“ Unfortunately it’s simply not possible”. Most of us were prepared to accept this verdict after all he had the experience and the knowledge so was in a better position than anyone else to assess the situation. The problem came when one of our number won’t accept the decision without further explanation. Why was it not possible? The answer was so unconvincing , so illogical it didn’t make sense. The atmosphere in the room changed the tone of the meeting went from reluctant acceptance to confusion and suspicion. The questioner was no longer just one of the awkward squad but someone who had uncovered either some flawed management thinking or something going on that we didn’t know about.
This wasn’t an employee engagement meeting with senior management in fact it wasn’t a work situation. This was the annual general meeting of the Boys Sunday League to which each football club sent a representative. The agenda item which disrupted the smooth passage of business was a motion from the floor to make an apparently minor change which had little support. But the response of the management committee turned it into a lively, protracted debate revealing members distrust of the management and management’s superficially polite but ultimately condescending attitude to representatives. In the end the motion was defeated not by strength of argument but simply the majority of attendees weariness with an increasingly pointless debate.
What was striking to me were the parallels with many work situations I have observed. Senior management (secretly) resents having to explain themselves or believes that since employees don’t have the bigger picture they are unlikely to appreciate the argument for change. However opportunities for employees to hear direct from senior management and ask questions are part of the organisation policy of openness and the employee engagement strategy. So these management road shows take place but rarely leave anyone feeling they were useful.
It could of course be a communication problem that managers are simply not good at explaining the thinking behind their decisions in a away that makes sense to a particular audience. Or it could be that whilst senior managers support a policy of openness and a strategy of employee engagement, they see this as an opportunity to have their polices understood/ endorsed not challenged. Which may explain the tendency to close down debate rather than open it up.