Reinforcing a culture of failure

I was always under the impression that if there were a bonus scheme available, that it is a reward for success. I’m also pretty jaundiced towards any bonus schemes in the public sector as they seem to measure success by an entirely different criteria than the private sector, plus they pay out their bonuses from taxpayers money.

So this made my blood boil…

Express.

STAFF bonuses at the Met Office rocketed by a third to £3.3million last year – despite failing to predict the coldest winter in memory.
Workers at the Government-owned organisation were handed the perks despite a series of forecasting failures.
The big freeze of December 2010, the coldest in over 100 years, saw Britain grind to a halt, costing billions of pounds and jeopardising the recovery.
But staff still pocketed £3,368,000 in bonuses during 2010-11, up 30 per cent from the £2,593,000 handed out the year before. In the past five years, Met Office staff have been awarded £13.9million in bonuses – with last year’s payments averaging around £1,800 between 1,900 people.
Democratic Unionist Party MP Sammy Wilson, who obtained the information, said: “It’s a bit ironic that, in the week the Prime Minister has talked about ending the bonus culture and bonuses for failure, a Government body has awarded staff a 30 per cent hike in bonuses.’’ Business Minister Ed Davey, whose department oversees the Met Office, said payouts were “in line with reward principles”.

This strikes me as paying out a bonus simply for doing your job and doesn’t seem dependent on any results, after all the Met Office are still convinced that Global Warming Climate Change Global Climate Disruption is actually happening and is something humanity can do something about. Which is why their long term models are no longer published owing to the fact that they’d become a laughing stock over the sheer inaccuracy of them. In a sense here, what is happening is the reinforcing of a culture of failure after all, next day temperature predictions are only 87 per cent right and its daily forecasts are only right six days out of seven.Which essentially means that there’s only a one in seven chance of the forecast being right on the actual day they pronounce it! With all the equipment they have you’d expect a somewhat higher percentage than that. As for the long term forecasts, well unsurprisingly enough they don’t count in the bonus scheme as they are for research purposes only which rather suggest that the weather does not still co-operate with their climate models. Not that this or last years weather was particularly easy to predict, certainly the seasons seem slightly out of kilter with an unusual mildness over the last 3 months though it was pretty cold this morning with the first frost of the year in Kent.

A bonus scheme is only really suitable in a company that makes money not in the public sector, the criteria for success is not judged in the same way nor are the business models even slightly similar. If Cameron et al want to go after the private sector and their bonuses, they really ought to clean up their own acts first.

20 comments for “Reinforcing a culture of failure

  1. ivan
    January 13, 2012 at 9:00 am

    The *only* time any public servants, or anyone in the public sector, should get a bonus is when a project comes in on specification, before time and under budget – and then only those *directly* involved in said project

    • Will Jones
      January 13, 2012 at 10:59 am

      And then, only a percentage of what was not spent – the rest can go back to be spent eleswhere or put into… I think the word is *surplus*. We used to have one of them down here until Rudd decided to piss it up the wall on insulation and school schemes.

      • January 13, 2012 at 3:46 pm

        That would be my preferred option – that they receive a percentage of the amount they have saved the taxpayer. That, I think, would be reasonable.

        • Dave G
          January 13, 2012 at 8:22 pm

          Wouldn’t this lead to projects being ‘over-valued’ before they even start?

          • January 13, 2012 at 8:29 pm

            That would depend on the audit regime. It might happen occasionally, but robust accounting and accountability would be necessary.

            • January 14, 2012 at 7:40 am

              Robust accounting and accountability being hallmarks of the public sector, of course… 😈

              • January 14, 2012 at 9:29 am

                You could always bring in someone from the private sector. I’m currently available…

  2. Maaarrghk!
    January 13, 2012 at 10:20 am

    The 6 stages of a project are:-

    Enthusiasm.

    Disillusuionment.

    Panic.

    Search for the guilty.

    Punishment of the innocent.

    Praise and honors (and bonuses) for the non-participents.

