Martin McCrindle - A Comedy of Errors
Martin McCrindle, 4 Achray Avenue, Callander, FK17 8JZ
I was already suffering from stress due to Kathy's bullying behaviour towards me, when I was hit with a second massive source of stress; the role evaluation (Framework Agreement) process which was implemented by Martin McCrindle's HR department. I wasn't alone in feeling that stress; however I knew more than most just how badly the process had been implemented. Stress increases when you are subjected to a problem that you have no control over. My only outlet was to inform senior management of the massive problems I'd discovered within the process, and hope that they took me seriously, and handled my concerns appropriately. However, I was met with an equally massive attempt to cover up the problems, and therefore the stress merely increased.
When the process began, I was told that it was very unlikely that my grade or salary would be changed. We were asked to complete a questionnaire about our roles. The DBAs were told that our questionnaire would only play a small part in deciding our grade. Our grade was to be linked in some way to one of a small proportion of benchmark roles which were to be fully analysed. The Programmer role was one that was to receive a full analysis. This meant that the Programmers were to be interviewed by the HR team to obtain a more detailed analysis. As well as that, while the DBAs were restricted to a maximum of 100 words when answering questions, the Programmers were unrestricted. Naturally, at this stage I just assumed that HR knew what they were doing. I assumed far too much.
Alarms started to ring when the Programmers received some early feedback from HR about a partial analysis of their role. It included the phrase "Programmers deal with straightforward information". Plain daft! It was clear that the Programmers hadn't included enough information in their questionnaire. So Kathy wrote up more information to make it clear that Programmers have to deal with information that is far from straightforward. She offered it to HR, but they rejected it, and the Role Analysts continued to analyse the Programmer role and all of the other roles within the university with the information they had. They decided not to produce any more of the feedback which had alerted us to the problems within the process. It was at this point that HR should have stopped the process and investigated what was going wrong. Instead, their reaction was to reduce the tranparency which had highlighted the problem
HERA, the organisation which created the role analysis process, state in their web site that Role Analysts are trained not to analyse roles with incomplete information, and instead that they must always obtain that information from the role holder or line manager. It is HERA who display the words "must always" in bold characters. Yet HR were forcing the Role Analysts to analyse roles in the knowledge that the information they had was incomplete, and rejecting the information that the Analysts were trained to request.
After about eight months, the analysis of all of the roles was completed. It was a bigger job than originally planned, because Martin McCrindle's team had the astonishing idea that a full analysis be carried out on every role, and not just that small proportion of roles originally identified. It does not require a brain the size of a planet to see the flaw in the thought process. If every role was to be analysed and graded in the same way, then the method of data gathering should have been consistent too. I would later discover that there were even more inconsistencies.
The result of the role analysis was that each role was allocated a number of points. From this, and presumably the staff budget, HR calculated the range of points required for each grade. All of this was based on incomplete and incorrect data. Some roles were upgraded (green circled), some remained on the same grade (white circled), and some were downgraded (red circled).
The next major blunder was that HR decided to send letters to staff who were either green or white circled, telling them that trained analysts had decided what their new grade should be. The term "trained analysts" was obviously used to try to attach some credibility to a process that lacked any credibility. More accurately, the letters should have stated that, although the analysts had been trained, Stirling University had forced them to ignore their training, and that their erroneous analysis had been used to produce an erroneous grading. However, McCrindle thought it was worth sacrificing accuracy in favour of avoiding a riot.
The red circled staff were sent letters telling them that their grade was "inconclusive". These employees, which included the Programmers, were told that their grade could not be concluded without further information, including the further information that HR had rejected from the Programmers six months earlier.
What HR and management couldn't explain, and refused to attempt to explain, was how they could be sure that only red circled roles had insufficient information. It is very likely that the vast majority would have had insufficient information.
Every one of us who worked for Kathy was red circled, and some of us went down by more than one grade. On the other hand, not one person in Martin McCrindle's HR department was red circled. This was entirely different from the Information Services department where the majority of employees below manager level were red circled. Rather than admit that there was a serious problem with how the process was implemented, it was suggested that it was because IT staff didn't fill in their questionnaires properly. Quite insulting, but even if it was true, the Role Analysts were trained not to analyse queationnaires that were either incomplete or unclear. They were supposed to approach the role holder for clarification in those situations.
Soon after we received our "inconclusive" letters, my team had a meeting with Peter Kemp who was the Director of Information Services. He was very supportive, and was very critical of the way HR had implemented the role evaluation process.
