Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Do you have a hidden agenda?

How many times have you heard that you or your organisation has a hidden agenda? If you are in any form of leadership position I would be surprised if you’d not heard this before. If you are not at the top of your companies tree I am sure you've heard conversations about what 'management' are doing behind the scenes.

It can be really frustrating as a leader when you hear this if you think you don't. Many managers just ignore it when they hear it and dismiss it as the ‘normal scepticism that employees have for management’.

When I hear it I treat it as a clue to the culture of the organisation.

So before you ignore that ‘scepticism’ let me ask you whether it is possible that you actually do have a hidden agenda…….unintentionally?

Many organisations have active yet unofficial ‘information networks’. These networks aren't communication networks, they are more akin to the skin mounted monitors used in hospitals. They don't tell the doctor what the patient thinks but whether the patient’s heart rate has risen or when their breathing changes for example. They let the doctor know how the patient is feeling.
The information networks in your company are extremely sensitive to changes in management activity, just like the hospital monitors. When regular meeting patterns exist and there are no unusual comings and goings they tell the people in your organisation that 'everything is the same'.
But when extra or unusual meetings begin happen, consultants start to arrive, or senior team 'awaydays' take place, they are noted by the networks and the signal that 'something different is happening' goes out.
Especially if you have not said what they are happening for.

Riding on the back of those signals is that most human of conditions; speculation.
In the void of an unintentional hidden agenda people will naturally fill the gap based on past experience e.g. what happened last time the management team disappeared for days and had many closed door meeting (was that a structure change by any chance?).

From your perspective as a manager you are doing management work. You are 'planning' or 'reviewing' or even 'thinking about things', 'haven't decided anything yet' or 'have nothing to declare at this stage'.
What that means to the information network is that activity has increased without a similar increase in communication. If you haven’t said what is going on then what you are doing is, in the truest meaning of the word, ‘hidden’

Be aware that a 'hidden agenda' is often a sign that your people are filling a communication void with speculation. It can therefore be a clue to the health of your routine information channels; it may mean that they are blocked, or too loose with information, not delivering consistently or uninformative, used sporadically when you do have an agenda or a one way transfer of information. You may find that it is a combination of these in different streams of the business.

But don’t ignore the clue or the next time you stand up and say something in all honesty you will still be accused of having a hidden agenda.