Do you see what you want to see?
Last week I watched Nick Leeson give the keynote speech at Nottingham Business Expo 2015. You may remember the so-called “Rogue Trader” who brought down Barings Bank 20 years ago, by hiding the losses he was making from his bosses.
I was struck by how little supervision he appeared to have as his losses mounted. How easily he seemed to persuade his bosses and auditors that all was well, and how he managed to avoid answering truthfully the questions about his actions. While his managers were happy with the apparent profits that were being reported to them, they clearly didn’t understand how these were being achieved, or know enough about the trading activity to look at the right indicators or ask the right questions.
It’s easy when business is doing well to accept the results and not worry too much about how they are achieved. But in the long term, this strategy always fails. We become lazy, in the sense that we stop holding people to account for the way they achieve their results. Meanwhile, employees settle into a pattern of shortcutting procedures, eventually forgetting the “correct” way of doing business. They’ve learnt the right things to say to convince you everything is fine and stop you asking difficult questions. Bad habits, short cuts and half-truths become the norm.
Asking difficult questions isn’t being unreasonable or unfair. Understanding how your part of the business operates and achieves its results is a fundamental responsibility of the management role. Looking beyond the headlines to understand the full story helps you challenge inappropriate behaviours before they escalate into something far worse.
So what are your staff doing right now? Do you really understand how last month’s performance figures were achieved? What procedures were bypassed or side-stepped to hit targets? What promises were made to customers to secure their business? Do you know what, specifically, your top performers are doing differently from everyone else? Are you happy with their methods?
And that team member who has become quieter and more withdrawn recently... Have you noticed their absence is creeping up and their timekeeping is deteriorating?
Have you thought to question why?
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