Soon afterwards, my team had a meeting with Martin McCrindle. This was before we had become aware of most of what I've described in this post. However, we knew we had all been red circled, and he had some explaining to do. Martin emphasised that Stirling University had taken the extra time and care to ensure the process was implemented properly. He was very critical of other universities who he said hadn't done it as robustly as Stirling, and he predicted that they would very likely come a cropper because of it. I remember leaving that meeting thinking he was a decent, professional guy, and I genuinely believed and admired him. My opinion was soon to change as I gradually learned the truth; that Martin McCrindle is a bullshitter!
We were still in the dark about what had gone wrong. We didn't fully understand how the process worked. The union encouraged us to ask HR questions, and HR set up a special email address for framework questions. I found out that the analysts had dropped my role by two grades, or £11,000 per year. The red circled employees still didn't know prcisely what additional information was needed to have our roles evaluated properly. I was actually very pleased with our questionnaire which was mostly completed by my colleague, David and my manager, Kathy.
Some of my colleagues searched on the internet for help. Clare found a document that was to change everything; it was the Guidance Notes for Role Analysts. It showed you specificly how to answer the questions in a way that would optimise your score.
It was no wonder that my role was evaluated so badly. Although we had answered the questions correctly, there simply wasn't sufficient detail in our answers to allow the Role Analysts to properly analyse it. One answer we gave was extremely ambiguous, and was scored very badly because the Analysts had completely misunderstood our answer; but it was only after seeing the guidance notes that we could have known what the question was attempting to discover about our role. In addition, there is just no way that we could have provided the level of detail required within the 100 word limit that we were set. Those 100 words were supposed to include examples giving evidence that the answer was correct. On top of all that, it would have been impossible to have completed the questionnaire in the short time that HR had suggested it should take. I think we had been told it should take no more than a couple of hours.
My colleague, David and I had done ourselves no favours by trying to work within the limits we were set. We discovered that we were the only ones in the team that had done so, and we were penalised because of it.
There was a lot of concern among IS staff. Over 100 of us attended a meeting with Peter Kemp to hear him respond to our concerns. His attitude had now completely changed. Previously he was openly critical of HR's handling of the process. He had even written to me privately criticising a woman from HR on a matter that I felt was irrelevant. Since then, we had only learned of further incompetence, but he had obviously been told to support the process. His performance at this gathering was extremely poor. Some people were openly angry; some demanded that the Principal should apologise to us for inflicting this shambles on us; some openly laughed at Peter's bumbling attempts to support the process. I personally felt very embarrassed for the bloke. He had been put in a terrible position. There's nothing that could have persuaded me to change places with him. Even Kathy admitted that he was being dishonest due to his level of seniority.
There was one comment Peter made that particularly sticks in my mind. It demonstrated to me that he had no self respect, and that he thought that we were all so stupid that we'd swallow any crap that he could think up on the spur of the moment. He wanted all the red circled employees to start providing the additional information. Many of us were reluctant to do that because we had no faith in the process which could (and should) have been ditched. At the beginning of the process, HR had arranged sessions for explaining how staff were to complete the questionnaire. The concensus was that these sessions were useless, and that the people who ran them had been badly prepared. As a "carrot", Peter told us that HR were willing to run these sessions again. Someone shouted out that they were useless, and asked if they would be improved. Peter confirmed that they would not be able to improve them because that would be unfair to those employees whose grades had already been concluded. He stressed that it was important that the sessions be just as bad as they were the first time. Someone pointed out to Peter that it was already unfair because we all now had access to the guidance notes, and very few of those with concluded grades had them when they completed their questionnaire.
"They should have asked for them, and they would have been given them", said Peter, 'thinking' on his feet. He didn't explain how they could possibly have asked for something that they didn't know existed.
The University had to try to demonstrate consistency in the process. A bit late in the day for that I would have thought. The only thing that was consistent was Martin McCrindle's incompetence throughout the project; and that wasn't something that was about to change any time soon... or at least not for the better.
Another factor that the process failed to address was manager inconsistency. Managers were required to verify that their staff's role descriptions were correct. Some managers like to take the credit for everything that happens in their team while others give credit where it's due. Then, in the case of my own manager, Kathy was eager to boost the role description of certain colleagues, while doing her best to keep a lid on mine. As well as this, there was the matter of roles held by multiple employees who carried out different duties. How were these to be handled? Should the role description include a total of all of their duties? Should it only include the intersection of their duties? Should new job titles be created?
