Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Brodie of Glenbogle

I don't know if I'm alone in seeing a resemblance between Mr Brodie Clark CBE and Golly Mackenzie of Monarch of the Glen. Golly, if you remember, is the faithful long-serving gillie of the Glenbogle Estate.

I watched the grilling of Mr Clark by the Home Affairs Select Committee of the House of Commons yesterday. Clearly some of the MPs had been briefed by the Home Office politicians. Brodie Clark came across as someone who thoroughly knew his business, and far from being a "rogue" irresponsible bureaucrat careless about national security. Where the blame lies in the ministers' apparent ignorance of the contingency arrangements for "Health and Safety" emergencies I don't know, but that seems the nub of the problem. What was clear was that the boss of Border Agency, Mr Robert Whiteman, in post for all of five weeks, has a great deal to learn in man-management. This well-endowed and bearded young man seemed to want to cut a figure as decisive and authoritative. He doesn't seem to have wanted to listen to experience and to consider carefully.

Archie has just appointed a new estate manager at Glenbogle. He's keen to impress. There've been reports of loose record-keeping. He meets with the grizzled Golly, who explains that they do a daily count of the red deer throughout the year, and a regular headcount of the grouse. However in the early spring and autumn in the migration seasons they don't count the individual wildfowl on the estate, just do a weekly approximate calculation. "Then how do you check that no one's poaching them?" asks the new manager.
"Well, you can't - that way, just by counting."
"You mean you don't know exactly how many stock are on the estate at any one time?" he asks incredulously.
"Aye, I mean that."
"But how do you know Lord Kilwillie's men are not coming and stealing our best stags?"
"I'd know. We have our ways."
"That's not good enough. I'm suspending you and getting one of my friends to investigate you. And if I were you, I'd go gracefully, and ask for retirement. I'm sure the Laird would give you a decent pension. How long have you been working here?"
"Only 38 years."

Good management in my view involves giving direction, but also listening to and supporting one's workforce. Not sacrificing them after years of service. People are not turkeys. I read that "local organic turkeys are in short supply" in the States, in face of "increasing demand for organic free-range turkeys for Thanksgiving" this year. In British politics it seems we want our civil servants to be entirely battery reared - tasteless and faceless, but well-fleshed.

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