Hypocrisy and senior management

You won't find many chief executives who will admit to hypocrisy but you will find plenty of their staff who accuse them of it. So it's interesting that  in the recently published top 100 places to work chief executives placed an emphases on values, integrity and business ethics. If chief executives think it is so important why do staff think it so rarely happens and have those in the top 100 found a way making sure the organisation stated values reflect behaviour throughout the organisation.

The chief executive of the Premiere League the man heading up the leagues campaigns for equality, including promoting women in the sport is caught out making sexist comments in emails, comments he would not have made in public but comments that reveal the way he really thinks. It would be understandable if staff were cynical about equality strategies, targets and policies coming from this senior manager in the future.

Barclays Bank claims to be well on the way to changing a culture that seemed to be devoid of any idea of business ethics, where the bonus culture dominated and anything you could get away with was ok. To convince staff they were serious about introducing new behaviours senior managers recruited over a 1000 value champions, identified 5 core values and the chief executive gave up his bonus!

So how are staff to recognise integrity and how are senior managers to demonstrate it? How do staff know if senior management are really committed to equal opportunity or if the grand sounding policy, comprehensive strategy, demanding targets and detailed monitoring arrangements are just for show. Assuming you don't have access to their private emails do they behave like the recruitment processes doesn't apply to them, do the statements on valuing staff match the way the new working practices are introduced, do the statements on consulting staff and service users match the way decisions on budget cuts have been made? What determines priorities finances or values?

Truth is it's not easy to tell who has integrity. Clearly a senior manager who fiddles the performance figures, misleads the members or claims credit for the work of others is neither honest, decent or truthful. But then most senior managers would accept that they have been guilty of putting a positive spin on a potentially damaging situation, that they have instructed staff to show the service in the best possible light during an inspection and who hasn't exaggerated their contribution on their CV.

Saying," no decision has yet been made" may be true in the sense that cabinet are yet to discuss it or full council have to vote on the budget but that is probably a formality if the leader and portfolio holder have decided. Sometimes senior managers know things that they cannot share with staff, they know controversial proposals are being discussed internally but must remain confidential until and depending on getting the political go ahead. In local government managing this politically sensitive process is very important to officers’ credibility and the confidence the board have in them. What if the senior manager argues strongly against a controversial proposal in line with their professional values but loses the argument, they still have to own the decision and sell it to their staff.

In the end it comes down to trust and in the top 100 places to work there is a high degree of trust between employees and senior management based on positive experience, feeling informed and behaviour consistent with the organisations values.

Truth is you just don't know whether what the chief executive says is what they really think, unless you have access to their private emails!

I can understand why some staff become cynical but it is wrong to assume senior managers don't have professional values or lack integrity some do some don't.

Blair McPherson author of People management in a harsh financial climate published by Russell House www.blairmherson.co.uk



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