How not to lead or manage a health crisis

Trump’s response to the health crisis is problematic. He has botched the four steps of a crisis response that Joshua M Sharfstein identified in his excellent book: The Public Health Crisis Survival Guide.[i]

The four steps are:

  1. Identifying the crisis,
  2. Managing the crisis,
  3. Addressing communications and the politics of it and lastly,
  4. Developing a long-lasting change as a result.

Although the final step is in the future, the failures on the first three steps do not bode well for long lasting change.

Identifying a crisis.

Everything starts with identifying a crisis since that determines how well you manage it. Trump failed to identify the crisis despite the evidence that it existed. Trump did pretty much everything wrong. His belief that the decision to limit direct flights was enough meant that he confused a symbolic act for meaningful action. Had he listened to the early warnings provided by his experts, the WHO, and China, he would have instituted screening and testing on flights from China as well as considering that the disease had likely spread elsewhere. Moreover, his administration was limited in its ability to identify the outbreak because in 2018 he disbanded the NSC post designated with preparing for and coordinating the national response to a pandemic.[ii]


Trump’s failure to recognize the crisis goes to something deeper within his administration which is fatal for any organisation—the failure of critical upwards communications.[1] Trump is clear that he does not like to hear bad news.[iii] No one pointed out the worst case scenario to argue for immediate, decisive action that even if unpopular, was necessary to prevent a larger crisis. Instead, everything he has done has been reactive and reflective of his interests. He has managed it not as a public health crisis but as a market crisis where he worried about market liquidity before worrying about speeding up the testing process. What has stirred him to act is not the mounting evidence of infections and deaths but that the markets have reacted badly to his efforts to his efforts to dispel the idea that a crisis is coming.

Even though he recognizes the crisis and has declared a national emergency, it is too late. The virus is already deeply entrenched across the United States. By the time testing indicates the outbreak’s scale and scope many more will have died.

Managing a crisis

Trump is a living textbook in how *not* to manage a crisis. When he declared a national emergency on 13 March 2020, the virus was already entrenched so he is only reacting to the issue. What will happen next is that hospitals will be inundated with positive tests. In turn, hospitals will be overwhelmed with known cases and that will have a knock-on effect on other treatments as patients will have to be prioritised. When coronavirus patients start to overwhelm the system and other treatments are displaced, the public will become alarmed about the scarcity of urgent care and treatment. At that point, the second wave of institutional problems will emerge. The government appears unprepared for that crisis. In a sense, their failure to manage the first wave of the crisis means they appear unable to identify the emerging second wave.

Communication has been a failure on every level except by experts.

Trump has failed abysmally in communicating during this crisis. He downplayed its significance until forced to act by the markets. He has contradicted government and outside experts. He has made this crisis about himself rather than focusing on the experts in promoting the message they have. The public have not had clear and consistent messages from the government about the virus, the risks, or the scale and scope. The failure to provide effective communication to the public is not surprising in an administration proud of attacking the press as the enemy or as purveyors of “fake news” yet, it is a scandal that the communication has been this poor during a national emergency. He has compounded the issue by declaring certain meeting notes as classified as national security which limits the ability for experts to have a clear understanding of what the government wants done.[iv]

All the crisis communications texts suggest that you are transparent as much as possible with what your responses. Again, this has not been the case with Trump. his speeches have not reassured people they’ve added to the fears, because he’s not reassuring them by providing them with a coherent and consistent message is conflicting message about how much the testing will be covered by the payments, whether the testing is covered or treatment is covered. The public are concerned about this. He says the testing is ready when it’s not. He says they have an excellent response when it’s not. And it’s clear that it’s not this isn’t a matter for debate, it is clear as an objective fact that there are not enough tests that he did not contain this virus. It is not and was contained and that that is not going to go down in a short period of time and it’s not approaching zero. And it’s not that they’ve done an excellent, wonderful job. In fact, it’s been the opposite of a wonderful, excellent job. Where he could miscommunicate or mismanage the message, he has done so because he has prioritised political over public health.

Can there be a long-lasting change?

