Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Thoughts On The "Deviance" Of Employees Who Speak Up

Internally unfortunately caring and committed employees are often labeled as "rogue", in different words ("loose cannon," "troublemaker"). They get this label when they see and name the elephant in the room. Could be anything from a broken process to worse. They are not at all "outside" the team, they are "of" the team and the mission and they care that much that they put themselves at risk to speak.

This is not to say that there aren't actually troubled employees who act to destroy the organization - that is a completely different matter. Those employees must be separated from the group and held to account. (Leaders are responsible for seeing and acting.)

The point has been made that "rogue" can be used as a way of shifting blame even as blame is taken. It should be said that without a full and transparent investigation one does not know for sure, and using partial evidence (this person's words or that person's accusation) to tell a whole story is biased and misleading. The truth is usually about a thousand times more complicated than any headline.

Our advanced brains can get us in trouble. For in the animal kingdom or in a war or primitive survival situation, the ability to see danger gives you an advantage. But in social life (whether organized religion, bureaucracy, educational institutions or what have you) -- naming problems makes you the problem. "No good deed goes unpunished." And so the organization shoots the messenger and eventually crumples itself.

This is so common a phenomenon and so persistent that I am always surprised at the standard questions after the fact, e.g., "why didn't anyone do anything? why didn't anyone speak up?" Most people learn from school on up that the nail that sticks out gets hammered down. You see this very prominently in cases of child molesters, who have gotten away with it for decades and decades, covered by the school, the family, the religious institution. Until the very moment that the molester is prosecuted and put in jail, people attack the victims and their advocates.