Sunday, 30 September 2012

Odanglesex Revisited: A Good Performance (2)

Continuing with the reported Odanglesex adventures.

The story so far: the Council has promulgated a profile for performance review with set percentages for each category, any departure from this profile to be approved at senior level. It has also created a "Best Person of the Year" award and ceremony: both of these are presented as responses to a staff survey finding that people want more recognition for good performance.

FROM: Hamish Carpenter, Transformational Excellence Manager
TO: Neil Balderson, Senior Transformational Excellence Manager


I'm applying for the performance profile to be varied for my team. It really would hit me in the guts for any of my people to be judged "failing", as basically they're all up to the job and working hard. You'll be aware that the team has had a number of major successes this year and I fill in the case for a variation in the attached submission. I also attach the rating I believe would be appropriate if variation is approved.

FROM: Neil Balderson
TO: Hamish Carpenter, Sammi Parrot, Maurice Maina


Thanks for submitting your requests for EDPE variations. As the robustness of the model depends on maintaining the highest standards, it has unfortunately not been possible for Kenneth, Conor and myself to approve any variations. Where you submitted assessments based on the hoped-for variation, these have all been downgraded to fit the profile. I know you'll be disappointed by this, but I know you and your team members will understand the reasons.

Best wishes

FROM: Dale Brashcon, Transformational Excellence Champion
TO: All Transformational Excellence

GOOD NEWS! You've probably seen the announcement on the Extranet or the latest Ed's Job, but if not, THE DETAILS OF THE BEST PERSON OF THE YEAR AWARD ARE OUT!!! Except, of course, the names of the winners! That we only find out on the night. I know just how excited everyone has been about this and it's obvious from the nominations received that this is really going with a swing. Thanks to all those who nominated colleagues, and special thanks to those who nominated me (ONLY JOKING!!)

If you've read the Extranet you'll know that we've been really lucky to get Ned Pratt OBE to compere and present the awards. Ned will be known to all of you as Odanglesex's premier comedian, the star of "Carry on up the Rear Passage, Gunga Din", "Pratting About" and many other excellent shows.

I hope to see you all on the night. If you're not there, I know where you live (ONLY JOKING!!)

Kenneth wants a really good turnout from TESV. Remember, there are cakes and soft drinks.

The blog of Chief Executive Edelbertha Spengler


There's really only one thing I can talk about this week - the wonderful night we all had at the Best Person of the Year celebration. I'm sure you'll all agree that Ned Pratt, who was so kind to agree to run the show, was outstanding and I have to admit I was in stitches at times, though I couldn't quite understand the joke about someone called Lord Pond.

The cakes and pop went like, well, hot cakes, and Minnie in my office had to nip out to Tesco's for replacements.

Well, if by any chance you were unable to attend, here are the results. Congratulations to everyone who was nominated and to those who nominated them.

BEST GUARDIAN ANGEL: Bartholomew Addison, Financial Resources
BEST INNOVATOR: Kerry-Anne Porritt, Older People and Recycling
MOST IMPROVED: Satish Chatterparjee, Transportation and Settlement

AND THE OVERALL WINNER, BEST PERSON OF THE YEAR: Henry Donaldson, Transformational Excellence and Strategic Vision.

MANY CONGRATULATIONS, HENRY! Your book vouchers are in the post (sorry they weren't ready on the night).

Now just think, everybody - next year THIS COULD BE YOU!

FROM: Neil Balderson, Senior Transformational Excellence Manager
TO: Kenneth Spotlessnob, Director of Transformational Excellence and Strategic Vision


Just a little blip, but it could be embarrassing, so better make sure UNISON don't hear about it. Did you realise that Henry Donaldson in Hamish's team is Best Person of the Year and has just been adjudged in EDPE to be failing?


