turning up! These NVQs were touted as being “equivalent to ‘A’ levels”, yet it was impossible to fail them. You could be assessed again and again until you passed – if someone “failed” (and they did lots) an NVQ Assessor had to make sure they didn’t next time. Managers were held responsible for their staff’s performance in NVQ assessments, but many of those receiving NVQs couldn’t even write their names properly. Yet here they were apparently all gaining “’A’ levels”! There would be cream cakes and ice creams all round for the stupidest of achievements (e.g. the engineers fixing a broken machine, which they were employed to do in the first place, and which in at least one case there was evidence to suggest they’d also broken on purpose, or staff finishing a normal everyday job). One female manager used it as a way of buying staff loyalty by doing it regularly no matter how many labelling errors her department had committed that week. It quickly got to the point where staff in other departments were demanding these treats and refused to work properly if they didn’t get them.
Teamworking assumed that all knowledge lay with the proles, to quote (sort of) George Orwell. The system genuinely assumed that someone who had been cleaning out toilets for the last 20 years must be a hygiene expert, versed in sanitation, microbiology, and washroom design. And they’d be awarded an NVQ for it.
The problem was that workplace NVQs were not worth the paper they were written on, and someone who’d gained one was no better than they were before. I came from an era where in order to pass your ‘O’ Levels you actually needed to be able to do maths, and be able to read and write, and if you couldn’t then you wouldn’t pass any exams which tested you on them. And yet Teamworking was elevating school dropouts above University graduates in terms of perceived academic achievement. Modern society’s solution to people who fail exams is to award a pass anyway, which explains why exam pass rates are always going up, whilst actual education levels are clearly falling.
Under Teamworking managers became “facilitators” overnight. What was especially ironic was that the über-facilitators who were driving it were appointed from surplus management who were too autocratic to deal with shop floor staff anymore. They had always been total arseholes whoever they dealt with, and the hypocrisy that arose overnight as they were suddenly identified as “people persons” was unbelievable. One manager, who I will never forget, was the most arrogant prick imaginable when he managed one of the manufacturing departments I dealt with. But under Teamworking he became the über-über-facilitator (it would have been embarrassing to sack him seeing has he’d been head-hunted in the first place). He was responsible for the Teamworking rollout to other departments in spite of having no previous experience, and he went from wearing a shirt and tie to cargo shorts and sandals overnight.
Teamworking was disastrous as far as our customers were concerned. We produced medicinal products, and whereas the job prior to Teamworking was focused on the customers and their products, afterwards all that mattered was making Teamworking look good for senior management. The customers and their products actually got in the way of that!
I used to call it Teamworking®, which didn’t go down too well (nor did the fact that I always had a Dilbert book on my desk). They simply bought it off a shelf and shovelled it in without understanding any of it, and large wall posters – typified by some of the images I’ve included here – suddenly adorned offices and meeting rooms. Managers were falling over themselves to buy these things, which run to at least £50 a time without a frame, and which still make me want to vomit whenever I see them! It’s incredible to think that the annual job appraisals of these idiots was significantly influenced by the fact they had spent lots of money on a Teamworking picture, thus demonstrating how big a Team Player they were. The reality was totally different.
The End Nears
More and more of your time was being taken up with Teamworking issues. It was meeting after meeting after meeting, and woe betide you if you skipped one to do actual work for a customer (trust me: it did count against you). The shop floor could down tools anytime they felt like it to hold a “Team Meeting” of their own. This was merely an excuse for a union get together – the union cottoned on and exploited it – and this could happen even when they were in the middle of a manufacturing process with the customer actually on-site watching. I lost count of the number of times I had to explain away the absence of manufacturing staff to a customer, while their product sat partly-made but going nowhere in the factory (in one case, it was 7.30pm and the customer had travelled the length of England to be there, the product was time- and temperature-sensitive, and the factory closed at 10pm)! For a while, shop floor staff were even allowed to order refreshments for their meetings, until someone realised how much it was costing.
My last department had weekly Team Meetings that you weren’t allowed to miss. The two manufacturing departments we were connected with had daily Team Meetings that someone from my department had to attend, and bigger weekly Team Meetings that were a collective of the daily ones. The designated attendee from my department was not allowed to miss these (if you did, it filtered straight back and came up at your annual appraisal). Then there were corporate level “Team Meetings”, which were still as autocratic as ever. Teamworking didn’t apply directly to directors and senior managers, who just made the same out-of-touch decisions as before about how those below them should follow The Holy Teamworking Code. These corporate-level meetings culminated in periodic Presentations to Staff that you also weren’t allowed to miss (and which inevitably involved shutting the factory down for a day). And all this on top of the ad hoc meetings that came about from day-to-day issues. It was a complete shambles.
Time was spent on the most inane projects – LOTS of time, and on VERY inane projects. After months and months of meetings, one group of idiots (facilitators and shop floor staff) decided that the company font, which had hitherto been the perfectly business-like and professional looking Times New Roman, was being changed to Comic Sans. Customers – some of the biggest companies in the world – went ballistic, largely because their product licences depended on having up-to-date copies of all our Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), and yet here we were creating a huge amount of needless work for them just to change the font. And the Comic Sans font, at that. More than one huge client said Comic Sans “wasn’t very professional” (and they were right: it was one of the stupidest ideas ever).
