“Elizabeth Hofacre, an [IRS] agent in the Cincinnati office, . . . said an IRS lawyer in Washington, Carter Hull, micromanaged her work and ultimately delayed the processing of applications by Tea Party groups.
“She said Hull’s interest in the cases was highly unusual. ‘It was demeaning,’ she said. ‘One of the criteria is to work independently and do research and make decisions based on your experience and education, whereas on this case, I had no autonomy at all through the process.’ ” (The Boston Globe, AP, 6/7/2013)
We have taken many lessons from the IRS political circus to which we have been treated recently, and, as appropriate, keep returning to “How did this happen and how can we prevent its recurrence?” While there will be the usual political sturm und drang around this, vows of tighter control, proposals for more regulation – as the IRS agent, Elizabeth Hofacre, states, at its root, the problem came from an all too frequent lack of respect for the intelligence, ethics and decency of people in the workplace. No doubt, Carter Hull has his own intelligence, ethics and decency, but by becoming a micromanager, he exalted his own reasons and priorities above those of anyone and everyone “below” him. Heavy-handed managers seldom have the humility, usually lack a sufficiently broad perspective and rarely believe they have the time to listen to line staff.
Should Elizabeth Hofacre have pushed back more strongly and more eloquently at this intrusion from someone in Washington? Ideally, yes. But far too many people in the workforce have already seen the consequences, for themselves and/or others, of challenging people “above” them who definitely have some kind of agenda they are pursuing. They know the dangers all too really. No, what we really need is a healthier, more vigorous demand for good, common sense management, one that sees its role as nurturing people’s ability “to work independently and do research and make decisions based on your experience and education”. That will not solve all problems, but it will bring more people’s savvy and conscience into play when crucial decisions are being made.