Delegation is very topical at the moment because it looks as if we’re in for a few weeks of various News of the World-related individuals indulging in that most British of blood sports of “throwing oneself on one’s sword”. As you can see from its name, it is an ancient ritual which the traditionally-minded British have not yet been able to shake off.
The misguided premis is that the “honourable” thing to do is to commit symbolic Seppuku as a gesture to appease. It is neither honourable, practical nor does it appease. It is an “empty” gesture. From a practical point of view, it also means that when a high-level manager or director commits professional suicide through the medium of “the resignation”, he has to be replaced – usually by a second or third-choice inferior being.
One of the more important components of the ritual is The Letter – which bizzarely (but traditionally) expresses “thanks and support” and usually alludes to a “rewarding experience”.
It is, of course all ritualistic nonsense and what we are SUPPOSED to do when these letters are put into the public domain (which they ALWAYS are) is to “nudge-nudge…wink-wink” and “read between the lines” and wonder “was he pushed or did he jump?”
So what causes this organisational equivalent of self-immolation? There are only THREE reasons for professional suicide or corporate sacrifice. The first is an indiscretion, the second is being caught with one’s fingers in the till (stealing, taking backhanders etc) and the final one is bad delegation and a lack of management skills.
The News of the World fiasco clearly demonstrated all of the above.
Rebekah Brooks was thrown on the pyre because she had been promoted to above her level of incompetence and she did not understand that when she delegated, she should have managed. Although she had delegated responsibility, the accountability remained her property. That meant that as soon as one of her underlings screwed-up, her head would be alongside theirs on the block. What is known as a “laissez-faire” style of management carries great risks.
Instead of delegating, Rebekkah had abdicated her responsibility. That means that she simply gave it away and allowed the system or process of news-gathering to be managed by others or, worst of all, she allowed processes to continue without management.
She, in common with others, claimed that she had no idea of what had been going on. She was either lying or (more likely), she was an incompetent non-leader.
It is most likely that Rebekah Brooks’ sin was not naughtiness – just incompetence. She was too busy schmoozing to notice what was going on. When she did find out – it was too late.
The corporate position in which she found herself was not an unusual one. Many people are promoted because they are perceived as being good at a totally unrelated job to the one into which they are promoted. A great reporter may NOT be a good Editor and a great Editor may be a lousy corporate executive. All three jobs require different sets of skills.
If that was the case, then the fault rests entirely with Murdoch for giving her a rank which she was not ready for.
The other type of manager or director who tends not to know what is going on is the tyrant – the one who rules by fear. That type of manager creates such a culture of suspicion and mistrust that he or she is only ever given the good news. Consequently they are often completely oblivious to anything even vaguely irregular.
That highlights yet another issue which is extremely common. Companies hand out senior positions as a “rank” and not as a job function. Once again, if Murdoch had perceived Rebekah as having done a good job as Editor, he may have viewed her promotion to CEO as a reward – the corporate equivalent of a Damehood. That was his mistake.
The Poisoned Chalice of Metropolitan Commissioner is also about to change hands after the “resignation ” of the present incumbent.
Sir Paul Stephenson’s resignation statement last night suggested that he was pushed onto his sword. His sin was the comparatively innocent one of someone under him hiring an ex-News of the World assistant editor plus not paying for a stay at a health farm.
Sir Paul was NOT an incompetent manager. As an undoubted asset to the Metropolitan Police, he should have been assured that no matter what, his position was safe and that he had not only the support of the Prime Minister but that of the increasingly arrogant and out-of-control Mayor of London. But as they say, you cannot satisfy all the Buller boys all of the time.
His resignation has highlighted the management incompetence of the Mayor of London and to a lesser extent, that of the Prime Minister. The Mayor of London has appeared to be in need of a puppet Metropolitan Commissioner for some time now and finally, he will have his wish. That will dilute police management even further.
We need an independent police force and not one which is in the pocket of a “here-today-gone-tomorrow” tinpot dictator.
What of the Prime Minister’s sins in hiring Andy Coulson? A lack of diligence and an over-keenness to please News International when it decided to call-in the favour of having become a Conservative Party supporter .
From the MPs’ expenses fiasco to the current News International shenanigans – the root cause of the lack of continuity in public (and media) life has a very straightforward root cause – an alarming shortage of people with appropriate management and organisational skills.
Finally, if we carry on trashing the careers of our best senior people, we are in severe danger of gradually dissuading “the best” from even considering high office.
That is already becoming evident in the standard of the last three parliamentary intakes.