The board has asked me to prepare a draft statement that will offload much of the blame for our terrible performance on the attacks of 11 September . Although that has played a tiny part in our losses, it's not the real story. I'm shocked I've been asked to use a tragic event as a managerial cover-up. Should I tell the board how I feel (and probably be replaced by someone who'll do as they ask) or find a way of modifying their plan?
A: This sounds to me much more like an instruction from your CEO (or the CEO's creepy adviser) than from the whole board. Somebody's trying to protect themselves.
What I don't know is whether this is the first time you've been asked to tell grubby lies on behalf of your company or whether it's part of a familiar pattern. If it really is the first occasion, then your management may not be terminally fraudulent and you should probably try to save them from themselves.
So what you should do (and it won't be at all difficult) is assemble a bulging dossier of recent press releases that have blamed poor figures - some of them going back an improbable number of years - on the terrorist attacks of 11 September. Attach half-a-dozen financial editors' contemptuous comments on these releases - also quite easy to find. And finish off with a reminder of the now legendary Jo Moore e-mail and how it backfired not only on her own department but on the whole Government.
Save them the embarrassment of questioning their calculations; just advise them unequivocally that to play the 11 September card is now such a debased tactic that it will inevitably attract intense scrutiny and widespread derision. It's more than they deserve; but if that instruction really was an aberration, you should probably give them (and yourself) a second chance.
If, on the other hand, you've become increasingly uneasy about the demands of your role and the weaseling and dissembling they expect you to undertake on their behalf, then you should cut and run while you still have a reputation to run with.
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.
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