I made a very deliberate decision not to ask the President, so that I could insulate him from the decision and provide some future deniability for him if it ever leaked out. - John Poindexter On his action in diverting funds from arms sales at Iran Contra hearings
Plausible deniability is a term coined by the CIA during the Kennedy administration to describe the withholding of information from senior officials in order to protect them from repercussions in the event that illegal or unpopular activities by the CIA became public knowledge. Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plausible_deniability
For some time now we have used the term Plausible Deniability in working with our corporate clients, although our definition varies slightly from the traditional definition of the term above.
Plausible Deniability (Clement definition) – a situation in which an individual cannot be held accountable for a result or output, specifically when the end result does not meet the target. This arises when the requisite Accountability and Authority for the role are altered to an extent that the individual can produce a litany of excuses or reasons the target was not meet.
Typically this situation arises as a result of managers and senior executives “getting in the weeds” , micromanaging or other overstepping their authority. Below are some excuses we have encountered in interviews of individuals who have not met their output goals.
“Our sales are down because I spend too much time babysitting the owners nephew on the sales team, I don’t get sufficient time with the rest of the team and I can’t replace the nephew” - Placement of unwanted subordinates violates our principle of Veto authority on behalf of the manager (Chapter 6, page 85).
“We were never going to hit that goal, production management set the goal but finance took all the money away, we can’t run a “lean” payroll and then expect 20% productivity increases, somethings gotta give”. Minimized resources is a fact of life these days, but when other departments authority is ill-defined then who is accountable for the output? The finance team or the production team? Cross functional relationships have seismic impact on accountability. Chapter 7
“We didn’t hit forecasted budget because my team is always “busy” do other stuff…XYZ person is always asking my subordinate for assistance in their analysis, ABC person usually needs another of my team in on his weekly account management meeting which are a half a day typically..my team spends a huge amount of time working for others..leave us to our work and we’ll blow away the budget next quarter”. I n an effort to be “team players” many people rarely say no when their time or expertise are requested from others. Most organizations have weeded out the “not my job” mentality in favor of collegiality. However, when a team is frequently working on tasks other than the tasks needed to move toward their output goal the end result is most likely not going to hit expectations.
As a leader within your organization you are accountable to remove the non-value added work and destroy the out killing disease we call Plausible Deniability.