Thursday, 30 August 2007

SafeContractor - the final instalment

Firstly, apologies for recent lack of blogging. My father died unexpectedly a couple of weeks ago. I am now back in action, and with plenty to blog about.

We finally said goodbye to SafeContractor in August. They were still trying to get us to use an overly wordy, repetitive and therefore ineffective Health and Safety Policy document. Plus a whole load of other issues, very similar to those we first came up against when this whole fuss started. The H&S policy was just the first thing on their list, and when we failed to persuade them that ours was much better (being clear, concise, not repetitive, and still covering all the key points) I decided enough was enough and we simply wouldn't ever convince them that their materials are (in our opinion) less safe than our own.

Here, if you are interested, is their super-long Health & Safety Policy sample. And here is our version (in draft form - the one we actually issue to staff is much prettier).

Despite being far, far longer, I really don't think there is anything substantive in theirs which is not in ours. Or at least, nothing sufficiently important to warrant the inevitable loss of clarity that would result from extending the length of the document.

Plus their sample is horribly let down by what I can only assume is a drafting error in the very first two clauses (which are almost identical).

Here is the letter I wrote to SafeContractor informing them of our decision to withdraw from their accreditation programme (copied into the HSE):

John Kinge
National Britannia Group Ltd
Britannia House
Caerphilly Business Park
CF83 3GG

Dear John,

Thank you for your e-mail of 1st August.

We do very much appreciate the work that you and your colleagues have put into reviewing our SafeContractor accreditation. It is a credit to your organisation that you have paid so much attention to our very detailed concerns.

Nevertheless, we cannot escape the fact that we have very different views on managing health and safety. We think that long, repetitious documents with redundant information are dangerous as they are not read properly, the really important information gets lost amongst less important information, and they give the reader the impression (whether justified or not) of being part of a bureaucratic box-ticking exercise.

In our discussions you have indicated that you agree with these principles (of keeping documents concise, readable, relevant etc.). But, in practice, you give far less weight to these principles than we do, to the extent that those principles are completely overshadowed by the competing principle of including as much information as possible, even if it is of minimal importance, or repetitive.

I think that the first two clauses of your sample H&S Policy template are very telling:

“1.1 The Company acknowledges and accepts its legal responsibilities for securing the health, safety and welfare of all its employees, of subcontractors working on its behalf and all others affected by their activities.”

“1.2 The Company recognises and accepts the general duties imposed upon the company as an employer under the Health and Safety at Work Act and subsequent health and safety regulations appertaining to it’s [sic] operation.”

Clause 1.2 says nothing substantive that clause 1.1 does not say. While you might see this redundancy as a trivial drafting error, I think that the fact that such obvious repetition has found its way into the very first section of your sample template says a lot about the (lack of) importance given to producing a concise, readable, effective document. Clearly no-one has read through this document, thinking “Can we make this shorter and clearer? Can we make the key messages more prominent?” etc. No document (whether relating to health and safety or not) would be produced by our organisation without that sort of attention to detail. To you, attention to detail seems to mean “have we covered everything?” To us, attention to detail means “is this document as effective as possible?”

I should emphasise again that we are not rejecting your approach because we want to reduce paperwork, or that we see paperwork per se as burdensome. We are rejecting it because we think it is less safe. We firmly believe that our health and safety documents help foster a safer working environment than we would have if we followed your approach. We therefore no longer wish to seek renewal of our SafeContractor accreditation.

We will continue to work independently to further improve our materials and processes, including taking into account Jim Neilson’s and Steve Pointer’s comments about more formally documenting the process we have gone through to produce the employee-facing material that we use.

Thank you again for the time and effort you have put into this.

Yours sincerely,

Bruce Greig
Managing Director

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Has O2 boss never heard of a smartphone?

Profile of Peter Erskine (CEO of O2, mobile phone company) in yesterday's Times. After the article, there is a bunch of the usual trivial questions, including "What gadget must you have?"

To which Erskine replied "I guess it would have to be a toss-up between my sat-nav and my BlackBerry. I can’t choose one outright, but I know I’d be really lost without one of them."


Has no-one told him that there are plenty of phones which will do Blackberry stuff and Satnav stuff? I bet Erskine is one of those chaps that carries around a Blackberry for e-mail, a high-spec but completely underused mobile for voice calls, and a PDA for a diary. Plus sat-nav.

When all of those functions can easily be performed by one device (e.g. Sony Ericsson M600, all the Sony-Ericsson P-series phones, loads of Nokia smartphones, etc.)

