Monday, March 31, 2008


10 training problems that led to meltdown at Terminal 5
The problem with the ‘big bang’ opening of T5 was that it blew up in their face. It's not often that training gets into the national press, but Heathrow's T5 fiasco put it on every front page for several days, with hundreds of cancelled flights and a backlog of over 15,000 pieces of luggage. So what went wrong?

Problem 1 – Wrong training boss
Veronica Kumar, the 29 year-old, hapless ‘Head of People ad Change’ at BAA, had arranged movies and popcorn to familiarize people with T5. Even cornier were the mock boarding cards printed ‘Are you ready’. The answer, in real life, turned out to be a resounding ‘NO, we’re not’.

Kumar had already hit the national press in February with her outrageous comments to Human Resources magazines, where she claimed that the abolition of unions was the ‘nirvana’ scenario for BAA ad T5. She’s clearly out of control and certainly out of her depth.

Problem 2 – No ramp up
First, let’s factor out the technical problems – lifts and IT systems didn’t work, showing a lack of full load testing. Surely it would have been sensible to have ramped up over a longer period. This would have given them time to complete the ‘training’ in the real environment, as well as iron out technical problems.

The lack of real ‘dry-run’ training was obvious, along with a lack of contingency planning. Kumar relied on assessment exercises from the clearly hopeless and hapless Potential Squared. Go see them in action at the appropriately titled ‘Effective Execution’ breakfast on 3 April! I hear they’re renaming themselves ‘Problems Squared’.

Problem 3 – Directions and parking
At 4 am passengers arrived, only to be confronted with the same problems as the staff in trying to find somewhere to park. The road signs were not clear outside the terminal, and people said they were given wrong directions once inside. Familiarisation training and some simple directions online, and on paper, would have solved the problems for staff.

Problem 4 – Inadequate IT training
Staff faced an unfamiliar process in security causing further delays. Passengers were arriving but there were too few staff to cope. Some simple IT training to familiarise staff and operators with the new system, would have worked well.

Problem 5 - Muddling through in middle management
The Observer reported staff as saying that during the inadequate training days prior to the opening, any staff questions were bounced back with 'I don't know' and 'It will be clear on the day'." This, above all, shows the real weakness – a lack of management training in middle management. The British tradition of muddling through doesn’t work in a complex, highly-technical environment that needs integrated processes and behaviours. ‘It will be all right on the night’ seems to be the dominant value.

Problem 6 - Pitiful Project management
Project management planning skills are often very slight. Managers don’t have the ability to simply plan. Few can use project management software and many have only a basic understanding of assumptions, constraints, critical paths, serial and parallel processes and dependencies. Gantt charts are as rare as winning lottery tickets.

Problem 7 - Rueful risk management
There was clearly a failure to assess risk through detailed ‘what-if’ and scenario planning techniques. This led to a failure in the use of ‘contingency’ and ‘contingency resources’ - another common middle-management failing. Our default is ‘muddling through’, not contingency planning, and it is simply not good enough.

Problem 8 - Crap communications skills
The British are famously reserved. This is what Kate Fox in her excellent book ‘Watching the English’ called our social ‘dis-ease’. It cripples us when it comes to clear, concise and public communication. When the shit hits the fan, we tend to mumble and grumble.

The lack of problem solving and communications skills in middle management is obvious. Panic, disappearing acts and inadequate planning are the norm. The solution to many of the problems at T5 was quick and honest communications to the people in queues. Managers and staff were scared to speak to people or said things that were untrue. On a launch of this scale, there should have been a small army of helpful, tee-shirted staff ready to answer questions.

Problem 9 - Queue management

The British are supposedly the world’s leaders in queuing. I’m not so sure. There’s nothing like Brits abroad to destroy that myth. We’d stamp on our grannies to get one ahead of anyone at an Easyjet gate. As we consider ourselves self-disciplined in queues, we assume that they don’t need managing. This leads to squabbles and unnecessary angst, as queues build up, criss-cross and when second gates open there’s an unholy rush to skip the first queue. A training task if I’ve ever see one.

Problem 10 - Culture of complaint
When problems do occur, our first reaction is to blame someone else. The staff blame management, management blame the layer of management above them. Leaving poor Willie Whats-his-name, BAs CEO, saying ‘the buck stops here’. Rather than take direct responsibility, and action, staff and middle managers are far too often inclined to stand around, wait and moan.

