donderdag 6 september 2012

A Reorganisation (part 1)

Working for the Objections Department at the Tax Office meant working in a thorough manner.  Most of our letters consisted of three quarters of legal humbug. But it had to be done that way because the next step might be fighting in court against the plaintiff.  We were bound to strict rules regarding the time we were supposed to spend on a case.  Officially we had 6 weeks after receiving a letter to handle the case so far that the decision was mailed.  In some cases we were allowed to extend that time to 10 weeks. The customer (like the tax payer was called)  was to be informed in time to do this. And only if he would say that he agreed it could be as long as both parties thought was needed.

This time schedule was difficult to maintain. One reason was the slow delivery of letters in the office:  to register a case would often take 2 weeks for the system; to make the calculations by the central system would take 4 weeks.  This was needed to be able to send a standard decision to the plaintiff and to the department responsible for collecting the right amount of money.

At least this was the best possible way, because often the computer systems didn't work and the civil servants couldn't do anything else on a day like that  than drinking coffee and reading the newspapers.
Most of the systems were quite old. Even people with hardly any knowledge of computers are aware of the fact that systems working under MS-DOS are extremely old in 2008 or 2009.  Because of cutbacks there was no money to improve things on a short term.

If you wrote a letter you had to give a reasonable time for the plaintiff to react, say 3 weeks. And in a reminder there would be a term of 2 weeks. If you count these weeks you'll see that the limits were slightly impossible.

In 2008 and 2009 Parliament reacted on complaints made by people to members.  It was demanded that the pace of making decisions speeded up.

So a new system was introduced to register the complaints and objections. But NEXT to the already existing system. The workers was told that this double work was needed to make the management able to follow the whole procedure on different cases and to see if some workers needed extra guidance regarding their slow way of working.  (Even in 2012 the management could not get any information from the systems.  When workers got a review about their way of working the responsible manager would say that he had the impression that things went okay.)

The next step was to centralize the incoming letters. So letters would often get into the department on Monday, they had to be sent to the central post unit and the department would get them back the next week.
A lot better!

A manager came up with a brilliant idea.  If you phone people you get a quicker response.   Of course the workers were already aware of this, but the higher management considered this a breakthrough. The workers should be trained to phone people. So workers with 30 sometimes even more than 40 years experience were sent to workshops where actors would curse behind screens. After a few months the management calculated that a certain part of the job was been done with just a phonecall.  A success!
It was never measured how much was done with just one phonecall before this training.

All this made the workers less happy in their job and we lost almost one third of the workers in the department because they escaped to other jobs in or out of the tax office.  So we needed more and more support from other departments to help us out. Of course they also had their own jobs to do, so the work for the objections department was thought of as a secondary task. Things altogether went slower again.

At the end of 2009 the management decided to put more pressure on the workers.  A task force of legal experts was sent in to bully the workers to work to a higher speed. Of course this led to  a selfdeclared success and the bullies were rewarded with a bonus.

In 2010 a new system was introduced so things would improve, no more working with MS-DOS on this but with Microsoft XP, while the department still was using Microsoft Office 1997 for letters, spreadsheets and such.  But the system did not work on it's own, it needed support from another new system.  Both systems were very vulnerable and often workers were having days of drinking coffee and reading newspapers again.

The management had enough of this and had a brilliant solution: A REORGANISATION!

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