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Badger and the mystery of meaning

WHAT, readers, is in a name?

Or, more precisely, what is in a title?

The answer, if you believe Cllr Paul Miller, is nothing. Calling an employee a “director” signifies zilch; it’s a meaningless piece of frippery. Any fuss about the title’s use is sound and fury, signifying nothing. It’s a bracing approach, which makes Badger wonder why every staff member at the Council is not a director of something. If a title isn’t meaningful, you might as well make it meaningless.

A bizarre meeting of the Council’s Senior Staff Committee on Monday, November 28, prompted Badger’s musings on the point.

Senior Staff Committee meetings are usually dreary affairs. Yawnworthy presentations, chatting about KPIs and reorganising sticky note management only get the pulse racing if you’re the type of person who gets their kicks from watching two raindrops race down a windowpane.

It’s a variation of the old hymn about God seeing the sparrow’s fall. Nothing is too minor or valueless that time cannot be wasted on a Powerpoint to explain it.

Badger believes the unremitting tedium of Senior Staff meetings is all part of a cunning plan hatched by alien minds far superior to ours. Make the small stuff boring enough, and people will be comatose by the time you get to the big stuff.

However, the fiendish space aliens have reckoned without Pembrokeshire’s version of Agent Mulder: Councillor Jacob Williams.
You can imagine Cllr Williams in SPECTRE. Ernst Stavros Blofeld gets to the end of a lengthy tirade detailing a wildly overcomplicated scheme to extort money from the UN. A hand is raised. An iPad is consulted. And the words, “Hang on a minute…” issue forth.
Unfortunately for Paul Miller, Big Dave Batitusta was not on hand to silence dissent with extreme prejudice on Monday.
Cllr Williams’s point was straightforward.

Regardless of what they did and their status within the organisation, no matter their place on the pay scale, how on earth did anyone think creating nine new directors would look to the public? The public’s perception was everything, and this looked bad.
Cllr Miller, who seemed more deeply invested in the idea than either the Council’s leader or its CEO, suggested that perception could be managed by explaining things to the public. Cllr Williams tried hard not to snigger at that one.
He reminded Paul Miller of Ronald Reagan’s axiom: “If you’e explaining, you’re losing.”

Badger remembers when the Pembrokeshire Health Authority became the Pembrokeshire NHS Trust. Suddenly, the organisation was awash with managers. Two people worked in one service unit at the hospital and reported to a single manager. One became the manager and the other the deputy manager. The person who was their direct line manager became a senior manager. The titles were meaningless. It was organisational bloating only management consultants could recommend.

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As an example of where that sort of thinking ends up, Badger directs his readers’ attention to the organisational structure of Hywel Dda UHB. The lines of accountability should be clear. However, as anyone who’s ever complained to the Health Board knows, the management structure of the NHS is a mangrove thicket. It matters not who won or lost as long as you can shift the blame.
Underlying Monday’s farce was a reasonably framed argument. Directors of Service don’t have the time to micromanage every sign-off on every decision. They must delegate decisions to senior staff members. For reasons impenetrable to anyone who is not a nerd, delegated decisions must be taken by people called “directors” whether or not they actually are “directors”.

In fairness, it’s the management model the Council’s Director of Communities, Dr Stephen Jones, has followed since before this newspaper’s first edition hit the press. Trying to explain away the moronic mishandling of the Pembroke Dock grants scandal a decade ago, Dr Jones told the Council’s then Audit Committee – in terms – he couldn’t be expected to know about every fraud committed by venal developers and their willing accomplices in his own department. It was all just so many bread rolls in the canteen compared to the budget he had to handle.

Dr Jones was not responsible for it. The Council’s own internal cover-up found nobody was. Mind you, the then-CEO was determined nobody would face any action – disciplinary or criminal.

There was undoubtedly criminal conduct, destruction, manipulation and hiding of evidence, and incompetence on a scale that should have resulted in instant dismissal for those most closely involved in the scam, the attempt to cover it up, and the way the subsequent Police investigation was misled and obstructed.

However, that was then: this brave new world still has Dr Jones in it. And he’s still a director. A real one and not one of the pretend ones Paul Miller says the Council needs.

With overburdened directors, the commonsense solution is to amend the Council’s constitution to reflect reality – subject to regular audits and quality checks.

That would ensure those making decisions are responsible for their consequences, good or bad. However, common sense flees the building in terror once management consultants get involved. Instead, we’ll have more directors who aren’t really directors but should be called directors to ensure that when things come to be signed off, the Council can say a director signed it, even if they’re not a real director but a DINO – Director In Name Only.

It’s simple, really, when you think about it.
Let’s take things to one possible conclusion. Once you accept DINOs, you could have any Hanna-Barbera characters’ names used as titles for the real directors: Yogi Bear, Top Cat, and Deputy Dawg. Dr Jones could even be (perhaps appropriately) Barney Rubble. Extend it to Cabinet roles: Paul Miller could be the Hair Bear Bunch, but who’d be Fred, Velma, Daphne, Shaggy, and Scooby? Wither Captain Caveman, Huckleberry Hound, Snagglepuss, and Hong Kong Phooey?

As ideas go, Badger’s is no more silly and pointless than creating a cadre of officers with worthless titles that add or subtract nothing from their roles. It’s a point Will Bramble took on board. But only Cllr Williams seemed interested in the CEO’s opinion.
When it gets to the Council, if it does, Badger can only imagine what councillors like Tony Wilcox and Mike Stoddart will make of it, let alone Jamie Adams. Bear baiting will pale in comparison.