I am mad, and I am frustrated, and I’m trying to figure out what I can do about something. I hope you can help.
With growing frequency, I am noticing that there is a cancer crippling good people in worthy organizations. It’s been a sickness of weakening and character degradation for a very long time, however it is reaching epidemic proportions and I am very concerned.
At one time managers could just make better choices, and switch companies when we started to see the signs of this cancer in our leadership, or in our human resources offices. However when something reaches epidemic proportions we start to perceive we are closed in, feeling that our alternative choices are shrinking, and we decide we’ll tough it out and try to live with it in our organizations for a much longer period of time than we should. Not healthy for you, not good for the organization. Tolerance becomes perpetuating the existence of something that is just plain wrong.
This evil, insidious cancer is called the Fear of Litigation. Because of it, managers cannot lead with love instead of with fear. However, I ask you to honestly consider: Is this fear based in fact, or is it an excuse? Could it possibly be an unfounded fear? Worse, is it a loophole for shirking your greater responsibility in doing the right thing?
As I strive to bring Managing with Aloha to different companies and varied industries it seems no one has immunity to this disease. I am finding that when a wrong exists in an organization, people actually are afraid to do the right thing unless their legal advisors first tell them it is safe to do so, and that they have not yet jeopardized any legal recourse if God forbid, the situation they are dealing with ends up on the legal battlefield. People who do deal with the situation at hand are forgetting about compassion and empathy, and that everyone involved can be a victim, destroying people as they “go through the process.” Even the so-called winners emerge as toughened, cynical people.
Folks, this stinks. More than ever before, I am convinced that to be a truly great manager requires considerable bravery, and the willingness to say, “I’ll take my chances, for I believe that if I do right by this person, they won’t sue me. Even if they do, I’ll be able to sleep at night.” Unfortunately it does take pure courage and bravery, for the higher up the organizational hierarchy you go, the less managers are feeling the company will stand behind them and foot the bill if they do get sued.
This dangerous cancer of twisted attitude and hesitancy with corrective action knows no bounds. While I primarily am seeing it in Human Resources offices, with HR managers telling me “my hands are tied” I continue to see it at all levels: From managers who are managers for the wrong reasons, continuing bad practices because “they can’t prove anything” to employees who keep good managers at bay with the overt threat of “bringing in the union or my lawyer.”
It is far too easy to put our personal preservation (and who can fault us for that?) ahead of doing the right thing for another person. When HR does engage and conduct an investigation, the investigation itself spirals out of control because those “providing evidence” are not questioned properly, and the very faulty assumption is made that “if we ask them for a written statement we’ll just get the facts.” Opinions in writing are not facts!
The dangerous reality seems to be that a witch hunt with one victim will be cheaper than if the focus turns and the entire company becomes the target.
I do feel that more often than not, the victims are those who potentially could be terrific managers if they felt they were better supported. Yes, there are many employees who are the victims too, however it seems to be their chances are better as the more sympathetic victims.
Managers and leaders are the ones those employees need to continually improve the workplace in this, and in so many other ways. As you all know, in my heart I do believe that managers matter, and that they are our hope for reinventing the very nature of work as we know it, so that the workplace is a place we all thrive. We need to support them, protect them, and stop giving in to fear.
Please understand that my rant here is NOT with the lawyers and the legal profession: it is with the managers and so-called leaders in business who are hiding behind the excuse of this fear of litigation. Employees and managers are being handled with kid gloves, and are being kept at arms length because of the fear that they will say or do the wrong thing. Fear that many times is unfounded and unjustified. My call to action here is for more bravery and more guts when you are the manager involved in these situations.
I have to believe that the vast majority of lawyers entered the legal profession because they wanted to right things they feel are wrong. They have much better things to do than get involved in manager-manager, manager-employee, or employee-company squabbles because we cannot resolve our differences with each other like rational, honestly straight-forward talking, reasonable adults.
If we must get legal, we need to use the system to better benefit. This is my shout-out to those who may be looking for a place to put their philanthropy dollars to work:
How can we create a network of legal smarties who can help us protect and support managers who have the guts to do the right thing?
Let’s find a cure for this workplace cancer, and open the door wider to managing with the aloha of compassion and doing what is right.
While I know the cost presently is a very personal one, making this much more difficult, “Bravery at what cost?” is a short-sighted question. The better question we must be asking, is Tolerance of wrong at what cost?
Please, don’t be a manager claiming fear of litigation. Do the right thing.