UK: WHAT'S YOUR PROBLEM?

UK: WHAT'S YOUR PROBLEM? - DON'T LET IT LIE

by JEREMY BULLMORE, former chairman of J Walter Thompson, now adirector of Guardian Media Group and WPP.
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

DON'T LET IT LIE

Four months ago, we took on an 'Oxford graduate' who had an excellent CV. His work and attitude have been impressive so far, but recently I bumped into one of his old mates from college who says that he dropped out in his second year.

It makes me wonder what else he might be lying about. How should we handle this?

Clear the air as soon as possible. Don't let the matter fester. And the first thing to do is check the records. It would be disastrous if you were to act on the old mate's word - only to discover that he had got it wrong.

If the records confirm that your newcomer has lied, take him out to lunch - or out of the office, anyway. Make it as relaxed and unthreatening as you can. Tell him you're extremely pleased with the start he's made; then ask him, as if out of curiosity, why he felt he had to lie on his application form. His response will almost certainly tell you all you need to know about him.

My guess is that you will be greatly reassured. But even if you are, don't leave it at that. Tell him that you will be writing him a strictly confidential letter, for the record but with copies to no one, making it clear that if he ever tells another lie, he's out. It may sound harsh but it's in both your best interests. And it means you can keep the incident to yourself without being irresponsible.

FACE FACTS AND ACT YOUR AGE

At 52, I look around my company and realise my colleagues just get younger and younger. I worry that my days may be numbered in the company. Is there anything I can do? I am due a sabbatical later this year and have thought about going to California and getting a face-lift.

Oh, wow. What kind of business are you in, for goodness sake?

I've no idea whether you're male or female - but whichever you are, it's time you grew up.

It sounds as if you've been with the same company for some time. Is it just for your looks that they've kept you on? Or are you actually quite good at something? That's the only question you need to concentrate on.

This obsession with age and appearance is often the hallmark of people who are extremely self-centred. When you walk into a room, I bet you're wondering what people are thinking of you. The truth - perhaps painful to you, but wonderfully liberating - is that they almost certainly aren't thinking anything about you.

In the same way, I would bet you're the only person in your company who's given a moment's thought to your age and looks.

However, if you're truly determined to be the focus of office ridicule, you can do nothing better than to come back from California looking like the Bride of Wildenstein. Then you really might have something serious to worry about.

THE PAIN OF LETTING GO

I founded my business 10 years ago. Today I employ 60 people but now want to reduce the hours I put in. How do you work part time without the business suffering?

The worst thing you can do is try to reduce your hours without redefining your role. You founded your own business - and you clearly still see it as your own business. I notice you use the first person singular: 'I employ 60 people.' You seem to want to hang on to that sense of authorship and ownership - while having more time to yourself Well, you may be able to - but it's very difficult and can be extremely unfair on the others in the company. And if that's how they see it, the business will certainly suffer.

I sense from the way you put the question that you haven't yet invited any of those 60 people to have a share in the business. If that's the case, then it's time to think about that, too.

Go away for a few days (with a friendly outside adviser if you know one) and work out how you would like the business run. Your starting point should be a non-negotiable condition: you must base your plan on the assumption that you will have left the company altogether.

Do you have a natural leader on your staff at the moment? And notice that I say 'a natural leader', not 'a natural successor to you'. First-generation managers are notoriously bad at picking successors, not least because the necessary qualities are so different. You need a good leader - not a pale replica of you.

If you don't have the talent internally, acknowledge that you will need to look outside. At all costs, resist the temptation to say: 'Well, I could do that myself, at least for the time being.' Stick to the rule: this company has got to be run successfully - with absolutely no contribution from you.

If you fail to identify a leader, you must postpone any thought of easing off until you have. But make yourself a deadline for finding one - and stick to it. Otherwise you'll drift indefinitely.

When you've found your leader, take them into your confidence. Start by giving them a share of the company. You may find this painful but it's the only way. Then, between you, go over your plans and see if you agree.

Only then should you say: 'Right. You're in charge. I'd be happy to put in some hours a week - but it's your call. You must decide where I could be useful.'

And if you find all this too wrenching to contemplate, you should probably go on working full-time for a bit longer.

Please address your problems to him at: Management Today, 174 Hammersmith Road, London W6 7JP.

Or e-mail: management.today@haynet.com Regrettably no correspondence can be entered into.

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