Management? Don’t make me laugh.


Den of thieves. © P J Croft 1977, 2014

I’ve been listening to Radio National and a talk about the level of competence of management in Australia.  The conclusion is that it’s not very high.  My thoughts exactly.

The interviewee, a professor of management studies at Melbourne University, said that more ordinary wage employees have tertiary qualifications than managers. In other words, managers are not well educated in this country.  That’s my experience.

At the place I used to work:

1.  All engineering people had to get a Diploma or Advanced Diploma in Electronic Engineering at TAFE as a condition of employment.  If you couldn’t or wouldn’t do it, your position was at risk.  One tech was fired for lack of progress and enthusiasm while I was there.  It was a female tech, one of only two we ever had in my 33 years. (The other was good, but she left.)

2.  All engineering employees also had to pass the ABCB, later Dept of Communications, later TAFE run, Broadcast Operator’s Certificate of Proficiency (BOCP) and the Television Operator’s Certificate of Proficiency (TVOCP).  I did.  This was in addition to their Diploma studies.  Don’t be fooled by the term “Operator’s”.  This was a full electronics/maths/electrical/practical written and oral exam course.

The BOCP and the TVOCP used to be mandated by the Control Board. Any time the station was on air, there had to be a TVOCP qualified person on the premises.  The same for radio stations with the BOCP.  In TV, we all had both certificates.

At the time I did them it was self study, but later it required classroom exams.  Hardly anyone passed at their first attempt.  It usually required two or three tries, especially the oral, where the examiners really probed your knowledge.  (I passed both on first go, although I admit I chickened out of the first try at the oral exam and had to wait 6 months before another try.)

The Diploma was/is a three year full time or 6 year part time course. We had to do it in our own time, on top of our 40 hour work week.  We continued working a 40 hour week right up until 2000, the year after I retired. All the office and other staff had been on a 37½ hour or 35 hour week since the general shift in the 1980s.  Management tried to make a 37½ hour week for us part of an enterprise bargaining agreement!

As “deregulation” became the catchphrase of the 1980s, and the Australian Broadcasting Control Board was disbanded and absorbed into the Dept of Communication, management was left free to regulate itself.  One of the conseqences of that was that they couldn’t care less about TVOCP rules any more.  Not required. Shrug of the shoulders, uncomfortable look, walk away.

3.  I was doing another Diploma course in Instructional Multimedia in the mid 1990s.  At one stage, I suggested to the Station Manager that most production staff (cameramen, directors, audio operators, lighting people) had no qualifications or formal training, and maybe they should.

The station manager’s response?  “What would you teach a director?”, in a dismissive tone, and he walked away.

4.  All the time I worked in Engineering, 33 years, when we needed to order anything, we had to make a requisition.  That involved writing it out on a piece of paper.  The Engineering secretary then typed it out onto a Requisition form which she took into the Chief Engineer’s office for him to approve and sign.  It was then walked to the store for them to act on. All totally manual, in other words.

In the 1990s, we adopted PCs and most engineering people became pretty competent at using them.  They were networked to a small extent at that early stage.

But they were really used just as word processors.  I developed a copy of the requisition form as a template in my word processor program, so when I made a requisition, I handed the secretary a form already filled out.  But she wouldn’t accept it as finished.  She had to copy my requisition onto a “real” requisition form, then walk it into the chief engineer’s office for his ink signature, then down to the store.  NB:  when the chief engineer was away or on leave, all this paperwork had to go upstairs to the Director of Engineering’s office.  He was also the Station Manager I mentioned – dual role, above the Chief Engineer.

One day I said to him, “Why are we still using this paper process for requisitions? Why can’t we keep it all in electronic form over the network?”

His response?  “You can’t do signatures electronically”, and that was the end of the conversation.  Yes you could!, even back in the early 1990s.

5.  Everything we needed required a requisition.  No matter how cheap or trivial, there had to be a requisition, even if we’d picked it up on the way to work, as we often did.  A bottle of methylated spirits? – reqquie;  a special connector or transistor from Altronics in Roe St as I was in the area? – reqquie, if I wanted to be reimbursed.  Crazy!

