Little Red Blogger

This blog looks at radical politics(with a libertarian socialist slant), music and culture. Marx to Mises, Girls Aloud to Steve Reich...

Location: Wiltshire, United Kingdom

Sunday, October 09, 2005

The Glorious Gober Method: How M&S Have Brought a Superior Brand of Snake Oil

Marks and Spencers have recently invested a large amount of their employees money(according to shop workers union USDAW around £10 million)  into a motivational scheme designed to raise sales and address the flagging fortunes of the huge retail group. This scheme is designed and pedalled by the almost stereotypically American Mary Gober with the inevitably trade marked ‘Gober Method’ with its three pronged approach to improving service. This consists of changing the ‘psychology of service’, the ‘language of service’ and the ‘management framework’. In short convert, indoctrinate and wave the big stick…

Lets look at exactly what Mary Gober means when she talks about a ‘psychology of service’ in essence the ordinary worker is to be optimistic and to use that horrible word ‘pro-active’ when speaking to customers, worker self worth and self respect is another aspect of this along with responsive to complaints. So far, so obvious and it seems Gober is cadging the ‘typical New Age decadent neo-hippy tropes’ of ‘self-realisation’, typical touchy feely stuff fed to the poor sap who has to implement this method. Indeed the M&S workers are being sent to huge motivational seminars that resemble Billy Graham’s revival meetings with the gospel of Gober being pounded out at the management pulpit to the expectant and cowed workforce. USDAW to its credit has called the events a gigantic waste of money and I would argue that they’re right for reasons that we’ll look at later. The second part of the ‘Gober Method’ is where the ‘language of service’ is looked at. The workers vocabulary is to be reconstructed according to the ominously named ‘Telephone Compulsory Standards’ and the mind bogglingly named ‘Service Excel Mind-Set’. All this seems to boil down to is ensuring that all Customer Service reps say the same thing at the same time according to what the management perceive the customer actually wants. The third part of Gober’s method is I think the most important and interesting. Her ‘management framework’ this is where her method devolves down to the usual technocratic buzzwords such as ‘change management’ the dreaded ‘team building’ and the blandly named but insidious ‘service delivery process improvement’.

Now it has been remarkably difficult to track down examples of what these buzzwords actually mean, if you look at her website there are testimonials, information about the seminars and the usual self-promotional guff that you would expect you’ll also notice that all the above buzzwords are trademarked. Gober is very protective about her methods it seems which does seem make me think that what she’s selling to these companies is the merely technocratic Taylorism soft-soaped by pseudo-religious new age psychology and motivational tools. What does seem slightly different about this method is the emphasis on indoctrinating employees into its way of thinking with motivational coaches being trained within the organisation to ensure that the ideology is reproduced and strengthened among the staff. Gober has obviously aware of organisation entropy and these coaches have been designed to counter it. It would be interesting to revisit some of these organisations in about five years time to see how closely they’re adhering to the strictures and disciplines of the Method!

As has been observed within capitalist corporations all management techniques can be reduced to Taylorism and the refining of command and control over the frontline worker. The Gober Method is then unsurprisingly old wine in new bottles dedicated to streamlining and making more ‘efficient’ the customer service ends of large corporate organisations. Like most of these methods it does not address the structural problems of these corporations that produce de-motivated staff. The Gober Method sees this is something that can be adjusted by merely changing the mindset of the staff within an organisation, what it deliberately fails to recognise is that workers are quite capable of seeing that they have no control over their own workplace, how their company is run, the stupidity of management and the general pointlessness of their own jobs. The Gober Method seeks to falsely align the interests of the worker with that of senior management all under the excuse of serving the customer better. Interestingly the Gober Method makes no mention of the workers needs and wants and completely ignores any role for unions or other means of representation. This is not surprising due to the top-down technocratic command and control mechanisms that the Gober Method uses to implement its changes. A long-term fix to these problems would of course be the dismantling of these over-large corporate structures and democratic worker self-organisation of whatever remained. Without these changes corporations orientated around customer service and call-centres will keeping buying the same snake oil with a fancy new set of buzzwords slapped on the front each year, pathological structural weaknesses in corporate capitalism makes this predictable as the sun setting. The Gober Method constructs a slightly more comfortable and shiny cage for the average worker and does nothing to address the real problems. Marks and Spencer’s staff have my sympathy.