At the outset, Kathy was fairly reasonable in assisting us with the DBA description. We hit one big hurdle though, when David and I said we did X, and Kathy insisted we didn't do X. I decided it would be better to put this in writing, so I wrote to her with lots of evidence that would leave her in no doubt that we did X. She wrote back saying that it was never in doubt that we did X, but that we had claimed we did Y. I'm not sure if there's a word in the dictionary for that type of switch or u-turn, but if there isn't, then it should be called a "Kathy". Example usage: "I've made a complete fool of myself either by talking shit, or by telling an easily detectable lie. The only way I can possibly save face is to do a Kathy".
I wrote a program that allowed you to enter the likely Role Analyst decisions, and it produced your points score. Once we completed our role description, I calculated that we would easily receive enough points to take us up to Grade 9. Now, there is no way that the DBA role is worth Grade 9, but this just indicated how badly broken the process was. The ranges of points required for each grade were set at a time when very few employees had the guidance notes. With the benefit of the guidance notes, and the removal of the word limits, and the realisation of just how important the questionnaire was, it was now much easier to accumulate a far greater number of points. In other words, the "point" had been devalued mid process, and this was confirmed by the fact that roles that had already been red circled were now being green circled.
Just when we thought it couldn't possibly get any worse, it was about to get a whole lot worse. Thank God Martin McCrindle had decided that Stirling University would carry out the process very carefully, and more robustly than other universities!
When employees received their letters telling them their new grade, the letter included a chart showing their overall points scored broken down into 14 categories. Alison had written a very clever program which reverse engineered these scores to provide either the precise, or sometimes possible, decisions made by the role analysts. Helpful as this was, I felt it would be much simpler if HR just gave us those decisions. Under the Freedom of Information Act or Data Protection Act, we were entitled to receive the sheet of paper that the analysts completed while analysing a role. Armed with this and the guidance notes, we could easily work out the feedback (in meaningful English) that the process produced. You may remember that HR had decided to reduce transparency and hide that information from us. It soon became standard practice for employees to request this scoring sheet each time their role was analysed. The analysts' score sheet contained the names of the analysts that had analysed the role. However, HR blacked out their names before they sent us the copies.
Eric Hall's role was processed, and it scored just a tiny number of points short of what was required for Grade 9. He received the analysts' score sheet, and some of their scores had been crossed out and changed, resulting in a lower score than there would have been without the changes. He was absolutely certain that HR had done this to keep his score at grade 8. If just one score had remained unchanged, he would have been green circled and put on grade 9. He showed me one that had been changed, and assured me that the original score made far more sense than the one it had been changed to. I told Eric that it was highly unlikely that HR would do that. Somebody would have to take risks that would put their job and their career in danger. To make it more unlikely, I assumed that it would have needed more than one person to carry it out. Eric remained convinced that his score sheet had been changed fraudulently, and he said there was nothing that would convince him otherwise. Other people were just as convinced as Eric that scores were being produced fraudulently. While I was in no doubt the shambles was the result of extraordinary incompetence, I just dismissed the possibility that employees would be dishonest. In view of what I've learned since then, not only do I believe it was possible, I believe it is very likely that some scores were dishonestly adjusted after the Role Analysts completed their score sheets. I believe it also extremely likely that other methods were used to underscore roles. I believe that Martin McCrindle found this necessary to try to reduce the horrendous affects of his own incompetence. I think it's time Martin McCrindle gave a full explanation, and I won't restrict him to 100 words.
I made the mistake of telling Eric that my score was likely to take me to grade 9. He broke the news to Kathy, and she invited him to attend the meeting arranged for David, Kathy and me to check through my role description. She was determined to keep my role below grade 9, and she wanted Eric to support her. From the start, Kathy challenged several statements in my role description. Bizarrely, these were all statements that Kathy had typed up herself on our behalf just a few days earlier before hearing we were in danger of receiving grade 9. Her attitude throughout that meeting made the stress worse. It was just before I was due to go on holiday with Ruth, and that holiday was ruined because of it.
The analysis was completed just before Christmas, and HR passed our score to Kathy. She called me into her office to give me the bad news; Grade 7. I was just about to go on another holiday with Ruth. Again it was ruined because of the stress. How on Earth could it possibly have scored Grade 7? When I returned from holiday, I received my score sheets from HR. It had been analysed two times, as was the case when the result was either a red or green circle. The first time it was analysed, it came out at grade 6; three grades below my own calculation. It looked very likely that the analysts had been given our original questionnaire which was about a page and a half long, instead of our new 19 page version designed to make it as simple as possible for the analysts to allocate it the correct scores.
