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Do you lock your senior managers in a "float tank"?

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Many years ago, as a young intern working for P&G in Egham, Surrey, I experienced one of the most blatant, but unfortunately not uncommon, examples of the lengths people will go to present the right impression to senior leaders. The then Chairman and Chief Executive, John Pepper, was visiting, and, prior to his visit, contractors arrived with a vast array of bedding plants, pot plants, trees and shrubs. They didn't quite make the place look like Kew Gardens, but it was certainly moving in that direction.

A few days after the visit, the contractors returned to remove everything.

There is a similar underlying mindset with the current debate between Sir Michael Wilshaw, Michael Gove and the teaching unions about no-notice school inspections. Should schools be given time to "put their best face on" prior to Ofsted's arrival?

When, in conjunction with this sort of behaviour, you look at just how often people complain about senior managers, the hierarchy, the bosses not understanding their difficulties and challenges, it begs a series of rather obvious questions:

What we're effectively doing is locking our senior managers in floatation tanks. We're deliberately depriving them of sensory (and other) information in order to protect something or someone. In the short term, it would be relatively easy to argue that this is an effective strategy; in the long term, it is a strategy doomed to failure.

It's tough, sometimes, to be fully open about how things really are, but all of our training programmes have that level of honesty at their core - because we believe that it's the right thing to do; the only sustainable way to behave. We challenge people to be brave; to be uncomfortable; and to tell is as (they think) it is.

The common push-backs we experience can be categorised into three primary areas:

Once the justifications for depriving senior managers of information that would be useful to them are written down, analysed and understood, the first step has been taken to actually doing something about it. The next step is to take action - be bold enough to explain how you really see things, or how they really are. If you're not willing to do that, stop moaning about the lack of responsiveness you experience.

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