League Tables

They are everywhere – from the green playing fields of England to the hallowed halls of academia – League Tables are presented as a measure of performance and are studied avidly by those who actively participate and those who have a vicarious interest.

School League Tables – navigate to the Education Website, pop in type of school, post code, school name and region and voila! you get to know everything about the school, bar the colour of their politics.

Guardian University League Tables – it’s name, rank and number time for our universities. A few clicks will inform you that Oxbridge still holds sway at the top and Bath, Imperial College and Surrey are moving on up.

Premier League: on the Barclays Premiere League website currently. you can go back as far as the 1992/1993 season to see who was top of the League – Manchester United, who else and, when the season starts again chart your team’s progress.

So if you’re looking for the best school for your child, a top-rated university for your young adult or want to see how your team compares, league tables are very useful. But how about in the world of work? Is it right or fair that your performance (good or bad) should be open to public scrutiny?

There is a huge amount of accountability in my work. There is a high level of admin and minimum standards must be maintained and targets achieves. However attempting to balance these two aspects of the job can sometimes be overwhelming and, in the long run, detrimental to performance.  To get a client who has the triple whammy of 1) never having worked, 2) speaks little or no English, 3) has multiple health issues, into work requires a formidable arsenal of skills, in terms of progressing that person, which a league table with its concentration on percentages can never fully illustrate.

League tables may be employed as a way of monitoring accountability within the workplace and are great if you’re at the top, high-flying your way to bonuses and rewards, but what if you’re near the bottom? Do you really want your dirty linen hung on a public line for all to see? And, is this more an exercise in naming and shaming people into better performance rather than accountability?

By all means send out ‘hero-grams’ to the high-flyers but managers should also offer constructive help those who are ‘failing’ – not by naming and shaming but by taking a realistic look at the tasks to be performed by employees. Managers should help employees to prioritise and get organised in line with business objectives. Is there a level playing field in operation? Do some members of staff have more to do than others? Does the technology need upgrading to allow for more automation and less manual input?

More importantly managers should take every opportunity to demonstrate their own accountability – after all they are also employees. If you are publishing a league table to illustrate accountability and to be open and transparent managers should be very much present. Showing that managers are also accountable will certainly help in fostering a culture of accountability which would in turn go a long way towards increased performance and perhaps negate the need for league tables.


Customer Service

“Good customer service means having thorough knowledge of your inventory, experience with your products, and being able to help customers make the best choices for them.”  Job Search

An episode of what can only be described as bad customer service went viral earlier this week when a Customer Service representative for an internet provider, put a customer through phone hell by seeming to refused his request to stop his internet service.  Some reports indicated that the representative was simply carrying out the company’s instructions.

In my line of work most of the jobs my clients are likely to get will be in retail with a strong emphasis on customer service.  This got me thinking about my personal experience of customer service and how that translates into working with my clients to ensure they have the skills and attributes to successfully compete for jobs in this sector.

One morning, a few years ago, I stepped into a branch of one of Britain’s leading supermarkets in the Media Village in West London.  I was one on of my many diets – this time, the South Beach – and Phase II demanded copious amounts of grapefruit.  A quick scan of the fruit & veg section showed a distinct lack of the yellow balls so I asked an assistant.  I was met with a confused, furrow-browed stare.  In the end he got the Manager to help sort it all out.  Here’s what happened.

Me:  “Do you have any grapefruit in the stockroom?”

Manager:  (Puzzled look)

Me:  “Grapefruit.  Shaped like an orange, but yellow?”

Manager:  “Oh, I see! No, madam, there is grape which is a fruit but no such thing as grapefruit.”

I made my excuses and left.

This incident came into sharp focus this week as I helped a client tweak their CV to apply for a retail role.  The target company waxed lyrical in its literature about competencies, skills and abilities it required from staff in order for them to deliver exemplary customer service.

Most of the big retailers have complex online applications where job seekers have to go through many hoops before even being allowed to get their mitts on the application form.  When they do, and are successful, there’s an equally robust system of screenings followed by interviews and hopefully a job offer.  This is all to be commended as any employer would want the best people working for them.  However, sometimes when I visit a food or clothing retailer I’m absolutely convinced that something gets lost in translation between the employer’s expectations of its staff and the reality on the shop floor.

For example, in the last month I visited the same DIY store twice.  The first time the Assistant brought his scanner round to my trolley and scanned each product. On the second visit the cashier couldn’t even bring herself to look at me, so interested was she in applying some sort of cream/ointment to the back of her hand.  I had to lift everything out for her to scan and put them back again.  On the company’s careers page on its website, under “What *** expect from you” was this:  “The right attitude to deliver the best possible customer experience”.  Zero out of two.

And it doesn’t stop there.  Almost daily I visit a well-known sandwich and coffee establishment and can give you the names of four members of staff who will take your money, put your food and drink in a bag, give you change and yet keep up a running conversation with their workmate and never once look you in the eye.  Also not forgetting the food retailers who employ staff with little or no knowledge of the products they stock and sell.

Of course if I’m getting this service so are my clients and some are at a loss as to how certain Customer Service Assistants actually get the role. Not an easy one to answer, but my role is to do all I can to ensure my client understands the requirements of each stage of interview and does well enough to get the job and ring that Job Start Bell.

Entrepreneur states that:  “Good customer service is made, not born. Most companies find that employees require training to provide good customer service” and goes on to list four areas where employees can benefit from training.

With this in mind it might be useful for Managers and Human Resource specialists who write job descriptions to do a bit of floor walking to see if those on the ground actually do practice what those in the offices preach.


The Job Start Bell

Today, the Bell played a significant part in the life of one of my clients and a smaller, but no less important part in the lives of about 20 others in the office. But before I get to that, what thoughts does the ringing of bells conjure up?

• Big Ben – deep, sonorous
• Liberty Bell – independence
• School Bell – dragging you away from play
• Wedding Bells – uniting two people

According to the History of Bells website, “Bells are one of the most influential percussion instruments, whose powerful sound and simplicity in communication managed to become one of the most important instruments in the world”.

It goes on to say that “earliest examples of bells can be traced to ancient China, some 4000 years ago”. Travelling to all the corners of Europe over the next few centuries they were popularised by the Venerable Bede in the 8th Century when he “introduced the tradition of ringing bells at funerals”.

Today bells are everywhere, acting as a symbol of the changes in our lives. In my work it has equal significance. Like wedding bells, usually depicted as tied together at the top with a bow, the “Job Start Bell” represents the ‘marriage’ of employee to employer.

My job is to place the long term unemployed into sustainable employment. When one of our clients gets a job they are encouraged to ring the bell. In that one, two, three or more rings you have mass communication that goes beyond words. The Ringer is usually beaming from ear to ear. All the staff clap and cheer loudly and the other clients look on, nodding wisely. For those who’ve never heard it done before, this little scene usually ensues:

Client: “Why are they ringing that bell and why is everyone cheering?”
Advisor: “That person has just got a job”.
Client: “Can I ring it when I get a job?”
Advisor: “Absolutely”.

A body language expert would have a field day cataloguing and categorising each of our apprentice campanologist’s approach to this small exercise. There’s the:

• Shy One
• Bewildered One
• The REALLY Happy One
• The Quietly Confident One
• The Loudly Confident One – looking like Ali after winning a fight
• The “I just can’t do it” One

Today my client was The REALLY Happy One. With her rings she not only announced the change in her life but in the lives of all the people in that room and the lives of all the people she knows.

Some have been known to call the ringing of the “Job Start Bell” a cliché, I say: “When the Job Start Bell rings, my client get their wings”. (Apologies to It’s A Wonderful Life.)