Up until that point, David hadn't been particularly concerned by the role evaluation process. He was a grade below me because he'd only joined the Uni about three years earlier, and he only worked half the week, so financially it wouldn't affect him as much as me. However, when he heard about the grade 6, he became very angry. He typed up a very strongly worded, offensive email that he was about to send to HR. He showed me it first, and I managed to persuade him not to send it. I was confident that the grading was just an honest mistake caused by the analysts being given the wrong document.
I wrote to Peter Kemp and arranged to meet with him and Kathy to discuss it. Peter immediately denied there had been any error, and insisted that the correct document had been analysed. Kathy agreed with Peter, yet strangely neither had asked HR if it had been an error. So how could they be so sure it wasn't? I pointed to several sectional scores that made it obvious that the wrong document had been analysed. Still they denied it. It was a pointless discussion because we really needed to have it confirmed by the role analysts which document they had analysed. Peter said they couldn't do that, but he'd speak to someone in HR. Later he said HR confirmed that the correct document was analysed. That was simply impossible. Now the stress was starting to go through the roof because I knew I was right, but I was being 'brick walled'.
I set out to prove this by taking my role description to one of the trained role analysts at the Uni and I asked them to score it. It scored grade 9, very much as I had predicted. So now, whichever way they chose to look at it, the uni had a problem with the process. Either the wrong document was analysed, and / or there were massive inconsistencies in the views of trained role analysts. Grade 9 pays roughly twice as much as Grade 6. It goes beyond any stretch of the imagination that trained role analysts couldn't tell the difference between a grade 6 role and a grade 9 role.
I now believe the reason they were so reluctant to admit that the wrong document had been analysed, was because it was done deliberately, and that they had probably done the same with other roles in an attempt to prevent staff costs from going through the roof. I think it is highly unlikely that any other role would have had two descriptions that were as starkly contrasting as the two that the DBAs produced. Therefore it wouldn't have been so obvious to other employees that the analysts had been given the wrong document in their case. Of course, any doubt would have been removed if Martin McCrindle had required the role analysts to sign and date the role description as well as their score sheet.
I wrote to Peter and Kathy informing them that I was finding the situation very stressful. Any remaining faith I had in the process had disappeared. Kathy told me that I should refer myself to the Occupational Health Doctor. I told her that I wouldn't do that because I didn't think a doctor could do anything to reduce the stress. I told her that the stress would vanish when the two issues that were causing the stress (her bullying behaviour and the flawed role evaluation process) were both addressed properly. She said that if I didn't self refer, she would refer me.
She did refer me, and I attended OH. I explained to the doctor what was causing the stress. He said there was nothing he could do to relieve the stress. He said that it was perfectly normal for me to feel stressed in the position I was in. He said the solution lay with management. He wrote a report for management which stated that I should be listened to, and taken seriously. When Peter received the report, he wrote to me to invite me to meet with him to discuss the problems. I thought that he was finally going to have to take me seriously and take some action to solve the problems. I showed the doctor's report to several colleagues, and they all agreed that it was very damning for management, and that they would have to take the matter seriously. I felt as though a great weight had been lifted from my mind.
I met with Peter and Karen Stark. To my disappointment, Peter stuck with his story that I was to blame for submitting a form that wasn't clear enough for the role analysts to understand. Utter bollocks! My disappointment was magnified because my hopes had been raised that he was going to stop talking shit. I told him that the process had been appalling, and that I had no faith in it. By the end of the meeting, I was visibly shaking due to the stress. The following day I was unable to attend work. My work was the one thing up to that point that had been able to reduce the stress. It took my mind off the nonsense. However, the stress was too great to even allow me to attend. I had asked Karen Stark for a copy of the letter of referral to the doctor. When I received that, the stress increased again. Kathy had lied in the referal, saying that I had been aggressive to my colleagues. It was so bad that I was off work for five weeks.
Peter had told me that the role analysis process would be professionally audited. I wrote to him to say that I would like to meet with the Auditors so that I could make them aware of my observations. Peter carefully ignored my request. Obviously I knew stuff they didn't want the Auditors to know about!
