Difference of Opinions on Suitability for Promotion and other things
A friend of mine had problems with aspects of how I handled a recent discussion I had with a manager whom I was helping deal with a member of his staff who believed he was fit and suitable for promotion to a management position, a view not shared by the manager with whom I was working nor with the HR Department. My friend’s problems with my handling of it were around a principle that I wanted to put in place in dealing with this issue before getting into any of the detail around the merits or demerits of the staff member, the candidate. The principle I explained to the manager was that he should get agreement from his staff member that, in the event of their having given the topic adequate time and discussion and still failing to reach agreement on a way forward, then, he, the manager, would have the right and responsibility to decide, to make the call. My friend thought my handling smacked of encouraging autocratic behaviour on the part of the manager. Raising the question of process, of how to reach a good decision is a very important and valid one to give attention to. But, important as it is, process isn’t everything.
Take a different process approach to deciding -so-called democracy, and see what happens when we put all our faith in it as being a reliable and sacred way to arrive at a good decision. Recently, Hillary Clinton accused Donald Trump of challenging this very sacred democratic process without any acknowledgment of the fact that this wonderful process has thrown up two of the most disliked, unsuitable and dangerous candidates from the 300 million U.S. citizens, candidates available for election. Despite this, and despite the insanity of Brexit, the chaos in Spain, the corruption in Brazil and a host of other tragic failures, nobody dares to question the voting, election, and the other paraphernalia of the democratic process. Here I want to avoid getting into a debate on the merits of dictatorships versus democracies and get back to the initial discussion on how to resolve the disagreement between my manager and a member of his staff who believes he is suitable and well-equipped for promotion. Should they keep talking until they are both happy with the decision – democracy – or should the manager arbitrarily decide – autocracy? And was I, in attempting to propose and agree some principles favouring the latter, autocracy, as my friend felt?
‘Meaning’ – the ultimate Decision Maker
I wasn’t really. I did explain to the manager that I believed that the ‘rules of the game’ that operate in entities like companies explicitly or implicitly imply an agreement that, where there are differences of opinion, the manager who has the greater responsibility, the broader view, and ultimate accountability for the outcome should decide. If we left it at that, you might well agree with my friend and feel that it is simply a different and milder version of autocracy. But it isn’t as simple as that and it was this that I was at pains to get across to the manager with whom I was talking. I was at pains to get across to him that his ultimate responsibility was to come up with what he deemed, adjudged, not only the fairest, but also the best decision for everybody involved, including the candidate. Ensuring that the decision he reached was the best one would involve painstaking patience and attendance to the point of view of the other person, not just to be good and fair to him, but to listen to the value and wisdom in what he was thinking and saying. Only having done this and done it attentively, honestly, and well will the manager have the confidence that his decision is the right and best one. But, when he handles it in this way, he will have something much more than a good decision and which is what will be of greatest help in getting the other person to accept and go along with his decision, even if it is not what the other person prefers. Because, what the manager will be saying is that the real reason for going this way and the basis for it will rest, not on his authority or higher hierarchical position as a manager, but on the validity, meaning and value of the actual decision. Yes, process is very important and very often can make all the difference, but it’s not everything. It is a means to get to what is true, what is meaningful, what is right and it is this that really matters and it is this that will enable these two people to reach agreement on something on which they were differing. This is and always has to be the real power of any manager to find out, act on and always insist on what is meaningful. Nothing more and nothing less.
Maybe that’s why some autocrats, dictators would seem to have done a very good job like Jozip Tito in the former Yugoslavia. They were autocrats who had the freedom and courage to do the right thing. Maybe it is precisely the abandonment of this, what is good, true, and right in favour of putting all one’s faith in the mechanics of the system like democracy that led Plato to say: “You mean, the vote of the drunk on the corner carries the same weight as mine?”
I don’t yet know how the manager I was working with got on with his ambitious staff candidate but I believe they will not only reach some form of agreement and do so based on coming up with what the right and good and most meaningful thing to do is, not just because he used a clever process. Important as that is for getting to what is right and best.