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Brass monkey weather

I found myself awake at 3 am this morning ruminating about my feelings of anger and injustice towards a company which is ignoring me.

Yes, it feels like the whole company! Many people may relate to this feeling – if you don’t, ask yourself the question how many times have you sent an email message and heard nothing back or submitted a proposal and all you heard was nocturnal crickets in the early hours, just like me?  What about raising a customer complaint to a digital answering mechanism when you are in the endless ping-pong world of press number 1, 2, 3 for assistance then back to 1 without speaking to a real-live human being?  How did you feel when being ignored – insignificant and ineffectual – an all too common feeling in business today?  As somebody remarked the other day, it may be the new norm.

I totally get it that we are flooded with emails every day and it is fair to say that we cannot possibly read, respond to, or return every message. I face this challenge constantly and if I add in the management of business networks like LinkedIn,  it’s daunting. What I know is that people, myself included, will respond to mails they are interested in, want something from or there are consequences if they don’t.  So what makes people not respond or simply ignore you?

In my annoying tale that’s keeping me up in the wee small hours, it’s about a consulting job I did and have not received payment for. To add some colour it was a difficult task with low margins (so no easy money) but we did an excellent job and the result was valuable to the client. When it comes to payment however there has been none and a year later we are still awaiting our dues and being ignored.

The company’s behaviour has been unprofessional, and I am not taking about a small organisation here – this is a multi-national! When following up, nicely and gently at first, we are sent from pillar to post (when there is a response), starting with the country CEO who says“I will look into this and revert”and doesn’t and further emails are ignored. Country Head of HR says “We are on it and will revert”.  

She eventually loses interest and also goes into silent mode. Our emails demanding payment are sent sometimes to all 5 people who are connected with the project, know we delivered on time and on spec, know we are due payment and who, at some time or other have also committed in some way to ‘revert’ – their standard lie which people in this organisation blatantly and unashamedly use, as if their word is nothing more than a series of letters strung together for the purposes of deflection, much like a skilled tennis player lobs the ball back over the net before you are ready and know you are down a point and have to serve again.

Tactic one – fob me off, followed by ignore. What’s amazing is that 5 people will read the mail and collectively ignore it. My last attempt was to include the Group MD in the mail and guess what? Yep, no response.  I have this image in my mind of the mail recipients putting their hands over their eyes and impersonating the three brass monkeys going,  'la la la, hear no evil, see no evil and speak no evil.'  Me, on the other hand, can be heard saying to anyone who will listen ‘xxx are absolutely useless’, referring to the organisation, of course!

But organizations are made up of people and it is the people’s behaviours that makes the organization what it is. It doesn’t matter the type – it can be a club a corporation, a church or a family business –  its identity is determined by the people in it.  Whether that means it is efficient, corrupt, inept, carless, irresponsible – the group doesn’t have an identity on its own – that identity is made up of the people within it. And the identity changes as and when the people’s behaviour changes and sometimes this happens virtually overnight, as appears to be the case here.

I have worked closely with this organisation for many years, so I know (knew) the culture pretty well; I have known the type of people they recruit; who they fire; I have been close to their vision and values. Were they perfect? No.  Did they try?  Yes! Did I want to work with them, oh yes! Today it’s a different picture and all of this has changed in exactly 12 months. There is a new set of behaviours and attitudes to match the new order or, from where I sit, disorder. Included is not taking responsibility, ignoring suppliers and a lack of integrity (ironically these are listed as their values!).

Viewing this from a non-emotional and academic view point because my emotional self feels anger frustration and as a positive psychologist I know that acceptance comes from understanding, I realise that corporations are not people. Governments are not people, unions are not people, companies etc., because they do not define their own identities. They do not think; therefore, they aren’t, to parody Descartes.  It makes no sense to vilify an organization because of the kind of organization it is. Whether you are talking about a corporation, a government, or a football team, they are only as good or bad as the people within them.

