Friday, 11 April 2008

Capability Matrix

I have been at my current job for six months now, which means that it is time to fit me into the ‘capability matrix’. This futuristic-sounding vortex of dysfunction is, apparently, an ‘integral part of the overall human resources toolkit’.

Its purpose is to ‘identify areas of individual development’ and also to ‘prioritise our investment in training and development’. So far; so woolly. Of course, what we really want to know is how much we’ll get paid.

The idea is that each staff member sits down with their manager and goes through their nine page document saying why they think they’re wonderful and the manager says why they think they’re not, and it’s just a big tug o’ war of personal skills until someone gives up and looses the will to live.

I had the initial meeting with my (admittedly very nice, and not steeped in the corporate mire) manager this week. Six pages, two hours and a couple of strong long blacks later, we had still not finished our ‘performance objectives discussion’, so we must schedule a time to complete this. In the meantime I am floating in virtual limbo-land without a placement on the wherewithal template.

I had told my husband that I was undergoing this procedure, and on the way home he asked, ‘So, are you capable then?’ I told him I was only half capable and that this meant he would have to cook dinner. So far, he has made me pork fillet on potato rosti with apple and red onion chutney; tangy soy mushrooms with soba noodles; spicy cauliflower with chilli and Indian potato curry. I wonder how long I can keep this going…

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Breath mints

My new favourite thing is Eclipse breath mints - especially the peppermint flavour. I love the shiny metallic packaging, and the way it pops into your handbag. I love the crisp cleansing taste of the little mints and the way they clear your sinuses and make it feel like you're breathing up a mountain. I love the oval shape and the two-tone colour. But most of all I love the sound they make when they rattle around in the box.

They are so much better than those weird gel strips that were doing the rounds a few years back - remember the things? You put them on your tongue and they dissolved. It always felt curiously illicit but not nearly as satisfying. What a huge marketing con that was! Has there been a better one in recent memory?

Bizarrely enough, they made it onto the Time list for best inventions of 2002. But then again, so did a Japanese invention that claimed it could translate what your dog was 'saying' by attaching radio microphone to its collar. It was called a 'Bowlingual'. I'm not making this up!

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

The Man That Lovelock Couldn't Beat

On Friday I went to see The Man That Lovelock Couldn't Beat at Circa 2. It was a well-acted and well-written play that combined fact and fiction, imagining that there was a Maori lad called Tom Morehu who beat Jack Lovelock, but didn't make it to the history books because he was from the wrong side of the tracks. Jack Lovelock won New Zealand's first Olympic gold medal in the 1500m at the 1936 Olympics.

The play itself was pretty good, although I found the character of the narrator extremely annoying - just so smug and schoolmarmish. The staging was simple and effective, the acting was consistently good and the running scenes were actually very well depicted, avoiding the risk of being terribly cheesy. There's a good review of the play on the Theatre view site.

But what interested me was some of the issues it raised. There was a suggestion that Jack Lovelock should not have gone to the Olympics as there were more important global concerns and the Games were just a showcase for Hitler's Nazi party. For one thing, it is easy to criticise with hindsight: at the time, many were impressed with Hitler's economic reforms to strengthen his country and his commitment to health and exercise, which saw people trying to physically 'be the best they could be'. Sound familiar?

As to the issue of boycotting the Olympics, there is a similar call to boycott those in Beijing later this year. I don't believe they should ever have been granted to China with its appalling humanitarian record. However, they have been. To ask athletes to forgo the opportunity to compete at a world-class level and in the greatest sporting arena in the world, is to ask for the supreme sacrifice. This is what they train for: weeks; months; years of dedication, hard work and sacrifice which most of us could never achieve. And unless they are of the ilk of Sir Steven Redgrave who managed five successive gold medals (that's twenty years at the top of his game) this may be their only chance to achieve their life's ambition.

Easy for us to say with our feet up in front of the television, but would you give up your dreams - your entire life's goal - for a political situation you didn't make? And are you sure you are not contributing more to the desecration of human rights by buying cheap plastics and clothing from China manufactured in sweat shops? Can you honestly say you are prepared to disadvantage yourself even a little financially to support your ideals? This is in a country which has just brokered a free trade agreement with the country they protest against. It only seems to matter if it costs you money.

The other point that made me think was the suggestion that Jack Lovelock was 'lucky' - he won a scholarship to Oxford, broke world records in athletics and embarked upon a glittering medical career. As far as I'm concerned, all of these things take hard work and dedication. Anyone can turn up on any given day and run fast (well, not anyone, but you know what I mean) but to do it day after day, to get up every morning for a four mile run before a cold shower and a day's work doesn't sound easy to me. If someone is prepared to do that, then they deserve all the 'luck' they get.

When I was a child, there was a high profile media fuelled stand-off between Coe and Ovett. Coe was the privileged one; Ovett the scruffy oik. You were supposed to support Ovett; he was the darling with the impetuous gestures. As an adolescent, I did prefer him and his swagger over Coe's calm dignity. As I grew up, I realised that Coe was the one who cared about the sport; who never belittled anyone else's achievements; who made no secret of the fact that he had to combine painstaking dedication with natural talent; and who had to battle the media perception that he was the 'lucky one'.

By the same token, I don't automatically support the underdog anymore. I have great respect for a champion who defends their title; they have to contend with everyone else wanting to knock them off their perch. They are in the media glare, and if they 'fail' to win again, the microphones are thrust in their faces and they are asked to comment on 'what went wrong?' For those who are able to smile and praise their newly crowned vanquisher, I have nothing but admiration.