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Culture and Collusion - Condoning Corporate Anarchy (Part One)

This article highlights the fact that organisations don't create culture - it's people do and what staff and particularly management are willing to put up with says a lot about them as well as the people perpetrating bad behaviour.

© Leanne Faraday-Brash

A client of mine was talking to me about their previous job as internal legal counsel for a professional services firm. His first week in his old job was particularly memorable, he reminisced. A distressed employee had come to him with a formal complaint alleging sexual harassment against one of the senior partners. As he dug a bit deeper he found that this was but one in a string of allegations by different women in the firm including a couple who'd left and talked about his sexual intimidation and offensive behaviour in their exit interviews with Human Resources. Counsel admitted to me that his first thought was "If this is true, it's outrageous and must be stopped". He then admitted his second thought hot on the heels of the first was "Groan, why me... and why this week?" Notwithstanding, he took a deep breath, approached the partnership and readily gave unequivocal advice on what he thought was in the best interests of the firm if the allegations were substantiated. However in stark contrast and to his consternation, he found their equivocation on what to do with Mr. Million Dollar (annual billings) Man quite pronounced. Following investigation, the partner was exited from the business but not without some sweaty palms, some real chagrin and not a little anger, some of which was (mis)directed at Counsel aka bad-news-messenger-on-probation.

In past weeks we have seen careers destroyed, verdicts handed down and arguments rage on blogs all over Australia as people consider the issues, the evidence and opinions before them, and make decisions on who to back and why? Should the champion footballer have been sacked for drug use? Should Sthe senior Police manager have been stood down? Should the Supermarket chain manager have been dismissed for drinking at lunch? The common denominator in so many of these cases which have provided such fertile ground for supposition, critical analysis, newspaper editorials and good old fashioned water cooler gossip is a much more serious and fundamental issue and that is one of organisational culture and the lawlessness that can take hold of an organisation that either refuses, or in the context in which it operates, is powerless, to act.

I feel very frustrated and a little betrayed. I have consulted to some of these companies (no not the Ocean Grove Football Club, and frankly you can have them). I have met outstanding, well intentioned, principled individuals wanting to improve their organisations, serve their communities, provide value for their shareholders, drive performance cultures. They commit no crime asking their people to do an honest day's work for an honest day's pay and even that endeavour is sabotaged by those who see that accountability culture as a threat to working life as they know it.

This is not necessarily the fault of unions or lazy opportunistic employees but also an IR system (on any side of politics) that attempts to demand natural justice but in its application defends the indefensible. But poor performance doesn't usually bring down organisations. Scandal does. Scandal borne of corruption, dirty politics, ruthless game-playing, or cowardice.

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