Prevention is better than cure when your reputation is at stake. By Francesco Rossi
We have all felt that our boss has made a bad decision on a matter affecting us. It leaves us resentful and can lower morale in the workplace. Productivity and efficiency can be affected if resources are wasted in handling complaints and disputes. Or worse, if legal requirements have not been complied with, it can lead to appeals, compensation payments and adverse publicity. Not only can it be costly, it can be detrimental to the reputation of management and the public’s opinion of the organisation.
Making management decisions
Managers make decisions from among a number of choices every day. Often there is no correct choice, but a decision that is founded on facts and is well reasoned will stand up to public scrutiny far better. Even if it is an unpleasant choice, it is a good decision if it is balanced and based on sound judgment.
But what are the components of a good decision? As organisations increase in size, functions are divided among many managers. For a decision to be credible and defendable, it must be made by a manager empowered with authority and knowledge.
It is also important that procedural and legal requirements be complied with. If not, a tribunal or court of law can order a process to be repeated. The media often report on cases in which workers are reinstated after a finding that they were sacked without proper procedures being followed. Of course, any adverse publicity will be much more costly in the long run than the expense and time of a legal battle. But, all considered, managers must remember that the vagaries and complexity of the law may still result in a contrary outcome.
Fairness, equality and honesty may seem like soft values and out of place in a corporate world where tough decisions have to be made, but they determine the view the public will take of managers. What integrity did workers attribute to management at Patrick after the waterside dispute of 1998? In the Australian culture, with its profound sense of fair play, it means letting those affected by a decision have a say, and being treated without bias.
Most organisations have codes of conduct, but the codes seem to be pushed aside when there are hidden agendas. Managers cannot be fair and act within the rules of proper conduct if they pretend to make decisions for one reason when other considerations are being kept secret. Unpleasant decisions will always bring criticism and, unless the reasons for the decision are overt, workers will assume ulterior motives. The credibility of managers is questioned at the best of times; imagine how much worse it is when decisions are not overt.
It is important that once a decision is made it is effectively communicated to those affected. Could communication have been handled better when Impulse Airlines workers learned of their sacking?
There are few events in life as shattering and demoralising as losing your job. Most organisations know when lean times are coming and can anticipate the possibility of staff cutbacks. Early planning to find alternatives or to implement cutbacks when no apparent alternatives exist is essential to minimising complaints and disputes.
Talking to workers face to face early on will make them aware of the facts and give them time to make adjustments should the need for cutbacks arise. Workers may also suggest and negotiate alternatives that management had not thought of, thereby achieving a satisfactory outcome for both parties. Whatever the decision, written explanations providing details and reasons will still be required as a record for both parties.
Even the best-planned procedures can result in allegations of unfair treatment and lead to costly legal battles. But if the components of good decision-making are present, the likelihood of challenges will be lower. And, should a challenge be made, reputations will have a better chance of surviving the battering.
How not to
Lock up your locks, and other futilities
Another month’s supply of illustrated advice on what not to do if you want to avoid certain calamities, such as having the former head of a bankrupt business as a very distinguished benefactor, going bald, bovine confusion or providing the evidence to convict yourself
How not to enshrine your failures
Two prizes in one badly timed sponsorship and rubbery ethics go to the University of Missouri’s College of Arts & Science student counselling centre. The centre has on its wall a large portrait of one of the university’s main backers: Kenneth Lay, the former chief executive of Enron, which has become the biggest bankruptcy in history and perhaps one of the most notorious examples of business failure.
Despite the ignominy surrounding Enron, Lay is still what the University of Missouri calls a very distinguished benefactor. He donated $US1.2 million for the Kenneth L. Lay chair in international economics.
This presents a neat ethical dilemma for the university. Enron’s internal investigation showed that financial tricks used in inflating the company’s stock were the initial source of the 1999 donation. University officials, however, did not see this as a problem. Michael Podgursky, chairman of the university’s economics department, told reporters: It’s not like it’s the Osama bin Laden chair.
How not to confuse your moos
This month’s award for the most bizarre R&D project goes to retired German scientist Gerhard Jahns. The 62-year-old is now working on a system for decoding what cows mean when they moo. Every moo, it seems, is different and farmers might be missing out on important bovine messages. Cows use different sounds to express pain, hunger or during the rutting season, Jahns said. He is developing a computer program to enable farmers to understand their cows better. He also wants microphones in the cow sheds linked to a computer, which would warn farmers of problems ahead.
How not to lose your locks
Runner up for the most lateral research and development effort goes to the San Francisco-based start-up Hairogenics. It has developed the perfect idea for people terrified of going bald: they can lock up their locks in a temperature-controlled vault, protected from fires, floods and earthquakes.
The hair-storage service adds a new strand to the never-ending search for a fuller head of hair. Hairogenics chief executive Michael Blaylock said hair samples would be preserved in a special underground vault. This would keep locks fresh until science could devise a way of cloning hair from DNA.
Hairogenics has signed up about 200 clients for its service, which costs $US50 ($A93) for the initial sample of hair plus an additional $US10 annual hair storage fee.
How (or where) not to store your booty
The award for the worst inventory management goes to suspected drug dealer Duron Ford. Pennsylvania court authorities said the 19-year-old had nowhere to stash his crack and marijuana so he brought it with him when he appeared in court in Fayette County on drug possession charges.
Knowing that Ford was due in court, officers approached him in the courthouse to serve a warrant on an unrelated case. As police closed in on him, Ford reportedly said: Man, I got the blow on me. Suddenly, he was surrounded by 10 police officers who found he was carrying about two grams of illicit drugs.
Despite their success, the officers were underwhelmed. Ford’s court-appointed attorney, Jeffrey Witeko, said: We hoped he’d have enough brain cells to know not to bring illicit drugs into the courthouse.