5. Playing by the Rules in Business: Case Notes
How do these ‘rules of the game’ apply to corporate life? Indeed, should they apply, or should we be striving to break the rules?
I worked on a change programme some time ago in which a number of members of the sponsoring group (the directors of the client organisation) were actually in opposition to the programme.
Frankly, this was hardly a secret. It was openly acknowledged within the programme team. Meetings with some of the directors featured mischievous side comments or jibes at the programme. The director who most strongly supported the programme was quite open (privately) that he was pretty much locked in combat with his colleagues.
But none of this was allowed to surface in public. Steering group meetings, though frequently tense, did not expose this fundamental truth. In private debriefing sessions it would be acknowledged that a director had raised an objection essentially to throw more obstacles in the path of the programme. This was not however put to the meeting. Publicly, the pretence of dealing with a bona fide objection was gone through like a ritual dance. The game was played.
I constructed a stakeholder analysis as part of my consultancy remit. As part of this work I had to classify the directors and their disposition towards the programme. To have suggested that they were supportive, or even neutral, would have been a travesty. So I marked them individually as somewhere between unsympathetic and trenchant opponents. I then suggested that we share the stakeholder analysis with the steering group.
The reaction to this suggestion from colleagues was one of horror. It was allowable to share these assessments in private, within the team. But to offer them to the steering group – the subjects of the assessment – was not. My suggestion was ‘over conscientious’. No doubt my colleagues would have endorsed Sir David Manning’s assertion that:
“The public good is as much about discretion and restraint as it is about public disclosure.”
Of course, I have some sympathy with my colleagues. In common with many change programmes, the management of the steering group was an exercise in ‘careful orchestration’. Breaking the rules without first preparing the ground could have divided the directors further and played into the hands of the programme’s opponents.
But I would suggest that a disabling schism in the sponsoring group already existed: we were just all pretending otherwise.