Home > Leadership, The Monday Musings Column > on the boss being loose in the building

on the boss being loose in the building

It was a message that would reach me from time to time in my first major operational role. Out of a workforce of around 700 on site around two thirds of them worked for me and for “The Boss”, who normally only moved from the main entrance to his office and back with the occasional foray to the gents, the canteen or the conference room, to be roaming was both unusual and dangerous.

It was dangerous because he would see things that he didn’t understand and, as more than half of what he might see was my patch, would end up wasting my time. The problem was that he would be making note of the things that he saw and would take that list, mental or otherwise, back to his office and dictate a memo to his secretary. That memo would then sit festering until the next monthly performance meeting when, in front of my peers, he would require answers to things that I would have to try and remember from two or three weeks earlier. The fact that my peers would also get theirs in front of me was of no consolation because that just wated more of my time having to listen to it.

When I first made the move into management communication up and down the line was swift for I was sat outside the office that my boss inhabited and any message would be preceded by him shouting my name, I would get out of my chair and stick my head around his door and be communicated with. If the depot manager wished to communicate my boss would be summoned by telephone to make his way up to the third floor and, should anything he had to impart to my boss have anything to do with me I would know about it as my boss passed by on the way back to his own desk.

My next experience of communicating problems came in my next job when, as a relief shop manager, one of three regional managers would descend for a visit (if my luck was really out I could get all three in the same week). The sales and admin managers had it right in that if there was something that they didn’t like they would tell me there and then and, in the case of the sales guy, he would take off his jacket and help me sort it out. The other guy, in a technical role, would not speak to me at all other than to say hello and I would get his written report about a week later, or rather the regular manager who I was standing in for would get it.

In that example the sales and admin guys had the right approach in that problems were sorted out on the spot. Yes there might be a follow up memo to remind you of what had been wrong, but you had learnt on the spot and the problem with the technical guy was that life had moved on. There was no opportunity to discuss what he had found to gain any understanding of how you could avoid problems in the future.

As I moved from company to company and further up the ladder I not only had the problem of communications coming down the line to me, but also of how to communicate to an often geographically diverse team. A clear chain of command is important as is communication up and down it: Messages must be clear, concise and timely. The old chestnut of “Send reinforcements, we’re going to advance” morphing through multiple telling into “Send three and fourpence, we’re going to a dance” is probably apocryphal, but illustrates the point.

Modern technology helps of course. In my first big management role mobile telephones had just started to become available, were the size of two house bricks lashed together with a traditional handset and push button dial on top and cost a small fortune, e-mail was limited to a small network of people and the FAX was the best way of getting an urgent message out to multiple people: The things that we enjoy now were still science fiction.

But the key thing was still to tell people there and then; to show them what you felt was wrong, to let them have a say because it might be that they actually knew better especially under their own circumstances and, having talked about it, to agree what was to happen in future.

The world will always be dynamic so deal with stuff now, on the spot and when it matters. Anything else is just wasting everyone’s time.



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