At this moment this organisation is not looking too good. From my perspective gone is the can-do attitude, a willingness to listen to and respond to customers/stakeholders/suppliers and distributed decision making (in this instance I don’t even know where the decision to pay is to be made, such is the avoidance of responsibility). Organizational culture grows over time and for people to consider culture change, usually a significant event must occur.

An event that rocks their world such as flirting with bankruptcy, a significant loss of sales and customers, a new CEO with a different outlook and agenda or losing a million dollars – any or all of these might get peoples' attention, and a few were definitively played out in this company.

There is also another factor at play here. According to scholars of behavioural science, ignoring is devastatingly and inevitably becoming the new norm.  As Alex J. Packer, author of the manners guide How Rude!’ points out, so inured by technology are we, that if a query comes via text or Facebook, it's much easier to ignore than a human voice; your smartphone isn't going to burst into tears if you don't respond.  Email is the same.

There is a decrease in empathy and social desirability (how much we care about what other people think) in business today means that we're more prone to take the route of avoidance. And herein is I suspect is part of the problem – alongside the shocking decline in company culture.

My e-mail strategy has completely failed – it’s too easy to ignore me that way. The second error might be believing that collective responsibility is working each time I send an email message to 5 people, presuming someone will care and with a further expectation they will care enough to do something, not just promise to revert and don’t.  I am left thinking what happened to the good old days when you would simply get in your car, go to an office, sit in reception, wait till you see the manager then demand your cheque? Perhaps that won’t work as it’s a long drive to Tanzania – but I might just pick up the phone!

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Export Processing Zones: How to Get SEZA to Sizzle

23rd September 2020
Export Processing Zone (EPZ) factory in Kenya

In 2005, the Business & Economic Advisory Council (BEAC) pitched the idea of the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to the Mogae Administration.

It took five years before the SEZ policy was formulated, another five years before the relevant law was enacted, and a full three years before the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) became operational.

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Egypt Bagged Again

23rd September 2020
Samson

… courtesy of infiltration stratagem by Jehovah-Enlil’s clan

With the passing of Joshua’s generation, General Atiku, the promised peace and prosperity of a land flowing with milk and honey disappeared, giving way to chaos and confusion.

Maybe Joshua himself was to blame for this shambolic state of affairs. He had failed to mentor a successor in the manner Moses had mentored him. He had left the nation without a central government or a human head of state but as a confederacy of twelve independent tribes without any unifying force except their Anunnaki gods.

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‘RO, ‘RO ‘RO YOUR ‘BOT

23rd September 2020

If I say the word ‘robot’ to you,  I can guess what would immediately spring to mind –  a cute little Android or animal-like creature with human or pet animal characteristics and a ‘heart’, that is to say to say a battery, of gold, the sort we’ve all seen in various movies and  tv shows.  Think R2D2 or 3CPO in Star Wars, Wall-E in the movie of the same name,  Sonny in I Robot, loveable rogue Bender in Futurama,  Johnny 5 in Short Circuit…

Of course there are the evil ones too, the sort that want to rise up and eliminate us  inferior humans – Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in The Terminator,  Box in Logan’s Run,  Police robots in Elysium and  Otomo in Robocop.

And that’s to name but a few.  As a general rule of thumb, the closer the robot is to human form, the more dangerous it is and of course the ultimate threat in any Sci-Fi movie is that the robots will turn the tables and become the masters, not the mechanical slaves.  And whilst we are in reality a long way from robotic domination, there are an increasing number of examples of  robotics in the workplace.

ROBOT BLOODHOUNDS Sometimes by the time that one of us smells something the damage has already begun – the smell of burning rubber or even worse, the smell of deadly gas. Thank goodness for a robot capable of quickly detecting and analyzing a smell from our very own footprint.

A*Library Bot The A*Star (Singapore) developed library bot which when books are equipped with RFID location chips, can scan shelves quickly seeking out-of-place titles.  It manoeuvres with ease around corners, enhances the sorting and searching of books, and can self-navigate the library facility during non-open hours.

