Saturday, September 18, 2010

Bad Actors in Organizations: an illusion?

One of the deep, dark secrets of American organizational life is this: it doesn’t matter how someone talks or acts -- name your nastiness! -- so long as no one higher up perceives that behavior as making them personally run a risk.

The converse is this: it doesn’t matter how innocent or justified an action is, say, by policy, law or tradition; if higher ups interpret it as a personal risk to them, e.g. shaking the boat, then the fury of “the organization” will descend upon the actor.

Did you see the boss’ nephew slipping money out of the cash drawer? Don’t be the sole messenger of that event! You’ve seen your CEO sexually harasses other employees? Forget it, or forget about a promotion! Your superior officer wants you to “acquire” special materiel and change the books to cover your tracks? Do it, or request a transfer, or resign! Your dean or president wants something shady done? Will you be seen to be “accommodating to administrative intention?” Decide now if you want to get on the administrative “money track” or remain forever a lowly paid technician.

Organizations have rules, regulations and policies. But there is a basic Existence Rule: X only happened if X was duly noted and recorded by authorized persons. Out of sight, out of mind. Out of mind, out of existence.

So, it still takes courage to make a complaint. Spinelessness is a precondition for survival and growth in many an organization, whether corporate, military, governmental or educational.

Educational institutions, in particular, prefer the spineless for promotion. Until that situation changes, all talk of improving schools, at any level, is pure gas.