used in reference to a person’s ability to judge what is right and wrong and act accordingly.
In the last few weeks a very dark side of organisational culture in Australia has surfaced . The Royal Commission into Financial Services has uncovered toxic and complicit practices that lie beneath public presentation and that put profit over people. We have seen everyone from the CEO to front line workers embroiled in lies and deceit to uphold unethical decisions. Behind this veneer there are an army of internal and external advisors that gave people permission to cast aside their own moral compass for the narrow good of the institution.
Oh and in case you think this is only a banking, financial services or corporate thing, it’s not. This behaviour is also seen across government, politics, the media and NGOs. The culture of blame aversion noted by Paul Shetler in 2016 is what we see everywhere these days: risk is outsourced with the goal of shifting blame. Shetler pointed out that the public service’s ‘over-dependence on outsourcing creates “perverse outcomes” and a culture of “blame aversion”.’
Shifting blame is like shifting sands: nothing sticks and everyone has a get out of jail free card, even the boards and the regulators and everyone in between are pointing the finger at someone else.
The classic traits of these shocking revelations, like the Royal Commissions into Home Insulation, Financial Services, or Institutional responses to child sex abuse, are lack of accountability, lack of judgment and lack of integrity.
So the CEO resigns: you really think that is going to change much? Let’s face it, in order for such pervasive, zero integrity stuff to happen, the culture has to be rotten to the core.
Be enraged that so many people, seemingly decent people, have acted completely unethically and done so to the detriment of others. It’s not a single person responsible, but a chain of command and control that embedded the culture of compliance to the narrow goals of profit extraction and bureaucratic self-preservation.
I believe the media and political cycles necessitate and perpetuate the status quo responses because we know how to respond to that – we do a blame shifting dance and then the next issue hits and we move on. After all, a minister who sets in place a chain of events may not be around to deal with the consequences. Even when the shi^t hits the fan, the price paid is not not aligned with public sentiment.
This is a crisis of leadership and instead of appointing visionaries, we appoint maintenance managers.
Have you noticed that? CEOs these days are more like diplomats than leaders, and that is so yesterday. The system (government, corporate, NGO) of bureaucracy that so many hide behind is completely broken when a whole organisation is complicit in bad behaviour as we have seen.
It never ceases to amaze me that highly intelligent and successful people lack the courage to stand up for what is right. I guess they are smart enough to know that they will get away with it and in fact be rewarded for their ability to make things ‘right’.
It seems the last few decades we have collectively lost our will to fight for what is right, but social media may have changed this. Love it or hate it, social has raised a new form of activism where information is distributed to wider audiences, petitions are signed, more stories are shared and sometimes things change.The grassroots work of Asher Wolfe has been picked up by mainstream media and set the agenda on the stuff that matters most – giving people a voice in an otherwise loaded discourse. Times are changing.
We need to work on our organisational cultures and ensure that they match our staff, customer and stakeholder expectations, and that we individually and collectively apply our moral compass and that if something isn’t right that there is a safe and secure way of reporting that without fear of losing your job.
The solution exists here in Australia, Whispli, developed by a former whistle-blower, is a platform that enables people to anonymously report suspicious activity, allowing two-way communication via any internet enabled device, So the next part makes me super uncomfortable – if the solution exists to identify fraud, corruption etc, and organisations don’t apply it – then it means they don’t want to know and that’s a whole other story.
We need to look at the wellbeing of our organisations and ask – is there integrity, is there accountability, is there honesty and is there an appetite for the truth? Increasingly these questions must come from the outside and we as a civil society must not accept the complacent, complicit and unaccountable status quo.
It takes a great deal of courage to turn things around but it has to start somewhere. Today leadership clearly needs to come from the bottom up, it is up to you and me to ensure our moral compass is in check.
Anne-Marie Elias is a former senior ministerial adviser and public servant, she advises corporations, government and NGOs on social licence, positive disruption and change.
She is a well known advocate for innovation, collaboration and disruption, and is an honorary Associate of the Institute for Public Policy and Governance, UTS. Anne-Marie is on the Board of Spark Festival, Vibewire; Western Sydney Women; the Australian Open Knowledge Foundation; Autism Advisory Board, and Settlement Services International Foundation.
Follow Anne-Marie’s journey of disruption and innovation on Twitter@ChiefDisrupteror