WHAT'S YOUR PROBLEM?

WHAT'S YOUR PROBLEM? - SHOULD I LET MY STAFF IN ON SECRET PLANS?

by JEREMY BULLMORE
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

SHOULD I LET MY STAFF IN ON SECRET PLANS?

My boss is planning some radical reforms at work, which will affect the way we do business as well as individual job descriptions. As a senior manager, I'm privy to these confidential plans, but some of my staff know that something is up and have been asking me what's going on. I know I shouldn't tell them the full story yet, but I feel I owe it to them to at least outline what might be happening - after all, it's their jobs that will be affected. What should I do?

You shouldn't really be asking. You're a senior manager who's been entrusted with confidential information in the belief that you'll keep it to yourself.

And so you must: it's one of the boring conditions of being a prefect.

I can understand your unease, although I wonder about your motives. You can't be a senior manager and one of the boys. You can't maintain your boss's trust and leak secrets to your staff. You can't maintain respect without occasionally forfeiting affection. Your thought of letting them in on an outline of the changes is about as silly an idea as you could have. In one blow, you'll betray a confidence, fuel further speculation - and almost certainly mislead your own staff. I'll bet you anything that the plans your boss has in mind will go on being modified until the last minute.

All you can do is go to your boss; confirm (because he's bound to know anyway) that speculation is rife; and encourage him to go firm on an announcement date as soon as possible. Then get his agreement to make that date known.

Please forswear all other hints, half-truths and innuendoes. Implacable opacity is your only respectable option.

MY RECOMMENDATION HAS BLOWN UP IN MY FACE

I recently recommended an acquaintance for a vacancy at work, and was pleased when he was offered the job. But now I sorely regret it. He is unreliable, mouthy with the boss and rude to other colleagues. I know from their pointed comments that they blame me for his appointment, and feel I should say something to him. I don't know him well enough for a showdown, but feel I ought to do something.

I don't want to rub it in, but just in case you're ever inclined to be quite as idiotic again, you'd better square up to what you did this time.

You recommended an acquaintance - an acquaintance! - for a job in your own company; and not even a close acquaintance at that but someone, in your own words, you don't know well enough to have a heart-to-heart with.

What, I wonder, were you thinking of? It sounds to me as if you're rather too anxious to be liked - and are now experiencing the inevitable, ironical consequence: the extreme disfavour of your colleagues.

Sorry about all that, but it had to be said. Now for a bit of recovery work. Your best hope is that your boorish acquaintance will get himself fired as soon as possible. From what you say, he's setting about this objective with skill and determination. The fact that he's unreliable and mouthy with the boss is the only good news in your letter. Long may it last.

But you do have to speak to him. Not, I think, a long rehearsal of his faults and flaws coupled with an impassioned plea for reform: it wouldn't work and, anyway, you don't even want it to. Just tell him as briefly as possible that you now regret having recommended him and that he should no longer assume that he enjoys your support. Avoid elaboration if possible.

The next bit's more tricky, but you've got to make sure that your boss knows how you now feel without coming across as a treacherous shit. I suggest a short note, which simply says: 'I would like you to know that I yesterday told (boorish acquaintance) that I now regret having recommended him to you.' The sooner he's fired, the fewer legal problems there'll be, so don't hang around.

WILL MY SINS CATCH UP WITH ME?

I was dismissed for disorderly conduct 15 years ago and have been self-employed since. Does the dismissal still count against me if I want to look for a new job? I'm a reformed character since those days, and don't want to bring the matter up unless I have to.

Being dismissed for disorderly conduct isn't the same as having a criminal record. It probably weighs more heavily with you than it would with a prospective employer. My instinct, therefore, is that you should go for total openness and transparency.

You should always assume that your distant dismissal will become known.

Some mischievous god is bound to ensure that the office cleaner who long ago found you drunk and disorderly in the computer room is now the old biddy in your new staff canteen.

Put yourself in the place of any potential employer. Which would cause you the greater concern: open admission of an ancient indiscretion or unearthed evidence of current deceit? If you decide to come clean - and I hope you do - make sure you're well equipped with references. Since you've been self-employed, they can't be from employers. But long-standing, satisfied customers can be just as reassuring; and maybe a letter from your GP. Just be dead straight about it: 'Why should you believe me when I say I've been a reformed character for the past 15 years? So here's some supporting evidence - please feel free to call them.'

Jeremy Bullmore, former chairman of J Walter Thompson, is now a director of Guardian Media Group and WPP.

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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