Monday, October 04, 2010

Reflective Learning and the value of Performance Appraisals

First full evening back at uni - new classroom, new faces, and some new concepts, but mostly building on themes visited in the past. Once all the usual introductions and housekeeping pieces had been dispensed with, it was down to business with reflective thinking, learning styles (Kolb again), their application in the workplace and a brief touch on distributive leadership in groups. The 3* things I took from the evening were:

1. The value of reflection in developing people and ideas

Kolb told me yet again that I'm an Activist (someone who gets stuck into a new project without concerning themselves with the details or potential pitfalls along the way). Reflective behaviours are my weakest learning tools (unusual for a historian?) so I approached this topic warily. However, going through the concepts of Reflexive Thinking - thinking specifically about successes, challenges, objectives and the actions which caused these to come about - and discussing how this could be applied to improve productivity and relationships in the workplace took me back to a thought I'd had the other day about how much of my life at the moment is spent receiving information rather than creating it. It made me think again about how I need to exercise that part of my mind a bit more, and perhaps attempt to sell it a bit more at work. It's certainly something I deploy when trying to get the answer I want from somebody I'm giving advice to.

2. The disputed value of performance appraisals between managers, jobholders, and HR professionals

It popped up as a bit of a salient topic, this, but it is the one that will stay in my mind because of how frequently it crops up at work - from managers, staff and senior managers. When people talk about appraisals, it is almost always shorthand for the document that HR sends out and expects back from each member of staff, rather than what it should be, which is a framework by which managers can measure and shape somebody's performance. One person in the group said that they felt appraisals in their organisation were little more than a paper(less - it was completed online) exercise that bore little relation performance management in the workplace. Another person felt in contrast that their appraisal process was a valuable one, particularly their Personal Development Plan. It was discussed how different staff gained different amounts of good from the process depending upon the attitudes of the manager and the jobholder and how transparently the process tied into reward. It reminded me to make sure I write up the HR Assistant's objectives and achievements for the last quarter, and to check with some other managers, particularly operational managers, at work to see how much they value the appraisal process.

3. The concept of Distributive Leadership

I'm looking into this one as we speak, because it was only mentioned in passing, so I know almost nothing about it. But it sounds from the articles I've picked up that it holds some interesting ideas for organisation development, even if it's contested as to whether it exists, let alone works. The (very) basic thrust appears to be that if you push leadership responsibility down through the organisation, your teams work more effectively together. More on that as I take it in, though.

The only other outcome I feel worth mentioning is the sense of weary deja vu with Harvard referencing (which is coming up in a few weeks). For my undergraduate degree we were allowed to reference in any way we saw fit, as long as it was clear where the source had come from. I feel that the University of Greenwich (and I think it is them this time, rather than the CIPD) places greater emphasis on how the information is presented over and above the merit or use of what is actually said. This disappointed me last year; it disappoints me no less this year. In the University's defence however, there are still people coming into the course who aren't clear on the various academic referencing styles, but again I refer back to my preference at spending time looking at the value of what someone's saying, rather than how they've referenced it.

* I chose 3 points because it focuses my attention on the things that stuck in my mind; each additional point beyond will be harder to follow and less valuable to refer back to.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The best 404 I'll ever see....

Just googled "National Identity Cards" and the first hit was the link above. That the link returned a 404 error (page cannot be found) has made my week.

The Identity and Passport Service's website has the following announcement on the ID card scheme:

Identity cards

Both Parties that now form the new Government stated in their manifestos that they will cancel Identity Cards and the National Identity Register. We will announce in due course how this will be achieved. Applications can continue to be made for ID cards but we would advise anyone thinking of applying to wait for further announcements.

Until Parliament agrees otherwise, identity cards remain valid and as such can still be used as an identity document and for travel within Europe. We will update you with further information as soon as we have it.

Friday, May 07, 2010

A few thoughts in the light of day

Well, after all the hype, all the campaigning and the uncertainty, all the delivery and canvassing come rain and shine, we finally got to find out if all our work paid off.

On the one hand, it certainly didn't. Labour's vote was strengthened and they successfully returned all three candidates in Peninsula, with myself, Malcolm and Toks coming into 4th, 5th and 6th places respectively. We've held our ground in Blackheath and Eltham, but lost it in Kidbrooke and Shooters Hill. Most disappointing for the Greenwich team was the result in Charlton - we really hoped that our efforts combined with Labour's apathy there would have paid dividends for us. The biggest disappointment for the Federation was David Gold closely missing out on election as MP for Eltham.

