Managers often say one thing when they really mean another, shock, horror! Often the openly declared project objective disguises an underlying goal. The ostensible aim is one that can be agreed on by all, but it is really a stepping stone to another more controversial goal: A goal, which if it were to be openly declared, would raise a storm of objections against it.
During the Y2K scare I was involved with a major company with production sites around the global. Each of these sites had their own computer systems and supporting staff. The openly declared aim was to remediate all of these systems and also to update them to a new level of the common software. The hidden agenda was to consolidate the systems on a common server and then abolish all the local autonomy and departments. It would be centralization by stealth! The local sites would transmit their software for remediation to Y2K compliant code and when they expected the code to be returned they would find themselves subject to a switcheroo and centralization would have been achieved without any debate. Devious it was!
It’s a prime example of an hidden agenda. Ultimately the plan failed because the local sites had been busy over the years amending their software to meet local needs and they had done a poor job of recording these changes. So the client couldn’t update to a new release of the software because of the cost of replicating the local changes, some of which were to meet local legal requirements and therefore had to be implemented.
A variation on the Hidden Agenda is the suspected hidden agenda. This is a more common occurrence and feeds into the paranoia and conspiracy theorists that abound in most corporations. Here the staff views the new project as a Trojan horse that will lead to changes that could be detrimental to their well being.
So how do we manage these situations? Well in the case of the hidden agenda it depends on whether or not you’re in on the deception. If you’re not in on the deception and you discover it, and it will have a detrimental effect, then the easiest way is to make the deception public. Hell hath no fury like those about to be conned! If the deal is not yet done then mere exposure will create such a furor that it may halt the entire process. If, on the other hand, the deed is almost completed then the row may result in concessions being made to the effected parties.
Now, if you’re in on the deception, shame on you, then you should be aware that if you are successful you will gain plaudits from your co-conspirators and the eternal mistrust of everyone else. No-one, I repeat, no-one, in your organization will trust you again, period. Every future project will run into blanket opposition and obstruction. No matter how hard you try, you will fail to convince anyone that this change is beneficial. In this organization you will be toast. Take the plaudits and move companies. You are done!
In the case of suspected hidden agendas all you can do is communicate regularly and show that the change is what you say it is and nothing more. However, be aware that one misstep or unintended consequence during the project can destroy all the good will you may have created previously. It’s a true saying that trust takes years to create and seconds to destroy.