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 façade - 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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