But on the other hand we've obviously struck a chord with a sizable minority of people throughout Greenwich and Woolwich who are not just unhappy with the results of the current regime, but look to us as the ones who have the best policies to make a change for the better. We've also unequivocally established ourselves as the second party on the Peninsula, contrary to Andrew Gilligan's prediction. I'm only sorry that we weren't able to persuade more people to trust us to deliver a council that listens to its residents and cares more about keeping the ward cleaner and safer.

The campaign has been a lively one, with (mostly!) good-natured banter between ourselves, Labour and the Greens (unfortunately I didn't see any Liberals around and about in Peninsula, although I was fortunate to briefly meet Alex Cunliffe at the Friends of the Pleasurance AGM and Alexa Hills when I was seconded to Blackheath Westcombe in the afternoon) - I had no doubt that all of the candidates I met, in spite of our political differences, are well-meaning and genuinely interesting people, and I look forward to seeing them around in the future.

The election count at the David Beckham academy was cold, long and draining. I felt most sorry for the counting staff, who worked in shifts coated, hatted and gloved - at least we were able to nip into the warm for a cuppa every once in awhile! I lasted until just after 3am, when all the walking, talking, driving and telling finally caught up with me.

Looking ahead, it's back to business as usual: holding our councillors (including our new addition in Cllr Miranda Williams) to account, listening and acting on peoples' concerns. I've got a couple of issues that came up that were put on the back burner over the last couple of weeks that will keep me more than busy in the coming weeks and months. It leaves me only to thank the 1,426 people who voted for me - I really appreciate it.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Sitrep for the bank holiday

Out and about today, it was heartening to see all our work coming together - seeing so many people coming out on their bank holiday to bring all our work for the last few years together. Word on the street is anecdotally encouraging for us, with people of an informed opinion saying that Greenwich Council has been dominated by Labour for too long. Of course there are still a great many of both undecided and disengaged voters who are still wary of political overtures: no doubt events at a national level play their part in this.

To those who may read this blog to find out what Greenwich Conservatives want to do to take the borough forward, our manifesto can be viewed here. I've copied out our 5 headline policy pledges below, because I believe they summarise not just the most important things that need to change in Greenwich, but also how we propose to going about changing them. I believe our policies to be the most detailed and necessary steps that need to be taken urgently to change transform the council into one that we can all be proud of. I hope you do too.

Our 5 Headline Policies (see our manifesto for all our policies in detail)

First, requiring all senior Council Officers to submit their departmental budgets to an independent, outside auditor to assess how efficiently Greenwich Council has handled your money over the last few years. We intend to reverse Labour’s automatic assumption that the public has an insatiable appetite to be taxed.

Second, inviting outside contractors to tender via open competition for the business of sweeping our streets. It is a sad fact that Greenwich is often referred to as “one of the dirtiest London Boroughs” – for a Borough often in the centre of our nation’s history (and as a major tourist attraction as a result) this is unacceptable.

Third, undertaking a complete review of education provision within the borough with a view to increasing the number of schools and ensuring that Greenwich schools rise from the bottom of the league tables in London at GCSE. A Conservative Council would pledge to raise results in this borough to ensure our children have a better opportunity in life.

Fourth, abolishing Greenwich Time. This weekly propaganda paper paid for by the taxpayers of this borough is a waste of money as it uses public money to push the Labour Council’s point of view down the throats of Greenwich residents. Abolishing Greenwich Time is both cost effective and the right thing to do.

Fifth, introducing funding for additional town centre police teams in Greenwich and Eltham within our first year. We believe that the Violent and Organised Crime Unit in Woolwich has been a success and would continue to fund that group for the next four years (a pledge the Labour Council has yet to make).
Respecting the judgment of our fellow residents as we seek their mandate for reform, we hereby pledge our names to this “Contract with Greenwich”.

Monday, April 26, 2010

What on Earth: Greenwich Council's (ab)use of employees' personal data

Just read this article from Dizzy that contains a leaked internal communication from Greenwich Council. The communication states the intention that the Council intends to cross check the payroll records of its employees against any outstanding rent/council tax fine arrears of borough residents and thereby force employees in arrears with the Council to make arrangements to clear their arrears. On the assumption that this is a true and recent development, I submit the following thoughts:

Now on the one hand as a taxpayer it's commendable that the Council is making an effort to secure what it is legally entitled to, and that it could potentially assist those people who fall into the category of being a council employee who lives in the borough who's in arrears from getting into even greater financial difficulty (because it could be assumed that the Council would be chasing them anyway through regular means). It also shows an attempt to get one hand of the organisation working with the other.

