Tuesday, June 4, 2013

What If It Was A Rotten Apple, At The IRS Or Anywhere?

Of course anything is possible, and we weren't there. But it is the job of leadership and management to take responsibility no matter what because the leader sets the tone.

  • Take the example of parenting. Let's say your kid is a bully and they have a psychological disability that causes aggressive behavior, it would be up to you as the parent to take responsibility by getting them help. Up to the school to keep them away from other kids when those kids are not safe. Etc.
  • Or take the example of the military. If you join the military you should not have to worry about being assaulted by your own colleagues. Responsibility for setting the tone goes to the people in charge, and then discipline has to happen when people step out of line.
  • Or the ordinary workplace. If you are a religious person, you should be able to dress in religious garb, pray, etc. without anyone making fun of you, and without suffering from discrimination by a boss. If that does happen, sure you can say it is the person's fault who did it, but it is also the fault of the system if such behavior is reported and nothing gets done. Or if there is no institutional mechanism for ensuring fair treatment.

Back to the IRS. This is where the chief executive is also the chief communicator and brand officer and it is something the new IRS chief Danny Werfel seems to understand.

Werfel told Congress flat-out -- WE, the people in charge -- the leadership and management team -- are responsible. Whether or not individuals did anything wrong out of their own volition, WE have to answer to the American people. He also said, don't give us any more money until we figure out what happened here -- which is an incredible statement to make.

Here is a brief clip from the testimony. This is the sound of someone saying the right thing because they are saying the truth.

"One of the important points I want to make is that the solution here in my opinion is not more money. The solution is to understand what controls need to be put in place, what oversight, what getting the right leadership in place, the right processes in that collective way."

And here is where we go back to communication. The best strategy is simple, straightforward, direct responsiveness to the concerns of your stakeholders in a way that leads to a more positive end.

(It should be noted that Werfel is new. Therefore internal organizational culture/politics have not yet had a chance to distort the thinking or the words.)

When leaders blame employees as a hair-trigger response, it is a cowardly thing to do and instead of reassuring the public it actually makes them angrier and more mistrustful. Again, whether or not that fact is technically accurate, the first thing a leader must do is own the problem.


* As always, all opinions are my own.