A man I know (let’s call him Freddy) has organised fund-raising events for his social club on an ad hoc basis for the past couple of years, raising several thousands of pounds for the club.
Recently, a senior member of the club (let’s call him Bill) informed the Management Committee that he had approached someone new to organise the next such event. He did so without consulting anyone, least of all Freddy, who protested to the Management Committee, when he found out.
Within days, a simple piece of crass bad manners was mismanaged into a crisis that could result in a major row, with the loss of at least one valuable member of the club. It is a typical example of how focusing on process can produce the wrong outcome. It highlighted the difference between bureaucrats and managers.
It should have been very simple. The Club Chairman (Paul) could have simply told the offending member (Bill), in private, that he had been out of line, asked him to apologise to Freddy, and returned to normal business. The reasoning should have been something like this: who ran this event before? Did he do a good job? If so, shouldn’t you ask him first?
With the right approach, Freddy might even have agreed to give someone new the chance to organise the next event.
Instead, the Club Chairman, Paul, started having private conversations with several unnamed persons to establish whether there was any formal appointment of Fund Raiser (there wasn’t). This had the effect of pitting Freddy against those unnamed persons. It also manoeuvred Freddy into the position of supplicant, making it seem like he was pleading to run the next event, when actually the club should have been thanking him for doing a good job previously.
Freddy dug his heels in. He received a qualified apology from the Management Committee for their role in not considering Freddy when Bill made his original proposal. But he received no apology from Bill, and now he wanted one. Otherwise he might resign from the club.
With the best of intentions, Paul was following a bureaucratic procedure, assembling evidence by talking to a wider circle of people. In doing so, he involved more people than necessary, he increased the likelihood of conflict, and magnified the original issue into a major conflict. What was missing from his mindset was common sense.
Sensible managers avoid formal enquiries when a quiet word in private can get the desired outcome more effectively.