Wednesday, 1 March 2006

Authority, Rules and Audit.

Please be advised, this post contains some strong examples of "Management Twat-speak". Those of a sensitive disposition, or a love of the English Language should turn away now.

I have tried, thus far unsucessfully I fear, tried to explain my problem with the modern world. I feel that it has something to do with the imposition of rules.... everywhere. In your job, one doesn't serve clients or customers but an endless series of regulations. Every time I come up against an inflexible system with some gnome on the end of the phone saying "look, I don't make up the rules" a small part of me dies. Yes, we live in a free country (though this is becoming increasingly debatable) but government is an anathema to freedom, and governemnt is proliferating.

It is not just government. Evey large, efficient firm from high-street shops to estate agents to banks attempts to give every customer the same treatment everywhere. A laudable aim, you might think? But the effect is that the person on the customer-facing front line cannot be flexible. Not even a little bit, but as anyone who deals with clients knows, everyone's different. This doesn't just end up frustrating Customers. The horrid little Gnome who is forced by his employer to wear a nylon shirt and punch keyboards and say "the computer says no" ("Little Britain's" painfully accurate portrayal of British Customer service) is also frustrated that he or she cannot offer a better service. It is this "it doesn't matter if it's shit, so long as it's equally shit for everyone" attitude that is destroying state education, the NHS and almost everything else in the public sector.

I accept, more often than not customers go away from Lloyds TSB or Woolworths or WH Smith or Savills Estate agents or even their local council offices, satisfied. But on the occasions that something a little out of the Ordinary is called for... a bit of what management arseholes call "out of the box thinking", then the system can't cope because the Gnome is not empowered to "go the extra mile".

This is why life is shit. You aren't served by people, but by machines. And at work you serve an audit trail, not your customers. Most people ignore this empty hole in the centre of their lives and get mortal drunk on a friday to help forget it for a couple of days ("to take away" as Samuel Johnson put it "the pain of being a man"). But whichever side of the desk you are sitting, you know that a computer is deciding your fate, the interest rate you pay and probably compiling inforation on your reading habits too. Eventually human interaction will be unnessesary and we will derive all of our services online, with goods delivered to our doors.

This may leave more time for socialising with your freinds, but this is organised. So much human interaction is random: the Market traders' banter (Apples a Pound for a Pound now a cry sadly illegal), flirtation with a shop assistant, dealing with a professional who knows their job, has enthusism and can explain arcane mysteries over a cup of tea. Even the way a mechanic sucks his teeth and says "it'll cost 'ya..." has his own charm. But I can't choose my mechanic. The warranty will be invalidated if I don't go to an authorised dealer, who'll tinker with the car at twice the cost and probably half the competence of the guy with grease on his face and a fag in his mouth.

Choice is a mirage. What's the point of wealth if everything's more expensive? Why can't I get a loan? Who's running the show? So what if I'm self employed?

So I've failed agian to put my finger on why modern life sucks... It's got something to do with empowerment, something to do with getting government off our backs and something about the tyrany of the computer, and something to do with the corporate fear of the different. It's probably got a lot to do with my pathological problem with authority.

I don't know.



1 comment:

Tory Convert said...

Perhaps it's because it's the end of winter, but I wrote a post the other day similarly trying to diagnose the malaise of which you speak. I think we reach some of the same conclusions - that culture and values based on natural, spontaneous and sincere interaction between people at a face-to-face level generates more happiness than culture and values disseminated through large, sclerotic organisations and the mass media.

Is that a reasonable interpretation?

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