Given Trump’s focus on the short-term issues, it’s unlikely that long lasting change will come except as a negative example. As Sharfstein argues change only comes after accepting responsibility which may also involve accepting some blame for the crisis. Trump and his administration seem institutionally incapable of accepting responsibility or blame. We have learned for three years that it is someone else’s problem. A crisis of this order is not someone else’s fault. The only person able to deal with a national emergency is the national leader. Trump has failed to lead which means that long lasting change can only occur once he stops being the leader because his approach has been to avoid bad news and shift blame both of which keep stop a person and an organisation from learning. We will have to wait for a future President and Congress to put into place structures to prevent this poor of response and leadership from happening again.

The best lesson to take from Trump’s crisis response is to avoid following Trump’s example.





[iii] “In the case of Alex Azar, he did go to the president in January. He did push past resistance from the president’s political aides to warn the president the new coronavirus could be a major problem. There were aides around Trump – Kellyanne Conway had some skepticism at times that this was something that needed to be a presidential priority.

But at the same time, Secretary Azar has not always given the president the worst-case scenario of what could happen. My understanding is he did not push to do aggressive additional testing in recent weeks, and that’s partly because more testing might have led to more cases being discovered of coronavirus outbreak, and the president had made clear – the lower the numbers on coronavirus, the better for the president, the better for his potential reelection this fall.”


[iv] Sharfstein provides a brief overview of crisis communication which the CDC follows, and each one Trump has failed.

  1. Be first
  2. Be right
  3. Be credible
  4. Express Empathy
  5. Promote Action
  6. Show respect
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Raiders of the lost Ark is the story of GDPR preparations.

I was reflecting on GDPR preparations and it struck me that the best movie to explain GDPR preparations was Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The film starts with Indiana Jones (our lowly DPA officers and the upstanding DPA consultants) trying to protect an artefact (DPA compliance). He is gazumped by an unscrupulous rival Belloq (i.e. GDPR cowboys). He goes back to the home office where the government (our bosses) want to know more about this elusive thing the Ark (GDPR compliance), a potential weapon of immense power. They must rely on Indy to know how to get it and deliver to them this weapon before Hitler (a fine happens) gets a hold of it (no, the ICO are not the Nazis :)).

Indy sets off on his quest. He consults long forgotten files and enlists the aid of people some of whom help him as much as they can. Other people who do not want to remember him such as Marion (insert any teams or people who do not want to be reminded of the DPA or have the “extra” work on top of the “day job” :)), but in the end see the hero’s goodness. Meanwhile, though the unscrupulous Belloq has teamed up with other nefarious characters to present their map to the Ark. What Indy knows, (as do the dutiful DPA officer or upright DPA consultant), is that Belloq and his allies only have partial knowledge. They lack the key insights Indy has gained from having consulted with Marion, who has the medallion (The experience of having dealt with DPA for years, if not decades).

Indy knows the place to dig and soon discovers the Ark (GDPR compliance) but Belloq and allies gazump him again. (This is GDPR cowboys with seductive offers of certified advice, training, guidance and flattering GDPR advice to make compliance easier).

Indy and Marion struggle to regain the Ark, but despite succeeding for a time, find themselves gazumped a third time before the end of the film (the flurry of “consent” emails panicking people about GDPR and compliance readiness) (“Are you sure we don’t need to send these emails out? Everyone else is doing it. This certified GDPR consultant is saying we do…..”) However, Indy perseveres and tries one more time to rescue the Ark, and Marion, from Belloq. He fails and the day of judgement arrives, the Ark is to be opened (GDPR day).

Indy gives one final warning to Marion before GDPR day arrives. If you have followed his advice (GDPR compliance from a DPA officer or an upright GDPR consultant) you will be safe. If you followed Belloq’s advice, the righteous flames of the Ark (GDPR compliance) will melt you like a human candle. 🙂 (Figuratively, not literally (I hope)). Indy and Marion are saved while Belloq and company perish like human candles in the flames.

Indy rescues the Ark and brings it back to his bosses. They congratulate him, but when he asks what they intend to do with it; they say they will look at it. He tells Marion they don’t know what they are doing (DPA officer’s lament, “will anyone take GDPR compliance seriously?”). She agrees (the eternal staff lament that management should be prioritising *their* work not *that other work*.). The film ends with the Ark sitting in vast warehouse among a number of boxes (the fate of policies and rules but surely not GDPR compliance? ;)).

