The cabinet member with responsibility for the directorate agreed some difficult things needed saying. He was happy for me as the then assistant director to write his speech. He even asked me to get it typed up in large print to make it easier to read as his eye sight wasn’t so good. I gave him a draft of the speech and arranged to meet him at the venue.
It was a full house, standing room only, recent rumours about job losses, possible closures and outsourcing had intensified interest in what the cabinet member had to say. Never the less I was surprised to see the director of HR sitting in the middle of the front row. I had never known him leave HQ let along come out to this distant out post of the organisation. He obviously didn’t know what I had only minutes before learned. The cabinet member wasn’t coming. I received the phone call at the very time the meeting was due to start. It wasn’t his PA but the man himself saying he wouldn’t be able to make it but he was confident I could manage without him, after all he had only a small part to play and I could give the short speech that I had written for him! It was too late to do anything other than go on stage, give the cabinet members apologies and read out his speech.
People had not come to hear me but I waved my pieces of paper and said I have the speech the cabinet member was going to give and he has asked me to read it out. It crossed my mind to read it out in his broad local dialect to lighten the mood and make it clear these were his words not mine, even though they were mine. However I have no gift for mimicry or accents and that kind of humour can backfire spectacularly, so I just stood up and read it. When I finished I sat down. The HR director, a tall man , stood up turning so he was half facing the audience and sideways on to me he said, “ Well it’s probably a good job the member isn’t here because that was a pretty controversial speech and I am sure you all have lots of questions”. Had he just given the audience the go head to have a go at me?
He turned to me and said, “perhaps me McPherson could explain what he thinks the cabinet member meant by....” I don’t remember the specifics of the question or that of any of the questions that followed from the floor I just remember thinking this is what General Custer must have felt like at the Little Bighorn.
There were several union shop stewards in the audience, the HR director address them by name and invited them each to ask their questions. By now he was orchestrating the meeting and I was answering questions as myself.
After some intense questioning the HR Director drew the meeting to a close from the floor.
I don’t remember what was said immediately after the meeting. I know I felt I had been ambushed. Why was the HR director there? What was his agenda? Did he know what was in the speech? Did he know the cabinet member was going to pull out at the last minute ? All I do know is that the cabinet member, the chief executive and my boss will all have had feedback on the meeting but no one said anything to me so it must have gone how they hoped. So was I ambushed or rescued?
Blair McPherson former local authority Director www.blairmcpherson.co.uk
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