FROM: Kenneth Spotlessnob
TO: Hamish Carpenter

Hamish: We need to have a word about the debacle concerning Henry Donaldson. I hope tomorrow at 4 is suitable for you. Emma Carver from HR will be present. We will be reviewing criteria for EDPE assessment and appropriate implementation pathways.

Believe me, readers - this is only JUST in the realm of fantasy.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Odanglesex Revisited: A Good Performance (1)

More local bureaucratic fun re-posted here: now the council's approach to performance review and reward. Believe me, this is not far off the truth.

FROM: Conor O'Connor, Director of Human Resources Development
TO: All Directors; Chief Executive


The proposal for an Excellent Performance Delivery Environment (EPDE)I put before CRB has been approved. To summarise:
* All employees will be graded from A - E by their line managers as part of the annual My Performance process. Grades will be reviewed and approved or amended by Team Leaders.
* To prevent grade inflation, managers will adhere to the following performance profile as closely as possible: A: 15%; B: 25%; C: 25%; D: 20%; E: 15%.
* The thumbnail definition of the categories is as follows: A: outstanding, innovative achiever; B: high achiever within normal parameters; C: meets requirements of job; D: meets requirements of job with some areas for improvement; E: failing and in need of remedial action.
* Categories A and B will receive income augmentation in line with annexe 3A.
* There will be an appeals procedure: details will follow.

This will sharpen up our performance and ensure that we both encourage the high-fliers and weed out the underperformers.


The blog of Chief Executive Edelbertha Spengler

Hi! I think I've mentioned this before, but I'm a great fan of Queen's Sticks Wielders women's hockey team. Last season was really depressing and we got relegated to Division 2. This season, though, we're going great guns and have won four out of six matches, one of the others being drawn.

What made the difference? A real determination to concentrate on performance and raise the team performance level! And it was a real team effort.

Although performance levels at Odanglesex County Council are pretty much through the roof, we can't afford to rest on our laurels. We only beat Scunthorpeshire by one point in the Local Goverment Chronicle poll last year, and they're making big efforts. We must achieve continuous improvement. That's why I could so easily relate to the finding in the Employee Survey which said that 71% of you thought we could do more to reward good performance.

We've taken that VERY seriously and done two things in response. One is to introduce a Good Performance system which will identify the best performers and reward them. Your directors will be speaking to you about that very soon. The other is to launch a BEST PEOPLE OF THE YEAR award scheme in which all of you will be able to nominate fellow-employees (you can't nominate yourself, sorry. You can't nominate me either - sorry again) for recognition of their outstanding service and they will receive awards at an annual ceremony hosted by a major Odanglesex public figure. Councillor Wayneflete and I will judge the nominations together with Conor O'Connor and we're really looking forward to it!

FROM: Hamish Carpenter, Transformational Excellence Manager
TO: Kenneth Spotlessnob, Director of Transformational Excellence and Strategic Vision


Does this new performance reward system really mean I have to assess one of my people as failing?

FROM: Neil Balderson, Senior Transformational Excellence Manager

TO: All Transformational Excellence managers

Kenneth's had a number of queries about EPDE. They come down to the same thing - the degree of flexibility in the recommended profile. In order to ensure a robust performance structure, departures from the profile must be minor and exceptional. Appeals will be dealt with by Kenneth. I hope that clarifies the position.

To be continued...

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Tomato or Tomato?

In biology there's a process called "speciation", which is the moving apart of two groups of individuals of the same species, usually geographically separated, until they can be counted as separate species. Something similar happens with languages, although as history has tended to create larger units and faster communication across longer distances as time went on, with languages we also see the process in reverse. At some stage the northern and southern Celtic languages diverged and later the two languages themselves subdivided, encouraged by being separated by non-Celtic speakers, so Cornish, for example, is neither Breton nor Welsh. Distinct dialects spoken by small numbers of people in limited areas, though, have been disappearing quite fast since the 19th century. Languages can also be created by what in biology would be called crossing: cross old Low German with Norman French and you get English. Fortunately the people who speak these languages are fertile, unlike most products of cross-species intercourse.