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Apologies, the wrong article was posted to this blog

Dear Subscribers,

I hope you are enjoying the blog. Please accept my apologies as the previous article was not a topic for this blog. I posted the wrong article to this blog. The intended home for the article was at one of my other sites–Philosophical Politics.

As you can imagine from the title, it is a better fit than Thoughts on Management. If you do want to find out what that article said, please go to

Articles appropriate for Thoughts on Management will resume shortly.

Yours sincerely,

Lawrence Serewicz


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Why do you work for the Sun?

Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster, The Sun, 13 Marc...

Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster, The Sun, 13 March 1986 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For a number of years, people have campaigned against the Sun newspaper. The rallying cry is “Don’t buy the Sun”.[1] The movement emerged after the Sun’s infamous and defamatory headline.[2] The campaign has grown with the advent of social media. When columnists like Katie Hopkins compares refugees to cockroaches[3] or Kelvin McKenzie criticizes Fatima Manji for wearing a hijab[4], the refrain “Don’t buy the Sun” has been heard. The campaign has succeeded to some extent. Over the past 10 years, the Sun’s circulation has dropped by 50%.[5] Although that movement, its tactics, and its effect are of interest, I want to focus on a different, but related question.

Why work for the Sun?

The question I want to ask is “Why work for the Sun?” I am not sure if anyone has asked that question directly to those who work for the paper. I ask this question because I want to know why they support the paper, through their time, talent, and labour, when it prints such headlines, articles, and editorials. Why do the employees ensure that people like Katie Hopkins and Kelvin McKenzie have a platform from which to shape the public domain? Why do they help them and the paper hurt people? More deeply, why do the employees participate in a corporate culture which rewards, champions, and celebrates such views and encourages such behaviour?

There are several reasons to work for the Sun. First, there can be the issue of support for free speech. Second, there can be the money. Third, the employee can agree with the editorial line and the columnists. Fourth, there can be an indifference to the editorial line or what the company does. However, what connects these reasons is a choice. If you work for the Sun, you choose to do so. You are a volunteer. You decide what to do with your time and talent as no one can force you to work for the company. We all have moral agency and working for the Sun is a moral choice.

I work for the Sun to defend free speech.

Free speech is a powerful principle that animates Western democracies. In the UK it is a cherished, if tarnished, principle. It is tarnished to the extent that the UK has laws against hate speech, traitorous speech, and legally prohibited speech such defamatory speech. Speech is free if it conforms to the community’s moral structures. For the UK, that moral structure is set by the laws and the public interest. Even if employees work for the paper to uphold free speech, they know that free speech as a principle would still exist without the Sun. Moreover, the commitment can be demonstrated in other ways such as activism, working for another media organisation, or independent writing.

I work for the Sun to pay the bills.

We know that we have to work to live or at least live beyond a substance level within the UK. We also know that work brings benefits beyond the money we earn. It provides stability in our lives. It creates a place of belonging. For many people, the work or their co-workers are as important, if not more important, than the money they make. We have to accept that many people work at the Sun because it pays well or it at least ensures that it pays the bills. However, we have to ask if the money is worth supporting the editorial line, the articles, and the views presented within the paper. At some point, an employee has to ask is the money enough to justify why they work to ensure Katie Hopkins can call refugees cockroaches. If that is the reason, then why stay at the Sun instead of a job that pays a higher salary? Perhaps there are other reasons beyond money that motivate someone to work at the Sun.

I agree with what the Sun writes and does.

Employees will work with a company if they agree with it. We want to work where our passion and principles are rewarded. At times, this is not possible and we might work at places that don’t reflect either our principles or our passion. However, it is rare that someone with a deep moral conscience will continue to work for an organisation that does not reflect their principles or their passion. With each passing day the employee finds that they have a cognitive dissonance between what they believe and how they are required to act as an employee. Thus, we can suggest that many if not most the Sun employees work for it because they agree with it. They may not agree with everything it does, but they agree with its culture and its product. Even if they do not agree with a particular writer, editorial, or front page, they will support its corporate culture by participating. In this approach, they will agree with the paper’s ethos and by extension, its behaviour towards refugees, the weak, and the vulnerable. They may also celebrate it when the paper corrects a wrong or holds the powerful to account.

