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When the fish rots from the head

When the CEO asks you to do something improper forget the excuses and instead fall back on organisational values and the governance framework 

When the fish rots from the head

Late Friday afternoon the CEO returns from a long lunch to casually inform you that he’s found the perfect person to fill the vacant position on the risk and governance committee. There will be no need to go through the time consuming and expensive recruitment process – it’s a ‘win win’ he says. The only problem is the small violation of the processes the governance committee is set up to protect. ‘Make it happen’ he says as drops the file on your desk and leaves for the weekend.

A brief read of the file followed by an even briefer Google search reveals the person to be a former colleague of the CEO. You know the risk and governance committee was set up by the board to provide objective and independent oversight. You know positions on the committee are remunerated well. You also know how vindictive the CEO can be when he doesn’t get his way. What should you do?

It’s in situations like this that theory and reality smash head on. Simple platitudes fail the reality test when you know a report to the Board or the relevant corruption inquiry will have potentially career ending consequences. Confronting the CEO head on will similarly result in expulsion to the ‘outer’ and a long slow and painful process of subtle intimidation.

The easy path is to do nothing and follow instructions. Justifications for this course abound – it’s just business, it’s not personal, it’s not my responsibility, it’s not hurting anyone, it’s a stupid rule anyway, what’s the big deal, don’t be so naïve… Short term this might be ok, long term it digs a deep hole. Following instructions implies agreement, as agreement morphs into action, action creates a proforma for acceptable behaviour, incrementalism then plays with reality as the boundaries for acceptable behaviour shift over time.

The alternative? Take refuge in the context as set by the organisational vision, mission and values – and the governance framework. Flawed justifications like those listed above allow you to violate the values without having to assess your behaviour as being bad. Coercion by others to act improperly will focus on subjective perceptions of fairness and why a certain course of action is just. Making it personal comes in the form of ‘you’re either with us or not’ and if you’re not then...

Unwinding this flawed logic is key. Incrementalism works both ways. So, here’s where the difficult conversation comes in. ‘I understand you want me to do this, however, the governance framework says x and I don’t have the authority to override this. It’s not personal I just don’t have the ability to make this happen, enjoy your weekend.’

Simple platitudes fail the reality test when you know a report to the Board or the relevant corruption inquiry will have potentially career ending consequences

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