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Time Off

Martin Wren - CEO Nova Employment
Martin Wren - CEO
Nova Employment
Sunday, July 03, 2011
I am on leave and will be returning to work mid July - my apologies for not posting previously.

In the meantime, a fable:

The 3 Cheese makers

Once upon a time (pretty much like our own) in a land not so far away lived 3 Cheese makers.

Boris didn’t really want to be a cheese maker, he’d slipped into the role by accident and found each day a trial. The business needed constant attention, there were cows to milk, equipment to be cleaned and, worst of all, customers to deal with.

Boris desperately wanted to be a writer. Writing was all he’d dream about. It was nothing for Boris to spend a day at his cheese making business dreaming of writing success. Of elegant prose and noble emotion crafted to paper.

Lorraine was a specialist cheese maker – she made artisan cheddar to die for. Not for Lorraine the soft cheeses of the Mediterranean, nor the softer alpine varieties of high countries. Lorraine loved Cheddar, she corresponded with other Cheddar specialists, she read and wrote on the topic of aging cheddar, she researched this cheeses history and its culture.

In return Lorraine was recognized amongst the world’s greatest experts in the development of Cheddar.

Lorraine loved her work.

Igor was an entrepreneurial business man. He made cheese in any variety. He didn’t necessarily care about cheese per se, rather he reveled in business. He loved accounting and process, studied Duran and Deming and devoted his time to ensuring he could produce the fastest cheese in the shortest time.

Igor cheeses were not world beating, but they stood up, made him a quid and employed many semi-professional cheese makers.

The world was in balance and harmony……


The administration of cheese making was carried out by the Department of Artisan Pursuits. The Department was not particularly inclined to innovate, preferring to leave that to the industry. However, the Department cared about consumers and took time to understand what cheese makers did, why they did the things they did, and, although it never really could have been said to be a dynamic place, Department staff cared about ensuring consumers were cared for.

However, government (apparently) needs to be seen to be doing something and, in a flash of bureaucratic brilliance transferred responsibility for cheese making to the Department of Rural Development, Innovation and Change (DRDIC).

Truthfully DRDIC staff didn’t want to be around cheese. They had more important programs, programs with bigger budgets, faster career development and generally programs that were easier to understand and more exciting in delivery. Most of the staff knew little or nothing about cheese.

However, the DRDIC team knew they had to do something. Taxpayers were looking at them expecting the best quality cheese. They knew taxpayers wanted cheese as quickly and efficiently as possible – for the least cost and to a standard.

They introduced reform, set guidelines for the production of cheese, instituted a series of quality control checks that included independent and Departmental quality control and set about developing a management system for cheese production that would at least ensure that nobody could either accuse them of doing nothing or find fault with them.

The effect on the 3 cheese makers was profound.

Boris found himself becoming faint with each new development. The business he’d never liked was now being managed (to a remarkable extent) by people who seemed determined to see him increase his effort and output.

Boris hated cheese and he hated DRDIC. I If only he could afford to spend his time putting his thoughts to paper.

Lorraine was traumatized by the changes brought by the new management team. They told her – “make your mind up, is it to be Cheddar or all cheese”? Lorraine knew that her Cheese making business was world class; she had been recognized by the World Cheese Making Association as a Cheese Champion, a title never before bestowed on any of her countrymen.

Lorraine agreed to work with all varieties of cheese and set off to build the same quality into every cheese experience consumers might desire – she made brie, gorgonzola and edam. However, her love was cheddar and she yearned for the day when she could return to what she knew best.

Igor leapt at the chance to improve (grow) under DRDIC. He brought in quality control experts, standardized processes, instituted JIT frameworks and proudly held up production figures that showed how much he was improving.


It had been quiet at DRDIC. The Chief knew he had to do something about cheese. But what? Previous attempts to improve and develop the sausage making business had met with very mixed results. While he could point to cost savings, improved communication charts, and generally increased administration (surely an indication of progress) and neither sausage makers nor public seemed genuinely impressed.