    • ivan
      January 13, 2012 at 10:37 pm

      It used to be the 5 stages of a project 😉

  3. January 13, 2012 at 11:37 am

    Performance-related pay schemes only really work where successful performance can be (a) clearly measured, (b) clearly attributed, and most importantly (c) the outcome is under the effective control of the employee being measured. Which basically boils down to salesmen, brokers and some kinds of production-line work. Even then it’s a double-edged sword: there’s many a salesman happy to secure his commission securing orders his company can’t ultimately fulfill. And as for brokers and investment bankers…

    For the rest of us it’s an artificial construct. At one time I did IT support for a department which did medium-term capital investment forecasting. As it happens in the private sector but it could just as well have been a public sector job. So how do you measure my performance for my “bonus”? By inventing arbitrary but achievable local goals out of thin air. It becomes a game, a game so cynical that in one job our practice was to agree the goals retrospectively with the line manager at the end of the appraisal period, looking for completed projects or tasks that could be written up to “prove” that we had achieved the “good but not brilliant” marking and get the standard middle-of-the-road increment.

    The problem is not public sector versus private sector — you could find analogies for your Met Office example in any large corporate — but the obsession of management with forcibly applying meaningless metrics and inappropriate incentivization schemes to areas where they don’t work.

  4. Voice of Reason
    January 13, 2012 at 2:05 pm

    They recently did a study which found that very technical work actually suffered when tied to bonuses.

    • January 13, 2012 at 3:02 pm

      Human nature, if you know what the target is plus the reward, you’ll use every trick in the book to achieve it.
      Or if you know you’re going to get it anyway, why strive for greater success.

      • Dave G
        January 13, 2012 at 8:24 pm

        ergo bonuses are a communist creation????

  5. t smith
    January 16, 2012 at 12:15 am

    I suggest you read this article.
    http://metofficenews.wordpress.com/2012/01/12/met-office-in-the-media-12-january-2012/
    Firstly the assertion that the met office made dramatic mistakes is incorrect.
    Secondly, the assumption that the bonus is paid “simply for doing your job” is also wrong. The bonuses are performance related, based on forecast accuracy and business revenue generated. Many people seem unaware of the fact that the met office operated on a commercial basis in competition with private forecasting companies and actually generates millions of pounds FOR the UK taxpayers through selling forecasting services to industry (insurers, aviation, energy companies etc.)
    .

    • January 16, 2012 at 6:55 am

      You do realise that quoting the Met Office’s press release isn’t wholly convincing, I hope?

      • t smith
        January 16, 2012 at 12:32 pm

        So you are saying they are lying?

        At the end of the day the raw figures support their case. The newspaper article simply relies on the incorrect assertion that they have somehow failed at their job but has no hard evidence to support this.

        The fact is weather forecasting in the mid latitudes is very challenging and the met office is consistently ranked in the top 2 forecasting agencies in the world.

        This link provides a report produced by an independent consulting company into the value of the met office. http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/about-us/what/pws/value fact is they ate one of the few public sector bodies that makes money for the UK and adds significant value to the economy.
        However moaning about the weather forecast is a British obsession

      • t smith
        January 16, 2012 at 12:35 pm

        So you are saying they are lying? The newspaper article provides no evidence to support the assertion that they failed to inform the government.

        At the end of the day the raw figures support their case. The newspaper article simply relies on the incorrect assertion that they have somehow failed at their job but has no hard evidence to support this.

        The fact is weather forecasting in the mid latitudes is very challenging and the met office is consistently ranked in the top 2 forecasting agencies in the world.

        This link provides a report produced by an independent consulting company into the value of the met office. http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/about-us/what/pws/value fact is they are one of the few public sector bodies that makes money for the UK and adds significant value to the economy.
        However, moaning about the weather forecast is a British obsession

    • January 17, 2012 at 5:27 am

      Their forecast accuracy is only 87% on the day, longer it goes, worse it gets. Frankly if I had that sort of error rate in my job, I wouldn’t have a job for long, never mind a bonus.

      • t smith
        January 17, 2012 at 1:40 pm

        Maybe, but your job isn’t weather forecasting. Weather forecasting is essentially predicting the future. It’s not easy and no one else (including other weather agencies around the world) is providing a more accurate service. The chaotic nature of the equations that govern our atmosphere make anything approaching 100% accuracy impossible. And it is ridiculous to expect the forecast to be correct all the time.

        Fact is they provide a world class service and no one has been able to do better

  6. Stuart O'Grady
    January 16, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    “Which essentially means that there’s only a one in seven chance of the forecast being right on the actual day they pronounce it!”

    Erm, I think you mean a 6 in 7 chance.

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