The Story of the stolen bike that wasn’t actually stolen
Important Lessons for All Businesses about Systems, Processes and Communication
Let me take you back to summertime – it is the 21st July, a beautiful sunny morning. I’m heading to my local train station – on my bike, to catch the 7.29am to Paddington.
I’m running on time, but as usual, there’s a huge ticket queue – and so I’m rushing. I lock my bike – head for the queue, make the 7.29am, all is good (crammed as usual, but at least I made the train).
That evening, I head back to my station – go to collect my bike – and it’s gone. The lock is still in place – and still locked and attached to the bike rack – but, no bike.
I head into the station, speak to at least three First Great Western station attendants – advise them that my bike has been stolen, ask what the protocol is – and am advised ‘sorry to hear that’ and to call the police.
With heavy heart, I walk up the hill, get home, complain to family about my loss – and then start proceedings to report said stolen bike.
When speaking to the British Transport Police to inform them of the theft, I’m advised that the stealing of bikes at my train station is apparently taken ‘very seriously’ – as it’s a bit of a hot bed. I’m advised that my case has been reported and someone will be in touch.
A couple of weeks later I get a call from a very nice PC – she advises that my case is now being progressed – and wants me to provide her with a formal statement. I spend at least 40 minutes on the phone advising her of the situation, my description (so they can discount me from the CCTV review) – the timings, the bike’s description etc. And, by the way, my bike had been marked and registered with the police bike registration scheme.
I advise I have the lock – she advises, that I shouldn’t touch it too much as it may be used for finger printing. Lock is transferred to clean plastic bag!
The next step is for her to come to the train station, review the CCTV and then see if they can nail the criminals.
At this point, I ask what the chances of my recovering the bike are – and she advises, very low – probably zero. But hopefully, they can make an arrest.
So – this leaves me without a bike – and with no likelihood of my bike being returned, I now have the chore of getting a new bike – considerable cost and considerable time.
Approximately 6 weeks after the initial theft – I’ve got a new bike in place, and the PC is coming to review the CCTV footage.
Unfortunately, bad news – the CCTV wasn’t working – and so no footage was captured. There was a malfunction with the system, etc, etc.
Some 8 weeks later, it transpires that the CCTV system was not the only system malfunctioning.
In mid November, I receive a call from another PC from British Transport Police at Paddington
Joyous news – they’ve recovered my bike.
‘Is it smashed up’, ‘where is it now’, ‘how did it turn up?’ I had so many questions. However, it transpires – that it had potentially been at the train station where I believed it had been stolen from – all the time.
I know – you’re thinking, what’s this madness she’s talking about.
Well, apparently, if a bike is ‘unsecured’ at said station, due to it being a ‘hotbed’ for bike thefts, the station wardens, and any plain clothes police officers that periodically patrol the area, will take any unsecured bikes (bikes which are not locked up properly) and put them safely in the ‘lost property’ storage in the station.
Well, apparently… – nobody. Not the nice PC initially investigating the crime, and clearly not any of the three station wardens that I spoke to, when I advised that my bike had been stolen, ‘but how odd that the lock was still wrapped around the bike rack!’
Today is December 21st – so it’s exactly 5 months to the day, that my bike was supposedly stolen. I was called early this morning by another PC from British Transport Police to see if they could recover the bike to me. As it happens, I was around – and the bike and I were reunited. Speaking to yet another again, very nice PC – he advised that there are at least 30 other bikes in the ‘lost property’ storage! (What was that about the station being a hotbed for bike thefts!!!).
Whilst speaking with the PC who was organizing this last piece of the case – I queried the following:
a) Why are there no notices around advising bikers that if their bike isn’t secure – it may be taken into lost property. ‘Good idea’ he advised – we should do that.
b) Why when I advised my bike had been stolen – wasn’t there a protocol to first check the lost property before advising me to raise a formal case with the police.
c) Why, when I raised a case with the police – didn’t the nice PC investigating the crime first contact lost property to see whether or not it was simply a case of the bike potentially not being secured and therefore, not stolen but in fact, just stored!
In the 5 months – with just one simple bike, that really isn’t that valuable (in monetary terms), just look at the waste of resource that’s happened. Numerous phone calls, the filing of reports, letters sent to me advising me of progress with the case, police officers having to physically hand back the property.
Not to mention the expense and time of me having to unnecessarily get a new bike (and believe me it was not a fun experience – just a whole pain in the backside).
And now – I have stuff that’s surplus to requirements – I have two bikes!
Charlie Chaplin could have turned this into a slapstick sketch – it’s such a farce. However, it’s also indicative of what happens when processes are created – and not fully thought through or communicated.
Without thinking things through, end to end and a lack of effective training and practice – and communication breakdown – businesses, people, departments, governments – they all waste resource. Waste of time, waste of money, waste of people – people who should potentially be working on more important things that make a difference to either the world or the bottom line.
This farce is true – and whilst we may sit here reading in disbelief – sadly this isn’t that extraordinary. There are thousands if not millions of truly stupid and pointless, processes and disconnected dots happening all the time in industries and businesses of all shapes and sizes.
My advice to all is to:
- Check your processes thoroughly, ensuring all dots are joining up.
- When you identify a disconnect – where the dots aren’t joining up, don’t let that disconnect extend – but instead grab it, investigate it and do whatever you need to do to pull it together. Make someone accountable (that may be you), accountable to ensure that you do not let such stupidity and waste of resource happen again.
- Communicate, communicate and then communicate some more –ensure everyone ‘gets’ the processes you create – and that they are clear on what’s happening – and finally – you can’t just say it once and it will be – it takes practice – so…
- Test things out periodically to check your communication and training is fully ingrained.
That’s all from me – rant over, insights shared.
Ever optimistic, owner of two bikes, Maidenhead