BUT, and this is a massive but - what on earth are they thinking? Sanctioning such heavy handed and reputationally distasteful action cannot be in the organisation's best interests. If large powerful private sector companies like Tescos, Barclays or Aviva were found to be cross checking their staff payroll information against customers who were defaulting on their mortgage payments, they would quickly become reputed as underhand, immoral pariahs of the high street. Just because we have no alternative organisation to pay our Council tax to does not mean that the Council waives its responsibility of service and professionalism to its stakeholders - of which its staff are a part. Any modern public servant (of which I would like to think I am one) should know that offering the highest standards of customer service is especially important for that very reason.

From a human resource management perspective too, it's at best a thick skinned and at worst a professionally counterproductive action to take. Maintaining cordial employee relations is something that every good employer should aspire to. This should include fairness across the board in an employer's treatment of its employees, a duty of care of confidentiality and fair use of personal and sensitive information and a professional desire to promote and/or safeguard the organisation's reputation as a good employer.

Whilst the means by which the Council are going about notifying and checking this information is not illegal from a data protection point of view, it is not something I would expect an effective, caring and ethical employer to do. Leaving aside the observation that it is the responsibility of the receivables departments to robustly chase outstanding payments, the Council are effectively treating employees who currently live within the borough differently from those employees who may have moved out of the borough, but are still in arrears or employees with arrears with other local authorities. This I would suggest is sufficient grounds to raise a grievance over unfair treatment and harassment by the employer. And even if this is found not to be the case, the risks to the employer for lost time, money and again reputation through grievances, conciliation costs (ie-compromise agreements), ultimately tribunals and most importantly good employee-employer relations should be sufficiently high that a sensible employer would not contemplate taking such heavy handed action.

The other realistic possibility that this action may cause is increased absenteeism through stress - whether real or contrived, it is quite plausible that the knowledge that your debtor (who also happens to be the giver of bread that your livelihood depends on) intends to fashion an even bigger stick to beat you with (because of course the Council will already chase arrears through its relevant agencies anyway) certainly isn't going to make you feel any better about your financial worries. The best/worst line of the piece in my opinion is "if you have not already have an agreed payment plan with the Council, you can contact us immediately..." It sounds like a Stalinist fig leaf to allow the miscreant the dignity to write their own confession.

In conclusion then, Greenwich Council's action cannot be justified in its stated terms of ensuring it collects its revenue effectively to ensure it can maintain services. The costs incurred from damage to reputation and liabilities from unfair treatment claims and absenteeism, not to mention the time it would take to mediate these problems would be higher in both financial, human and reputational cost than the gains it would bring. And with the tone and approach the letter has taken, nor can they reasonably claim to be acting in their employees best interests.

Comments are welcome.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

It's the little things...

... that make the otherwise largely mundane task of leafleting interesting. The people you come across are always interesting, but it's quite difficult to capture their essence in a photo. This note I saw on Saturday morning on a pot plant on a landing though couldn't fail to cause me pause and bring a smile to my face.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Out and about...

Today was a day of helping visitors, trying to find elusive colleagues, battling with technology, catching up with friends and latterly pounding the pavements with the east wind and dying rays of the sun swirling around me. This evening covered the "heart" (no irony intended) of East Greenwich, from Christchurch down to Tunnel Avenue.

My most significant experience of the evening was popping into a local hostelry for some quick refreshment on the way to some more leafleting, to realise that the chap stood next to me at the bar was none other than Cllr. Quibell, one of Labour's remaining incumbent candidates for the Peninsula (Council leader Chris Roberts having retreated to Glyndon in Woolwich for fear of losing his seat) and I suppose what you might call my rival. Without being so rude as to give away the substance of the conversation, it's just made me all the more glad that I'm able to get out and put myself forward as somebody who really wants to see a change of culture and attitude in the borough. Most of the time I feel it's privilege enough to be able to hold the council to account, try and make some changes, stand for election and be counted. But when I witness how complacent the people who hold the real power are, it really does stir that little animal inside me that just wants to get up, get out and start making their lives as difficult as possible - if only so that they'll get up and start working for us all and make things just that bit better.