When the paper takes a stance against a particular group or person, they support that stance by their time, talent and labour. So if the paper attacks immigrants, the weak, or the vulnerable, they support that line.[6] Even if they do not decide the editorial line or which group to attack or punish on the editor’s or the proprietor’s behalf, they enable it. For example, they may enjoy feeling morally superior to others based on the damaging information held within the Sun’s safe. They may enjoy the power that can be wielded over others with this personal information. At a deeper level, the employees create the culture by participating in it. Without the employees, the paper would fail. However, most employees are not all employees. Some employees will be indifferent to the paper’s behaviour, its editorial line, writers, articles, or front pages.

I work there, I do not make the rules or decide what the Sun does

In some cases, people work for organisations where they are indifferent to what happens within it. They may also be indifferent to how the organisation behaves. In this more limited case, the employee does not engage morally or intellectually with the organisation. They simply stop thinking and stop behaving as a moral agent. They do not assign any moral value or weight to their work. In all walks of life, people get through their day without thinking about what they or their organisations do. They simply do the work and go home. Even though such a worldview surrenders a large portion of their moral agency to the organisation and to the senior managers, it is one that exists. In an extreme case this can be seen as “I was only following orders.”. To be sure, working at the Sun or any modern business is not in that category, but it does indicate that when we work for a company we engage or disengage our moral agency. People can work for any organisation simply for the work and leave the moral content or responsibilities to others. For some Sun employees this has to be a possibility.

Many motives but what is consistent is that it is a moral choice.

What the above indicate is that employees work for the Sun for a number of reasons. They may enjoy the satisfaction when the paper humiliates someone or attacks their preferred targets. For others, it might be the money. For others, they believe in free speech so they work at the Sun to uphold that principle. What we do know is that all Sun employees work there by choice. They choose daily to give their time, talent, and labour to it so that it can succeed. They give their moral agency to the paper so that it can attack immigrants, benefit shirkers, and vulnerable people. Alternatively, they may believe that the paper only attacks targets that deserve to be attacked and thereby hold the powerful to account, the dishonest, and the nefarious. In all cases, the employee exercises a moral agency by their decision to support the paper and its success.

A question to ask Sun employees.

The next time you meet a Sun employee ask them, why they work for the paper. If you see them on LinkedIn ask them “Do you agree with the paper when it publishes damaging propaganda about refugees, Muslims, or victims?” If they don’t, then ask them why they continue to work for the Sun. Perhaps they can explain their moral choice for they enable the Sun to hurt people when their proprietor requires it.






[5] Newspaper circulation is dropping for many reasons beyond a specific boycott. However, it is noticeable that the boycott has grown and gained a greater saliency fuelled by social media.

[6] How many of the Sun employees agreed with the flawed front page story based on a skewed survey to claim that one in five Muslims have sympathy with jihad attackers who fight with ISIS/ISIL?

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If you work at Fox News, you enabled Roger Ailes

Fox Real Time logo on Fox News Channel''

Fox Real Time logo on Fox News Channel” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For 20 years, Roger Ailes ruled over Fox News like a personal fiefdom. He was in control and everyone knew it. If you did not do as he wanted, you would soon find that you were no longer needed. Even if you were successful, he would get rid of you. Despite removing females hosts from successful shows, Ailes was never questioned by Rupert Murdoch about his behaviour. Despite complaints and lawsuits against him, the Fox News Human Resources managers never confronted him to stop his behaviour. Despite the stories[1], no one blew the whistle on Roger Ailes. Why?

We have HR policies but the powerful don’t follow them.

The company claims that it “observ[es] the rules of civility and mutual respect.”[2] Yet, we know that the many lawsuits, complaints, and stories show that this claim was a lie.[3] It was a pious fraud. As Roger Ailes strode the halls, he created a culture of fear, sexual harassment[4], and employee silence.[5] He benefitted from that culture and he encouraged it by those he promoted and those he demoted. So, how did it occur?

