I’ve been to New York, and seen the future. Our public services, if they follow the previous pattern of imitating the US business model, will be like a New York breakfast.
That is, fast, efficient, cheap and intimidating.
It needs to be fast because everyone is in a hurry. It needs to be efficient because it’s very busy and people don’t like waiting. It needs to be cheap or people will go elsewhere and of course there needs to be extensive choice because the customer expects it.
If you know exactly what you want and you know how the system works you can get a cheap, quick breakfast of your choice. But efficiency depends on people being decisive and the speed depends on people knowing what to do and not asking lots of “dumb” questions in a hard to follow accent.
For those not used to this self service system it is off-putting, even intimidating.
The result for me was not getting the breakfast I wanted but the one easiest to order. Cheap and quick but not a satisfying experience. The thing is, you do get used to it.
No doubt this is how our health service would be if the public sector adopted the US fast food business model. I can see that in personal social services people with a physical disability would soon get to understand the system, the middle class parents of people with a learning disability would exploit it to their benefit, most elderly people would be put off except those lucky enough to have a capable son or daughter to guide them.
This approach is not a million miles away from the “Easy Council” and its no frills service based on the economy airline model. This too requires a certain amount of no how and confidence to book on line, to understand the need to travel light due to weight restrictions and limits on hand luggage, the implications of not having allocated seating and the fact that every thing is an extra which is charged for.
What these models have in common is that they are cheap, they are efficient and, insofar as they do what they say they do, good value for money.
But I can’t help thinking they are neither customer friendly or accessible to the whole community. Cost and choice are not the only measures of success. The danger is that the supporters of NHS reform think they are.
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Make ‘em laugh
Whoever the audience, whatever the topic, it helps if you can make them laugh. Humour can defuse a tense situation and it’s hard to stay angry if you’re smiling. People like a laugh and they like people who make them laugh.
But it’s risky, as the PM found out. Service cuts and redundancies are no laughing matter so your joke may be seen as flippant and be taken to show you neither understand the implications for your audience nor care.
There are three things to remember. First it’s not how funny the joke is, it’s how appropriate it is. Second, making a joke at your own expense shows you have a sense of humour; if it’s at someone else’s expense, it shows you are insensitive.
Third, people laugh at the boss’s jokes, even if they are not funny.
When it goes horribly wrong, not only do they not laugh but they get upset, and saying it was only a joke is not a good defence. To then accuse the offended person of lacking a sense of humour just proves how insensitive someone is.
Those guilty of sexist, racist and homophobic remarks often claim they were only joking and say the person who complains is being ”over sensitive” or excuse themselves saying ”other people thought it was funny”. As someone who has chaired many disciplinary hearings, if that’s your defence, expect the worst.
The advice to managers is clear. Don’t make inappropriate jokes, only tell funny stories at your own expense and if you upset some of your audience apologise immediately. Otherwise you risk being considered a bit of a clown - and not a very funny one at that.