Friday, 25 May 2012


Sitting waiting for the Diarrhea train to London Bridge this morning, I was thinking through  some of the things that it could be interesting to blog.
Most of them present difficulties, including the need to say much to explain the point I want to make.
But there is one that remains with me years on.
It concerns J, a person of limited intellect and greatly limited ethics, and she worked in F.E.. She was one of those strange types who take statements of corporate aspirations and advertising as statements of reality; so that she wanted nothing more than to be “successful” in the eyes of others; and endorsed the status quo until some aspect of the status quo deemed it appropriate to change. And then she changed. Fashionable idiocy all the way.
Thus, she seemed to know that Human Resources is a true force of Nature and thank god she wasn't born in an era when we had only discovered Personnel. Having left that childhood period behind us, we now knew that mastery of HR would lead to human happiness.
How wonderful and appropriate then that she was Head of H.R. in her institution.
The first problem that one notices with Dungheads is that they think they have to be seen to be doing something useful; steady as she goes sounds like madness to them because they want to be known for great deeds more than doing things the best way; but they can't do anything useful. So they do unuseful things.
I recall that she took on the issuing of temporary contracts. Not herself, of course; dear me, no; but she handed them to a typist. When she remembered. We handed them to her and she handed them to a typist. Sometimes the typist made a mistake and that was often not discovered until later, J never noticed – “I don't pretend to be a subject specialist; I merely offer HR expertise” – creating confusion and understandable aggression on the part of the visiting lecturer who objected to hanging around while they got the paperwork corrected.
And it was a tribute to the trust she inspired that few were willing to work on the promise of a contract after she took over.
Sometimes the typist would ask for clarification and she, J, would ask dumb questions of the busy senior lecturers who used to do the contract writing without thinking; or she would give a daft answer, taking us back to the first problem.
She wanted more and more notice and subjected others to lectures on the need to plan. (She was new to F.E. and seemed to think you could plan everything weeks ahead.)
More and more people were unwilling to work for us; and she complained that we were not retaining our temporary staff.
Gone were the days when you could take a lecturer into a class and tell them you'd bring them a contract during the time they were there. That wasn't an ideal way to work; but sometimes it was the way one had to work – events, dear reader.
Then she had the idea that it wasn't good enough to just issue a contract; and that we had to give a full statement of what they were supposed to do etc. Such thoughts occur to fools with too little work to do. Especially if they don't know anything about the subject. This one had never taught; but you could tell she'd had an hour or two of training while she was getting her HR ear tag and was ready to put the rest of us on the straight and narrow.
It was from her that I first inferred the belief, previously accepted in the Soviet Union, that anyone who misbehaves must be mentally ill and that, combining this belief with a good dose of behaviourism, the best thing for everyone is for management to force people to behave as you tell them.
As the new regimes came into FE twenty years ago, people were bullied and became ill. “How dare you speak like that to a manager” she was inclined to shout. Part of the bullying was disciplinary hearing – I was myself once charged with “inexpert photocopying of a document” (Level 4, bringing the institution into disrepute; straight up) – and it was clear to J and all the other monosyllabic intellects that the only way to save these people was to discipline people more. Only when they had faced up to their crimes would they be able to lead rewarding and productive lives.
These fools did not learn anything about psychology or any of that nonsense. It was obvious to them that they were right.
J and co were deeply suspicious of staff who could not or would not account for their time in advance and in detail; they would show their diaries, especially proud of the very full pages.
I think this arose from their constant desire to steal time and stationery whenever they could; and they assumed we were all the same.
Similarly, they knew the impossibility of managing by consent because no one they had ever worked with had willingly carried out their ideas.
I recall being asked how I kept discipline in my team.
I also remember incomprehension when I said I was busy for a few hours because I was going to have a longish unofficial chat with someone, no I wouldn't say whom, in order to solve a possible problem. She saw straight away this was foolish and advised head on confrontation and keeping a record on file. Oh what I fool I was not to listen.
Solved the problem though.
When she asked how I kept discipline, I didn't understand the question. I really did not. I had had to speak to a couple of people over the years; but it was hardly a major issue: one chap who did try to do nothing, but was very good if you could get him in the room and keep him there; and one with whom it was better for the students when she did do nothing – so we gave her the classes who seemed mostly came for the social side and everyone was happy.
But day to day. the idea of management as sheep herding was not in it. Not for me. One had to make decisions. One had to carry cans. One had to bollock the occasional recalcitrant student: “Can you speak sternly to x, Lawrence?” For the rest of it, I taught alongside my colleagues, a little of a personal specialism and a lot of the stuff no one wanted so they could see I took my share
How did I know my team did their full hours? Because I gave them more work than they could do in their hours.
But how did I know?
You see, these half wits didn't know how long anything took to do properly because they had never done anything properly. They had no “trade” at all, no trade of any description. They offered a sort of free-floating professionalism and expected you to consult them for advice so you could hope one day to become like them. They'd give you a garbled regurgitation of the latest self-help book they had read; and that was it.
Are you familiar with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs? asked my Head of Sector one morning. She liked us to meet at least once a week although there was never anything to say. The only thing I remember needing to see her over was to warn her that the student she had signed up to study Multimedia – do you teach it? he had asked and she had Yes, because she had no idea what he was talking about – was going to go berserk now he knew that that we didn't have the kit. She looked confused and said “But I thought Multimedia was computers and that”. Oh yes, and why had she changed my timetabling and given the fastest computers to the programming class? Again, she looked confused; but they're our star students, she said. Yes, I said, and you can do their coding on any heap of a machine. I said I wanted the best computers for people learning the latest version of Office. Why? Because it won't run well on anything else.
She couldn't get that.
Anyway, I said I was very familiar with Maslow... and that was the end of that conversation. She just about had the intelligence to not speak to anyone on anything they already knew about.

Meanwhile the entire HR department of 1, who survived senior management anger by making available sexual services to the Head of Corporate Blagging, decided that those Team Leaders who got on well with their teams and whose teams defended them, were obviously too close to their teams. We must have separate offices and all teaching time removed so we could concentrate on managing.
You don't need student contact to manage lecturers, Lawrence
She offered herself as an example of a manager who had never taught; and look how well she was doing.
But not everything was bad.
One day she felt she had been doing so well that she went to the pub for the whole day as a reward; and then on the way home she went through her windscreen. And then her body died too.
Such a loss. But the discipline of it was good for her. She never bothered any of us again.

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