What on earth is all this about?

It's about British English and American English. Of course there are other Englishes with their own developments - Australian and Indian English, for example - but I fancy looking at these two.

Some characteristics of American English are down to recent crossing or gene-swapping. In parts of the U.S., for example, it seems to be acceptable to say "If I would have done more revision I would have passed the exam" instead of "If I'd done..." (had done). That would be grammatically correct in some other nordic languages. "Fresh" meaning forward (of a girl) comes from German "frisch" (joyful, bubbly). The use of "hopefully" to mean "I hope this" instead of "full of hope" comes from German "hoffentlich". It is better to travel, hopefully, than to arrive.

In other cases American English preserves versions less changed by time. "Dove" instead of "dived" is archaic British English. Pronouncing Lieutenant (a French word meaning place-holder) as "Lootenant" is much closer to the French pronunciation than the British "Leftenant". In fact I really have no idea how we managed to arrive at that pronunciation.

Now for some interesting differences.

The only British English term for the season including October is "autumn". Americans recognise this word, but the common term is "fall". OK until you say something like "What a wonderful fall!" or "She phoned me in mid-fall".

The space for storage at the back of a car in British English is the boot (odd, though you could put your foot in it). Americans say "trunk", presumably because at one time trunks (not the elephant sort) were strapped to the back of the car for storage. So I can put my boot in the trunk or my trunk in the boot. Elephants - please don't try the latter. For that matter, don't submit to the former.

A living-space within a larger building is a flat to the British. The invitation to look at my lovely new flat would not appeal to Americans who, extravagantly, can have up to four flats.

In Britain a lift can take you somewhere in a car, but can also take you up or down inside a building. American lifts are not capable of taking you directly up or down.

"Republican" carries some drastically different meanings depending on whether you're in the U.S., Britain or Northern Ireland. So I may be a Republican in Britain but lose that characteristic by travelling west (but not east unless I go far enough to cross the Pacific).

The two Englishes are, though, coming together now faster than they diverge. "On the weekend" is now common in Britain where once we would only have said "At the weekend" - and we now use "hopefully" in two quite different meanings. Still, there is hope for diversity as Brits may acquire bits of Polish and Americans bits of Spanish.

We may yet be two different species.

Once we're different species, of course, it's hard for us to interbreed.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Odanglesex Revisited: Ed's Christmas Message

A bit before time, another reposted Odanglesex adventure, this time the Chief Executive's Christmas message.

ED's JOB: The blog of Chief Executive Edelbertha Spengler

Wow, only two days to the REALLY BIG DAY - Christmas!

At home we've been hyperactively getting everything ready, the presents, the wrapping paper, the cellotape (desperate last-minute trip for that), the turkey, the pudding, the tree, the car window de-icer, the battle plan for refuse and recycling arrangements. Just remember to check out what the changed timetable is for collections in your area.

My ten-year-old is a bit hooked on glace cherries, so I'm having to take steps to limit the supply this Christmas or she could be sick again.

It's a bit like that about the Council's budget. You can have too much of a good thing. Some restrictions are necessary and even some compulsory redundancies. Today those of you who that applies to will be getting the notification. I'm really grateful to them for all the work they've done, whatever it was. My eldest son tells me Christmas is really an ancient midwinter festival when people got rid of all their accumulated fat and vegetables and nuts and celebrated the end of the old year and the start of a new and exciting one, and that before that they probably had some human sacrifices (URGH!) so for all of you experiencing change, IT CAN BE EXCITING!

Excuse me. Now the turkey needs stuffing!!!



Monday, 17 September 2012

Autumn birds

Here in England autumn is in the air. The air is a little colder, each day is slightly shorter than the one before and in the countryside if you pause, you can sense that slight sweet rotting smell.