DRUG-COMPOUNDING ROBOT Automated medicine distribution system, connected to the hospital prescription system. It’s goal? To manipulate a large variety of objects (i.e.: drug vials, syringes, and IV bags) normally used in the manual process of drugs compounding to facilitate stronger standardisation, create higher levels of patient safety, and lower the risk of hospital staff exposed to toxic substances.

AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY ROBOTS Applications include screw-driving, assembling, painting, trimming/cutting, pouring hazardous substances, labelling, welding, handling, quality control applications as well as tasks that require extreme precision,

AGRICULTURAL ROBOTS Ecrobotix, a Swiss technology firm has a solar-controlled ‘bot that not only can identify weeds but thereafter can treat them. Naio Technologies based in southwestern France has developed a robot with the ability to weed, hoe, and assist during harvesting. Energid Technologies has developed a citrus picking system that retrieves one piece of fruit every 2-3 seconds and Spain-based Agrobot has taken the treachery out of strawberry picking. Meanwhile, Blue River Technology has developed the LettuceBot2 that attaches itself to a tractor to thin out lettuce fields as well as prevent herbicide-resistant weeds. And that’s only scratching the finely-tilled soil.

INDUSTRIAL FLOOR SCRUBBERS The Global Automatic Floor Scrubber Machine boasts a 1.6HP motor that offers 113″ water lift, 180 RPM and a coverage rate of 17,000 sq. ft. per hour

These examples all come from the aptly-named site www.willrobotstakemyjob.com    because while these functions are labour-saving and ripe for automation, the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the workplace will undoubtedly lead to increasing reliance on machines and a resulting swathe of human redundancies in a broad spectrum of industries and services.

This process has been greatly boosted by the global pandemic due to a combination of a workforce on furlough, whether by decree or by choice, and the obvious advantages of using virus-free machines – I don’t think computer viruses count!  For example, it was suggested recently that their use might have a beneficial effect in care homes for the elderly, solving short staffing issues and cheering up the old folks with the novelty of having their tea, coffee and medicines delivered by glorified model cars.  It’s a theory, at any rate.

Already, customers at the South-Korean  fast-food chain No Brand Burger can avoid any interaction with a human server during the pandemic.  The chain is using robots to take orders, prepare food and bring meals out to diners.  Customers order and pay via touchscreen, then their request is sent to the kitchen where a cooking machine heats up the buns and patties. When it’s ready, a robot ‘waiter’ brings out their takeout bag.   

‘This is the first time I’ve actually seen such robots, so they are really amazing and fun,’ Shin Hyun Soo, an office worker at No Brand in Seoul for the first time, told the AP. 

Human workers add toppings to the burgers and wrap them up in takeout bags before passing them over to yellow-and-black serving robots, which have been compared to Minions. 

Also in Korea, the Italian restaurant chain Mad for Garlic is using serving robots even for sit-down customers. Using 3D space mapping and other technology, the electronic ‘waiter,’ known as Aglio Kim, navigates between tables with up to five orders.  Mad for Garlic manager Lee Young-ho said kids especially like the robots, which can carry up to 66lbs in their trays.

These catering robots look nothing like their human counterparts – in fact they are nothing more than glorified food trolleys so using our thumb rule from the movies, mankind is safe from imminent takeover but clearly  Korean hospitality sector workers’ jobs are not.

And right there is the dichotomy – replacement by stealth.  Remote-controlled robotic waiters and waitresses don’t need to be paid, they don’t go on strike and they don’t spread disease so it’s a sure bet their army is already on the march.

But there may be more redundancies on the way as well.  Have you noticed how AI designers have an inability to use words of more than one syllable?  So ‘robot’ has become ‘bot’ and ‘android’ simply ‘droid?  Well, guys, if you continue to build machines ultimately smarter than yourselves you ‘rons  may find yourself surplus to requirements too – that’s ‘moron’ to us polysyllabic humans”!

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