13 March 2015

Why I am not working for the London Borough of Hackney

There was enough going for the Senior Business Analyst / PM position at London Borough of Hackney for me to take a shot at it. I liked the idea of being based in one location in central London, it was a job I had done before at Lambeth and so I knew that I could do it well in my sleep, the London Overground goes directly there from Richmond, it would put me in walking distance of the Arcola Theatre and Hackney is a part of London that I fancied learning more about.

The application process was not that painful (unlike LB Merton) and so I went for it and was not in the slightest surprised to be called to an interview. The email invited me to Hackney on 13/03/2015 09:30 at Robert House, 6-15 Florfield Road, Hackney, London, E8 1DT for a morning that would consist of a presentation (full brief and preparation time will be given on the day), a face to face interview followed by a technical test. The entire process will last approximately 3 hours.

I had to take holiday to go but that seemed a fair investment and, besides, it would give me the afternoon do so something useful, like go and look at wedding dresses.

The travel worked as well as expected and I was there in good time. Time enough to find the place and maybe to have a coffee to.

The problems started with finding the venue. This was clearly the address though there was nothing to say that this was Robert House or that the ICT department had offices there.

I went around the other side of the building looking for the main door. I did not find that though I did find a couple of smokers who explained that this was indeed the front door and they told me that if I looked carefully at the small hand-written labels on the door bells that one did say "ICT".

It would have taken just one person with a little pride in working there to have printed an A4 sheet and laminated it.

Once inside I was greeted nicely and given a cup of coffee while I waited. While waiting I had a look at the notices around the entrance. One promoted some rather bland corporate aspirations. The poster was dated 2005.

I was tempted to leave at that point but I had nothing else to do that morning so I thought that I would go along with it.

For the first hour I was left in a dark room with some flip-chart paper and pens to prepare a presentation. I know how to do presentations so that held to fear for me but the case study that I had to work on did because it reminded me too much of the mistakes that we made at Lambeth almost ten years previously, the mistake of thinking that using CRM and Biztalk gives you business transformation. The project was to move one specific type of call, missed waste collection, from the department to a contact centre. Nothing wrong with that, as far as it goes, but to call it business transformation was fanciful, not least because missed waste collection is not a business process itself, it is dealing with the failure in the business process of waste collection. What Hackney should be doing is looking to eliminate missed waste collection calls, not to handle them better - doing something wasteful efficiently is still wasteful.

Hackney's lack of understanding on real transformation, and change management which is a key part of it, became more obvious during the interview. I decided to take an arrogant and slightly aggressive approach because if I was going to work there then I had to be sure that I would be allowed to make the changes required. I was slightly surprised that the person attempting to interview me on change management had such a little grasp of the subject and I had to lecture him on continual process improvement at one point, much to the amusement of his colleague. I also had to remind the interviewers more than once that I had published papers on business transformation on slideshare.

The interviewers also made the common mistake of forgetting that they were being interviewed too and they had a job to do to convince me to come and work at Hackney. They did not even try.

The last hour was the most bizarre.

I was left alone in another room, this time with an A4 bad, some biros and a set of questions that seemed designed to have nothing to do with the job whatsoever.

If there was ever a set of questions drawn up by a committee then this was it. The questions ranged all over the place and varied from the simple yes/no type to those that required a longer answer.

I was applying for the position of Business Analyst / Project Manager and was being asked questions on EU procurement rules, ITIL and technical architecture.

Funnier still, some of the questions had simple factual answers, e.g. ITIL definitions, and I was alone in the room with an iPhone. Cheating would have been all too easy. My final comment on my answer sheet was to point this out.

There is no way that these questions could have had a meaningful impact on the recruitment processes and it worried me greatly that Hackney thought that it could.

Apart from the courtesy of the smokers and the lady who looked after me during the morning, nothing about Hackney suggested professionalism. I had not quite finally decided to let them sink on their own as I thought that, given a chance and some support, that I could help them to get things moving in the right direction.

Then I got home and saw the email that they sent me during the morning.

The next stage in the process is Occupational Assessment on Wednesday 18th March 2015. 

I attach…

·         An invitation letter
·         Venue details
·         Guidance sheets for the assessments you will be taking
·         Practice Leaflets for the tests you will be taking (electronic copies released under licence from SHL April 2013) Please see information in Invitation Letter and in 'speech bubble' on each Practice Leaflet as to which tests apply
 If you have any special needs, which might affect your performance in an assessment or interview, please contact the Assessment Team before the day so we can agree what might be done to support you. Please do NOT assume that we will have been given any information about special needs that you have explained on your application
Please confirm that you have received this message and that you will be attending
I look forward to seeing you on the 18th  

The summary of all this was that I was being asked to resit the 11+ by somebody who thinks that using three colours, two forms of highlighting and no fullstops is the way to write an email.

I had a quick look at the test questions and they were as simple as I feared, they were very much at the 11+ level, an exam I passed almost fifty years before going to pass exams at O Level and higher in English and getting a degree in Mathematics. I had also been work at Principle Officer level for thirty years.

In my application I had mentioned things like being Chair of Governors for a school for several years and having articles published in several journals so I had already given them the evidence of my capabilities by giving them facts that were in the public domain and easily verifiable.

I was deeply insulted. It was rather like asking a seasoned F1 driver to take take the standard driving test to prove that they can handle a car. If you do that then then good drivers will recognise the insult and walk away and only those that find driving a little difficult will be prepared to take the test. Hackney has a recruitment process that is designed to deter the best and appoint the mediocre.

I immediately decided to give up on Hackney as a lost cause and I let them know that I would not be taking the tests. We had spent some time in my interview talking about identifying waste in processes while they were oblivious to the considerable waste in the recruitment process that they were using.

Even if I had taken the tests (and more holiday to do so) then that would have told Hackney nothing. Obviously I would have passed impressively but so should everybody else who had been shortlisted. They would have spent time and money to learn nothing, a clear example of waste.

And this was the worst type of waste as it actually destroyed value. The point of the recruitment process is to find good people so doing something that pisses them off is beyond silly.

Finally, at no point during the process was I asked what I thought about it and, as I had had to explain to them during my interview, feedback is vital in making processes better. Their recruitment process is remarkable awful but if they do no ask candidates about it then they will never find out.

Hackney said that they wanted to transform but nothing in their behaviour suggested that they have the slightest idea what business transformation is or what they need to do to make it happen.

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