Friday, March 28, 2008

CIPD's Astronomical salary for Armstrong

Cool Half million
I’ve had a lot of feedback on my CIPD post – all of it confirming the ‘money-making machine’ comment. However, the most interesting titbit, was downright anger at Geoff Armstrong’s salary. In the year ending 30 June 2006 the ‘grand fromage’ was paid nearly half a million. This huge figure, paid out of member’s subscriptions and courses, dwarfs those of any other head of a charity (if that’s the right word). It includes a salary and bonus of £319,000, plus £171,000 worth of pension contributions. His total earnings represented an increase of £104,000 on the previous year.

Remember that this organization employs less than 300 people, although staff turnover is incredibly high; 61 left last year – 20% per annum (worse than last year)! Their total income from subscriptions, conferences, courses etc is £32.2 million with growth of only 3% (this doesn’t stand comfortably with a half million remuneration package). Each member personally pays Geoff about £4 per year.

I couldn’t find his 2007 salary as the download (not unsurprisingly) does “NOT include the statutory directors' report and financial statements”. The new face is Jackie Orme, who, we assume, won’t be short of a bob or two!

BA training fiasco

It's not often that training gets into the national press, but there were stories galore today about Heathrow's Terminal 5 fiasco, with 72 flights cancelled, luggage lunacies and staff who clearly had no idea how to cope either the processes or problems.

This was reported by the BBC: "BA claimed 'staff familiarisation' was to blame and the staff blamed the lack of training and the essential support that was promised. During the inadequate training days prior to the opening, any staff questions were bounced back with 'I don't know' and 'It will be clear on the day'."

Despite the huge sums spent on architecture and build BA ad BAA clearly have no idea how to handle the training problems. I was on the tube coming back from Heathrow last night and had mad passengers and BA staff all talking about 'a nightmare', 'never again'. Depressing.

A few choice comments from pasesengers.....

"If BAA ever invite me to a boozy celebration I shall be very careful to check that the address they give for the event isn't a brewery."

"This debacle is all the more astounding by BAs failure to manage the crisis properly. While we can accept problems are sometimes inevitable, the total lack of customer care in asking passengers to make their own hotel and alternate flight arrangements is unacceptable. They need to be taught that they cannot treat their customers in such a cavalier fashion without a backlash. Where was the fallback plans if there was one and why didnt that work?This is poor management at its very worst!"

"THEY SHOULD HAVE broke the staff gently in, not move the majority of all flights there in one day, have a month or more testing of the systems"

"They couldn't just have a ramp up period to iron out teething problem could they? No they had to big-bang it and guess what? Its blown up in their faces. Over-confident and over zealous management..with perhaps their eye just on the bottom line. Someone needs to be fired....oh wait this in England being ripped off, incompetant and foolish gets you a promotion!"


A predictable charade takes place this time of year. Teachers gather in mobs and behave like truculent teenagers in a huge classroom, heckling ministers (Jim Knight’s turn this year) and generally acting like yobs, decrying everything. Is it any wonder that Ministers see union rejection as a sure sign of a potentially successful policy.

The six unions, yes that’s right six for one profession, include the throwback National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT)! Teaching is a noble profession, but the fact that it can’t organise itself, and get six down to a manageable one or two, is tragic. When it comes to unity, they’re famously fractious. It’s simple; one profession with one employer needs one union and fewer officials – net result, more collective bargaining power.

Just say NO
March is when the unions battle it out in a great ‘nay-fest’, where each tries to outdo the other in preposterous, self-serving propositions. You name it, they’re against it. This year they’re we’ve had rants against:


national curriculum

emails from parents

military recruitment



classes over 20

classroom assistants

teacher performance appraisals




That last one’s an exaggeration, but not by much! They’re actually blaming parents for the stress they’re getting at work. I wonder where they stand on teachers as parents?

Lions led by donkeys
Most people see teachers as doing a good job, and we all understand the stresses and strains. However, most also see the massive holidays, job security, good pay and pension, as reasonable rewards. What many reasonable people resent is the constant carping and negativity, especially from the Easter union bash.

The only positive note was their threat to strike. However, unlike real unions, when it comes to the crunch, the middle-classes are rarely radical enough to forgo salary for principles. Strike action is something I’d admire – but its all jaw-jaw. With six unions, co-ordinated action is next to impossible. United they stand, divided they fall.

