“If you want to murder the proposal,” Mr A suggested, “send it to Finance or Legal for opinion.”
But I did not want to murder any proposal, I was merely asked to make one, I pointed out. Mr A looked confused. “But you must know what you want to do with the proposal. You want it through or you want to bury it?”
Mr A had got me wrong. I told Mr A of the background. Earlier in the day, I was called by Superboss to attend a meeting in which a staff union made their representation regarding poor work conditions, lack of amenities, inadequate bonus and general decline of morale due to neglect by the top management. Superboss assured them that the issues raised by them would be looked into. This had failed to mollify the more vocal elements among the delegation. After much acrimony, it was decided that a report would be prepared, discussed, modified and sent to the CEO as recommendations from our zone. Me being the youngest member present from the management side, was naturally tasked to prepare a draft report.
“Ah, then the question is, what does boss want with the report,” Mr A said. “In this case, since the report is to be discussed with the Union again, this is not the right time to get the opinion of Finance or Legal – that will be done by the CEO. Did Superboss tell you what he wants in the report?” he asked.
“No, he just said put up a draft report,” I said.
“Best reports, where you want some results, are brief. Maximum three pages. In this case, I think it should be over sixty pages,” he said thoughtfully. I reeled. Even three pages looked too much. After all there was a list of demands by the Union, to which Superboss had committed nothing. These demands were listed in a signed memorandum that was submitted by the Union. Mr A realized my predicament, and gave one of his more educative sermons.
“Making a comprehensive report is not really difficult if you know the structure. You start from the beginning. So what do you think you should start with?” he asked.
“Origin of man, if it is to go to sixty pages,” I thought, but remained quiet.
Seeing that I had no clue, he continued – “Begin with the structure of consultative mechanism that exists in our company, reiterating the full faith that the company has in dialogue as the means of resolving disputes. Download from the net the legal provisions regarding resolution of staff grievances. You may get the provisions ready-made from legal cell also.”
I hurriedly grabbed a pad and pencil and started noting. Mr A continued, now looking contentedly at the ceiling, head thrown back, both the feet on the table- “But before you go on please note that you are to write this report in Bookman Old Style font, double space, in paragraph form. Avoid bullets and numbering at all costs – they will kill the effect.”
I did not write these instructions but made a mental note of them, and the look of the report started forming in my mind.
“Next you devote some paras on the need for a healthy and satisfied staff, and the value of robust morale in the organization. Do not forget to quote extensively from the charter of our company, our website and the speech of our CEO in this regard. You will find all the material in my computer. I always use it in my reports.” He paused for me to write that down.
“Next you can devote a page or two regarding the structure of the organization, its various hierarchy levels and different representative unions. Here do not use charts in the main body of the report – start mentioning them as annexure. You will get all the charts from HR.”
“But the CEO already knows the structure of the organization,” I objected.
“You do not know where your report will land up. Giving the context is important so as to be fair and balanced,” he explained.
“Now go on to speak of the faith the organization has in its employees, the history of strain-free management-staff relations, and compare with other organizations in our sector. Search on the net all the disputes in our zone, and also talk to HR, they also maintain such data,” he was now in full flow, and despite some reservations on the need to include this section in the report, I kept silent.
“Now talk about the delicate financial position of the company, the balance sheet, the projects under way, the need for austerity in times of crisis, the competitive environment in which we are working and devote much attention to the possibility of layoffs,” he continued. “Say that salary cuts and layoffs are the last resort the company will take – and that the management is fully committed to protecting the interests of the staff. You will get all the relevant reports and charts from the finance. Take a pen-drive and get them today.”
Making a report was easier than I had thought. I wrote furiously as Mr A continued, now oblivious of my presence, “Now come to the individual demands, use para headings to deal with them comprehensively. Think of each demand as a mini-report, and in each case, begin with the history of the demand, the context, the financial implications and the impact on other group of employees. Approve the idea in principle, applaud the thought behind it but do put in the word of caution, that the implications must be studied before taking a final decision. Feel free to use semi-fictitious figures for ‘projections’, and state clearly that these are just initial estimates. If there are ten demands, I think this section should take about twenty pages.”
I was worried the report might cross sixty pages, and I said so. “Don’t make it too lengthy, but you could go up to a hundred pages without worrying,” he said reasonably, and went on the last element of the report, the conclusion. “Do not worry about the conclusion; just ensure that the report does not commit to any line of action, one way or the other. A report is to suggest measures, not force actions down the throat of people. Also, one must not be biased, in favor of, or against, any viewpoint. End with expressing full faith in the consultative mechanism, Superboss and the CEO.”
Happy though I was with what I could easily imagine to be a hundred page report, I had one doubt, “But what if Superboss wants a practical report which produces some outcome?”
“Ah for that also this report would be most appropriate,” he said, pointing out the beauty and flexibility of his concept. “In case Superboss asks, though I doubt he will, just make one page of actionable recommendations and place it as the first annexure. No one ever reads a report – the annexure will be taken up for further action.”