For birds it's a time of change. It reminds me how different our perceptions of time and change can be depending on the latitude we live at. For temperate parts south of the equator, of course, you just reverse the times so Christmas will be in summer and May Day will come towards the end of autumn's slide into winter. The experience of the seasons is the same. But further north, winter is longer and harsher, as I experienced for two years in Finland. Most birds leave in autumn and hardly any arrive, making spring far more dramatic. In the two years I was in Finland, I saw my first Woodpigeon of the year each time on the 30th April. Near the equator, as in Kenya where I've also lived, none of the resident birds leave but you know Europe and Northern Asia are descending into winter because new birds arrive, many of species not present in the European summer.

Last week a visit to our local North Essex migration hotspot, The Naze, an unstable peninsula between the open sea and an estuary, turned up several migrants, birds not present in summer locally but passing through on the way to Africa - Pied Flycatcher, Common Redstart, Garden Warbler, Yellow Wagtail, Sand Martin and others. Yesterday i was covering an area not far away and also coastal but much more sheltered, so less likely to attract local rarities - the complicated estuarine areas of Hamford Water and The Wade. This fits in neatly with a pint in the Red Lion, Kirby-le-soken, before I head back. Birds sitting on an old upturned rowing-boat in the channel were revealed as three different tern species, Sandwich, Common and Little. A Whinchat flew to the top of a bramble bush. Those are all birds heading for Africa. But soon after a small, sharp-winged, intense, fast shape cut across the sky and put up clouds of waders. The first Merlin of the winter had arrived.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Odanglesex Revisited: A Thousand Miles (2)

FROM: Kelly Pattrick, PA to Kenneth Spotlessnob
TO: Hamish Carpenter, Transformational Excellence Manager

Kenneth wanted to be assured that your claim for 49 miles for the round trip from County Hall to and from Little Pilesbury is correct. The AA route planner says 45 miles.

FROM: Hamish Carpenter
TO: Kelly Pattrick

Kelly: Bodger's Lane was blocked by a fallen tree. The best alternative route through the Dirksedges took an extra four miles.


FROM: Reema Narlikar, Transformational Excellence Officer
More reposted Odanglesex fun: Following concern about the levels of mileage claims, all claims now have to go through the Director. In Transformational Excellence and Strategic Vision, of course, that's Kenneth Spotlessnob.

TO: Bunny Hare, Financial Processes Consultant (claims)

I submitted my mileage claim for the second quarter of the year nearly four months ago and it hasn't appeared even in the pay statement that's just arrived. Sorry to push, but what's happening?


FROM: Bunny Hare
TO: Reema Narlikar


Sorry, I haven't heard back from Kelly Pattrick as to where Kenneth has got with it. I'll chase again.

FROM: Bunny Hare
TO: Reema Narlikar

Ree: your claim hasn't been approved by Kenneth yet. Kelly tells me he has quite a backlog.


FROM: Reema Narlikar
TO: Hamish Carpenter

Hamish: please see attached emails. Comment reads: ****@@@&%$***!!!!

FROM: Edelbertha Spengler, Chief Executive
TO: Kenneth Spotlessnob, Director of Transformational Excellence and Strategic Vision


Just to assure you that following the informal word you had with me about the large amount of time Directors are having to devote to checking mileage claims, I'm putting to CLB that claims under 500 miles be self-assessed and thereafter by line managers only.


Monday, 10 September 2012

A Fine Wine

Just a quickie for now. I brought back from Hungary two bottles of white wine from Thummerer in the east of the country. They specialise in reds, but I liked their whites better.

One bottle is now finished and it was marvellous - crisp and quite dry but grapey. It's not normally on sale in the U.K., but is in some other foreign countries. It's EGRI KIRALYLEANYKA (can't do the accents).

This may seem like a commercial, but I don't do commercials and this isn't one. It's just an excellent white.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Odanglesex Revisited: A Thousand Miles (1)

In this reposted Odanglesex adventure, senior management is getting concerned about the level of mileage allowance claims and responds with its default reaction - tight centralisation (for a while).

