Let’s clear something up: Submitting a ManagementSpeak to KJR isn’t whistleblowing. What the two have in common: If the manager you’re quoting catches on and figures out you were the source, you might be in for some personal discomfort.
What they don’t have in common: Congress has passed no laws protecting ManagementSpeak submitters from retaliation.
Send in what you hear anyway.
Speaking of whistleblowers, the estimable Randy Cassingham, who also writes and publishes This is True — a weekly compendium of strange happenings from headlines around the world — told of the recently deceased Shuping Wang in his Honorary Unsubscribe.
In the 1990s, Wang discovered that the Chinese government’s methods for managing its blood supply promoted the spread of blood-borne pathogens; her tests showed contamination rates of 83% for Hepatitis C alone.
Wang attempted to bring the problem to the attention of her management, and when that had no impact tried jumping a level, with predictable results: Dr. Wang’s research was stopped and one official bashed both her and her equipment with a club.
If you’re interested in the full story I encourage you to click the link. If you’re interested in how it relates to you and the organization you work in, read on.
In your career, you’ll run across all sorts of, shall we say, opportunities to improve how things get done around here. Not improving how you and your organization do things, but how other managers and their organizations do whatever they do to accomplish whatever they’re supposed to accomplish.
Some of these will be true opportunities. But some might be opportunities in the sense of the drivelous “there’s no such thing as a problem, only an opportunity.”
The problems probably won’t be as dire as actively spreading fatal diseases. So let’s be less dramatic about it and imagine you’ve discovered a data breach. It hasn’t exposed millions of customers’ credit card information yet … just a few thousand thus far … but the risk of larger losses is, in your estimation, quite real.
You figure your employer will want to eliminate this risk, so you send an email to the managers in the company’s org chart most likely to be in a position to do so, explaining the breach, its root cause, and suggestions as to what a solution might look like.
And … nothing happens, other than your receiving a pro forma email thanking you for being so conscientious.
The question: Why do organizations as diverse as the Chinese government and sadly not atypical large corporations do their best to ignore problems like these instead of fixing them?
Start here: Organizations don’t “ignore” problems, any more than they might be “greedy” or “evil.”
Ascribing these behaviors and motivations to the organization means something quite different from ascribing them to, say, human beings of the Homo sapiens persuasion.
Humans might and often do ignore problems and act greedily. Depending on how a person’s attitudes and behavior stack up against your moral code you might run across the occasional evil villain as well.
But an organization isn’t just like a human being only bigger. It’s different. If an organization appears to ignore a problem, what this means is that its systems and practices aren’t designed to accommodate reporting problems and fixing them.
In many cases organizations are inadvertently (?) designed to conceal, compartmentalize, and in some cases cause problems, as when fixing one would cause a manager’s P&L to go negative, creating one would make it shine, and everyone from the top on down manages to the numbers.
Compounding the metaphorical felony is that someone’s name is on the problem and the practices that led to it. If fixing it would be embarrassing and expensive, well, raises, bonuses, and promotions don’t go to managers who own embarrassing and expensive situations, so relying on luck can be quite appealing.
That’s especially true in the many organizations that consider identifying whose name is on a problem and “holding them accountable” (ManagementSpeak for “punishing them”) to be the essence of root cause analysis.
While it might seem logical that the company would want to fix a problem while it’s still small and manageable, companies don’t want anything. What’s good for the organization doesn’t matter unless it’s good for someone important in the organization.
So when something needs fixing, the first step is asking who, if anyone, will benefit from fixing it.