I am a big fan of Lucy Kellaway, a Financial Times journalist who is on a mission to expose and expunge the stupid and idiotic practices of the corporate world. Having been doing it for many years, she now has many eyes and ears around the UK, and is constantly sent excruciating examples that she writes about in her regular FT column.
In one of her most recent columns, she talks about Deloitte UK’s staff calendar, which has instructions to staff to make connections with their customers. There is nothing wrong with this, of course, but as Lucy points out, the methods and messages in the calendar are completely confused and confusing. The imagery is all wrong, the instructions seem forced and false, and the result will probably be a very artificial connection between Deloitte staff and their clients. Good intentions, but mangled by a corporate machine.
You can read Lucy’s column online here, or an extract below:
…the 2010 Deloitte calendar… sits on the desks of its auditors and consultants in the UK. On the front page it says, “a client a day”, a phrase that is repeated on every page within.
The more familiar slogan, “a Mars a day (helps you work rest and play)” is perfectly sensible. It may be plainly untrue but at least it makes one inclined to rip off the wrapper and eat the bar at once. But “a client a day” makes no sense at all, especially in a business where people often work with the same client for months on end.
Inside the calendar, the month of January shows a picture of a dewy apple alongside the words “maintaining a healthy relationship”. This is even more baffling. Do auditors generally have unhealthy relationships with their clients, unless advised otherwise by calendars? According to Google, an unhealthy relationship entails domestic violence, betrayal and addiction. I had no idea that a life in audit could be so exciting.
The monthly tip for February reads: “It’s good to talk, it’s even better to listen.” The picture is of a phone left off the hook, giving the impression that the consultant has nipped off to make a cup of tea while the client bangs on unsuspectingly. I’ve just asked a friend who is an old hand at employing consultants whether listening is indeed better than talking. He shook his head. “I’m paying the bastards, so I’d like it if they could say something useful.”
May has a picture of a half-eaten watermelon. “Something to get your teeth into,” it says. I don’t like to think about what is being implied here. Is it suggesting that Deloitte workers should bite their clients?
For June there are two parrots on a perch looking companionable. “A problem shared.” The imagery here is puzzling as parrots surely repeat whatever they have just heard and don’t understand a word of it.
August, worryingly, shows a penknife but October is even more unfortunate. By a photograph of a pumpkin are the words: “Give them a treat.” It is surely essential that auditors eschew Halloween as neither tricks nor treats are permissible in a post-Enron age.
November’s offering is a firework. “Remember, remember,” it says. Remember what? That a band of traitors tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament 400 years ago? Why do auditors need to remember that? Wouldn’t they be better off remembering IFRS instead?
In all, the motivational calendar is by turns bathetic, moronic, ill-advised and plain wrong. While the JP Morgan effort was utterly creepy and phoney, at least one could see what it was driving at: it was an attempt to get bankers to be agreeable to their clients. The Deloitte effort is more frightening because it has evidently had a lot of thought and expense lavished on it, and will sit on desks for a full year encouraging staff to ignore the four things that matter in a client relationship. These are experience, mastery of subject matter, diligence and punctuality.
The thing that distresses me most about the calendar is that it proves perpetrators of bullshit repeat offend no matter how severe the warning.
Two and a half years ago, Deloitte produced a motivational staff booklet called “The Little Blue Book of Strategy”. I wrote a whole column about it saying that like Mao’s Little Red Book , it was an instrument of brainwashing and torture (of language).
Deloitte wasn’t pleased: I was summoned for a bollocking over breakfast with the firm’s global chief. He said his bit and I said mine, but I was impressed at how he seemed to be taking it in. Now, thanks to the calendar, I see the firm prefers talking to listening, after all…..