FROM: Grant Coutts, Director of Financial Process and Resources
TO: Kenneth Spotlessnob, Director of Transformational Excellence and Strategic Vision

Kenneth: I attach a copy of the quarterly analysis of mileage expenses by directorate. While the overall trend for the Council is directionally benevolent, your directorate's mileage is increasing. One employee in your directorate claimed for more than a thousand miles in the last quarter.

FROM: Kenneth Spotlessnob
TO: Grant Coutts

Grant: Many thanks for this. Who was it and what was the precise figure?

FROM: Tracey Love, Financial Processes Officer (claims)
TO: Kenneth Spotlessnob, Director of Transformational Excellence and Strategic Vision

Kenneth: Grant asked me to supply details as above. It was Chalmers Butt, District Community Development Outreach Officer. He claimed for 1071 miles.

FROM: Kenneth Spotlessnob
TO: Danni Worrall, Senior Strategic Visioner

Danni: See the above. Please get a grip on Chalmers' expenses.

FROM: Danni Worrall
TO: Kenneth Spotlessnob

Kenneth: Chalmers was appointed six months ago to a new post, if you remember. It involves going round all the districts and many of the meetings are in village halls and so on. He really does need this mileage.

FROM: Kenneth Spotlessnob
TO: Danni Worral

Danni: Thanks for this. Nonetheless, try to control his mileage. This is a corporate priority.


FROM: Edelbertha Spengler, Chief Executive
TO: All directors

Colleagues: Some of the trends in mileage claims are not as we would wish. Moreover, where the trend is benign, it is generally well short of our milestones. Consequently, as you are aware, at the last CMB meeting we agreed the following changes which should be conveyed to your staff.

All journeys which generate an entitlement to a mileage claim must be approved at least a week in advance by the line manager and by the relevant director.

If the line manager is the relevant director, approval must be in place also from the assistant director. If the potential claimant is the director, (s)he may approve his/her own expenses subject to normal controls (you can leave that bit out when you cascade).

All claims must be approved and countersigned by the director.

Thanks and have a good weekend


FROM: Kelly Pattrick, PA to Kenneth Spotlessnob
TO: Kenneth Spotlessnob

Kenneth: When I sent out the mileage e-mail to all Transformational Excellence and Strategic Vision, was I supposed to leave out that bit about directors' expenses and Ed's comment in brackets?



Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Odanglesex Revisited: Lord Pond

More re-posted Odanglesex adventures. The previous Leader of the Council was Lord Pond. He was found out in various misdeeds and now both politicians of his party and officers are keen to forget him as soon as possible.

FROM: William Wayneflete, Leader of the Council

TO: All Odanglesex County Council

I thought I should let you know that I have been informed that an exhaustive routine check of our records has revealed that the convicted necromancer "Lord" David Pond, a cat-herd, was once a member of this council, elected for the Graveigh division. An intensive and rigorous investigation is now taking place into whether he was ever, as he has claimed on television, leader of this council.

Any enquiries from the media should be referred to External Communications. If, as may occasionally be the case, you should enter a hostelry and be asked about "Dave Pond", the line to take is that you have never heard of him.

Many thanks for your support.

Bill Wayneflete


Edelbertha Spengler's blog


Yesterday my eight-year-old left the back gate open and Rupert the Tortoise escaped. We were just in time to stop him getting on a bus. I don't know about you, but I hate telling the children off. However, I did feel I had to lay down the law a bit about gates.

In the same way, I thought it'd be timely to remind you about security at County Hall and particularly access issues. After all, as a nerve centre of government, we would be an obvious target for terrorists or "Occupy" protesters, and a thief seeing all the publicity bandied about on the amount of money we spend might try to gain entry to see if any of it was lying around!

