Smoke & Mirrors: Taking the credit

For once, things are going well at Smokehouse. How on earth did that happen?

by Guy Browning
Last Updated: 15 Sep 2016


As the great American president Harry Truman said, it's amazing what you can achieve when you let other people take the credit. That's actually the business model of most payday loan companies but I don't think that's what he meant. As communications director of Smokehouse, my job is basically to make sure we get all the credit and none of the blame.

Given that our business performance normally veers between heart-stopping close shaves and buttock-tightening near misses, this means I have a full-time job keeping the blame moving so fast it doesn't ever touch anyone's desk. But this week something has happened in the organisation so profoundly unsettling that I don't know whether to take the credit or accept the blame.


Smokehouse, like every other damn company, is on a journey. Where we're heading has never been fully explained and when we get there it will probably turn out to be extremely unpleasant.

A bit like Brexit. But the great thing about being on a journey is you never have to bother too much about where you currently are. Except now. In the board meeting yesterday, it was revealed that our IT was stable, customer complaints and associated litigation were well down, staff turnover had improved from haemorrhaging to clotting and, unbelievably, we made a slight profit in Q2. No one round the board table wanted to say anything in case we jinxed it, but I could see from everyone's faces that they were thinking exactly what I was thinking: something somewhere had gone right.


The first thing we do after announcing some corporate catastrophe is to launch an internal inquiry. It's a very handy technique we've learned from the public sector. This has the double benefit of giving extra work to people in the office we don't like and allowing us to move the agenda on to more important things like bonuses and the colour of the boardroom carpet.

As something had gone right, it only seemed fair to launch another internal inquiry, if only to see whether things going right was actually the portent of something going very badly wrong. I also sensed that we had a very brief window of calm before the tsunami of credit-taking hit, with every department saying that they alone were responsible for our corporate return from the dead.


Normally I assign the tasks of internal inquiries to Sarah Farley in our team who approaches every task in the manner of maggots eating gangrenous flesh - very effective but appalling to watch. She also has the priceless attribute when it comes to internal inquiries of working catatonically slowly. She makes Chilcot look trigger-happy. When I called her in to give her the good news, she said she couldn't possibly take on more work as she was still completely engaged on three previous internal inquiries, all of which I'd completely forgotten about. Instead, I blew our small Q2 profit on hiring some very sharply dressed consultants to pinpoint exactly where everything had started to go right. Because they charge a wallet-clearing daily rate, I had no compunction about asking for their report overnight. In fact, I enjoyed it.


Erm. I have the report. Like all girls of her generation, my teenage daughter Emily has the emotional complexity of a Jungian analyst, the global ambition of Nefertiti and views boys/men as little more than moist wipes. For her year nine business project, she developed a divorce app using some online betting algorithms (very handy actually). As part of the project she wrote some vision and values, which were: Be nice to customers. Make the tech work for them. Design a good experience. Somehow, and I have no idea how this happened, this became our own vision and values statement shortly after I stopped sleeping with the HR consultant who was working on a very similar project for Smokehouse. When we got those rolled out instead of the usual platitudinous rubbish, that's when things started to go right. My daughter should get the credit but as she is still a minor, I have taken it for her. Can't blame me for that.

Guy Browning is the author of The British Constitution: First Draft, published by Atlantic Books at £7.99. 


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