Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Laws and Policies: weak bulwarks against bad character?

Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at it destination full of hope. --Maya Angelou

Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny. -- Thomas Jefferson

The secret of success is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake those, you've got it made. -- Groucho Marx

Sadly, what Maya Angelou says about love holds also for hate, if it is strong enough to overcome the natural impulses of self-preservation. The many suicide bombers we hear about daily in the news media attest to this. Organizational efforts to protect its leaders, or even, its lowest-ranking members, can provide no foolproof barriers to those intelligent and ruthless persons willing to sacrifice themselves to overcoming them.

Conversely, leaders, despite their frequent and even vehement lip-service to widely shared organizational interests and ideals, may pursue their own exclusive, private interests even at the risk of severe collateral damage. (Of such, recent events in US politics provide ample evidence.)

Many people in organizations shield themselves from these realizations. Instead they hold on, often unconsciously, to a more peaceful, comfortable model of organizational behavior that misrepresents the nature of much organizational activity.

In his book, Ambiguity and Choice James March (with Johan P. Olsen, Bergen: Universitetsforlaget, 1976) presents a critique of this Edenic conception that he calls an oversimplified, albeit traditional model of organizational activity:
a. the cognitions and preferences held by individuals affect their behavior;

b. this behavior of individuals affects in turn organizational choices;

c. organizational choices affect environmental acts;

d. environmental acts affect individual cognitions and preferences.

This cycle is assumed closed and connected, e.g. a->b->c->d ->a->b->c….

However, March continues, there may be attitudes and beliefs which do not interact with organizational behavior: for example, rules may prevent racism in hiring. Conversely, organizational obligations may elicit behavior that has no basis in individual preferences, e.g. group-think.

March asserts that this simple model, a->b->c->d, predisposes us to assume that what appeared to happen, did happen; and, that what happened was intended to happen or had to happen.

He continues that nothing happens that can be used by organizations independent of persons who interpret these happenings as relevant events. Organizational functioning, therefore, requires trust in such interpreters. But this trust -- better, credibility (not seldom “credulity”) — in "happening-interpreters" may be extended or withdrawn as individual circumstances require.

Certain problematic happenings may fail to attain status as such within an organization because persons in positions of influence do not want to be bothered with them, whether for lack of interest, courage, resources or competence. So long as the costs can remain hidden, problems need never be acknowledged as existing. (See Hiding the “Elephant in the Room”)

For a restricted case study illustrating such a situation and its collateral damages, see


. (For broader case examples this late Summer 2017, consult your news media outlets.)

- Cordially, EGR