I need to remind myself about this just as much as anyone else. Only about four years ago, I distinctly remember being greeted in the Roman atrium by a short, fat man who embraced me and said he had just found out that I was a woman, but never mind, I still had a job. Naturally I assumed he was a leading member of the council. I now realise this may have been incorrect and I should have asked to see his I.D.. Please do the same for anyone you don't recognise, unless, of course, they have a badge saying VALUED CUSTOMER.


FROM: Kenneth Spotlessnob, Director of Transformational Excellence and Strategic Vision
TO: Kelly Pattrick, PA to Kenneth Spotlessnob


I'm just updating my gifts and favours register entry. Could you check for me with Internal Governance Excellence whether Lord Pond giving me an ice lolly constituted a gift which should be declared?


Sunday, 2 September 2012


"Politicians" has become a dirty word. However, no state that got along with an element of free participation by at least some of its citizens has ever donw without politicians. Even in the direct democracy of Athens there were political leaders.

So those who rubbish politicians as a class must stand for one of these two things:

*EITHER some kind of dictatorship

*OR much more honest and better-behaved politicians.

I do suspect that some of the anti-politician and anti-politics culture is whipped up by right-wing media because the more people distrust politics and politicians, the more they will be happy for decisions that used to be taken openly and democratically through the political process to be left to corporations and (which is not quite the same thing) to the market. I've posted on the limitations of the market before, but just remember two things about the market: it doesn't think far ahead; and if you have a thousand times someone else's spending power, for the market, you have a thousand times the power. Forget one person one vote.

However, even the most ideologically pure free-marketeers admit some room for collective, democratic government, for which you still need politicians. I think hardly anyone in stable democracies wants dictatorship. Still politicians, then, but maybe better ones?

That's a perfectly reasonable aim and the U.K. parliamentary expenses scandal gives it force. But that scandal related purely to NATIONAL politicians (control over local expenditure is much tighter) and yet it's tarred local councillors with the same brush. As for the sort of honesty that means sincerity rather than decent behaviour over money, people say they want that kind of honesty in politicians yet those who display it are often pilloried for putting their feet in it.

It's also worth remembering that opinion surveys over nearly fifty years have shown that U.K. voters have a very low opinion of M.P.s and councillors in general, yet often like their own local representatives. In other words, there is an anti-politician assumption which is unaffected by positive experience of your local person.

There's a widespread assumption that local elected politicians are paid careerists - yet if you look at the allowances U.K. councillors get, they vary between about £1,000 a year and £10,000 (excepting what a few people like a leader of the council get for what's maybe half a full-time job), not big money especially if you consider that being an active councillor will involve expenses (driving around a lot, for example, and very likely some of your election expenses) and many hours of work, not only meetings but taking up problems for people, talking with people, researchiung issues and so on.

Someone posted on a local paper discussion board that their council would be better if the councillors were all independents instead of "political careerists". Well, look at the typical local council and you'll find many of the councillors are retired people who've had careers and now want to do something for their area and promote things they believe in. Others have good non-political careers they may well be damaging through the spare time and mental energy they take on council business. Out of 50 councillors you might find about eight or ten who had national political ambitions and maybe two of those would be elected to parliament, not necessarily for more than a few years.

As for independents, there are some good ones, but here are some of the minuses:

- they're all well-off. Political parties can pay the election expenses of relatively poor candidates, but independents pay their own, unless of course they have rich friends who may expect favours in return.

- you generally have very little idea of what they stand for or how they'll vote on key issues: there's no manifesto, for a start.

- if they do express a commitment, there's no mechanism to stop them going off in a completely different direction, whereas a party candidate elected on a manifesto who completely ignored it would probably be in trouble.

- very often they're party loyalists in disguise, so you get the party rule without the honesty of knowing you're voting for the Conservatives (say) to run the council. In a recent town council election not far from me, seven people were standing as independents yet were endorsed en bloc by the Conservative district and county councillors and behaved like a party slate.

Sometimes it seems the anti-politician mood is so strong that people forget that the vast majority of local political activists are volunteers who believe in something.