Monday, May 18, 2015

Whistleblower in the UK navy - story in the Independent

Here's a story about an apparent whistleblower in the UK navy, published in the Independent newspaper:

According to the whistleblower, submariner William McNeilly, the Trident nuclear submarines are vulnerable to terrorist attacks because of poor security and general inadequacy. Of course, the Royal Navy is investigating all this. 

The article quotes Mr McNeilly as saying that he went public with his allegations only after he “raised concerns through the chain of command on multiple occasions” without success.  

One thing I've seen, in virtually all whistleblower cases, is that the whistleblower always tries to go through the "chain of command" first. This rarely works because the chain of command is a dictatorship which, by its very nature, seeks to shut down bad news and eliminate the messenger. 

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Whistle-blowers and the policy-reality death trap

Here’s one thing I’ve discovered after reading many whistle blower stories: there is often an unbridgeable gulf between what a company or organization’s stated policies are, and what the “chain of command” really wants. The policies are usually idealistic, well-meaning and clearly ethical.  And of course, they’re very well publicized both inside and outside the company. Yet, when they are contrary to what the company ‘leadership’ wants, the policies are unceremoniously and quietly junked. But the fa├žade - that the policies are very much in place – is still maintained.

This reminds me of the days of communism when East Germany called itself the “German Democratic Republic,” when in reality it was a full-blown dictatorship. Just because the country called itself a democracy didn’t mean you could take that as policy and behave like a free citizen.  The “policy” of democracy was literally a death trap if you took it as reality.

Similarly, whistle-blowers suffer when they naively believe in company policies. I’m not talking about whistle blower protection policies, but merely the policies the organization says are important, for example, “a culture of safety.”

The whistle blower stands on what she believes is firm ground, and blows the whistle. Then, to her horror, she watches the ground turning into quicksand, devouring her career. The only difference is that unlike in a natural disaster, the whistle-blower knows the quicksand is being engineered by the organization itself.  

The harsh lesson to be learnt is: don’t obey company policy. Instead just obey your dictators at work, and all will be well for you. 

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Monday, April 22, 2013

Why subordinates don't disagree with bosses

The author Upton Sinclair said it best: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."

Brilliant and bang on target. 

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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Brilliant Dilbert cartoon!

Dilbert cartoon out today, about communication "up the chain of command"

Check it out here

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Why asking, "Why do jerks succeed?" is the wrong question

I'm sure you've come across articles similar to this one, "Why Jerks Get Ahead."

Jerks may get ahead, and that leads to much hand wringing on why this happens and how everyone else should unleash his or her inner jerk to move up the ladder.

But "Why do jerks get ahead?" is the wrong question to ask. The question to ask is, "Will an organisation full of jerks getting ahead, get ahead?"

Monday, August 20, 2012

Why do women outlive men?

Yesterday, a friend asked me a brilliant question. Here's the issue he presented to me. He said that in marriages (certainly in earlier decades) men had control, and women held a subordinate position relative to their husbands. Further this subordination is mandated by several religions, and many women made "obedience" promises as part of their wedding vows..

In my book, I've quoted the Whitehall studies that  show mortality and health depend on your grade in the organization hierarchy. The higher up you are in the org chart, the better your health is. Higher grades mean higher levels of control, resulting in better health levels.

My friend's question was, how can we reconcile the Whitehall studies with the fact that women have a higher life expectancy than their husbands, given that women ostensibly have lower control than their husbands within marriage?

I'm guessing that there are two main reasons for this phenomenon:

1. Women traditionally "married up". They wanted a man who was more powerful than they were, in terms of wealth, income, status, education, ambition and so on. Further, they wanted men physically dominant, ie taller and stronger than themselves. Also, this imbalance of power was actually a source of comfort for the woman, as it provided a sense of security (I'm obviously making some broad and sweeping generalizations here).

2. The man was in the position of protector, in that he was primarily responsible for his wife and family's safety and security, including providing for them. It was in his self-interest to protect his family. That said, many men did abuse their wives, as the system was still that of a dictatorship. Nonetheless, this "dictatorship system" does not seem to have an overall negative effect on life expectancy of women (I am of course not talking of extreme cases of abuse that  resulted in women dying of grievous injuries).

In contrast, bosses are in no way responsible for your "safety" (in this case, job security). Your boss's main job is definitely not to care for you, or provide for you, or protect you. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

The future of healthcare: not your doctor, but the system

Dr Atul Gawande is one of my favourite writers. In his latest article, titled "Big Med", Dr Gawande draws parallels between the efficiency of restaurant chains such as the Cheesecake Factory , and the (in)efficiency of the US healthcare system.

Dr Gawande compares the two systems and says (page 10, para 7), "Patients won’t just look for the best specialist anymore; they’ll look for the best system."

While I don't mean to compare two different contexts, I've said something similar in my book about leadership: that leadership is a system, and we have to compare leadership systems, rather than the leaders themselves. Leaders are important, in the same way that individual doctors are important. There are bad leaders and good leaders, and good doctors and bad doctors. Nonetheless, these individual differences can pale in comparison to systemic differences.