Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 20, Issue 17;   April 22, 2020: Intentionally Misreporting Status: I

Intentionally Misreporting Status: I

by

When we report the status of the work we do, we sometimes confront the temptation to embellish the good news or soften the bad news. How can we best deal with these obstacles to reporting status with integrity?
A portion of the Viet Nam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

A portion of the Viet Nam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. The United States' approach to conduct of the Viet Nam War is now viewed as having suffered from several strategic errors. One of these was the emphasis on enemy "body count" as a metric for engagement success. Pressure on field commanders to achieve high levels of this metric was so great that "body count inflation" occurred, as field commanders took steps to deliver reports that their superiors wanted to receive. The ensuing distorted view of "ground truth" made for difficulties in prosecuting the war. See "Declassification of the BDM Study, 'The Strategic Lessons Learned in Vietnam,'" available here.

Many of us file status reports regularly. Writing them is no fun. When the work is going well, writing the reports can feel like a boring chore that seems to be taking time away from doing real work. And when the work isn't going well, writing a status report can be a dreaded, painful chore that many find difficult to perform with integrity.

Whatever your role, reporting status with integrity is part of being a professional. Management relies on truth in status reporting as the foundation of its decision-making process. Because making appropriate decisions on the basis of misleading or incomplete status information is essentially impossible, misleading status reports are a threat to the enterprise, and therefore they threaten everyone's jobs.

Here's an example:

Jenn manages a sizeable enterprise effort — 85 people and a budget to match, over a period of just over two years. She and her team have divided the work into a set of tasks, each led by a task lead. Late last week, over coffee in his office, Mike told Jenn that Marigold, the module Mike's task team is working on, finally looks like it will pass its tests. Marigold has been a real problem. It's now two months late, but Mike is "very certain" that Marigold is "over the hump," as he put it.

So Jenn was looking forward to Mike's status report, which was due at the close of business last Friday. It didn't arrive. She texted him, emailed him, and voicemailed him, but here it is, 9:05 Monday morning, and he hasn't yet responded. Jenn's status report was due at 9:00. She needs to say something about Marigold.

Jenn has a difficult choice. Mike is a friend and respected engineering manager. Her choices for reporting Marigold's status are "Green" (all is well); or "Yellow" (probably OK pending resolution of an outstanding issue); or "Red" (in deep trouble needing prompt intervention); or "TBD" (I'm still investigating); or "Unknown" (no status report received).

Senior management has previously given everyone guidance: if status is unreported they want to know it. A missing status report could indicate communication system failures, accidents, ill health, concealment of major failure, insubordination — almost anything. Jenn also realizes that reporting status as "Unreported" could make trouble for her friend. She's tempted to report Marigold status as TBD.

I hope the problem is now a little clearer. Misleading status reports
are a threat to the
enterprise, and therefore
to everyone's jobs
Jenn is pondering the TBD choice, because Marigold's status is still being determined. Or she could report Marigold status as Yellow, because she had received an oral status report from Mike that indicated that the test was underway and the results would be available soon. Or she could report Marigold status as Green, because Mike was "very certain" that all is well, and Marigold would pass the test.

All of these choices are "technically" honest in the sense that there exist facts to support each choice. But these choices are also "technically" dishonest, because they would convey a misimpression of the true situation, namely, that Marigold's status is unreported.

The choice one makes in these situations depends on one's definition of "honesty" in status reporting. One test people use to determine honesty is the Evidence Test:

Do I have the facts and evidence I need to support the status I chose to report?

And another very different test is the Reality Test:

Upon receiving my report, will the recipient of my report have an impression of the situation that's actually in alignment with reality, as I know it?

Reports that pass the Evidence Test might not pass the Reality Test. But even though the reports Management needs are those that pass the Reality Test, many people write reports that pass the Evidence Test more closely than they do the Reality Test. Because Reality reports can trigger management actions that friends, colleagues, managers, and executives don't like, some people are reluctant to file Reality reports. Reporting Reality sometimes requires integrity, and it can be difficult at times. But avoiding reporting Reality can be the more difficult course. Why is reporting status with integrity so difficult? I'll examine that question in more detail next time.  Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: Intentionally Misreporting Status: II  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Politics:

Mustang stallions fightingWorst Practices
We hear a lot about best practices, but hardly anybody talks about worst practices. So as a public service, here are some of the best worst practices.
The U.S. Federal Correctional Institution at Danbury, ConnecticutConfronting the Workplace Bully: I
When a bully targets you, you have three options: accept the abuse; avoid the bully or escape; and confront or fight back. Confrontation is a better choice than many believe — if you know what you're doing.
Col. John Boyd, U.S. Air Force, in a photo taken during his time as a fighter pilotOODA at Work
OODA is a model of decision-making that's especially useful in rapidly evolving environments, such as combat, marketing, politics, and emergency management. Here's a brief overview.
An Apple iPhoneCritical Communications
From time to time, we're responsible for sending critical communications — essential messages that the intended recipients must have. It's a heavy responsibility that can bear some risk. A strategy for managing those risks involves three messages.
Feeling shameEmbarrassment, Shame, and Guilt at Work: Creation
Three feelings are often confused with each other: embarrassment, shame, and guilt. To understand how to cope with these feelings, begin by understanding what different kinds of situations we use when we create these feelings.

See also Workplace Politics and Managing Your Boss for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Kitty Genovese, in a mug shot created by the Queens, New York, police department after her arrest on a bookmaking charge in 1961Coming June 10: They Don't Reply to My Email
Ever have the experience of sending an email message to someone, asking for information or approval or whatever, and then waiting for a response that comes only too late? Maybe your correspondent is an evil loser, but maybe not. Maybe the problem is in your message. Available here and by RSS on June 10.
Three gulls excluding a fourthAnd on June 17: An Introduction to Workplace Ostracism
We say that a person has been ostracized from a group when that person is ignored by the members of that group or excluded from participating in that group's activities, and when we might otherwise expect that person to be a member. Workplace ostracism can have expensive consequences for the enterprise. Available here and by RSS on June 17.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?

DecisBullet Point Madnession-makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision-makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.

Here are some dates for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power

Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.