Cultural Nonsense

November 2003 saw Concorde mConcordeake its final flight from London to its original home at Filton near Bristol. Despite the inclement weather, people were able to get some excellent views of the gracious aircraft coming into land. There can be little doubt that Concorde was a marvel of engineering and design, even though the amount of passenger space was very limited. Sadly, I never had the opportunity to travel on the plane but can derive a little satisfaction from having seen it in the air on several occasions.

At around the same time, the use of PIN codes with credit and debit cards was beginning to be introduced. This was a long-overdue initiative by British card issuers in their battle against increasing card fraud, as the practice of entering a PIN code had been widespread across much of Western Europe for several years.  A major drawback in the use of PIN codes has always been the ability to remember several different sets of numbers. A replacement card issuer at the time had taken this fact into account and offered customers the facility to change the allocated PIN code at any of their automated teller machines. The apparent relatively simple task required the input of one’s existing code twice followed by the input of the chosen new code twice, the whole transaction taking about two minutes. One would think that nothing could be simpler, except when being told after following the procedure that the machine was unable to carry out the request. Despite trying another machine,the same message prevailed, which meant still having to commit yet another code to memory!

Having tried on several more occasions to change the PIN code on that new credit card, and still being confronted with the same message, I decided to challenge the issuing bank. I was advised that it was a matter for the card issuing department, but in fairness to them, they contacted the card centre on my behalf, at which point I was able to speak to one of the operatives. After explaining my predicament, I was informed that there were then only a handful of automated teller machines that could handle the PIN code request, as the majority of machines had yet to have a major software update!

At that time, the bank envisaged that the software update would take between two and three months to complete, and apologised to me for the fact that misleading information had been sent out to customers. Let’s hope that such technical problems are now a thing of the past!

Whilst perusing the job pages of the Bristol Evening Post in November 2003, I noticed an advertisement by a company which stated the following in relation to its equal opportunities policy: ‘blah, blah, whether you are young, old, gay, black, blue or challenged, we don’t care as long as you can do your job and please our customers’. How refreshing it was to see such a statement from what appeared to be an enlightened company. It’s just a pity that more companies didn’t and undoubtedly still don’t follow this example, particularly in relation to an individual’s ability to do a job, rather than putting emphasis on age and previous background.

A year before, in November 2002, I nearly lost the will to live! Yet again, my day at work was filled by a pointless meeting. Nowadays, it seems that it is obligatory to have meetings each week irrespective of whether or not there is anything of substance to discuss. The topic for that day was ‘The Magic of Teamwork’ and focused upon the ongoing change in culture that was sweeping part of the company for which I then worked.

When these regular regional meetings were instigated, they were both fun and informative. Fresh ideas were proposed and everyone appeared to interact effectively. Like all things, apathy soon began to emerge, particularly when the same old ground was constantly covered, and also when encouraging buy-in into the culture became a necessity. Suddenly, colleagues were told that there was no room for them in the company if they didn’t board the bus, yet at the same time, everyone was expected to live specific values which included respecting others. Hypocrisy or what?

This so-called change eventually degenerated into a puerile game in which children would be unlikely to participate. Everyone had to be congratulated just for being there; there was, allegedly, no blame culture, unless, of course, certain individuals made a mistake; and we were all issued with horns to sound whenever something went well! Perhaps I was being rather cynical in my approach, but all this reinvention of the wheel syndrome has been shown not to work. Colleagues already worked as teams; if they failed to do so, the business would not have survived. It may be that I was too old for this ‘new approach’ to business, but I believed, and still do, in established and proven values. I cannot remember when I was so bored by the contents of a meeting and being forced to re-enact childish games! The irony of all this is that the company’s new approach to business was a total failure and in 2003 the core business was fragmented with parts of it disbanded and the remainder sold. Now if only they had remained loyal to their old-fashioned values…!

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