Pass It On

We all played the “telephone game” when we were in elementary school. Whisper a message in someone’s ear. They then pass the whispered message to the next person’s ear and so on until the repeated, and now morphed, message reaches the last person. The last person then announces to the group the received message. A lot of laughter and disbelief ensues as the message does not even resemble the original dispatch. This little grade school illustration points out how difficult transparent communication can be when it is interpreted and re-transmitted.
Big business brings out the grade schooler in all of us, as layers and layers of management interpret and add their own bias (or more appropriately “spin”), to the message as it is communicated up the ladder. A complicating factor is the conditioned response throughout the management layers to give positive news. It is a short learning cycle for a manager to realize that negative news does not result in needed help, but instead becomes additional work (“fix it and report regularly on your progress”). Reported news gets filtered through rose colored lenses all the way up the chain. “Atta-boys” are passed out and everyone is happy….except for those people in the trenches that cannot seem to understand why.
This is how it works.
A team leader collects status from the trenches. The team is concerned that they are:
“Way behind schedule, experiencing technical issues, and need more people.”
The team leader passes this on to the first level Manager. This “can do” manager knows that they have overcommitted. In order to save face and not loose the confidence of upper management, he softens the message to being:
“A little behind schedule, technical issues are being worked, but could use some additional resources.”
Of course, the Sr. Manager gets this message while contemplating the boat payment he needs to make and how a bonus would surely help. The message is passed on up:
“Schedule is tight, technical issues are under control and resources are all working hard.”
Mostly pleased, the Director receives this message, knowing he would like to attend the achievement recognition boondoggle in Hawaii, and has his eye on a new convertible roadster. Hmm, that bonus is only a few months away. He passes the message on up:
“Things are on schedule; here is a little picture to prove it. Technical issues are being closed; here is a nice little chart to show that. Resources are all executing well, although more would help.”
The Vice President, who has been under pressure to reduce headcount, knows he cannot mention the sensitive headcount issue without jeopardizing the next bonus - which is already calculated in his retirement plans. So the message is communicated up:
“Everything is going according to plan, no technical or resource issues.”
This, of course, is great news to the Executive VP who is bucking for President and has his eye on that new place in Vail; he assures the president that:
“Things are going so well it will likely be completed ahead of schedule.”
On to the board of directors, the good news is calculated into the expected bottom line.
The good news is communicated at the all hands communication meeting that the next quarter looks really good. All that is needed is for the troops to “execute” to the plan to pull in the schedule. Good job!

Huh? Guess who is going to be working extra? Let me know how the skiing is in Vail