Academic journal article Journal of Accountancy

Golden Business Ideas

Academic journal article Journal of Accountancy

Golden Business Ideas

Article excerpt

Put an End to Surprises

This is a memo to the boss:


Isn't that the last thing you want to hear--especially if it's bad news?

Yet, as you probably know, most bad news surprises aren't surprises at all --except to you. They are problems that have been building, step by inevitable step, strategically camouflaged by one or more middle managers. And only after they've degenerated to the disaster stage, so they can no longer be covered up, do they suddenly explode at your desk.

How do you put an end to surprises? The obvious answer is feedback--continual and accurate feedback. But, as you also know only too well, some subordinates often try to hide bad news in the misguided hope that in time the problem will simply go away. And what's behind such cover-ups? In one word, fear--fear that you will come down hard on the responsible subordinate. Hard as it is to hear, that fear is usually justified; the subordinate doesn't trust the boss to be understanding. Understanding does not mean simply being forgiving; it means helping to work out a solution--not sitting in judgment. So, clearly, it takes a climate of trust for fast and honest feedback.

If you suspect that cover-ups are common in your organization, it's time to do some soul-searching. Begin by asking this question: Isn't it to my advantage to build a trusting climate if in return my subordinates are more likely to provide fast and accurate feedback?

A good way to start building trust is to shift the emphasis in your organization away from management-by-memo--a style that too often nurtures obfuscation because fearful managers quickly learn to color the truth with craftily written reports that camouflage bad news.

The alternative is management-by-dialogue. Dialogue is not giving orders; it's sharing information, ideas, possible solutions to problems. Instead of saying "I want a 10% sales increase!" or "I want that job done by next month!" the boss says, "What can we do to boost sales 10%? …

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