Friday, March 14, 2008

CIPD - Chartered Institute for the Prevention of Development

A money-making machine
I gave a keynote on Informal Learning this week and something interesting happened during the Q&A session. There were grumblings about young professionals being drowned in old and outdated techniques and practice through CIPD courses and accreditation. The complaint was that they hold progress back by touting the same old theories and models. They were also accused of being no more than a money making machine. I triggered this off by mentioning that the CIPD run NLP courses. This is the equivalent of the Royal Astronomical Society running courses in Astrology. Far from preparing us for the future, the CIPD may be imprisoning us in the past.

Profession at low ebb
Their own CIPD survey in 2007 showed that only 12% of managers take L&D very seriously, only 30% report that L&D is involved in the early stages of organisational strategy planning processes and less than half of all organisations have any sensible evaluation strategy for L&D (thanks to Charles Jennings). Hasn’t it occurred to them that they themselves may be one of the reasons for this sorrowful situation; rooted as they are in a petty, unscientific, technophobic, Kirkpatrick obsessed world of flogging their own courses.

The Top Ten list of interest its own website tells the whole story. What people are interested in is merely their qualifications and membership. When an organisation becomes more interested in itself than the profession it serves, or even worse, becomes an end in itself, something has gone horribly wrong.

Best short lecture ever?

Is this the most stunning 18 minute talk ever delivered? Unforgettable. Watch, learn and be amazed.

Neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor describes how she had a stroke and was the witness to her own brain shutting down. It's personal, vivid and moving.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Swearing at the queen

Citizenship ceremonies
Swear allegiance to the Queen! Yet another crazy idea from Government by Lord Goldsmith, Tony Blair lacky and architect of several of Tony’s wackier ideas. He is also the person who stopped the investigation into the BAE-Saudi Arms scandal by ordering the Serious Organised Crime Agency to halt their investigation; patriotic to the point of lunacy.

I'd rather swear AT the Queen!
The idea, and it doesn’t get any more puerile and regressive than this, is that we all swear allegiance to our QUEEN and country. Sorry, but I’d rather swear allegiance to another country than the Queen. I’m fonder of at least twenty other nations and their people than I am of the Queen. The Royal family is a clapped out old roadshow that deserves nothing but contempt. I’m actually ashamed of the whole demeaning ‘Diana as martyr’ phenomenon. I don’t give a damn if Harry was in
Afghanistan but I do care about the fact that the BBC put this story above several other major international news stories. Count me out.

Citizen of.....
I’m a citizen of the World,
Europe, Britain and Scotland. In other words, my sense of belonging and loyalty exists on a number of levels. At no point in this mix can I be said to be loyal to the Queen. What is clear is that the House of Lords, Home of Lord Goldsmith, needs a clean sweep. It seems to be populated by clerics, ex-ministers and other out-of touch crazies.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Conference revolt

We're only halfway through the SXSW Interactive conference and 23 year old billionaire, Mark Zuckerberg (CEO Facebook), in a keynote interview, was heckled mercilessly as the interviewer asked a series of banal questions, received equally dull answers and then started to plug her own book. It started to happen half way through the interview when someone shouted, ‘Talk about something interesting,’ a sentiment that was met with waves of cheering and applause. In the end the interviewer had to turn the questions over to the audience, who then took over. The whole event descended (or ascended) into a free-for-all.

Revolt during dull panel
During one particularly dull panel ‘Social Marketing Strategies Metrics, Where Are They?’ the audience used a chat room to plan their revolt. As one chat room poster remarked – ‘Shit…we are the panel!’ The group did a synchronised hand raise, took off articles of clothing and coughed every time the words ‘Social Media’ were uttered. The chat room comments were also fed into the discussion via questions.

Audience demand participation
The revolt says volumes about this generation’s attitude towards old methods of learning. Many in the 500 audience were micro-blogging and in chat rooms during sessions, complaining about being bored, so they suggested mob heckling, and eventually the audience took over. They’re tired of the old format and demand participation. It’s no longer acceptable to bore the audience or ask sycophantic questions. Sessions are being blogged ad reviewed as they happen and conference organisers must weave this into the event.

More passion, fun and controversy
Speakers need more passion, more fun and more controversy. Why attend a conference to hear things you already know? I've had pains in my chest with boredon at conferences. It should be about the new and interesting.

