I just saw a twitter message that raises a good question – “Are we creating monsters in our workplace?” Institutionalizing processes often leads to unintended consequences.
In light of the Penn State scandal, I raised a theoretical question with a co-worker. The scenario goes like this:
If you saw a coworker in your mail processing room open an envelope, remove cash and put it in their pocket what would you do? Would you assume that they were stealing it? Then what? Would you immediately call the police? After all, it is theft. And since it involves the mail, it is a federal offense.
Your institutional processes/procedures probably say something to the effect of – report suspicious behavior to your supervisor. So you do. End of the problem as far as you are concerned. You have done what your institution says to do.
As the supervisor, what do you do? Someone has told you about a supposed crime they witnessed. But did they? Or is it just a personal vendetta that this person has against the supposed perpetrator. What do you do? Report it to your supervisor? Confront the individual? Then what?
I am not trying to make light of the situation at Penn State. What reportedly happened there was awful and should have been dealt with immediately and harshly. What I am pointing to though is that it isn’t as easy as it might seem. The media likes to editorialize that each person involved should have immediately called the police. But it really may not be that simple. In my humble opinion, as I understand the facts as reported, the only person who could have and should have immediately called the police is the person who reportedly saw it happen. Yes, others up the chain should have eventually. But I don’t believe that they could have done so immediately. After all, they were relying on the supposed eye witness of a third party.
So what does this mean for institutions? How do corporate officers put in place a process that protects the innocent while immediately responding to and dealing with the guilty? How do we keep from creating monsters in our workplace?
Never having been confronted with a particular situation, it is easy to point fingers. However, ask yourself the question, “What would I have done?” Wrestle with that honestly. I bet you find that the answer is not as simple as it sounds.