I am a writer and media consultant.
I write about the new opportunities in a post-industrial, postcolonial country and about the unavoidable connection between business, culture and childhood. Children need a healthy economy; a sustainable economy needs it’s children to grow up well but it’s not a trick we’re all good at. My book “The Kids are Alright” is a revelatory piece of reportage about the ordinary parents and children who buck the trend and thrive in a Britain where nobody has any time or money, where health, education and depression amongst children are the worst in the developed world. Like all my work I write to make it colourful, challenging and analytical with the core of unswerving optimism. I have written for the Times Educational Supplement and been quoted in the Independent.
My proudest possession is an Amnesty International award for a filmsabout asylum seekers making out a new life in Glasgow. http://www.simonparsons.co.uk
Business Cliche Number 1
Whenever you hear someone say there’ll be no let up on tough decisions or they won’t shirk the difficult choices ahead you know one thing. Someone else is in for a hard time. Politicians are very fond of talking this way, quite a few managers and company directors too. They seem to think that kind of swagger plays well with their audience but I find it unedifying.
In 1928 a 22 year-old junior engineer from Manchester arrived in Glasgow in the middle of the great depression. He was my Grandfather. Lucky to have a secure job he’d go where-ever the company needed him and this time they’d sent him to install the water coolers at a new ice rink. First he had to recruit a handful of labourers. It might have been the easy bit but when he arrived at the site it was swarming with hundreds men. Most looked like they hadn’t eaten in days. He stood on a crate and looked across the sea of faces. They each stared back. “How many of you are single?” asked my grandfather. Those who put up their hands stepped aside. “How many of you have no children?” They stepped aside too, and so it went on until he’d whittled them down to few enough to talk to, to look in the eye and ask a few more pertinent questions. Most of the unlucky ones walked quietly away but there were a few who lobbed a mouthful of abuse – a parting shot at the young man who had it in his power to let them to starve another day.
All he was trying to do was pick his way through a mean situation – to make tough decisions. He had no training, there were no equal ops laws and with only a crate to stand on and hundreds of hungry men in desperate need, each as capable as the next he had to act.
The trouble with the rhetoric of “taking tough decisions” is it is little more than posturing. I don’t doubt that the person who speaks this way has the resolve to carry their decision through but in conjuring up the image of a tough guy rolling up his sleeves these guys are hiding behind the language.
The words sketch the outline of a distorted picture where the person wielding the power is drawn as the one making a noble sacrifice and where the other guy; the one on the receiving end is invisible. Taking the really tough decisions needs guts and can be exhausting but when the declaration of toughness is followed as it quite often is by a verbal chaser like “I won’t flinch” the alarm bells should begin ringing.
If any fresh-faced young manager said that to me thinking I’d be impressed I would ask them back – You won’t flinch? Why the hell not? And I’d be genuinely interested in the answer because if they simply meant that they wouldn’t duck the decision that would be fine. But if they meant they wouldn’t give it a second thought I would be worried. Whether you’re going to fire someone, not hire them, make them redundant or any of the millions of other tough things a manager might have to decide upon; on the other end of that tough decision there’s a human-being and that always deserves a second thought.
It’s why the posturing is so tempting. It is easier to act when you can think of yourself as the big guy taking the hit for everyone else but in the long term you’re buying trouble – either for you or the company.
Apart from anything else to sound bellicose without saying much is a bad way to communicate with your team – unless you mean to frighten them. Something I definitely advise against.
Being a manager takes up a massive part of your life. In fact it invades every second of your life – even when you’re off duty, out of phone contact up a mountain in the Snowdonia National Park. A friend will say something that invokes one of your preoccupations in the office and for a moment you’ll back to work, and anything so all-consuming is a profound moral undertaking. It has to be. So when you make tough decision keep the human in front of your mind at all times. I’m not saying you should get emotional. On the contrary. You should behave with dignity and honesty. Like the young man in Glasgow you should know how you made your decision and be open about it, even if you have no time and no information to help you, and if the people you’ve been deciding about disagree that’s their prerogative. Depending just how tough life is about to get for them you might have to endure a bit of a grilling but that’s only fair. If you have done everything for the right reasons you will be able to answer any question.
But if it ever means doing something that you instinctively know to be wrong, or because it makes you feel good to swagger and gloat then that’s not a tough decision; it is a wrong decision.
Favourite Word: 'singularity'
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