Correspondence with Ross Hesketh




How can a person be moved covertly from one activity to another, one Department to another or one organisation to another? Diversion (or Deflection or Steering) is a powerful technique used at top level in and between a variety of organisations to perform this oft-arising managerial task. It has the advantage over conventional methods of virtually no come-back to the initiators of the diversion if things go wrong. Little or no attention has been given to the effect of using the technique on the freedom of the individual. This paper explores both diversion practices and their implication for individual freedom.


The simplest and most direct method is to suggest to the individual that he or she should transfer to another post. However, if the divertee or colleague declines to take up the suggestion or if on taking it up things do not work out, relationships with the person suggesting the change can be greatly damaged.

The disadvantages in the direct or overt approach lead many managers to adopt a less direct approach and for this reason numerous diversion practices are of an Advanced Organisational Behaviour nature, i.e. are not straightforward.

The dividing line is when a degree of covertness is introduced - for example one method of overcoming the difficulty of damage to relationships or reputation is to send a copy of a notice about an external vacancy anonymously to the individual. The recipient may have some idea who sent it but will never be sure. In this way full responsibility can never be fastened with certainty on one person. It should be noted that the diverter is not necessarily the superior of the divertee.

It is worth distinguishing between covertness of method and covertness of purpose. The anonymous sending of a notification of a vacancy is a simple example of covertness of method. The purpose of sending it may be known to all, i.e. overt, or it may be hidden, i.e. covert. In the case of diverting a rival, an open method may be used to achieve what will usually be a covert purpose.

Covertness in diversion practices does not necessarily imply detriment to the individual. In a management development programme, for example, it may be desirable that the individual is made to move without knowing there is an underlying plan.


The most widely used form of diversion practice creates conditions in the destination which will encourage the individual to move towards it while at the same time introducing discouraging features in his or her existing activity or location. The ‘carrots' and ‘sticks' (or PEPS and NIPS as they will be called from here on) are generally geared to the particular make-up of the individual.


At its simplest, the existing situation can be left as it is but the destination made more attractive. In this way, the only stimuli are positive and are based on the interests and preferences of the divertee. If the member of staff displays an interest in a topic or function outside his current field, the person aiming to divert will selectively show approval of that interest, put in a good word about it in the right quarters and so on. Such actions may proceed to a point where the divertee himself/herself seeks a transfer.

Another variety of the PEPS-Only approach is one in which the diverter determines the field to which the ‘target' is to be diverted and then selectively encourages those activities of the divertee which are consistent with that field while ignoring his/her other interests.


A much more powerful method is to employ discouragement in the current situation coupled with encouragement to proceed towards the selected field. In this method, therefore, NIPS as well as PEPS are used. The application of NIPS or negative stimuli can take many forms - for example the deliberate ignoring of an achievement in a field chosen by the divertee, purposeful criticism of his or her work and an organised campaign against any of the divertee's interests which are incompatible with the destination selected by the diverter.


A wide variety of diversion practices have been evolved over decades if not centuries. Among the variations on the basic model are diversion from where the individual intends to go, rather than from his existing situation and the blocking of the path chosen by the individual rather than mere discouragement.

The manner in which the positive and negative stimuli are mixed and in particular their timing can greatly increase their effectiveness and this leads us to consideration of the degree of organisation in diversion methods. Numerous encouraging and discouraging stimuli arise quite spontaneously, informally and casually and these can be considered as part of the natural order rather than as a method. In a purposeful and highly organised form, the dispensing of PEPS and NIPS is, however, an AOB technique. The form and timing of both kinds of stimuli are planned - for example in the simultaneous delivery of a massive negative along with a modest positive message - but there is also opportunistic use of any developments or activities which steer the divertee away from undesired directions as well as encouraging movement towards the desired goal.

Covertness of method of a different order may be introduced by the use of various indirect forms of communication, both verbal and non-verbal. Writing or speaking so that the recipient will read or hear ‘between the lines', using double entendre, hinting, spontaneous coding, putting on an appropriate facial expression, assuming a particular manner and transferring to the destination department someone of whom the divertee has expressed approval - these and other means of communicating can be very effective in indicating the direction and creating the push-pull atmosphere conducive to diversion.


The assortment of favourable and unfavourable conditions are not necessarily created by one person. Clearly, for maximum effectiveness, co-ordination is desired and for that it is best that one person should have overall control. However, such a person can arrange for encouraging and discouraging conditions to be established through two or more separate channels none of which is informed about the others' involvement. One person called upon to look favourably on any tendencies of the divertee to proceed in the desired direction may be quite unaware that a colleague is co-operating in ‘putting the boot in' on associated matters to assist in the achievement of the desired result. This is in effect another degree of covertness of method.


