Garden centre cafes also now serve as conference or business venues. You can usually get a ring-side seat at one of these meetings as there will usually be one person in a suit, (for some reason often a woman between 30 and 40 years of age wearing a dark suit and white blouse) sitting alone at a table for four and sporting a name badge or security tag on a lanyard along with the latest Apple laptop. She will invariably be joined by a much younger man or woman who, after pleasantries and a coffee, (something called a ‘Lartay’ is popular in the midlands but that changes to a ‘Lattie’ the further south one drives) will be interviewed for some sort of job vacancy or performance assessment. Just what sort of company would conduct either in public in a garden centre cafe is not always clear but lots of earnest conversations do take place.
One of the most entertaining floor shows is the business meeting when three or more employees of a company descend on a table already occupied by their ‘team leader’ or as I recently heard their ‘organisational operational manager’ (how about that for a title?). Then after all have settled down, they unleash their laptops and set about planning their ‘strategic overview of the company’s ‘communications initiative’ or other riveting plans.
These meetings are so interesting to witness that I have been known, when not busy, to purchase another coffee and croissant just so that I can listen in and be educated by these colleagues jostling for position in their hierarchy and talking bilge about ‘a paradigm shift in outward-facing customer engagement delivery’, or some nonsense about ‘clear blue water being needed to think outside the box to deliver solutions and engage with a diverse audience’, all of which may have been novel and cutting edge business speak in 1990 but hardly so now. Perhaps if they all did more actual doing rather than talking their company would not have to have meetings in a garden centre café.
It could also of course explain why staff turnover is so great in many companies and why so many are not successful. Maybe Dominic Cummings is correct when he said he wanted to recruit more weird odd types. Looking around these days or reading and watching what is reported in the media and passes for normal that should not be difficult. It could be of course that there are many innovative and even inspirational people around who actually won’t take the risk of speaking out because ‘the job’ keeps the mortgage paid and the bank happy, which is why these team meetings are a complete waste of time.
It could also be that if so-called human resource professionals returned to being a tool of management and stopped talking about diversity, equality, common purpose and politically correct drivel and found applicants who could actually ‘do’ the job required by their employer companies and the public services might well be better for it, but that’s just me. Seriously though, I do wonder how many companies are going to prosper on the very competitive world stage with that sort of management thinking. As for the civil service, a friend who experienced it likened it to walking through treacle while reading their beloved rule book. Cummings will need a lot more than rhetoric to change the way all the public services operate, never mind the civil service.
The message after the second world war was ‘export or die’, a slogan that again needs to be heeded. The difference was in those pre-EU days we, as a nation, still had some capable people with a ‘can-do’ mentality. Almost half a century of bloated bureaucracy, thanks mainly to the exponential increase in central and local government employment, together with the effect of quangos and the quasi-voluntary sector, has created a comfy and lethargic mindset that sees process as more important than service provision or product quality.
The garden centre phenomenon is a very interesting one. It provides employment in its various sectors from executive management and traditional horticultural roles, to retail, leisure and hospitality. It demonstrates how companies large and small can ‘engage’ with consumers and customers from various age and social economic groups. The world and their partners can be seen there, their conversations and purchases are a barometer of what people from all walks of life think and like, rather better than some ‘journalists’ opinion’ or an ‘expert in this and that’.
We should now be asking, even after the last election, is anyone in the media business and political bubble listening? I doubt it, much of the business world, particularly the ones with the wrong products, at the wrong price at the wrong time, but with huge corporate debt are frightened to death of change and competition despite what they say. As for the mainstream media, if current reading, listening and viewing trends continue, many won’t last in their present form and that includes the BBC. It’s a pity that they just don’t, as a certain ex PR man turned Prime Minister once said about voters, ‘we heard you, we get it’.
The problem, as it turned out, was that they didn’t. As Super Mac said, after a little local difficulty in his time: “It events, dear boy, events,” or I would suggest not even managed events, just good old-fashioned people power or if you like, market forces. Try listening – you may then not have to go broke.