What's your problem?

What's your problem? - I am a departmental head of an international business, which lacks IT representation at board level. As a result I spend my whole time chasing processes instead of doing the creative thinking I was brought in for. The board director

by JEREMY BULLMORE
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

I am a departmental head of an international business, which lacks IT representation at board level. As a result I spend my whole time chasing processes instead of doing the creative thinking I was brought in for. The board directors make assurances but fail to deliver. Am I on a hiding to nothing?

Most departmental job descriptions, however honeyed the terminology, demand an element of day-to-day administration (or process-chasing) as well as 'creative thinking'. Were I a sceptical person, I'd suspect you of hoping to dodge all the dreary bits on the debatable grounds that they prevent your imagination soaring into a stratosphere of unfettered speculation.

So my first piece of advice is that you should examine yourself and your motives with clinical objectivity. Nobody can be a 'creative thinker' on a 24/7 basis. A bit of process-chasing and mixing with the masses helps feet stay on ground - and may even stimulate you in your more inventive moments. Are you absolutely certain that it's not time you're short of but good ideas?

You talk about 'board directors' in the plural - but there's presumably a specific director to whom you report. (Somebody must have hired you.) Book some time and go over with them the reasons why you were taken on.

Suggest that there must be disappointment that so little constructive creative thinking has yet come through. Explain that you share this disappointment.

Identify any examples you can of superior performance by competitors.

Point out that, not only are you failing to do what you're paid for, but the company as a whole is already losing ground and will certainly lose more if things don't change. Suggest those changes.

The changes you ask for should be specific and workable. Add a time-scale: ask for another formal review on a given future date, and agree the date there and then: you'll know what's realistic.

If none of this works, you'll know that you are indeed on a hiding to nothing and can put in a call to your favourite headhunter. But if the changes are made and the deadline agreed, you'll have every chance to prove your point.

I am MD of a high-growth company recently acquired by a multinational Our new parent has told us to use its Big Six firm of accountants and not our existing firm, which has served us well for years and was a great support through the acquisition. Our parent has praised their work but wants to standardise. I am not happy but don't see how I can say no.

Your question will come with a sickening sense of familiarity to a great many excellent accountancy firms that happen not to be members of the Big Six. And, for that matter, to thousands of other service companies whose long-standing and valued clients suddenly find themselves under instruction from new corporate masters to standardise, harmonise, rationalise - in other words, terminate - entirely satisfactory professional relationships.

It's a wrenching business, often involving those who have become friends as well as advisors. It's also difficult to know where good business sense stops and sentimentality takes over.

You're quite right to question your freedom simply to say no. You can't.

Much of the (often spurious) justification for acquisition centres round centralisation and cost-saving. And there are real and powerful reasons for a multinational wanting its accounts to be audited by a single firm.

There are just two approaches you could try that - quite legitimately - might preserve at least part of your business with your existing firm.

If there is any element of their service that applies to your particular sector or region then you have good reason to argue the commercial case for retaining local knowledge and past experience. To which you can add the appeal of comparison. However compelling the argument for the seamless, worldwide application of the mega-firm's armies, even the mightiest of CEOs dislikes feeling held to ransom by a monopoly supplier. The opportunity for a little side-by-side assessment, even if only on a limited scale, can often be seen as a cost-effective way of keeping the mega-firm on its toes.

Try it, anyway. Your existing firm will certainly be grateful. But if their senior partner is your daughter's godfather, say a sorrowful goodbye.

Your new corporate parent will doubt your motives.

My boss seems to have singled me out for attention - which is great - but to such an extent that it's embarrassing. He sings my praises to all my colleagues, even when the credit isn't really mine and I've said so. It's starting to become divisive. Should I have a word with him?

He fancies you. It's not clear from your question whether you're a her or a him: but whichever, he fancies you. And I can't believe you needed me to tell you that. Which in turn makes me think you quite enjoy it all.

There's something not wholly convincing about your protestations of embarrassment and disclaimers of credit. I can quite understand the discomfort of your colleagues.

If you really want to put a stop to all this, you must be ruthlessly self-disciplined. However 'great' you find it, never look pleased when he singles you out. Don't lower the eyelashes and murmur little bashful things: that's exactly what spurs him on. Shrug, laugh, exchange raised eyebrows with the colleagues, move on. As soon as he stops fancying you he'll stop singling you out.

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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