More heckling
I recently saw Steve Rayson of Kineo being heckled mercilessly at Learning Technologies. He deserved it, as he was exaggerating points as part of a sales pitch. He also handled it well, making the session the talking point of the conference. I fact it was merely a floor show in the exhibition, not part of the main conference at all. More heckling I say – it’s god for the audience and the speakers.

Less corporate crud
Corporate speakers need to cut out the crappy company intros, where they list the number of employees, countries in which they operate and all that nonsense. The big corporates are the worst culprits – IBM, Microsoft, Oracle etc. They’re so keen to show us how big their cahonas are, that they squeeze the life out of the presentation. We all know what you do – get on with it!

Oh, I almost forgot, this wasn’t the only innovation at SXSW. They had Lou Reed as the main Keynote!

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Branding, learning and government

Departmental disaster brands
You get the sense that recent government departments were cobbled together in some half-cocked, rushed meeting. DCSF, DCMS, DIUS and BERR. Memorable or what? They’re a hotch-potch of disparate nouns thrown together with no attention paid to whether they scan, make sense or are memorable. In fact, they break every branding rule in the book. They don’t scan, mix categories, are overlong, have difficult to pronounce acronyms, and are hard to remember.

Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF)
Sure, I get the holistic ‘for children’ bit, but why not simply call it the Department for Children. Children go to school and have families. You
can’t even pronounce the acronym as a single word and even when you do it letter by letter, it’s clumsy. What a lousy brand.

Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS)
Another mouth
ful. Is ‘Innovation’ really an area of government responsibility? I think not. It’s really all that small business stuff – tax credits etc with the British National Space Centre thrown in (actually some horrible offices in Victoria Street, London).

By including Universities they also demote the colleges. They also disassociate skills from schools (in another department), despite their stated intention to make schools more vocational. It’s all wrong and therefore all screwed up.

Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR)
Suddenly they’ve
dropped the ‘Department’ destroying any semblance of group branding. We now have Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. What’s the difference between business and enterprise? Not much. As for ‘regulatory reform’ this is a political process, and what it means in practice is loads more regulation. It should have read BERT - Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Tsunamis.

Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS)
Clearly the department for everything that’s left over. People always leave one of the nouns out when trying to recall its full name. Of course, all the arts people hate the sports people, but they’ve inserted another, entirely unrelated industry (media) between them. You’d never know that gambling and licensing (drinking) are in here. And the ‘creative industries’, are plucked out of BERR and shoved alongside the arts. What a mess.

Whatever happened to the simpler Department of Education (DoE), Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) etc, Governments destroy brands in an attempt to destroy the legacy of their predecessors. This, in effect, destroys any long-term brand creation and retention, confusing us all. It’s spiteful and amateurish leading to a lack of clarity and increased disassociation between the population and politics.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Much Ado About Nothing

The Royal Shakespeare Company wants us to teach Shakespeare to 4 year-olds. Does it get any cookier than this? A bunch of state-subsidised actors telling us that they have the secret of success in the education of our children? Much as I love Shakespeare, this is a recipe for disaster. There's a time and place for Shakespeare - age 4 is not the time, and pre-school is not the place.

Shakespeare was smarter
Last year I saw a wonderful Taming of the Shrew at the Old Vic, a play about life and learning, with stacks of references to learning, teaching, schools and lessons. The play presents different methods of learning by Lucentio, Hortensio and Petruchio. He covers book study, tell & practice and learning by strict instruction. On the whole Shakespeare has a clear distain for an over-scholarly approach to life and learning. Learning Latin is satitrised, the expense of University questioned and learning at one’s own pace praised. Learning from experience is his recommendation.

The play starts with a goal:
Here let us breathe and haply institute
A course of learning and ingenious studies.

On learning:
O this learning, what a thing it is! O this woodcock, what an ass it is!

On scheduled learning:
I am no breeching scholar in the schools;
I'll not be tied to hours nor 'pointed times,
But learn my lessons as I please myself.
And, to cut off all strife, here sit we down:
Take you your instrument, play you the whiles;
His lecture will be done ere you have tuned.

Drama is a wonderful thing in schools but pre-school Shakespeare would kill interest off quicker than Caesar in March. Shakespeare knew this, it’s a shame that his minstrel troop haven’t learnt the lessons of his work.

This announcement was followed up by plans for a ‘Centre for Articulacy’, announced by another luvvie – Peter Hall. Yet another centre for an abstract concept. The said centre is to be in
Surrey of all places!