THE “agenda” is part of corporate protocol. Its root word comes from the Latin “agere,” in its gerundive form “agendum” — things to do. Invitations to attend business meetings are accompanied by an agenda which lists the topics to be taken up. There is no indication of how long each topic will take, depending as this does on the one presenting (How many slides does he need?) as well as the inquisitors at hand. Certain committee members take pride in prolonging the discussion by asking irrelevant questions just to show off their cluelessness — what is the middle name of Thomas Edison?
Even socially, an invitation for lunch, unless it’s with a regular group, is prefaced by a query as the available time is coordinated — What do you want to talk about? A noncommittal response of just catching up on each other’s activities is likely to raise the suspicion of some ulterior motive. Is there a hidden agenda?
Something out of the ordinary in an organization is bound to arouse suspicion of some other activity going on. If a long-retired executive, known to be a corporate “hit man,” is called back to interview key executives regarding a recent crisis in the company, the question arises on where this process is headed. What is the real agenda here?
Political moves like the promotion of a constitutional review always invite questions of motives and the real intention of the self-appointed legislative crusader, better known for his role in movies. Is the constitutional review intended to promote economic development? Sometimes, the personality involved doesn’t always give a clue on his true agenda — is he promoting autarky as an economic policy?
Even with an agenda for a meeting, there is a last item marked “other matters.” No further details are given on this ambiguous heading. This surprise number can be anything from a list of redundant executives to be given an exit package to the scheduling of a thanksgiving party for being voted “the best company to work for.”
“Other matters” as a category is the last item before adjournment. There is nothing else on the plate, and this non-item serves as a signal for the rush to the rest room. The chair looks around the table and intones — There, being no other matters for consideration, do I hear a motion to adjourn?
The undisclosed matters prevent attendees from leaving after their own presentations. The possibility that this hidden agenda may involve an absent party (Where did he go?) keeps everyone in his seat. The unidentified topic forestalls a slow erosion of participants. It projects the same allure of a raffle prize available only to those who are still around when their names are called — and the three-night free stay at a deluxe hotel in Boracay goes to…
Other matters can also be prefaced by a call for an “executive session” which requires certain attendees to be excused from further participating on the subject to be taken up. This could be the announcement of a new CEO to be joining the company in another month.
There is no substitute for preparedness for hidden agendas.
Even innocent-sounding queries from colleagues may have some significance. (Where were you when the brown matter hit the ceiling fan?) Taking a moment to understand the question may save your career. Another question as a response is a good delaying tactic; it also offers an opportunity to peel away the covers of the real query — what do you mean?
Of course, being always on the lookout for ulterior motives can make one look too guarded, even insecure. To always be suspicious of even the most innocent greeting can create the image of paranoia. Someone asking how your weekend went may indeed just be making small talk. A beady expression of guilt (Why do you want to know?) can only invite suspicions of mental instability. Such defensive behavior projects insecurity, even having something to hide. Can a request for a medical check-up be far behind? (Please include an interview with a psychiatrist.)
Only in hindsight do the once hidden agendas come to light. The motives behind the innocent invitations to dinner and team-building exercises out of town are confirmed. Of course, by the time the real agenda is revealed… it’s too late to do anything about it.
Tony Samson is chairman and CEO of TOUCH xda