The saddest thing of all was that, despite the Chief’s very best efforts the actual number of sausages produced, purchased and consumed remained pretty close to where they’d always been.

Cheese would be different.

The Chief set about instituting a program designed to inform consumers about the quality of cheese – the Cheesy Rating System (CRS).

Cheese makers were given no insight into how the first CRS figures were calculated but soon began to be bombarded by adverts, information and suggestions for how they could rort the program. Across the nation amateur and professional cheese makers began to add extra water to their output, change the packaging size load their selling points and generally attempt to improve their apparent relative position.

Through this time the overall number of cheese made and sold remained pretty much the same, although each of our 3 cheese makers had to employ additional staff to handle the burgeoning administration .

The CRS figures were released:

Boris’s Cheeses: 1 Cheese
Lorraines Cheddars: 3 Cheeses &
Igor’s Dairy Products: 4 Cheese

Upon reading the results, Boris was depressed, Lorraine frustrated and Igor delighted although still somewhat dismayed by the constant change in direction, emphasis and micro-management flowing from DRDIC.

Finally, DRDIC decided that the time had come to really shake up cheese making. – A tender that would allow ‘performance’ to decide which cheese consumers could buy and eat. The process would be complex and shrouded in mystery but it would be fair and transparent and, most importantly ensure that at the end, no-one could possibly accuse the Department of any error in the execution of the process.

The tender to provide cheese making services to the whole nation was published with much fanfare.

The Chief was interviewed on television (always a joy) and proudly read his name in the paper as the architect of reform for the dairy industry. Dissident voices were overshadowed by the splendor of the whole event and the Chief looked forward to the justifiable enjoyment of the praise that would surely come when the process was complete.

Boris was in his element. Finally he could write, he wrote reams, he oozed enthusiasm, insight and knowledge about the process he so loathed. Writing about cheese was so much more fun than making the stuff. Boris’s sure knowledge that his 1 cheese ranking doomed him gave him a sense of freedom. He wrote as he had never written before and finally felt joy in coming to work.

Lorraine was frustrated and upset and felt the whole damn thing simply got in the way of doing the job properly.

For goodness sake thought Lorraine, why not let the market decide? If people like my cheddar let them buy it, if they don’t then I’ll have to find other work. Rather than insist on who buys what cheese and where from (another DRDIC reform meant consumers could only buy certain cheese from certain suppliers), let the results speak for themselves – measure output and sales and reward simply on that basis – no sale, no pay.

Begrudgingly she submitted her bid.

Igor hired a bid management team, sought additional consultants to help develop his proposal to substantially increase the availability of Igor’s Dairy Products across the whole land. His 4 cheese status surely guaranteed success.

Two strong men carried his bid to the offices of DRDIC.


The results were announced.

Not surprisingly Lorraine kept her business, neither growing nor shrinking, although the introduction of an additional 3 competitors into the local area saw an immediate dilution of her original Cheddar business.

Six months later she retired. That hadn’t been her intention but their was no longer any real satisfaction in what had become an administration of contract role, requiring constant attention to issues of micro-management rather than service innovation or development.

Igor was devastated – his business was pulled apart and, to all intents and purposes Igor’s Dairy Products had lost the size required to carry out effective operations. Igor’s staff, whom the Chief had promised in the unlikely event that successful programs were not allowed to continue, would be employed by the new providers, wandered off to other occupations and roles, taking their expertise with them.

Igor sold what remained and left for greener pastures.

Boris was amazed! His 1 Cheese program was now the proud owner of a substantially increased business share.

He opened new outlets but didn’t change either his opinion of cheese or his approach to service – why should he, what he had previously done had paid in spades.


Overlooked in this whole sad debacle were the people who bought cheese. They no longer had any real say in the process. Over the years their wishes, experience and insight had been progressively pushed aside in the interests of efficiency and progress.

And so ends the sorry tale.

Disability Employment Programs need not be rocket science.

Listen to consumers, let consumers decide, provide choice and reward easily measured outcomes like a reduction in pensions paid – simple? Absolutely and therefore unlikely ever to occur.

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