No deals, Mr Dutton

As I embark on an eighteen month wait for the inexplicably slow Australian Immigration Department to tick a box on a visa renewal, I discovered a faster way. All I have to do is pay a fee to a lobbyist, like ex senator Santo Santoro, to arrange a meeting with the Immigration Minister. Then I’d be able to jump the queue or even have a private citizenship ceremony (not that I’d ever want to be an Australian citizen).

Santoro like Peter Dutton, the former Immigration Minister, and Huang Xiangmo all deny any wrong-doing. Nobody believes them because it is quite illogical for an astute businessman to hand over thousands of dollars and get nothing in return.

Mr Dutton represents a government whose main immigration policy deters people from paying smugglers for a passage to Australia. Perhaps it could better achieve this aim by asking for direct payments from the refugees.

Fake News from 1920

On 11 April a series of faked photographs are expected to fetch £65,000 at auction. The original pictures taken in 1917 by two schoolgirls appear to show fairies and a gnome in a Yorkshire garden. Two years later they were displayed at a meeting of the Theosophical Society. Photographic experts declared them to be genuine images. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle obtained permission to use the pictures in an article and his endorsement encouraged others to accept the reality of fairies. Some people even visited the area and claimed sightings of their own.

Despite this the media were largely unconvinced. Doubts were vindicated in 1983 when the girls admitted that they had faked the images using cardboard copies of images from a book. They maintained that it was not a deliberate attempt to mislead, just a deception that spiraled out of control.

Today we see a lot of fake news, clearly intended to deceive, that is accepted by sections of the media without question. We can learn a lot from the contemporary reaction to the Cottingley Fairies.


Two types of collaboration

Some organisations are using collaboration as a performance measure. This makes sense, given the increased need for social skills in the workplace, but the word has negative connotations. The second dictionary definition is of treacherous cooperation with the enemy, usually applied to those who allied themselves with unpleasant regimes. Surprisingly this has some relevance to the modern workplace.

There are two types of collaborators in an organisation. The first works with anyone to achieve a better result for the business. The second selectively supports individuals or projects in the hope of personal gain. Typically a preferred consultant devises a ridiculous scheme to justify his, or her, commission then sycophantic managers rush around to implement it and the most successful is promoted. The initiative is either quietly abandoned or left for some underling to repair, without acknowledgment.

The second type of collaboration offers career, and financial, rewards but costs the respect of colleagues. Staff always know when someone is authentic, even if managers don’t. So, before you tick the collaboration box ask if you are driven by personal or business objectives.

Delete that Junk

When you open your letter box what do you do with all the unwanted mail? Circulars, bills for the previous occupant and anything addressed to Dear Householder. Do you leave it in the box or carefully file with everything that you want to keep? No, so why do you do that with your email?

Some people see the size of their inbox as a status symbol. They think they’re important because the number of items is in four figures. Others spend the whole day dreading the regular arrival of irrelevant emails. Recently I’ve taken a more proactive approach, deleting almost everything as soon as it arrives. I call this ASK, standing for Act, Save, and Know. When you view an email you should ask immediately, Do I really need to know this? If not, delete. Remember that regular senders of irrelevant material can be blocked or diverted automatically to junk.

Next ask if you need to keep the email. Usually it is the attached or linked documents that contain the important information. Save them in an appropriate folder for later reference then delete the email. Finally ask if you need to action anything. Does the email require a response? If so, send one, and delete the original. Your reply, and the original email, are saved in Sent Items if you ever need them again.

These steps enable you to keep the inbox nice and tidy, so that you can concentrate on talking to colleagues and clients about important matters.

Call centres and the death of customer service

Recently I was forced to break one of my principles and ring a call centre, because the Department for Home Affairs do not respond to correspondence or accept visitors. Initially call centres were a good idea, offering flexibility for customers to solve queries outside of office hours. Then organisations realised the cost savings and began closing local offices, to the detriment of customers with hearing difficulties, different first languages or a preference for face-to-face contact. Experienced staff were replaced by those with no knowledge and no plans to stay. To assist them organisations provided manuals to answer frequently asked customer questions.

As the internet developed organisations put the manuals online. That was a good idea, to save time for customers. Then they cut the number of call centre staff. If you don’t have internet access or your question isn’t answered by the manuals, as mine wasn’t, you have to ring and wait for someone to read the manual to you. When you point out that it doesn’t answer your question, they are unable to help. Most organisations risk losing customers to rivals with better guidance or local offices. Government departments are safe because the people who need them cannot take their business elsewhere.

MP are ultimately responsible for this fiasco. They should order the Department for Home Affairs, and others, to provide contact choices to the people who fund it. Unfortunately like the call centres, their knowledge and procedures are out of touch with the modern world.

The £100 million giveaway

If your business lost £100 million to customer fraud you would take some action, such as investing in better security or identifying and prosecuting the offenders. Last week it was revealed that this is the estimated cost of fare evasion on Transport for London (TFL) services, a rise of £14 million from the last estimate three years ago. Their response was a vague remark about investing in technology and working with partners.

TFL employs 450 revenue protection inspectors, or ticket collectors as they were once known. On a salary of less than £50,000 an extra two thousand could be hired with the £100 million. Or the government grants which comprise 32% of TFL’s revenue could be reduced and the £100 million used to build a new hospital or fund initiatives to help the homeless.

TFL is expected to have a deficit of £700 million in the next financial year. It is likely that they will continue to purse a policy of closing ticket offices and increasing fares. This will only make fare evasion more attractive and increase the deficit further. Not that TFL care, because they’re not paying for it.


360 Degrees of Pain

360 degree feedback is akin to a chairman asking football players to decide if the coach should be sacked or not. The idea is to gather opinions from everyone, including the individual themsleves, and use them to review performances. It’s dangerous because the comments are not necessarily based on facts and someone has to decide which ones carry greater weight.

Theoretically annoymous contributors can say what they want. In practice, in a small team, specific comments enable identification. Staff are likely to go down the sycophantic route of offering false praise, in anticipation of later favours. Those who make critical remarks run the risk of being classed as a statistical anomaly and ignored, because their opinion does not match that of the assessor.

Relevant feedback should be genuine, not a product of a formal process. If you have something good to say, share it with the person or people concerned. If you can’t be positive and don’t feel comfortable talking,  stay silent and hit the delete button when the 360 degree survey appears in your inbox.