The first recourse of the scoundrel…

As I said in last month’s newsletter, I have found that the efficiency of management communication within an organisation is a very good indicator of the general health of the management system, and by inference, the competence of the managers therein. Good managers communicate well; poor managers don’t. It’s really that simple.

So, what’s the first recourse of the scoundrel then? The answer, my friends, is denial. “I wasn’t there, guv! I didn’t do it! That’s not my catapult!” You get the idea. In the course of the last 25 years or so, I have been in many meetings and situations where the response of a senior manager to a subordinate raising a problem was out-and-out denial.

Why is there a problem to deny in the first placed? The individual raising the problem clearly knows that it exists, so why doesn’t the senior manager? Answer: a lack of effective communication. This lack means that when the problem is aired, the senior manager goes for the denial strategy rather than admit to not knowing. I don’t know which is sadder: that such folk actually think this a reasonable strategy (demonstrating that they are delusional) or that they believe that the rest of us are naïve enough to swallow it (that we are idiots)? I’ll just give one recent example from a board meeting I attended last year (all names changed and situations made generic to protect the innocent!) I have taken great liberties with the words used. And the comments in [square brackets] represent the underlying subtext.

Operations Manager: I am having trouble with cash flow because the finance department take months to process my tenants’ contracts. [Board, please advise me and help me solve this problem.]

Chairman: Well, I’ve never had any trouble with any of my interactions with the finance department. [Flat out denial; the problem does not exist.]

OM: I’ve told the finance director many times that I need my tenant’s contracts processing quickly, so that I can them settled-in and paying rent, ASAP. [Hmm, the fact that the Chairman and the finance director are members of the same golf club has nothing to do with it, I suppose? I’m at my wit’s end and I’m not getting any help here.]

Chairman: I’ve always found the finance director to be very helpful. [If there is a problem here, then it must be the OM’s fault.]

OM: I received one contract back last week, with a note that said they needed further information. They’d sat on it for over a month! [Someone’s either incompetent or taking the mickey.]

Chairman: If you’d provided the information up-front, none of this would have happened. [You mustn’t be communicating correctly. The problem is you.]

I won’t go into any more detail (we solved the problem without the Chairman’s help, incidentally), but the point is that management’s job is to make decisions that solve problems. When one of your subordinates asks for help, immediately denying that there is a problem merely demonstrates your inability to see beyond the end of your nose. It also convinces them that you are a walking, talking example of the Peter Principle (managers are promoted to their level of incompetence). Good managers listen, take possession of the problem and help to solve it. So, why not make one of your New Year’s resolutions, “I will be a good manager” and see how much happier your team becomes.