Welcome to the page that everyone heads to when I write something they don’t agree with – especially if they’re cyclists! Remember: it’s my blog, so if you don’t like it, just hit the BACK button and go somewhere else.
I started my working life in the manufacturing industry. I graduated as a chemist (a proper chemist, not the kind who sells aspirin – I actually made the aspirin), but after years of having to answer to increasingly idiotic policies, my patience was wearing thin. It started to go really downhill in the early 90s, with the introduction of ‘Teamworking’ (the capital is important). Everyone was suddenly behaving as if this was brand new, and that prior to it everyone’s main aim was to do things wrong (a similar thing is happening with ‘coaching’ in the driver training industry). Up until then, your technical expertise had been valued, but with Teamworking it all went out the window – along with any motivation you may have had. I mean, you’d spent your entire life studying, becoming good at things in your field of expertise, only to have everything change and suddenly tell you that your qualifications and skills meant nothing. It really did happen like that, too. I spent six years after I graduated chipping away at the prejudices inherent in the old system, but when I finally broke through into management, within 18 months Teamworking ripped up the goalposts and flung them everywhere!
Suddenly, shop floor staff were being awarded NVQ certificates just for turning up to work. These NVQs were touted as being ‘equivalent to ‘A’ levels’. and I can see the precise meeting where that was stated in my mind now. Yet it was impossible to fail them. You’d be assessed again and again until you passed – if someone ‘failed’ one try (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, yet many of those receiving them couldn’t even write their names properly. Yet here they were apparently all gaining ’A’ levels!
Then there would be cream cakes and ice creams all round for the stupidest of achievements – for example, the engineers fixing a broken machine (which they were employed to do anyway, and which in at least one case there was evidence to suggest they’d also broken on purpose), or staff finishing a routine job (also which they were employed to do). One female manager made a regular habit of using it to buy staff loyalty, and simultaneously gained brownie points with senior management (even though her department specialised in making labelling errors). It quickly got to the point where staff in other departments were demanding these treats because she had given out so many, and refused to work properly if they didn’t get them.
Teamworking as applied by my company had assumed that all knowledge lay with the proles, with apologies to George Orwell for that reference. They genuinely assumed that some near-to-retirement guy who had been mopping out the toilets for the last 20 years in between bouts of chain-smoking in the canteen must be an expert in hygiene, sanitation, microbiology, and washroom design. And he’d be awarded an NVQ for it.
Workplace NVQs were simply not worth the paper they were written on. Someone who’d been given one was no different from before – they’d merely been recognised for just being whatever they were already. I mean, I come from an era where in order to pass your Maths ‘O’ Level you actually needed to be able to do maths. And to get an English ‘O’ Level you needed to be able to write and spell. If you couldn’t meet those requirements you failed. And yet Teamworking was elevating school dropouts above University graduates in terms of perceived academic achievement. Modern society’s solution to people who can’t pass exams is to blame it on some fancy new ‘issue’ and award a pass anyway.
Under Teamworking managers became ‘facilitators’ overnight. Ironically, the über-facilitators who were driving it, and who reported to senior management, were appointed from surplus manager stock who were deemed 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, of course. He was responsible for the Teamworking rollout to other departments, 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. Basically, they’d bought a big tub of Teamworking® off a shelf, and shovelled it in without understanding any of it. 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 ran to at least £50 a time without a frame, and which still make me want to vomit whenever I see them now. 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. I mean, how is a billboard-sized image of eight penguins walking in a line across the ice going to turn a company’s finances around? But it was enough for these clowns to demonstrate how big a Team Player they were. It was really that superficial, but the reality was totally different.
As the end neared, 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. Believe me, it did count against you, and was guaranteed to come up in your own appraisal. The shop floor could down tools anytime they felt like it to hold a meeting of their own. The term ‘team meeting’ for the shop floor became the new version of the ‘union meeting’ – the union cottoned on and exploited it, realising that management had to allow it, otherwise they’d be hypocrites under the Teamworking code of ethics. These meetings could be called at anytime. On one occasion, the customer had travelled the length of the country to watch the process as their product was manufactured. It was both time- and temperature sensitive, and it was 7.30pm – with the factory closing at 10pm. And the shop floor disappeared for a meeting! For a while, shop floor staff were even allowed to order refreshments for their meetings, until someone realised how much it was costing and put a stop to it (the staff were even taking doggie bags home).
My final 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, which someone also had to attend. The designated attendee from my department was not allowed to miss any of these (if he did, it filtered straight back and came up at his annual appraisal). Then there were corporate level ‘Team Meetings’, which were still as autocratic as ever, because they were run by senior management for whom everyday Teamworking didn’t apply. 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 shambles.
