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By Anthony Wooding (1), ASM Plus associate, mediator retired solicitor and law lecturer.


I want to propose a model for management which meets the twin objectives of the efficiency of the business and the well-being of staff and which will both in turn then assist to enhance productivity in the workplace. Management, indeed every management decision, needs to be:

  • Clear
  • Legal
  • Equal
  • Fair
  • Transparent

(Giving the acronym CLEFT)

If management is deficient in one of these five, it will deliver a less effective decision, and the more deficient it is, the less effective it will be.

By Clear, I mean the decision is not confusing in its own terms. It is not disguised by jargon or obscure exceptions, or lacking in clarity. If the decision is that social media sites cannot be viewed on an office network, except at lunchtime, that can’t mean at a manager’s discretion they can be.

By Legal, I mean consistent with the Law. That’s a given. A decision to monitor all personal email use at work would be illegal. That doesn’t mean you always have to agree with the Law, but, if you don’t, raise it with your Member of Parliament, not your employees.

By Equal, I mean everyone must be treated equally, including the manager themselves, unless it can be objectively justified not to do so, whether by contract (obviously more senior employees are paid more for instance) or well – grounded rules in the Staff Handbook/ Office Manual or in terms of individual decisions. If there is a ban on social media use, it cannot be qualified by saying that one department is exempted, or it’s ok to use above a certain level of management, unless by exception there is a fully justified reason.

By Fair, we mean the manager has considered fairness and striven to be fair. We cannot go so far as to say that the decision must be fair in an absolute sense, not because it shouldn’t, but because such ‘absolute fairness’ cannot be defined. But we can at least usually see when a decision is unfair. It is for instance usually unfair if it doesn’t satisfy the last three: if it is unclear, illegal, or unequal in its application as defined above. But it can also be unfair even if it does satisfy these three. For instance, would a decision that social media sites can never be accessed on an office network be a fair one, if the firm expects its staff to promote the company on social media?  A decision is more likely to be fair if it has been consulted upon before being made.  However conversely, a decision can be fair even though it has not been consulted upon.   It does not need to be consulted upon first in an emergency, nor if it is disproportionate to do so. Neither consultation, nor even communication, are to be followed slavishly. As pointed out in ‘The Stupidity Paradox’ (2), there has to be a trade-off between both these things and the functionality or smooth running of the business and being smart generally. That is, not every decision or working method can be argued over to the nth degree. Avoiding ‘analysis paralysis’ is essential to efficiency even if this means occasionally things remain to a degree ‘stupid’ to others.

By Transparent, I mean as far as possible the reasoning for a decision should be given. The ban on social media could be justified on the basis that it is impossible to monitor fair use. That might not mean the policy will be popular but it will be understood (management isn’t about popularity!). If the decision is an economic one this can be stated: Transparency doesn’t necessarily mean the business has to set out all the costings, least of all the firm’s overall financial position

If CLEFT is used, far from exercising a constraint, it liberates managers to have free, open discussions with those who are managed. The rest can indeed be adult conversations safely within the framework set.  We are all different people and can still be treated differently: some need more guidance, some less, some respond to financial incentives, some don’t. Equality does not mean the way we react to people can be the same. Some may choose to do a lot of extra work unpaid to win promotion, some are not so bothered and want to stick to contractual hours.  The manager just needs to be honest with both about the consequences: discuss career plans, not promise prospects to the former which will not be fulfilled and be realistic with the latter about the lesser career they will have and that this is probably consistent with their being further to the ‘life side’ on the work-life balance.  The manager is liberated to have all these free and open adult conversations if they work within the simple CLEFT framework. CLEFT should be seen as a liberating tool not a straightjacket. It enables you to ensure you apply, for instance, your sick policy fairly across the firm, but still have open, free-ranging conversations with those who struggle and/or are not ambitious, as well as those who over-achieve and are.

(1) Anthony is co-author of a book about management with Dave Ladbrook. The impetus and unique selling point for the book is that Dave has been ‘managed’ all his working life whereas Anthony has had significant management experience, successfully running a law firm. This means that, compared to many ‘management guru’ and ‘self-success’ accounts, the book has a more objectively balanced analysis of management as it utilises the twin perspective of ‘managed’ and ‘manager’. Pending publication of the book and with Dave’s kind permission, Anthony has granted ASM Plus the exclusive right to preview extracts from the book.  Comments will be warmly received either by readers sending an e-mail to ASM Plus or via social media.

(2) The Stupidity Paradox: The Power and Pitfalls of Functional Stupidity at Work’, by Mats Alvesson and André Spicer, published by Profile Books Limited in 2016. Location 2938 (Kindle version)

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