25 ways to make yourself unpopular: #2 Provide timely information

Some information would be useful...

Image by Terry Freedman via Flickr

You would think that providing timely information would be just the thing to get you applauded. However, as the song from Porgy and Bess tells us, it ain’t necessarily so. It really all depends on what the information is, and to whom you’re making it available.

In those days (which seem so distant now) when the British Government gave money to Local Authorities to give to schools, money which had been ring-fenced for spending on educational technology (ICT), I was in charge of a whole team of advisors and others concerned with the delivery of ICT in schools. One of the things I did was to make sure that the ICT Co-ordinator in each school knew exactly how much would be going into the school’s budget for ICT – and the exact date that would happen. I deemed that to be necessary because the ICT allocation didn’t appear as a separate budget item in the school’s records, and I wanted to avoid a situation in which the money allocated for spending on ICT was inadvertently spent on something else instead.

So each year I would have someone send out an email, fax and letter to ICT Co-ordinators and Headteachers stating exactly how much they would be getting, and when.

The ICT Co-ordinators universally appreciated this.

I’m not sure that sentiment was shared by others. (Bizarrely, I had one Headteacher complain that I had kept the information to myself!) However, were I to enjoy such a lofty position again, I would do exactly the same. My view is that the money was allocated for ICT, and should therefore be spent on ICT. The ICT Co-ordinator in each school needed to know how much she could expect, in order to be able to plan her spending better. She needed to be sure that the Headteacher knew, because the lack of a separate budget code meant that there was no way a busy Headteacher would be able to see, at a glance, that that money wasn’t a windfall which was up for grabs. But as far as the Headteachers who didn’t like my proactivity are concerned, I took the view that my role was not to help the school balance its budget, but to help the school maximise the benefits of its ICT provision.

I think the lesson to be drawn from this is that you always have to think about who your actual client is. In this case, I considered that to be the ICT Co-ordinator, not the Headteacher or the school as a whole. It’s a version of Adam Smith’s “enlightened self-interest”: with any luck, everyone doing what’s good for an individual component of an organisation will result in the organisation as a whole thriving. It doesn’t always work out like that, of course, which is where good leadership comes in.

And good leaders will always want to have accurate information, at the right time.