Management failure at East Croydon railway station

Years ago I ran the computers for a eurobond trading company in the City. Minicomputers, a few PCs, a lot of communications equipment and specialised terminals on the desks of traders. We were market makers so it was a frenetic place and IT was critical even in then.

As today, much of the work was sitting in front of a screen working on technical stuff but we also had to get under floors to run cables and physically handle hardware. Most days I would make sure I took a good look around the machine room and I’d walk the trading floors. I’d mentally note things. Those screens were a bit tatty and could do with replacing. The print out were faded so I needed to tell the operators to change ribbons more frequently. It was also an occasion to engage with the dealers. They’d gripe about various stuff which wasn’t critical but needed fixing. The keys on my keyboard keeps sticking down. The bloody print outs were late this morning. The damn system is too slow. Mostly this was terse and forthright but friendly. Sometimes it would lead to brief and hostile exchange. It was part of the job. These guys relied on the systems and my task was to make sure they got what they wanted. Visibility meant little, if any, appreciation when things went right and taking the flak when things went wrong.

I often thought of my job as analogous to the captain of a ship. The systems were running and sometimes there was no need to actively DO anything. But there was a need to ensure I had an understanding of the state of the systems as a whole so that when problems arose we were able to cope. I would stand at the end of the trading desks and just look down them and make sure I was content.

HOWEVER! Sometime around the 1990s along came a lot of men in sharp suits and sharper business practices. Modern management methods and business process reengineering were the order of the day. Everyone must be a professional. Everyone must be taught their craft by someone who didn’t do it. Everyone must pay for certifications from the companies which made the equipment. Every task must be broken into its constituent processes and these must be reorganised to achieve maximum efficiency. Their question was why a comparatively senior technical manager spends his time walking around trading floors and checking equipment rooms. All this could be broken into tasks which could be scheduled and delegated.

The upshot of all this bollocks is that modern managers now hide in their offices, only emerging to attend meetings. Ask a manager what he has to do today and he will tell you he has meetings all day. Such people are TALKING BOLLOCKS!

The task of anyone, let alone a manager, is NOT to have meetings anymore than it is to make telephone calls. The meetings and the telephone calls are the MEANS by which the tasks are accomplished. In my case, the task was not to walk the trading floors or inspect the computer room. The task was to ensure I had a feel for the state of the systems. To ensure that I was on the fucking ball.

East Croydon - The Horror, The Horror

East Croydon – The Horror, The Horror

And now I come to an annual reunion of IT staff which I attend each year in London. I rarely use the railways these days but when I do invariably there are problems. And so arriving at London Bridge station last night I found that there were no trains home. I would have to go to East Croydon and change trains. This has happened so many times over the last 15 years that I am inured to the ghastliness of the train system. Along with many others, and anaesthetised by a nights drinking, I crammed onto the East Croydon train. On arrival we all flocked off the train and listened to the tannoy tell us that the Brighton train would leave in 4 minutes from Platform One. The obvious question then being: “Which F*CKING platform am I on now”.

But the platform number signs had been removed. Other passengers were equally confused and so we milled around wasting our precious 4 minutes until we found a railway guy then ran like hell and just caught the train home.

Now, to be fair to the station staff, on the way up to London I had encountered the same problem on a different platform and had bene told by a railway operative that the signs had been removed during “improvement work”. In the meantime he and his mates had printed out platform signs on what looked like A4 paper using font size 48, laminated these and stuck them up only on his platform. A brave initiative but, sadly, amongst the plethora of others signs at any large London station, these were, in practical terms, invisible.

My question is: WHERE THE HELL WAS THE MANAGER?! Why had the manager not realised the absurdity of running a 6 platform station without signs? Why had he or she not thrown a wobbler and organised temporary signs immediately? Why had he not jumped in a cab and driven to the local sign shop? Why had he not paid them whatever it took to work over night to create large obvious signs and had them up on the platform the next morning?

Pride

Pride

I have scoured the Internet for the name of the manager of East Croydon station but without success. I have emailed Southern Rail and asked for his name and address so that I can write to him but I suspect that they will not give me his name. I suspect there is no single individual in charge. I suspect that the responsibility for platform signage falls somewhere between a Passenger Liaison Manager, a Station Facilities Manager and a Southern Rail Communications Manager. I suspect that these, so called, “managers” see their task as wearing nice suits, sitting in offices and having meetings.

I suspect that these offices are in a block 2 miles from the station. I suspect that if they hear about this at all, it will be item 11 on a list of “issues” in a project progress meeting sometime in January.

More broadly I wonder if modern management methods have become so formalised that they erode personal pride in one’s work and along with the pride they detach direct responsibility and accountability. Pride along with initiative and imagination are boiled out of corporate staff in an effort to standardise everything.

Watching episodes of Dad’s Army we now ridicule Captain Mannering as a pompous, overzealous old buffoon. Perhaps. But he would not have been so lax as to leave a major London station operating without platform signs.

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