Towards the end of my time, my company branch in Perth had a $1,000 limit imposed by Sydney on anything we needed.  Anything above that had to go through the Capital Expenditure process.  That involved more complex form filling, about three pages, I think, on why we needed it, how the cost would be recouped or amortised and so on, then passed through three levels of management including the Managing Director and Company Secretary for approval.  Unbelievable!  The waste of time!!

6.  When the Chief Engineer retired in 1995, he wasn’t replaced!  Sydney decided we didn’t need a chief engineer in Perth.  We had a Director of Engineering who combined his job with Station Manager and lived upstairs in the glass walled offices, but he played no hands-on role.  I saw this a s a complete lack of respect from upper management.

7.  One of my worst arguments happened over a 15″ monitor.  I was developing a software program over nearly a year, and doing a hell of a lot of it at home in my own time.  I had a 15″ NEC Multisync monitor at home.  At work, I was told to order a computer and monitor for this job.

I ordered a 15″ Viewsonic colour monitor, a much cheaper model than mine, about $700, I think.

When the Chief Engineer saw my requisition he objected.  Why did I need a 15″ monitor?  “The company standard is 14 inch.”  He was really angry with me for deviating from what he had and what he felt was extravagance.  I asked why it mattered so much?  Because Sydney would go over his accounts and ask why this extravagance was needed, he said.

I didn’t get the chance to say it, but my feeling was, “Why can’t you defend your own staff and say, this guy needs it for a special job.”  But he was really upset and we both got pretty angry about all this.  I kept the monitor, but this manager was really upset about the difference between a 14″ and a 15″ monitor.  This was at the same time as we were paying $4,000 each for Sony 8″ rack mount high res Trinitron monitors and about $7,000 each for 19″ studio monitors.

My point is that:

  • very, very few management people had tertiary qualifications.  Many of them were simply moved up from operational roles on the basis of showing a bit of leadership ability;
  • they were not interested in getting qualifications for themselves;
  • they had almost no respect for our qualifications;
  • they resisted change;
  • they kept us working a 40 hour week long after the rest of the workforce were working reduced work weeks;
  • they saw no contradiction in going outside for smoke breaks several times a day (MD, MD’s PA and Company Sec were all smokers), or going out to lunches, or going on junket trips to Melbourne with clients for footy games at the MCG.

I could go on!  Workers are more qualified than managers in this country. The standard of management is appallingly low.  Management rails about unions and union corruption, but as the inquiry in the ICAC in Sydney is showing at the moment, many upper level managers just take what they want.  Massive pay “packages”, enormous pay increases no matter how the company is performing (e.g. QANTAS), huge bonuses, big “incentive” payments, dodgy share schemes,  long lunches, company freebies …  it’s endless.  $200,000 for less than 50 hours a year work?  This from a man who was supposed to be one of the elite managers and directors of companies.

As you can tell, I spit in disgust.



3 comments on “Management? Don’t make me laugh.

  1. Ted Smith says:

    Paperwork? I started work at channel 7 in Brisbane in 1960. The accounts staff started with 2 people growing to 8 in twenty years. The accountant went to a lunch and a drink or three every day (on the company) and eventually became the GM! His liver failed after a Mark Anthony manoeuvre when Skase bought the place – I am still alive. Moral?

  2. Pete says:

    Hi Ted, Gee, you’ve been going back over the archives! Good for you.

    Yeah, Skase didn’t pay the company contributions to the Seven Network Super Fund for one year, around 1986 I think. When compounding is taken into account, that dishonest action by that weasel cost us probably $10,000 each when we retired, maybe a lot more.

    I was able to “retire” early in 1999 and I was glad to get out. Seven Perth used to be a good place to work, but bloody Sydney management turned us into a shell, unable to use the talent we had, all frustrated by lack of opportunity. We had enough equipment and people to do good work, but all we got from ATN7 was disdain. It’s still that way. Thank goodness I was able to get out when I did. It was a sad end to a good company. Rotten management, in other words. Cheers.

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