Wednesday, 30 January 2013

The Curse of the Quick Win

I once joined a workshop strand, set up by my employer, to examine what could be done within the workforce to tackle issues around work / life balance. Stress among the workforce was a high factor in attendance rates. It was an important issue at the time and many people were enthused by the notion that the company took staff concerns seriously and wanted to evolve the best working practices possible. Many employers today would claim to do just that. But no matter how often they say it, the proof is quite self evident that it is not true.

Anyway, back to my intro. The company was big enough to allow for things like term time working and by all accounts was the exemplar to be followed by other business models. Some attending members confessed that the event was just a day out of the office but for myself I wanted to address certain issues regarding disability and work / life balance that, if implemented, would have broadened the workforce to include happier and more productive staff with less stress. I saw it as an opportunity to make a difference. It turned out to be no opportunity at all.

A senior manager directed the group of around thirty people to list the issues they wanted to address. After examining what everyone had put forward, she ignored the lot and said, ‘Let’s go for a quick win’, which in management speak means,  let’s avoid the real issues in front of me that may be costly and involve lots of work and come up with something that costs nothing and looks good on my end of year appraisal. In this case the quick win was a list of ten things to do with looking after yourself that was nothing more than a common sense check list.

What a disappointment. The list could have been copied off the back of a cereal box. The product was about as useful as a jelly spanner and solved nothing. In that one instance I knew that the workshop was merely window dressing to show the workforce that management were taking their concerns seriously (pure lip service) and were doing something about it (but nothing useful). It was an exercise in placation that achieved nothing more than a scarcely veiled attempt at pacifying the workforce in the short term and built mistrust and disillusionment for years to come. That was over ten years ago and if anything it has gotten worse. My company might be viewed as a typical example of this kind of senior management hubris.

The quick win, I feel sure, was designed originally to fix the easy stuff first so that goodwill was generated among a disgruntled workforce. In it’s truest guise it can be a confidence booster to everyone that things are getting better. But somewhere along the line the focus on who the quick win was designed to benefit got dragged into the detritus of management’s vacuous target oriented, appraisal driven, and ultimately self serving, tool kit.

To higher management in the 21st century, it appears that the quick win is a way for managers seeking to climb the promotion ladder to score a plus box in their next appraisal.  Be under no illusion that this is all it does. There are no real benefits to the company. But what is more devastating about the clamber to get noticed in the short game is that the ‘slow win’ is forgotten, or at least swept deeply under the carpet of very long grass by management in the process. 

The large workforce at the bottom of the heap, the essential nuts and bolts of many a company that often defines the businesses ‘raison d’etre‘, are subject frequently to prescribed working processes with very little control over their autonomy. The ability to expand beyond their remit is only possible with promotion to a higher level of responsibility.   Managers of a certain ilk, those who look at processes instead of people, are quite happy to focus on their personal targets through the lens of personal self interest. For them the most expedient way to secure a good end of year appraisal is to push the staff to achieve their set goals while fobbing off any concerns that might detract from those goals in the short term. In my experience, business encourages this practice.

Not surprisingly surrounding this malady of selective vision there is often a sense of resentment and group lethargy, as morale and good will dissolves like sherbet in a bucket of dirty rainwater. This is particularly so when an enforced change in the process is detrimental to the workforce, like doing so much more but with less staff. While it is human nature to be resistant to change, it is not unreasonable to resist one sided change. For some staff the changes can raise barriers where none previously existed (for instance a change in hours conflicting with child care responsibilities or a change in working practices affecting a person’s disability). But instead of dealing with the problem or harmonising work life balance (because it is usually thorny or costly or detracts from the goals set) the manager sets about trying to get the ‘quick win’.

A typical management quick win solution to low morale is a team building day. The logical thinking is that a fun day will help to bond the team, improve morale and lead to better performance. Sometimes these days can even be enjoyable but this is very unlikely to lead to lasting improvement if a fundamentally important issue remains unsolved or management are being disingenuous about the reality they have imposed. However, there is a benefit to management that when targets are missed and performance is failing, they can point to the fact that they tried to do something about it. The quick win becomes the excuse that saves face, while dodging the career-ending attempt to solve the real problem.

And the higher up the managerial ladder you go, the more acceptable the quick win looks, because to contradict the quick win solution would be like signing their own death warrant. So the myth perpetuates until at least one person in a management structure has the courage, and the position of power to protect themselves, to acknowledge that the quick win does not work if the slow win is ignored as a result. No manager has done this to my knowledge thus far and resistance to some much needed changes by employers to work / life balance is far more entrenched; even denied. So the punishing regime of ever more restrictive work practices excludes those who cannot meet them, striving for profit at the cost of ostracising people from the workforce; the very customers they exist to serve.