Sex sells. Stop being a prude. Grow up!

Let’s consider the obvious rationalisation. As Roger Ailes is quoted as saying, “television is a visual medium; comments about appearance are common because people watch television, they do not merely listen to it.”[6] On the surface, this makes sense in a sexist way. Sex sells. Women dressed in form fitting, revealing, and sexually appealing ways will attract viewers of a certain age and type. These viewers, in turn, will attract advertisers who wish to profit from them. In such an atmosphere, it is understandable that women will be marketed as a sexual commodity. One would suggest that Ailes defence is that he is simply stating the obvious. Yet, even as that it explains one problem; why the women treated as sexual objects and commodities, it raises the deeper more troubling question: Why was sexual harassment tolerated off the air?

If we sell women as sexual objects on air, we expect them to behave that way off the air.

Here we start to see that the sexual commodity defence, as suggested by Ailes, points to the deeper cultural problem within Fox News. If women on air, the on air talent, are sexual commodities, packaged, directed, and produced by Ailes, why not off air as well? It would be almost hypocritical, if we follow Ailes’s logic, to package and promote the women as sexual commodities, and then behave as if they are not sexual commodities when they are off the air. Moreover, he appeared to expect the women to follow his orders just as the men slavishly, like obedient puppy dogs cowed by a vicious owner, followed his.[7] The strong tell the weak what to do. The weak are expected to obey or leave. Only between equals is there justice and Fox News under Ailes did not work on that principle.

If the system lets me succeed, why should I rock the boat?

In their own way, the Fox News women accepted and participated in this culture. They accepted that they had to strip to their underwear as a group during the bi-annual “trunk shows”. If anything tells you that they are commodities it is that humiliating ritual. Men did not have to suffer the same indignity. Were men dressed to accentuate their physical attributes? Were any told to wear tight fitting trousers? No. We have no evidence that the men were subjected to such humiliation? Instead, the ritual reminds the Fox News women of their status. They are a commodity. They will have to compete for the best dresses. Moreover, a number of women, the on-air talent, supported Ailes publicly. They defended him against Gretchen Carlson’s comments until it emerged she had recording to prove her claims. In that light, we see women who either accepted what Ailes had done or were too frightened to disagree.

Why file a complaint if no one is listening?

The women also accepted this culture in the sense that complaints never reached any of the Murdochs. The Murdochs insisted they were unaware of Ailes behaviour until Gretchen Carlson complained to James Murdoch. The paucity of formal complaints despite the plethora of sexual harassment stories raises the question about employee voice. Was there was an institutional silence in which employees did not pass such bad news upwards? Were the junior employees habituated to remain silent? Such a silence would be created by the fear that Ailes and his loyal followers fostered. Those who supported him and did his bidding, either male or female, were rewarded. Those who did not follow him or provide him what he wanted were punished.[8]

I want to keep my job, so I will attack anyone who attacks Roger Ailes

On the surface, the employee silence makes sense. The Fox News staff want to keep their jobs. They will not speak up. Even though they are journalists and investigative journalists, they know that they cannot ask questions. They know the consequences. They will know the stories[9]. They will repeat the stories. In time, the stories become the culture.[10] The culture soon shapes behaviour. When complaints are made, the employee knows that they may only displace the harassment, they will not end it or change the culture. In that culture, the HR no longer stops harassment so much as manages it. Perhaps this is the most chilling part of the Ailes story, how HR never challenged or changed the culture.[11] Even when he is gone and Rupert Murdoch making the necessary soothing noises about “not knowing about it” and his sons making the reassurances that “we continue our commitment to maintaining a work environment based on trust and respect. We take seriously our responsibility to uphold these traditional, long-standing values of our company.”[12]

Organisational silence leads to a muted moral conscience

What enabled Roger Ailes was that Fox New encouraged an organisational silence within which employees developed a muted moral conscience. The muted moral conscience develops when a corporate culture encourages or requires moral blindness, moral silence, and moral deafness.[13]

Morally mute means you do not speak up.