NIPS and PEPS can be dispensed through the divertee's activities and interests outside the organisation. Thus the diverter may go as far as to enquire into the divertee's professional contacts, such as who serves on any committee of which the divertee is a member and approach whoever is likely to agree to deliver a message. The ‘influence agent' and the divertee need not be in the same kind of organisation - for example, academics can be accessed by companies to which they are consultants.

A similar process can be followed in respect of leisure groups to which the divertee belongs. ‘Neighbourhood Enquiries' are a well-known form of gathering Intelligence but ‘Neighbourhood Influencing' is also practiced, albeit with much less publicity. Through local branches of national professional or business associations, members living in the same community as the divertee can be identified and where appropriate brought into contact with the divertee with a view to exerting influence in the direction required by the diverter. Such contacts are usually willing to drop a hint or put in a word or two for what is represented as being for the divertee's own good. Friendships are also a useful source through which to reinforce the diverter's messages.


All the foregoing has been considered in terms of diverters and divertees. In Industry the respective roles will generally be between employer and employee or manager and subordinate. In a professional institution and a voluntary body the corresponding roles will be between one member and another or between a member and a paid officer and so on. Also, the relationship with those other kinds of organisations to which the person concerned belongs can be used in the disbursement of positive and negative stimuli. Moreover, the methods and techniques can be employed to obtain movement, not just within an organisation but between them or even between careers - for example from University to Industry, company to company, educational institution to educational institution and from Industry or Education to Politics.


Diversion practices have grown in use without, so far as is known, any examination of their implications for individual freedom. Any notion that because most of them are covert they need not be considered in human rights terms must be strongly rebutted.

It is taken as a sine qua non that the essence of individual freedom is that a conscious choice can be made between alternatives. The individual can enquire and obtain some information concerning each alternative and determine which fits in best with his or her aspirations. Where an individual has been targeted for diversion, some of the information supplied fits in with the diverter's aspirations, not the divertee's.

PEP-Only diversion practices could in theory have no effect on individual freedom. If the divertee's existing situation remains completely unaffected, including any favourable developments such as promotion opportunities, he or she could exercise a conscious choice to ignore the arranged PEPS in the destination chosen by the diverter. However if the diverter has influence over the existing situation it is extremely unlikely that its neutrality could be maintained. The negative side-effects of what may set out to be a purely positive method would thus almost certainly have an indirect effect on the freedom of the individual.

Diversion practices which use both NIPS and PEPS have by far the greatest effect in undermining, inhibiting or destroying individual freedom. The element of choice has been reduced or removed because although the divertee may decide not to move in the direction in which she or he is being encouraged, she or he cannot continue in the current activities as though nothing has happened. Through the use of the negative stimuli there has been an impairment of the working environment of the individual. Relationships will have been damaged, unfavourable developments - such as the appointment of a person regarded by the divertee as unsuitable - may have taken place and so on. While some adverse features may be reversible and can thus be considered in terms of causing temporary loss of freedom, others may remain permanently damaged.

When indirect communication is employed in the diversion process the divertee experiences ambiguities in both the messages received and their sources. The recipient is unable to exercise conscious choice for he or she is in possession of only ‘soft' information and is uncertain about who to approach for clarification.  Indirect communication introduces a ‘fog' which impairs the individual's ability to make choices. The adverse effect on individual freedom of using indirect communication techniques is greatly intensified when two or more different diversions are in hand for the same person with little or no awareness by participants in each scheme that anything else is taking place. The more effective the technique of diversion is in inhibiting conscious choice the greater is the assault on the freedom of the individual.


The diversion process with the greatest impact on human rights is one which is:

- based on an in-depth study of the individual

- purposeful

- organised

- uses negative as well as positive stimuli

- uses a separate channel for the dispensing of each PEP and NIP

- uses indirect methods of communication

- covers as many as possible of the 'target's' social groups.

In effect the individual concerned lives in something akin to a personalised and local totalitarian milieu.


For illustration of these general observations on diversion practices as well as their implications for individual freedom a number of Diversion Case Studies are appended.  All are based on UK experiences.

It would be particularly interesting to know if similar practices occur in other countries.

Diversion Case Studies

The real-life situations on which the case studies are based are described in the ADL sections.



AOB Elements