When the slow win is ignored by managers, and the problems derived from it remain, the next line of approach after the carrot is normally the stick, which is invariably some sort of disciplinary process.Thousands of people all over the world with disabilities and issues around work / life balance are being dismissed on capability grounds because business is frankly not interested in looking after any staff but those with extremely low maintenance. By all accounts, getting rid of a problem by dismissing it, rather than solving it, is the most sinister perspective of the quick win.

As each business progresses, or not as the case may be, the quick win legacy becomes plain. There are no lasting or meaningful effects that improve either performance or long term benefit and the problem that the quick win was meant to address remains. In fact the only benefit to the quick win appears to be on the appraisal sheet of the manager who can demonstrate an action taken to save money, resource and improve performance - even if it achieved none of those things. In other words it looks good on paper but the effort had no lasting effect if at all.

The most appalling effect of the quick win culture is how millions of people find themselves dumped on the rubbish heap, unemployed because they have a problem with the rigid terms and conditions that employers require. Among the most discarded are those who develop active disabilities that might change the way they can work, while people who have had mental health issues may never even make the interview stage of a job. And this is not because they cannot do the job. The mindset of business is simply geared to bypass what they see as unnecessary problems that do not translate directly to profit. But the bigger the business becomes, the more likely it is that those who are lucky enough to be within the workforce will encounter a change in their circumstances that conflicts with the simple model of ‘turn up for work on time, do your job, go home’. 

The grand masters of the quick win are those engaged in short term politics. In the UK, in a period of austerity where the cost of long term commitments like welfare, health and pensions dominate the expenditure sheet, there are so many people claiming benefit due to ill health that the government policy (their quick win solution) is to raise the qualifying bar higher, so that more of those people become eligible to look for work.

But if the environmental culture dominating the business world is unchanged, excluding the less than perfect from the workforce for reasons of maximising profit by the easiest route possible, it is an exercise in futility. The unsolved problem is that employers will not consider people who may have higher maintenance issues than those with no issues. There is no reason, they see, to engage with people who may need reasonable adjustments to enable them to work if there is someone else who does not.

And why should they when the government of the day plays the same game by pushing a problem from one place to another? By artificially raising the conditional bar it looks like they have reduced the benefit bill on people claiming for health reasons. Good news for the tax payer? Not at all. It is yet another quick win that achieves nothing meaningful because the benefit bill for unemployment goes up proportionately and employers will still reject them. If anything, the additional stress is likely to cause a greater strain on the health budget and end up costing more.

The curse of the quick win is set to continue for as long as government and business turn a blind eye to some very deep routed issues within our society. No amount of quick wins will change it but I hope this article will identify this important observation. What was once a good start in best practice and goodwill, has now been usurped and redefined as a management escape hatch.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Barbault and the Depression of 2015

Since around 2003 I have worked with the method of outer planet cycle calculations suggested by Andre Barbault. Not wishing to repeat myself, I invite you to see my previous articles. If you don't want to just yet, I can summarize the following information:
1. Andre Barbault measured the distance between two planets in their cyclical rotation from Jupiter to Pluto. This seems to resonate with long term global economic trends.
2. The resulting positive or negative mathematical results combined indicated a positive or negative global effect.
3. The mathematical evidence of these negative results include the periods of time in the 20th century to that of World War 1, World War II and the great depression of the 1930s

Given the indication of previous experience, another large negative period of time is on the horizon from 2016 - 2020 and, given the historical coincidences of past mathematical negative results - and also that of the now known current economic debt crisis - would we not be wise to consider the likelihood that we are about to enter a five-year global depression?

It is the beginning of 2013 at the time of writing this article and the UK has not yet officially announced the reality of a triple dip recession. Back in 2009 this was merely a credit crunch. In 2011 the Government of the day announced that we would be back on track by 2015. In 2012 the Government of the day admitted that the recession was deeper than expected and that the UK would not pay its debts until 2018. I have said all through this that 2020 is the earliest we can expect to see light at the end of the tunnel. Governments have to promote optimism because the economy and its value is based largely on the lie of 'confidence' but mundane astrologers have no reason to lie and their predictions are evidence based on what one might argue to be more reliable information than that of the world's clearly inadequate predictive economic models; How many more boom and bust events will it take to work that one out?