An employee is morally mute when they:

“do not recognizably communicate their moral concerns in settings where such communicating would be fitting”.

We can see this when the complaints were not addressed. When HR refused to confront Ailes over the claims. When the senior managers refused to confront Ailes’ behaviour or the behaviour of other senior managers. The senior managers and the junior employees ignored the abuse of power, the daily sexist behaviour, and the humiliating rituals and they remained mute.

Morally deaf means you ignore the problem as long as he makes you money.

An employee is morally deaf when they:

“Do not hear and do not respond to moral issues that have been raised by others”.

We can see this in the way the company has responded to the claims.[14] They issued a barrage of denials and various Fox News affiliated commentators publicly attacked the claims and the complainants. Now that 21st Century Fox settled the $20 Million lawsuit and Ailes resigned, what does it say about these claims? We have to consider that the comments organized to enforce the culture and discourage others from speaking up or out?[15] Even after it emerged that Carlson had recorded Ailes’s statements, Ailes continued to have his defenders?[16]

Morally blind means you look the other way or attack those who complain.

Even though most sexual harassment is done privately or with few people to witness it, the overall sexist culture is on display. The women and the senior managers and top executives were blind to it. Rupert Murdoch in particular should be singled out for his moral blindness. He seems congenitally unaware of any wrongdoing within his companies.[17] An employee is morally blind when they:

“when they fail to see or recognize moral concerns and expectations that bear upon their activities and involvements.”

When we consider the other complaints about sexual harassment that were made and the pattern over 20 years, we have to consider that Fox News employees, in particular Rupert Murdoch and his sons were morally blind. They waited until Gretchen Carlson came with an irrefutable claim before they acted. They did not exercise a moral conscience; they simply did what was needed to protect their business interests.

Is your company a Fox News?

Even though the post focuses on Fox News; it could be any company.

  • Does your company foster a moral conscience?
  • Do your employees have the ability to speak up to voice their concerns?
  • Are all of your employees treated equally or do senior managers get special treatment?
  • If your Chief Executive was the problem could your HR department confront him?





[4] Roger Ailes at all times in all fora has denied all charges and claims related to the stories about sexual harassment at Fox News and beyond. He has denied all charges and all claims despite Fox News settling nearly $25 million dollars of sexual harassment lawsuits that involve him.


[6] The statement is taken from his court filing in response to a sexual harassment lawsuit.

[7] “Well, Steve Doocy, as David pointed out, was her co-host for many years and he still is the co-host of the “Fox & Friends” morning show. It’s important to note that Steve Doocy is one of the ultimate Roger Ailes loyalists. As I’ve reported multiple times, Steve Doocy will take direct dictation from Roger Ailes and repeat talking points on the air to inject his political point of view into the program. So by bringing Doocy in this, really, Gretchen Carlson is showing how Roger Ailes created a culture, both a political culture, but also a culture towards women that people who were — men who were promoted to very high level of the network sort of understood that this culture was acceptable and took part in it.”


[9] The complaints went to the EEOC which is the US Federal Government’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Although the complaints were not upheld by the EEOC, that did not mean that the complaints were unfounded. It means that the EEOC did not find enough evidence to trigger a federal investigation.  One has to ask why the senior managers were unaware of a Federal complaint about sexual harassment within the workplace.

[10] This paraphrases Clifford Geertz’s famous definition: “”stories we tell ourselves about ourselves”.”

[11] According to New York’s Gabriel Sherman, Kelly had gone to former Fox News P.R. executive Brian Lewis four years ago, in 2012, concerned about allegations that would later end up in Sherman’s 2014 biography of Ailes. (According to a Sherman source, Lewis’s attempts to intervene with Ailes were rebuffed.)


[13] Brother Secret, Sister Silence: Sibling Conspiracies against Managerial Integrity

William De Maria Journal of Business Ethics, Vol. 65, No. 3 (May, 2006), pp. 219-234


[15] For example, Greta Van Susteren publicly supported Ailes but then left soon after he did. The other women will have to explain to their own conscience why they defend Ailes and whether their views will have changed as Carlson had taped Ailes’s behaviour.



