Thursday 24 March 2011

The real big society

Last week I was flattered to be chosen by my U3A class to propose the vote of thanks to our lecturer at the end of our course. I should have liked to have been elceted to perform this imortant task by the Alternative Vote or some similarly sophisticated method but in fact was approached by "men in dark suits" (actually two ladies in black cardigans)and told "It's you", rather in the manner that leaders of the Tory Party used to "emerge."

Our classes were fortnightly and our lecturer produced for each one a fluent, searching and erudite accout of some aspect of 18th Century British social and economic history. He is a good friend of mine and I know for a fact that he has frequently missed atttractive social alternatives, partiularly jazz concerts, in order to spend time preparing materials outside his normal area of interest. Our whole class (some of whom were attending for the fourth year) agreed that he gave excellent value.

Of course, as with all U3A teachers, he received no money for his services. Actually, that's not stricly true: he was given £30 at the beginning of the session for "expenses." There are two things of interest here. Firstly the size of the payment: cetainly not millions, nor thusands nor even hundrends. Secondly, the fact that the payment was made at the beginning of the course, not at he end for reaching some artificial target. Our lecturer was trusted to do a good job and he did. And he'll do it again next year.

This is just one example, not only of the thousands of people who work voluntarily, as youth leaders, in drama roups, gardening clubs and the numerous other voluntary societies which make up our already existing "big" society, but also the millions in employment who do their best for an agreed wage without the incentive of performance bonuses. All of these simply "perform."

Perfomance bonuses distort because they reward the recipient for reaching targets which rarely reflect the over-all purpose of the function. Examples are legion: in secondary eduction the concentration on A to C pass rates which force more attention on the marginal C/Ds and less on the rest; inappropriate sales of insurance policies and mortgages because they provide a bigger commission for the seller, and most damaging of all to date, the bankers rewarded for short term profits rather than long term stabliity.

I should like to see all bonuses scrapped and all workers at whatever level engaged to do their best at their particular job for an agreed wage and trusted to get on with it.

1 comment:

  1. Isn't the issue the choice of targets, rather than the setting of them? I concur that people should fulfil a role to the best of their ability for many other more 'holistic' reasons, but I don't see employers incentivising efforts above and beyond the normal call of duty as a bad thing; particularly where there is a clear need to change an organisational culture or methodology, or where the work in question is of itself not particularly rewarding in any way, and where it would therefore be difficult for any worker to find consistent motivation.

    But I agree in principle that there are often far too many targets, set far too crudely and on too simplistic measures. In the case of secondary school education, if there were targets at all these should be set to encompass all children as all are equally important (equality!); in the case of bank bonuses, we clearly have a very neutered form of capitalism where bonuses are actually par for the course and there is no element of real risk to the banker. This must be reformed as I feel that it is as much at odds with true capitalism and a competitive economy as anything more Keynesian would be.