My letter also represented another protected disclosure because I stated my concerns that the process couldn't possibly achieve its purpose; equal pay for work of equal value. In addition, I informed Peter that the university had failed in its duty to care for me by allowing Kathy's bullying behaviour to go unchecked. Kathy had already caused a former colleague's health to detereorate due to mistreating him. University Secretary, Kevin Clarke was aware of that too, and was instrumental in getting rid of him.
Peter was anxious that I go through the appeal process for the role evaluation. I was already hearing how McCrindle's team were making a pig's ear of this with other roles. I held off as long as possible. One interesting feature of the process was that we noticed that two roles could have the same description for the same category, but be awarded different scores. Roles with a superior description could even score less than other roles. It was that random. For example, one of the categories was Knowledge and Experience. Our description included the fact that the DBA requires previous experience as a Programmer. We also stated that we had responsibility for providing Programmers with training. Yet we received something like 40% fewer points than the Programmers. Other scores were even more bizarre!
Martin McCrindle announced what, on the face of it, sounded like a good idea. He said that if employees could show that they have an equal or better description than a role that scored higher, then they could simply claim the score that the other role received. Excellent, I thought. Of course, in order to do that, you need to see the descriptions and scores of all the other roles. I asked HR to publish them electronically. They wouldn't agree to this. At first they put up a bogus argument that it would allow people to know what some individuals were earning if they were green circled, adding that if they only provided the ones that were not green circled, people would know that, simply by elimination, the others were green circled. I explained the flaw in this argument. You could only tell that a role had been green circled if you knew its previous grade, and I didn't require that information. McCrindle was desperate that this information was not made available. It would have shown up how massively inconsistent the process had been. The next objection was that it would cost too much. They sent me details of the costings. To inflate the cost, they multiplied the cost of providing the information for a single role by the total number of employees at the university, instead of the number of roles, which is obviously a lot smaller. They estimated the cost at £9000. I called their bluff and offered to pay for it. Then they objected by saying that the true cost would be much greater. It was a real life pantomime!
In reality, it wouldn't have been fair to allow this anyway, as the people who already had their grades concluded couldn't possibly compare their score with those roles that were to be analysed later.
With our appeal, we were faced with a dilemma. We were allowed to present the same description or we could add even further information. McCrindle's team managed to mess this up too. Instead of asking the role holders as a group, each role holder was asked for their preference. So I replied saying that I had no more information, and David said he had more information to add. In the end, we just presented exactly the same description that had been scored grade 6 and grade 7. We both knew that it was good enough for grade 9. What we couldn't know was what HR would do with it. They had a dilemma too. The OH doctor had suggested in his report that if the problem wasn't resolved, I should inform ACAS, and HR had seen his report. If our role was to score grade 6 or 7 again, I would definitely have had to raise the issue externally, either with ACAS, the Auditors, equal pay regulators or the media. If it was to score grade 8 or 9, it would be seen as an admission from HR that the process was a shambles.
Our role eventually scored grade 8, with points mid way between that required for 8 and 9. We could easily have argued that it was underscored, but I'd had enough of the whole process. It was an utter shambles, but I really needed to try to remove it from my mind.
Paul A from Information Services managed to successfully have his role green circled to grade 9. However, not long afterwards, Peter Kemp found some dodgy reason to sack him.
Throughout the process, it was discussed regularly at union meetings. However, because the process didn't really affect the academic staff who were largely white circled, it didn't receive the attention it should have done. I believe this was a serious mistake, because although it didn't have much affect on them in the short term, I think they were later going to suffer from the shambles that at the time may have seemed to be other people's problems.
When the process was completed, I believe there were no red circled roles; or at least vey few if any. There were a lot of green circled roles, and those staff were to have their salary increased, and the increase was backdated to the time the process was originally scheduled to be completed; years previously. So, without the benefit of a money printing machine, how was the university going to pay for all of this?
Very soon afterwards, staff were offered Voluntary Severence packages of a year's salary to give up their job in order to reduce the wage bill. Not long after that, compulsary redundancies followed. The university chose to carry this out unlawfully by not negotiating with the unions. Some staff were also told that if they didn't leave voluntarily, they would be made redundant. By refusing to negotiate with the unions, the uni lost an Employment Tribunal case which is likely to cost them in exxcess of half a million pounds; but they would have expected that. It will also cost them a fair deal in legal fees.
The reduced number of staff left many, particularly academics, overloaded with work because they were having to cover for colleagues who were no longer there.
To be continued...