A lot of time was spent on the most inane projects. After months and months of meetings, one group (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. Our customers, some of whom were global Blue Chips, went ballistic. Their product licences depended on having up-to-date copies of all our Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) filed in them, and yet here we were creating a huge amount of needless work updating all the SOPs at once – just to change the bloody font. And the Comic Sans font, at that. More than one 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. But the bandwagon started there and then and my manager was determined to get on it.
Any large company with multiple manufacturing departments ought to be standardising on timesheets, and aiming to keep them simple. All they need to do is record who did what, and for how long. That’s how ours used to be when they were single-sided A4 things. But Teamworking® came along and every department set about trying to design THE timesheet to beat all other timesheets. I am not exaggerating, but the one that was held up in that first meeting was a double-sided A3 monstrosity, with more boxes on it than a Go board. Most importantly, ‘everyone in the packing department had been involved in designing it’. The next problem was that every subsequent timesheet had different boxes on it, and in different positions on the sheet. That caused problems for Finance, who couldn’t just flick through a stack of papers to do the accounts anymore, but instead had to figure out where the key data were on that timesheet for that department. When my own department at the time created theirs, I spent the next two years chasing it up every week because the shop floor (who’d designed it) couldn’t fill the bloody thing in properly and it kept getting sent back from Finance. The whole affair was exactly the same as when you tell your kids the painting they have done is ‘lovely’ – even though in reality it is just coloured splodges on paper (and probably most of the furniture).
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 once that thing went live. 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.
As a result of all of this, we were a year or more behind on most customer orders. In one case, that was resolved simply by telling the customer we were pulling out of making their product within 6 months, when less than 2 years earlier a middle manager had secured the contract by undercutting the price so much we weren’t making any profit on it in the first place. It was shockingly unprofessional.
To cut a long story short, customers were being taken for a ride, and I was getting more and more frustrated by the incompetence of the company. So I started keeping a blog, even before the word ‘blog’ had been coined. It was completely anonymous, and contained no identifiable privileged information (I was careful of that), but one of my colleagues knew I was doing it. One day he saw something he didn’t like and reported it. 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 morons I reported to (and worked with) ever did for me.
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. I applied for it and had been accepted 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 now spend my days teaching people something they want to learn. Becoming a driving instructor is the best thing I ever did.
Is it a good job? 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 it wouldn’t be for everyone. If the only attraction is those ‘earn gazillions’ adverts then it probably isn’t. You need to be able to stand on your own two feet both during and after training, and failing the three qualifying tests is far more likely than passing them – arguably, less than 10% of those who start training become ADIs.
Can you make a living out of it? I have. After I qualified, I was covering all my personal and business expenses within five weeks, and I’ve never looked back. There was a blip during the recession back in 2009/10, and there’s been a huge blip in 2020/21 for COVID-related reasons, but the rest of the time I have been busy and well into profit.
Why don’t people succeed at it? Two reasons. 1) They’re not cut out for it, and/or 2) 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. And you need to think with a business head on at all times.
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 in normal times. Fortunately, the SEISS grant and a private pension which has since kicked in helped during the COVID period. But if instructing is your only source of income you need plenty of work, and you need to rake in enough money to cover your overheads and personal commitments.
The Blog is just a collection of my own thoughts, opinions, and interests. The world is full of idiots like the ones I had to work for (and with), and much of what I put on here deals with these types.
Anyone can write a blog, and this one is mine. People don’t have to read it, but to those of you who do and who enjoy it: you’re welcome. To those who don’t enjoy it: 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 spammed with profanity and porn. The inability to comment used to drive some long-since defunct forums apoplectic with with rage, because they couldn’t troll me the way they did their peers.
One or two have attempted to vent their frustrations at not being able to comment 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 I have no hesitation in reporting anyone who abuses it (as Steve in Great Malvern, with the i.p. address 22.214.171.124 who was with Sky broadband discovered some years ago). Oh, and if you do ask me a question, for Christ’s sake acknowledge my reply – it’s a little thing called courtesy.
A version of the blog used to be 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, but I draw the line at stealing it. A few years ago, I issued a ‘cease and desist, or at least link to the source’ request to a driving school website which had lifted one of my longer articles and tried to pass it off as their own. The things is, plagiarism sticks out like a sore thumb at the best of times, but in an industry where a large proportion of the members only have basic literacy and technology skills, when something I’ve written is inserted into something they’ve written, you tend to be able to see the join.