If the boss of O2 hasn't figured this out, no wonder so few other people have.

Friday, 3 August 2007

Valuing money vs service gestures

I often harp on to our handymen about the importance of billing accurately. We bill in half-hour intervals, so if a job has taken one hour and fifteen minutes, that's billed as 1.5hrs. The customer expects that, it is generous compared to most firms who bill in full hour increments (so 1hr15 would be billed as 2hrs), and crucially you don't really get any brownie points from the customer if you under-bill. At least not enough brownie points to justify the massive dent in your day's revenue if, say, you rounded DOWN three jobs in the day. That'd be 1.5hrs of billable time which you've lost out on, and the customer, really, will hardly have noticed. Customers notice small, important SERVICE gestures, but don't really notice PRICE gestures (e.g. returning to a customer and spending 10mins showing them again how the new combination lock on the door works without charging would be hugely, hugely valued by the customer. But rounding down the original 1hr10min bill to 1hr would be hardly noticed, customer would just think it was a standard policy, wouldn't really register that you'd just surrendered 33% of the entire bill).

I saw this first hand today. As a customer.

We had to drop our Ford Focus off at the local dealer to get a new front window fitted (friendly policewoman had to break into the car on Wednesday to rescue baby Lara after Robyn (wife) had somehow managed to lock both key and baby in the car. No huge drama, but did obviously result in broken window).

I also asked the dealer to programme a new key as we only have one (hence having to break into car in the first place.)

I picked up the car this evening and noticed that they had charged us a lot less for the window than they had quoted. I even managed to draw attention to this, as I thought they might charge more: they had originally quoted something like £180, I asked them to match Autoglass's price of £157, which they said they would do, so I was keen to check that they had charged £157. They hadn't, they'd charged £103! I quickly moved on to check that the new key worked OK.

So, at this point, I knew (and dealer knew I knew) that I had already saved over £50 on what I expected to pay.

I checked the keys and found that the zapper on the old key no longer worked, only the new one did. Dealer offered the perfectly reasonable explanation that, actually, the old key had never worked 100%: the unlock button was mechanically defunct, which meant they couldn't get it to transmit its full range of signals, so couldn't programme a new key to match it. They'd just reprogrammed the car and the new key to match, leaving the old key fine as a key, but no good as a zapper.

This is a completely satisfactory explanation. I now had what I needed: a perfectly functional zapper key for everyday use, and a spare key to use to if we ever lost the first key.

You'd think, given that they had just given me £50 (by, for whatever reason, underbilling for that amount), that I'd be happy with that. But I wasn't. I was expecting to have 1 fully-functional zapper key (the new one) and one 50% functional zapper key (my old one). And I was mildly irritated not to have that.

The dealer was great, offering to replace the zapper bit of the old key, offering to come and collect the car from our house (as I had pointed out it wasn't that easy to bring car back, involves taxi or 2-car / 2-person trip), etc.

I was perfectly polite about the whole thing, and quickly realised I was fussing over nothing, but it struck me later how much I had fussed over the trivial matter of the zapper, compared to how little I had appreciated the free £50 I had just got.

Had, for example, the dealer never underbilled by £50, but instead had produced, immediately, a third key free of charge (value about £30), I would have been ecstatic and raving about them even though I would have actually been £20 poorer than I am under the £50-lower-bill / half-a-zapper scenario. To be honest, they could have produced a £20 bottle of Chablis, or bouquet of flowers, or whatever, and I would have valued that much more highly than the £50 off the bill.

We aren't that rational when it comes to things like this. We, as customers, value gestures and service far more highly than we do cash, which is odd, but extremely interesting.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Footway parking loophole closed?

Read that a barrister, Clive Wolman, lost a case yesterday in the Court of Appeal regarding a footway parking loophole which we established back in 2004.

Here is the BBC report on our original case, where we established in the Parking And Traffic Appeals Service that a literal interpretation of footway parking law is the correct interpretation (that one or more wheels have to be on the footway. If neither wheel is touching the footway, no contravention has occurred.)

As I understand it, PATAS rulings are not precedent-setting (i.e. another court can decide on their own interpretation of the law; and indeed a future PATAS adjudicator can reach a different decision to the adjudicator in our case), and it looks like the Court of Appeal have decided that the carelessly-drafted paragraph in the London Local Authorities Act 2000 should have read "on or over" not just "on" (as in one or more wheels on any part of an urban road other than the carriageway).

Not sure if Mr Wolman knew about our case or not - I Googled him last night and left him a voicemail at his chambers, as I am curious to find out a bit more background on his case.