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This message will self destruct

Blair McPherson - former Director, Author and Blogger
Recent reports in the media claim Ministers and civil servants are using instant messaging as away of deleting messages instantly. Potentially avoiding scrutiny and thus transparency and accountability. Let’s hope senior managers in business and commerce don’t follow their example.
We used to have ACMs (arse covering memos/emails) telling your manager of a controversial decision or action you had already taken starting with “just to let you know” and finishing with “trust this is ok” . In the knowledge that it’s too late if it isn’t ok. Now your manager can get their own back by sending you a message that will self destruct thus removing any awkward or embarrassing evidence  should things not go to plan.
You can understand why senior managers like politicians might find the self destructing message attractive. Safe in the knowledge the message will never be made public the manager is free to be blunt and direct.  No need for diplomatic language, the sender can say what they really think, no need for the reader to read between the lines so no risk of misinterpreting what the boss really meant.
I do foresee a problem however should the practice become widespread as who said what, when, is often a crucial fact in a dispute. Say you have a complaint about the recruitment process for a post which is basically that those recruiting had already decided beforehand who they wanted or who they didn’t want. Emails between members of the recruitment panel or between the chair of the recruitment panel and one of the candidates would be powerful evidence.
Like wise despite the traditional advice from HR that managers should never write anything about an employee that they would be uncomfortable with the employee reading managers never the less have been known make inappropriate comments concerning employees absences, appearance, or relationships with colleagues all of which could be damming evidence in a grievance hearing.
However the biggest concern must be the risk that it becomes impossible to track the decision making process as the records of relevant communications have been destroyed. Giving a whole new meaning to off the record discussions. This lack of transparency strikes at the very heart of trust and confidence within the organisation’s leadership and fosters a culture of cynicism, mistrust, and avoiding accountability.

This message will self destruct in 15 seconds.

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