To Jacques R, Director of Quality, Eurotunnel,
Report of a Meeting, 13th July 1994
Amelia is the Manager of Community Affairs within UK Public Affairs. I arranged this meeting on the suggestion of Tony Bloomsbury * following a useful and positive meeting with him some weeks ago, on the topic of quality action plans. I had wondered if Amelia might prove to be valuable as an Animateur Qualité.
Now that Amelia is back from prolonged absence on sick leave, our long-awaited meeting took place. She was accompanied by Mrs Baker, the Headmistress of Bromley High School, as warned in her email. For reasons that are still not crystal-clear to me despite the explanations given, Amelia was being "shadowed" all day. It seems that the headmistress would obtain thereby a better understanding of life in the business world, giving her the advantage of first-hand experience when advising her pupils in their choice of career. I am given to understand that this "initiative" is an example of local community liaison. I wonder if the memories that Mrs Baker takes back to Bromley will prove helpful for her pupils.
As if I had come on a fact-finding mission, Ms McQuarrie-Hart launched into a monologue which lasted throughout the meeting. I was able to contribute only by making bold interruptions. Her theme was that the UK Public Affairs Department has been doing a wonderful job. The top management however remains ignorant of this fact. This I found puzzling. If Public Affairs (Public Relations by another name) has a function at all, it is surely to publicise and promote. If it cannot achieve this for itself, then perhaps top management is right and it is not doing a good job. As a result of being undervalued, the department is anticipating a savage reduction of its operating budget. Ms McQuarrie-Hart herself is so affected by the thought that her contract will not be extended beyond December (little more than five months away) that she finds it hard to keep motivated each day, and I wonder if her health too may have been affected recently. But she continues bravely on a fire-fighting basis; that is she spends most of each day just in trying to clear the in-tray. On this particular day the in-tray remained untouched, as her diary logged a continuous succession of meetings. At this point I wondered, though not out loud, how vital to her schedule the present meeting could possibly be. Surely the decent thing would be self-sacrificingly to bring it to a swift end, so that she could devote her scarce time to more valuable matters. But I still could not get a word in edgeways.
Her personal role is to foster participation with the local community, and to effect liaison with schools. Her department was responsible for Celebration '94, which required a lot of resource. Since their budget had been very restricted, they had found many ET employees willing to provide services free of charge on the actual Saturday. This was a good illustration of how effective the department is in practice.
I feel she may remain unclear as to "who does what" in Eurotunnel. For example, she seemed to think that Public Affairs should play a major role in promoting Investors in People, Abolition of the Paper Mountain etc. I had heard of the former initiative, but not the latter. Gazing at her towering in-tray, so close to avalanche, I had a sudden idea for abolishing part of the Paper Mountain. It was simple, it was elegant: but I knew that Amelia would not like it. In any event, I believe that top management have thought of it already.
I did manage to offer some suggestions: (1) to define clearly her "customers"; (2) to obtain some criteria to measure what these customers needed; and (3) to measure whether these needs were being satisfied. She embraced this idea with less enthusiasm than I had hoped. She preferred to think in terms of "beneficiaries", and in guessing rather than measuring. So, staff morale is benefited by working within the community, prosperity in East Kent is benefited by ET being there and being seen to be there; public perception of ET is benefited by seeing it doing good things in the community; marketing is benefited by the good public image being fostered of the company; the environment is benefited by the company's concern, e.g. for local wildlife.
I then suggested she might try and find ways of measuring the extra benefits provided against the costs of working for their achievement.
Again she was not enthusiastic: her main thing is a current campaign to ensure the departments survival, which presents her with a stark dilemma. She needs to prepare a convincing presentation showing what good work the Department is doing. But she cant make progress with developing this because all her resources are tied up with daily meetings and clearing the in-tray.
If I had the power to report to top management that she needs an increased budget, and if that were the message I were inclined to convey, she would have felt it was the most constructive hour of her entire day, if not entire month. Sadly for her, my brief was different.Sadly for me, I dont feel optimistic about having delivered the Quality Message to willing ears.
Yet it did provide an illustration, if one were needed, of (1) lack of focus on objectives; (2) lack of discipline in trying to achieve those objectives; (3) inappropriate objectives.
* Amelia and Tony both have titles. She is "The Honourable Amelia McQuarrie-Hart", and he is "the Lord Bloomsbury OBE". However their names have been changed.
Special thanks to Duncan Jennings for permission to use his photo of the Shuttle locomotive, at top.
Background photo: sunset in High Wycombe, 10th October, 2003.