“This is what I said - this is what I told people. I said that they weren’t interested in finding me a job, just hitting their targets and getting their money”.
Mark was reading about 4Ae. He had been unemployed for months. He eventually found part-time work through a friend of a friend. 4Ae had forced him to do a totally unsuitable work placement and tried to push him into work as a care assistant with threats of withdrawing his benefits. After he told them he had a job and wasn’t signing on anymore, they kept calling him, repeatedly.
Now, he realises that this wasn’t his case-worker expressing an interest in his welfare but submitting returns to claim 4Ae’s fees. He was outraged to learn that they were still getting money for him being in employment. In fact, they stood to receive more money from him than he was going to earn in 12 months of part-time work.
Jane worked in hospital administration. She blew the whistle on waiting list figures and exposed the ways her department “got round” the 18-week waiting list target.
The target was for 90% of patients to be seen within 18 weeks. Good practise would dictate that those who had waited longer would be a priority, but she was told to give priority to those who were coming up to 18 weeks. The patients who had exceeded the 18 weeks no longer counted. Of course this meant lying to them about why they were still waiting. The most telling part of this story is that when she raised her concerns with her manager, he said that all the other departments and in fact, every hospital used this and other manoeuvers to get round the system - the implication being that they would be at a disadvantage if they didn’t follow the rest.
The relevant government departments could introduce tighter contracts, smarter targets and more monitoring but it wouldn’t change the nature of the game; people would still have an incentive to find ways round the system.
Both of these examples should make us question the whole sale adoption of a performance management culture for public services. In the case of 4Ae is payment by results the best way to use of public money to help people into work? Are waiting list targets the best way of prioritising patients?
Is fiddling the figures the inevitable consequence of payment by results, over ambitious target setting and micro management? Is the performance management culture with its emphases on measuring success, management by targets and naming and shamming the best way to run hospitals, schools and social services?
Meetings make you stupid
It’s official: research in America has confirmed what you long-since suspected - meetings make you stupid. No one would suggest that meetings would make you more intelligent, but new findings from the Virginia Tech Research Institute appear to confirm that they make you dumber. The research found that subjects performed less well in IQ tests taken shortly after meetings.
So far, no explanations have been found for what it is about formal work meetings that makes people less intelligent. My experience would suggest it is a range of factors, from the way the meeting is chaired right through to the group dynamic.
I had a boss who liked to keep people guessing about where he stood on an issue, which made it really difficult for those who liked to earn bonus points by telling him what he wanted to hear. We have all experienced colleagues who disagree in meetings irrespective of the merits of the arguments in order to attempt to establish position in the group pecking-order. And we are all guilty of not really listening to what is being said but simply waiting for a break in the dialogue to say what we came to say. Most of us have experience of sitting through a meeting with the feeling that the decision has already been made or that the real debate took place outside the meeting when we weren’t present. So perhaps the real question is why our diary is filled with back-to-back meetings when we consider them so frustratingly pointless? Surely further evidence that meetings do, in fact, make you stupid.