Would I lie to you?

Managers don't tell outright lies if they want to have any credibility but if you think it depends on what is meant by the word lying chances are you're a senior manager says Blair McPherson

Do managers lie? Of course they do. Is it an unavoidable part of the job? If your answer is "it depends on what you mean by lying" then chances are you are a senior manager or aspire to be one.

Managers don't tell outright lies – not if they want to have any credibility – but they are not always in a position to tell what they know even when asked a direct question.

"We have no plans to close or reduce this service" does not mean we are not thinking about it. In the current financial climate managers are often asked to come up with options for making efficiency savings. So that's what you do; you come up with ways of making a 2% savings, a 3% saving and a 5% saving.

You know some of these options will be considered too radical, too painful or politically unacceptable. These are costed, worked-up options, discussed within your management team, but they have several hurdles to pass before they can be shared with staff or the public as plans.

The finance director may rule out options as not sufficiently robust. The senior management team may rule out options as undeliverable or because they suspect they have been proposed in the knowledge that they are politically unacceptable. The cabinet member may veto an option before it gets to the full cabinet for discussion.

Even after all this, it's possible to say "no decision has been made" but the politicians know what they want to do. Similarly, "there will be a full consultation process before any decisions are made" means the politicians and managers know what they want to do. "Nothing has been agreed until it has been put before the full council" means the cabinet has already calculated they can get it through.

Some compromises may be made along the way, a phased closure or a less radical reduction in service but the plans that didn't exist are now ready to be implemented.

Blair McPherson is a former director of community services for a large county council and author of People Management in a Harsh Financial Climate and Equipping Managers for an Uncertain Future, both published by Russell House

For further reading on the subject of lying and hypocrisy in politics and public service, Blair McPherson recommends Jeremy Waldron's reviews of Political Hypocrisy: The Mask of Power, from Hobbes to Orwell and Beyond by David Runciman and Virtues of Mendacity: On Lying in Politics by Martin Jay in the London Review of Books

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