A cautionary tale: the day it all went wrong;Business models;Management amp; Finance;Update

12th November 1999 at 00:00
Late afternoon in a West End hotel: the overhead projector, flip charts and sharpened pencils are all ready for an introduction to Investors in People.

Consultants in smart suits fidget and the woman from the local TEC, which is financing this session, glances at her watch yet again. The problem seems to be a marked lack of people to invest in. The programme called for a get-together at 5pm for a 5.30pm start, but the room is half empty.

At six, the consultants adopt a "we mean business" approach and launch the meeting. Mid-way through the introduction - "This is about your needs, your priorities..." - the last few teachers drift in and the senior consultant decides it's time to make a stand.

"I feel I have to express my disappointment about the late start," she complains. "We're over an hour behind." Big mistake.

The room erupts. The teachers protest at how they have been given virtually no notice of the training weekend, no details of its content or purpose and no release time to go home and make arrangements with their families before coming. After such a start, the weekend proceeds downhill.

The teachers are all heads of department at a north London school. They are referred to as middle managers - a term they don't empathise with at all. They feel overloaded with initiatives, ignored by their senior management and unable to "manage" anything. Departmental meetings are dominated by items imposed from above. School management processes are characterised by an absence of debate.

Despite the consultants' efforts to salvage something positive from the weekend, the teachers remain deeply cynical. "If IIP is about anything it's about working together," says the senior consultant at the end of the second day. But the course has long since been a model example of how not to.

Phil Revell

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