Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010


Q: I'm on the board of a small company that's the subject of a hostile takeover bid. I am relatively young and this is my first board position Unbeknown to my board, I've been approached to act as a mole for the company making the bid. In the event of a successful bid, my job would be secured and I would be rewarded with increased pay and status. I'm very tempted, especially as the bid comes from a more successful company. But I'm worried about the disloyalty the position entails. Is this how the City works?

A: I think I know what you want to hear. You want me to tell you that, yes - this is indeed the way the City works, that looking after number one is the accepted way of doing things. So you can feel free to embark on your double-dealing with a clear conscience, secure in the knowledge that if you pass up this golden opportunity you'd be more a softie than a saint.

Well, sorry, mate: you'd better ask somebody else. For openers, you should report this approach immediately to your fellow directors, because the action you contemplate would be an infringement of company law. A director must act at all times in what he considers to be the best interests of his company. Passing on confidential information without authority would be a misapplication of your company's property. If it came to light, you would be found personally liable for breach of duties.

But you really shouldn't need the law to deter you. Just think through the implications. In a hostile bid, you'd be taking money from both sides: your present salary from your present company and the promise of a higher salary from the predator. Since the bid is hostile, your board will fight it. As part of that board, you'd be part of the resistance, while simultaneously furthering the cause of the enemy. And how comfortable do you think your new board would feel with a known traitor in its midst?

So stop this shoddy dithering. The course you contemplate is indefensible at every level. Even if you got away with it, you'd be living in fear of discovery for the rest of your working life - and quite right, too. My only hope is that you're more naive than nasty.


Q: My boss wants me to attend an important convention in Madrid in his place. I'm flattered, as he never usually delegates in this way. But the event clashes with the one week near Christmas that my two young children - who live with my ex-wife - stay with me. I'm worried that if I turn down the convention, my boss will doubt my dedication to the job and overlook me for promotion in future.

A: Try to negotiate with your wife a different week for your children to come stay. Make it clear that you put the children's visit first but it would be wonderful if you could do the convention as well. If this proves impossible, speak with your boss. Explain that you've done everything you can to change the dates but without success - so you very much regret you'll be unable to go to Madrid.

Unless he enjoys being a bit of a bastard, I bet he'll respect you for this decision rather than hold it against you.


Q: I work in R&D for an opinion research team. Several months ago, a colleague was asked to research a field that she knew little about but in which I had some expertise. I agreed to help her and ended up doing the lion's share of the report. The research has since been key to the success of one of our company's products, and my colleague has been praised by the CEO and been promoted. She has never mentioned my involvement in the project, and I remain unnoticed and feeling like a bit of an idiot. Should I mention my work on the report, or just put it down as a learning experience?

A: Reports of this kind usually carry the name(s) of the author(s) and I find it odd that this one didn't. It's a sensible custom; it goes a long way towards preventing the kind of embarrassment you describe, and I imagine it's one you'll be keen to follow in the future.

My next thought will infuriate you and may well be totally unjustified, but I'm going to float it anyway. Most of us have an inclination - however innocent - to exaggerate our own contribution to a co-operative project. As a researcher, you might enjoy conducting the following modest experiment. Next time you come across a completed project involving the work of four or more people, ask each of them, anonymously and confidentially, to answer one question: how would they estimate the importance of their own contribution in percentage terms?

Add them all up, and if the total comes to 100 or less, you'll have notched up a world first. I'll bet you a tenner to a toothpick that the aggregate will be somewhere between 120 and 200.

It's not that people consciously overclaim; we're simply more knowledgeable and more aware of our own contribution than we are of the input of others. The chances are that both you and your colleague have done a bit of this. So settle for that, and you may find your understandable resentment a little less acute.

And, no, I wouldn't make a fuss, if I were you. You'd only sound petty. Just watch it more carefully from now on.

Jeremy Bullmore's responses to work dilemmas in MT are collected in his new book Another Bad Day at the Office? (Penguin, pounds 5.99)

Please address your problems to Jeremy Bullmore 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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