Reprisals and silence culture

I often talk about the importance of feedback for an organization that has the ambition to develop positively. Feedback is crucial for both the quality of what we do and for the working environment. Unless the manager finds out how things work in practice and how employees feel, it is impossible to make the right decision and take the right action.

An effective way to break the feedback and instead create a culture of silence is to use reprisals. This means that the person who brings the message to point out what is wrong is punished for this. Of course, as a result, no one in the future will want to propose improvements or even less to act as whistleblowers. The manager may be satisfied that everything looks good from her or his horizon, but in reality the development has ceased and the organization has stagnated.

Therefore, it is with indignation that one follows developments in the world’s largest economies. Now that the Supreme Court against US President Donald Trump has been abolished, then Lieutenant Alexander Vindman is kicked out of the White House and EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland is relieved from his mission. Clearly, this is related to their role in the prosecution of the president. What signals does it send to Americans when reprisals become a frequently used tool by top management? Similarly, we are upset by the news that the Chinese doctor who first warned of the Coronavirus outbreak, Li Wenliang, was initially opposed by the Chinese authorities as a liar and spreading rumors. Now he might be a bit of a martyr instead, as he unfortunately suffered the virus himself and it took his life. In that case, the consequence became immediate by delaying measures to prevent the spread of the virus. But we can imagine what it means in the extension – how interesting will it be for someone else to warn for the next potential epidemic?

Yes, it is easy to sit on the stand and point out that reprisals are used in other organizations and other countries. But what does it look like at home? I am sometimes contacted by students who want to share problems with a course but do not dare to contact the teacher. It also happens that employees share information in confidence, but that should not be disseminated to the nearest manager or other persons who could possibly have done something about the matter. That is not to say that reprisals actually occurred in these cases, but only the suspicion limits our ability to correct deficiencies and get a functioning quality system. I don’t want to believe (in fact, I know) that this is something specific to BTH, or to HEI’s either, for that matter. The use of reprisals is probably something we have with us in the culture from a time when it might have played some positive function. That time has long passed, and it is time for us to place the method where it belongs – in history’s hall of shame!

12 February 2020