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Pros and Cons of Whistle-blowing…

Dear Office-Politics,

I currently work for a large utility as a supply chain specialist. Our current regime of supply chain managers is mostly made up of “outsiders” which have very little experience with our corporation. These managers seem to be “gaming” the system in order to make themselves look good. The way we measure our supply chain performance (metrics) is being changed to make the numbers look better but there is no focus on improving our processes. I am concerned about this because our new V.P of Supply Chain is an individual who has a lot of outside industry experience but doesn’t have a history of staying around for a long period of time.

Recently, our Station’s Director of Supply Chain was removed and will be taking over an undisclosed position somewhere in the organization (our company usually doesn’t fire non performers). The Director’s replacement (who will report to the V.P) will be an individual who is part of the establishment (has had many management positions in our company) and I am wondering if it is likely that our established management team has concerns that “gaming” is taking place and wants someone they can trust to see what is going on.

In any case, I am wondering if you believe that it is a good strategy to do an end-round to the new director and discuss what I have witnessed and documented. I would have to by-pass two levels of management to do this. Can you outline for me the pros and cons of this strategy? Any help is appreciated.


Whistling My Time Away

timothy johnson

Dear Whistling My Time Away,

The short answer to your question is this:
The pro’s of bypassing two levels of management to go to a director is that you can fix an ongoing problem, be able to sleep at night, help your company to really improve its performance, and possibly be lauded as a hero. The con’s of doing the same is that you will be punished or fired for insubordination and that nothing will ever really change.

Now, here’s the long answer to your question:
People will behave in the manner to which they are motivated. If those two levels of management between you and the director are benefiting from the current flawed measurement system, then I doubt that they will be pleased. If neither of them have anything to gain or lose from your observations, you might see if you could “engineer” a casual hallway conversation with the new director without going into much detail. Then you might approach it with your direct management from this standpoint: “Since we have some new leadership coming aboard, I thought that now might be a good time for us to revisit some of our current performance measures to see if we’re tracking the right things in the right way. I would be happy to spearhead this effort on top of my current workload, since I know that both of you are extremely busy with other things. By coincidence, I just happened to run into the new director recently, and he was asking me some questions about our measurements, but I wanted to run it by you before I continued any further conversations with him.”

Their response will speak volumes to you. If they come across as defensive and punitive, you at least have the “out” that it was just a coincidental conversation and you innocently didn’t realize that it was a sensitive subject. If they are supportive that you took the initiative, then you have the green light to proceed. This at least allows you to open up the conversation with the director without revealing too much too soon.

On another note, some organizations now have policies in place to protect whistle-blowers. You might check and see if your organization is one of them. If it is, then you may be able to report your findings to the director with your company’s ombudsman or ethics officer or HR representative present. It sounds as though you’ve been documenting your evidence already (bravo!!!), so you at least have something tangible to present.

I hope this helps. Thank you for writing to Office Politics.

Best of luck,

Timothy Johnson, Author

Timothy Johnson is the author of the newly released Gust: The “Tale” Wind of Office Politics (Lexicon, 2007) as well as Race Through The Forest – A Project Management Fable (Tiberius, 2006). As Chief Accomplishment Officer for his company, Carpe Factum, Inc. (Latin for “Seize The Accomplishment”), he also is a dynamic speaker, providing keynotes and workshops on the accomplishment-oriented topics of project management, creativity, process improvement, systems thinking, and (of course) office politics. His consulting clients have crossed multiple industries and have included Wells Fargo, Harley-Davidson, ING, Teva NeuroScience, and Principal Financial Group. In addition to writing, consulting, speaking, and coaching, he is also an adjunct instructor for Drake University’s MBA program in Des Moines Iowa, teaching classes in Project Management, Creativity for Business, and Managing Office Politics.

  1. 2 Answers to “Pros and Cons of Whistle-blowing…”

  2. Feedback from Whistling:

    Thank You for the reply.

    The strategy you outlined seems logical and intelligent. I guess if the new Director is a “gamer” then nothing will change and it is best to let the practice continue and to wash my hands of the situation. After all, all corrupt systems have a natural process where they collapse on themselves. It would be very interesting if we could manufacture methods of helping the situation “fall on it’s sword” in a quicker fashion if it turns out that the “new boss is the same as the old boss.”

    I recently did this with a new demand planning initiative (set inventory levels using EOQ) that was not properly and thoroughly discussed with all stakeholders. Inadvertently, I took the bull by the horns of this new method and made it the key method of how I approached my work. I documented all communications with the initiative’s authors and my management about how I was using the new tools and resultant outcomes that I had analyzed. One month later, the s!#t hit the fan because the warehouses could not support the inventories that were being ordered and the station was running out of key commodities. The authors of this initiative were sent back to rethink the processes with egg on their face.

    I was wondering if there is a way to be innocent as a dove and yet to get the system to “screw up” faster and allow people to correct their ways. I am not talking sabotage, I am talking about following the path that has been set forth but doing so in a manner that is faster than anyone expects. Any thoughts would be appreciated.

    By Letter-writer on Jun 18, 2007

  3. An organisation with around 200 employees working in the public sector asked us to develop a coaching program for their senior managers which would accelerate the implementation of their new strategy.

    An ambitious 10 year business plan needed strong leadership to guide an underlying culture change, shifting the focus of the business from a public sector mentality to one of business and commercial awareness. The CEO had been in place for only a short time, having been promoted rapidly from company accountant to Finance Director to CEO.

    We coached the CEO to develop this strategy, and this evolved into a coaching program for the senior managers, supporting them in implementing the strategy in their own areas of the business.

    From the beginning, the CEO avoided key issues during coaching and inconsistencies began to show during conversations between the CEO and the Directors. During a strategy workshop, Directors closed ranks, recited rehearsed statements about the strategy and looked to the CEO for approval.

    After just two months into the coaching program, it was clear that some managers’ ideas to implement the strategy were being blocked, whilst others were contradicting themselves and avoiding accountability. The CEO was continuing to avoid key issues and was making very little progress overall.

    The main issue appeared to be the avoidance of accountability. Staff would avoid work that they were not interested in and their managers would take on extra work rather than make individuals accountable for their actions, so work flowed up the organisational structure rather than down and managers took on a higher workload resulting in longer working hours, greater stress, mistrust and resentment .

    We called a meeting with the CEO and told her that we were closing the coaching program.

    The fundamental issue was that the CEO was manipulating her managers and the board in order to support her own hidden agenda; her early exit. She knew that she did not have enough experience as a CEO to secure her next position, so the only option was a significant achievement in the form of a merger with another organisation which would give her an instant successor from outside the organisation, enabling her to block succession from within. She had already removed two Directors and had identified a third who she was setting up to fail in key performance areas. She influenced board elections to ensure support from new members and gave the impression that she was protecting her team from the board in order to control communication between them.

    This complex system of control and manipulation bred mistrust, avoidance and dishonesty throughout the management team and began to create a barrier to the CEO’s own hidden agenda. The business was disintegrating faster than she could orchestrate her exit, and at some point the board would take the exit decision away from her, leaving her with neither the experience nor the achievements to move forwards yet equally unable to move backwards.

    At our final meeting, we told the CEO that we had identified all of this, and that we were no longer part of the game. Although she was surprised at our withdrawal from the program, she admitted to everything that we said. She recognised the risk that she faced, and the danger that she was putting the company in. If we had said nothing and continued to coach her, the coaching would have been ineffective because of her manipulation and avoidance. By admitting to her behaviour, she had taken responsibility for it and no longer needed coaching. Either way, our feedback was more valuable than any coaching ever could be.

    By Revelation on Jun 29, 2009

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