“It has come to my attention …”

Posted by jlubans on May 07, 2020

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Caption: By Shannon Wheeler in New Yorker magazine ca. 2010. "It has come to my attention that some of YOU are sleeping on the job".

Those of us in American management like to think we are direct in our language and interactions. After all, we live in “the land of the free and the brave”.
Some of our colleagues in Europe point out that candor is not always our M.O.
Indeed, they observe American managers avoiding conflict and seeking to accommodate rather than going directly to the source of the problem.
The cartoon illustrates one of our most popular avoidance techniques: The “It has come to my attention” memo to all staff.
Be it tardiness or sleeping on the job (like the cartoon cats) or leaving a mess in the staff lounge microwave we too often opt for the all-points-bulletin to correct some observed misbehavior.
It’s a bit like Mother Goose’s Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe solution to her many children: (She) “whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.” The ones misbehaving deserved the whipping and the innocent would be guilty of some future transgression.
I call this the HR response.
HR advises managers not to single people out. Be they minorities or just regular folks; it is safer for the organization to imply a widely spread guilt rather than to discipline the transgressor at the point of commission.
Even if we know full well the names of the people who arrive late, take a two-hour lunch and leave early we are advised to address the whole including those who arrive early, eat at their desks and leave late!
Why?
Perhaps our European colleagues – hardly paragons of management – have found a weak spot.
The effective worker who reads the “It has come to my attention” bulletin knows who is goofing off and not being called out. The conscientious worker is bothered by this indirect approach to shoddy behavior and will be less inclined to keep up the good work.
And, of course, that same worker knows some bosses who arrive late, take long lunch breaks and leave early.
The indirect approach achieves the opposite of what is intended. Instead of fairness, the effective worker sees a two-tiered system, one for support staff and one for the professional staff.
In short, a shotgun rebuke lowers morale and may lead to artful skiving.
I use case studies in my management workshops. Often they are based on a personal experience in which I have avoided conflict.
So, I am often surprised by how the participants would deal with the case’s conflict.
Indeed, they see the avoiding manager (me) as feckless and they would address the issue head on, no lolly gagging about!
I am bemused, because while the response is exactly what I would want it somehow falters in practice.
There must be other underlying reasons for our behavior on the job; well worth reflection: in any case, avoid the HR response!

© Copyright John Lubans 2020

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