Another favoured project was the Timesheet Redesign. It became popular after the first department to do it got rave comments from senior management at the Team Meeting where they presented it (I can see the Facilitator holding it up even now), and the bandwagon was created there and then as everyone tried to get on it. You’d think that any large company with multiple manufacturing departments would try to standardise on timesheets, wouldn’t you? And perhaps to keep them simple? Well, mine did… once upon a time. Then Teamworking® came along and every department set about trying to design THE timesheet to beat all other timesheets. I mean, a timesheet is simply a record of which staff had been on which job, and for how long, that the accountants used to allocate time and costs. As such, it needed to be succinct and to the point, and while it was a single-sided A4 sheet, it was. But I sat through at least three presentations where the Facilitator and selected shop floor staff waffled on about how great the new double-sided A3 thing they’d designed was, and how the entire packing department had had a hand in creating it. Every version had more boxes than a Go board, was different to everyone else’s, and thus created problems for the accountants in the finance department. When my own department at the time did it, I spent the next two years chasing it up every week for finance because the shop floor (who’d designed it) couldn’t fill the bloody thing in properly.
And I’ll never forget the SOP for How To Walk Up And Down Stairs. You could actually get in trouble if you walked up on the right side instead of the left (and vice versa going down) without holding the rail. Again, I can see (and hear) the harridan who’d been involved in writing it standing at the top of the stairs, screeching “Remember the SOP! Remember the SOP!” one day as we evacuated for a fire drill.
Directly (and indirectly) because of all this we were a year or more behind on customer orders. In one case, that was resolved simply by telling the customer we were pulling out of making their product within 6 months (ironically, less than 2 years earlier, a middle manager had undercut the price so much in order to secure that same business, we weren’t making any profit on it in the first place). It was all shockingly unprofessional.
To cut a long story short, customers were being taken for a ride. I was getting more and more frustrated by the incompetence of the company, so I started keeping a blog – and this was before the word “blog” had been coined. However, one of my colleagues knew I was doing it, and one day he saw something he didn’t like and reported it. It was completely anonymous – but I had made the mistake of editing it using a works computer. So I was sacked for it.
It was probably the best thing that damned company and those cretins I reported to ever did for me.
Becoming a driving instructor is the best thing I ever did!
I vowed never to work for anyone ever again. I’d always wanted to teach, and about two days after I was suspended I saw an ad about driving instructor training in the local newspaper. Even before the appeal hearing (a laughable charade in front of a senior manager/director who had never even looked at me, so didn’t know me) I had signed up for the course, so things moved on from there. I now spend my days teaching people something they want to learn.
Is it a good job being an ADI? For me, yes. It’s a joy to teach people who want to learn, and it’s even better when they pass. For many, passing their driving test is a gateway to the rest of their lives. For others, it’s the difference between having a job or being on the dole.
Is it an easy job? I think so, but I’m sure the kind of people attracted by those “earn £30,000” adverts or whatever the current hook is would be wholly unsuited to it. You need to be able to stand on your own two feet both during and after training, and failing the three tests is far more likely than passing them – arguably, less than 10% of those who start training become instructors.
Can you make a living out of it? Well, it’s been OK for me. I was covering all my expenses (business and personal) within five weeks of qualifying, and I’ve never looked back. I will confess that after doing my taxes in the middle of the recession the rising cost of fuel and variable pupil reliability (many simply couldn’t afford the lessons) had a big effect on my profits. But that was for about 8 months in late 2013 and early 2014. Since then work has picked up dramatically.
Why don’t people succeed at it? Quite simply, they expect too much return on too little effort. It takes time to build up the pupil base, and one way or another that costs money. You simply can’t build a business – any business – on 9-5 hours and five-day weeks.
Is work guaranteed? Absolutely not! You can’t sit back and relax. My business could easily go under if I don’t maintain work levels. If it’s your only source of income you need a lot of work, and you need the average amount of paid hours to be above the threshold for your profitability. In a recession, that can be very hard indeed.
This blog is just a collection of my own thoughts, opinions, and interests. The world is full of idiots (many of them still employed as managers at my old company), and much of what I put on here deals with these.
Anyone can write a blog, and this one is mine. People don’t have to read it, but to those who do and who enjoy it: you’re welcome. To those who don’t: tough… use the back button and go somewhere else. I don’t have comments enabled because on the rare occasions I’ve done so I have immediately been inundated with profanity and porn (the absence of live comments drives the members of some web forums wild with rage, because they can’t troll me the way they do their peers).
Lack of intelligence means that one or two people have attempted to vent their frustrations at not being able to troll me or spam the blog through the comments system by sending abusive messages via the contact form. I welcome constructive comments and suggestions and I like to include such comments from readers whenever I can. However, the form logs user ip addresses and ISPs (amongst other things), and as one person has already discovered – hi, Steve in Great Malvern, i.p. 188.8.131.52, with Sky broadband – use it for abuse and your provider is immediately informed. Another more recent one, I’ve cut some slack, but if I get another foul-mouthed and threatening email like the one he sent then it’ll be the Police who get informed. Oh, and if you do ask me a question, for Christ’s sake acknowledge my reply – it’s a little thing called courtesy.
Between 2010-2015 a version of the blog was published in ADI News (while it was still a glossy mag).
One more thing…
I don’t care if people use the information on this site. All I ask is that they show a little common courtesy (and some of that “professionalism” they keep going on about having) and acknowledge the source if they use it elsewhere, and don’t try to pretend it’s their own.
The thing about plagiarism is that it sticks out like a sore thumb at the best of times. In an industry which has a large proportion of, shall we say, people of restricted literacy, it sticks out even more. If you normally write and communicate as though you’d just drunk a bottle of drain cleaner, copying and pasting my stuff and passing it off as your own is just likely to get noticed.