Oiling the wheels in 2014
Are these experiences from 2013 familiar? You arrive on a train and are greeted by a message warning of the penalties awaiting those with incorrect tickets; you arrive at a department store and notice a security guard; you are slightly behind with your Council tax payments and a top-hatted bailiff turns up on your doorstep.
The litany of stories continued, all gathered during festive get-togethers over Christmas and the New Year. The friend who was a day overdrawn by £120.00 and was summoned to appear at her bank by midday; the cousin who was given a parking ticket for failing to properly display a ticket even though he maintained that it was clearly visible. The irony was not lost in the hearing the words of the Queen's speech:
'we strive daily to become better people. The Christmas message shows us that this love is for
everyone. There is no one beyond its reach'.
a message echoed the previous day by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, writing of the right everyone has
t'o feel they are not any longer outsiders, embarrassments, problems, but brothers and sisters in
Beaming out threatening messages the fines awaiting those with less than perfect rail tickets is not everyone's idea of brotherly love and so the beginning of this new year is, as the Queen said, a time for reflection. The train companies have announced increases in the average price of season tickets of 3.1%, and with many commuters experiencing salary increases of no more than 1%, many will feel the pinch. The campaign group, Railfuture, described British trains as 'easily the most expensive in Europe' and by 2018, the consultants Credo, working for the Campaign for Better Transport, predict that by 2018, fares will cover 103% of railways' operating costs, compared with 80% in 2009. If you wanted to attract customers paying a premium price, would it not make sense to treat them well? What earthly gain could come from wielding the big stick?
One of JB Priestley's best-known plays, An Inspector calls (1946), comes to mind. The Inspector points a finger at many members of a Victorian household following the suicide of a young working-class woman. It transpires that their collective behaviour is behind the young woman's exploitation, abandonment and social ruin. Something of the past? In fact, Priestley's theme was successfully transformed by John Cleese into the training video 'If looks could kill' about the suicide of a customer. The Inspector proves, in a brilliant reworking of Priestley's theme, that 'behaviour was the missing weapon' and the lesson of the film, that behaviour breeds behaviour, is summarised in the musings of one character's that 'It costs nothing to be friendly and it helps make people friendly to you'.
Strangely, this classic training film came to mind after receiving an email from a trainer working in the field of Diversity. Persia West has just written a book, Just be kind, about
the way that 'Kindness brings kindness, clarity brings clarity, wisdom enhances wisdom, recognition creates gratitude, on and on it goes'. So what is the effect of barking out threats to people, whether passengers, bank customers, car owners, or Council tax payers?
Following on from Priestley and John Cleese, one can presume that it is to create a nation of angry and stressed people. As we look forward to a new year, it is time to break the vicious circle and change the zeitgeist from one based on punishment to one based on positive reinforcement, far more long-lasting in its impact. In management terms, this means shifting organisations from top-down systems reliant on transactional leadership - the type that ignores people until things go wrong - to more empowered systems anchored in what is known as 'transformational' leadership. This style of leadership is credited with 20% enhancements in productivity and uses simple principles such as individualised consideration (noticing people in positive circumstances, not just when things go wrong), a collegiate approach and a positive and powerful vision.
With more storms on the way, a kinder approach to people will surely help oil the wheels of our train services and much else besides.