The Euro zone is in deep trouble. Many countries, like Greece, Ireland, Italy Portugal and Spain are in economic crisis. The USA has maxed out its credit card and if it borrows any more money there will not be enough GDP to repay the interest. Quantitative Easing (QE) in many countries have done no more than served to bolster the balance sheets of insurance and investment houses, while growth in any economy has failed to materialise. Unemployment is deep rooted and in some countries as high as 25%

The beginning of the end of the matter is looming. There is much astrological evidence to support these claims, however, I have confined myself largely to pointing out some events to consider in order to keep this article simple.

There will most likely be false claims of recovery in 2013 because Barbault's yearly figure of +8 is the last gasp before we plunge into a series of annual minus figures. 2014 will scare a lot of people into taking action but the effect by 2015 will be merely activity in denial of what really must transpire and more delaying of the inevitable. By 2016 we will hit the full blown depression caused by one sided economic thinking - namely you cannot possibly have growth if the consumer has no money. We will know this year if the fate of countries in the Eurozone will opt out of the currency or if the currency collapses altogether.

The Cardinal Grand Cross of 2014 will be the trigger that sets the stage for the depression to play out. It is therefore an important chart to study. It is worth reading the conclusions of Theodore White on to examine the effect that the cardinal cross will have for us all. It is also important to understand that where the cardinal grand cross symbolises, among other things, the mutual activation of opposing forces, that we will each have our part to play in what we reap at the other end. The Arab Spring of 2011 is perhaps a good example of how much the old and worn out modes of life will be protected by those who must step aside to make way for what must change.

There will be no World War III but just as war is raging in many countries right now, so many more must inevitably rise up and join the clamour for old powers to make way for fair and sustainable reform. Any who hold onto power by wealth or by oppression can and will be challenged strongly in order to create a better way of life. In some cases that opposition may manifest itself in physical conflict.

By 2015 we may not realise how much of a global depression we are in because there will be many in so called positions of authority who, as they did previously, will want to play down the severity of our situation in some desperate attempt to fool us into believing that the green shoots of recovery are just around the corner and they are the political party that will lead you there. Trust me, it will not happen.

By 2016 everyone will realise that the consequences of us, the people, wandering blindly into economic ruin has been fated for some time and we have just been putting off the inevitable. We can no more avoid it than we can avoid paying our bills (Avoiding taxes is amazingly still possible for some very rich companies and individuals). Those with lots of money have already demonstrated their inability to empathise with the struggling middle class, the poorer working class, the destitute and the disenfranchised because they have never been there to experience it. Their resolve to cut swiftly the deficits created by the debt crisis satisfies their desire to put the problem behind us as quickly as possible so that normal money making business can be resumed as it was before all this inconvenience. How much this will hurt people without money is of no consequence to them and yet, amazingly, there is also no comprehension that it is essential that the very people at the sharp end that must be in a position to contribute to growth in the global economy as it is presently structured. Many people are already up to their necks in the soft smelly stuff and live with the knowledge that, despite certain claims, we are not all in this together.

The times of instant gratification are about to be ripped unceremoniously away from a generation that has not experienced hardship. It is going to hurt. The wisest of those will have already started to clear all debts before the storm of high inflation and further employment blows furiously throughout whole societies. Crime rates will rise as the cost of living becomes unaffordable for many.

The Saturn / Pluto cycle will come to a new conjunction in 2020, although the Barbault scale will still be in minus territory for another year. However, this will be the time that workable solutions can be established, for it is only when the old ways are destroyed and laid waste that transformation of new structures can truly take place. But for some the transformation may be slower, particularly larger economies where - like a super tanker - it takes just a bit longer to turn around (for example the US Pluto return 2022).

Be in no doubt that we are all heading for interesting times and those better prepared to weather the storm may come out the other side a little less battered and bruised. But all is not doom and gloom. Invention is the mother of necessity and it has been proved from the last Barbault negative periods that great drives are initiated towards new inventions that advanced technology and changed the world for the better.

We will also have an opportunity to make huge leaps in the way our society runs, especially if we maintain the freedoms of the Internet. It is up to the masses to realise that they run the world, and we can if only we are prepared to an interest and participate (political pressure groups like Avaaz are already making this happen) - and that the people the masses elect to represent them must represent the people who put them there and not be swayed or hijacked by unelected powerful groups of self-interest where money and wealth is prioritized higher than the happiness, needs and well being of the people.

More articles relating to Barbault and the 2015 depression will be placed on this blog, so please bookmark if you are interested.

Further reading: 

Feb 2009. Deep Recession Predicted long ago?

Sept 2008 The Barbault Scale

Feb 2011 The Barbault Warnings

Barbault: The Prediction Revealed