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Silence and the South Yorkshire Police

South Yorkshire Police

South Yorkshire Police (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For 27 years, the South Yorkshire Police (SYP) were institutionally silent about their Hillsborough failures. For 27 years the officers maintained their silence. For 27 years, they fought hard to deny the truth. The issue was not a dispute over evidence. The issue was not about interpretations. The issue was between truth and lies. The Police chose to defend the lies. There are now criminal investigations into the lies. The same approach emerged with the Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) scandal within Rotherham. As the Drew Report found, the police lacked professional curiosity.[1]

Where is the debate over police, ethics, culture, and leadership?

What we do not have is a debate or investigation into the police culture of silence. The silence enabled a force to preside over the Orgreave, Hillsborough, and Rotherham scandals without breaking its silence about its behaviour or its effect. Beyond the SYP organisational silence, there has to be an inquiry into how the other police forces could maintain the same silence. It is one thing for the SYP to defend themselves against allegations. It is another for other forces, the entire UK police force, to maintain a professional silence on these institutional and moral failures.

At first sight, it would be easy to blame the leadership. As David Conn’s article describes, the SYP (and likely other police forces) had an authoritarian leadership.

The evidence built into a startling indictment of South Yorkshire police, their chain of command and conduct – a relentlessly detailed evisceration of a British police force. Responsible for an English county at the jeans-and-trainers end of the 1980s, the force had brutally policed the miners’ strike, and was described by some of its own former officers as “regimented”, with morning parade and saluting of officers, ruled by “an iron fist” institutionally unable to admit mistakes.

The dominance of Wright, a decorated career police officer who died in 2011, loomed over the catastrophe. He was depicted as a frighteningly authoritarian figure who treated the force “like his own personal territory” and whose orders nobody – tragically – dared debate.[2]

On the surface, this makes sense. The police officers at SYP were too scared to speak out or up. They were scared to tell the truth. They were more afraid of their boss than the law or the truth. They understood, and the organisation demanded, that their obedience to the organisation was more important than acting as a moral agent or upholding the law when it conflicted with their organisation.

I can see this logic. It makes sense in a certain way as grown men, men willing to confront killers, simply lost all nerve and became fearful, timid, and quiet when they faced their leadership. They understood that if they wanted to keep their job, they had to toe the line. They traded their moral agency for a secure job and a payslip. One has to ask if the price was worth it. However, for some officers, potentially many, they had no moral conflict. Indeed, they will have agreed with how the SYP conducted itself and dealt with those at Orgreave, Hillsborough, and Rotherham. In a word, they agreed with, accepted, and propagated the culture as they found it. They wanted to punish the guilty and why should they question orders when they agreed with them? For these officers, they would not disagree with anything the SYP did or does since they do not see any law moral or legal superior to the organisation. The only problem is that the organisation was caught or exposed without the suitable gratitude for what they do to keep the public safe. What they wanted to do above all was to protect the organisation for they understood that it protected them. We have to move beyond this analysis to understand the institutional silence that silenced any employee voice within the organisation.

Institutional silence and employee voice

What I hope to explore is how institutional silence and employee voice, or its absence, can explain how the SYP and other police forces could be quiet for 27 years. In particular, I want to examine how the SYP and the other force, including those that represent the police, could be silent when the truth of Hillsborough came out. The goal is to connect this silence and lack of voice to the way the organisational could create employees with muted moral consciences display moral blindness, the moral silence, and the moral deafness. They saw what the SYP did at Orgreave, Hillsborough and Rotherham, but they have remained silent. They have not spoken up or out. Why? Are they similarly frightened, timid, and quiet? Are the police ruled more by fear than the truth or the law? Is the policy bargain one where an officer trades his moral agency to be protected by the organisation and in return the organisation maintains a silence?

Within an organisation, there are many causes for silence. In this analysis, I rely on De Maria’s work who quotes [3] Fredrick Bird. Bird argues that an employee develops a muted conscience through three related processes. They are:

(1) moral silence,

(2) moral deafness, and

(3) moral blindness.

An employee is morally mute when they:

 “do not recognizably communicate their moral concerns in settings where such communicating would be fitting” (p. 27).

We can see this when police officers fail to speak up or out about moral concerns. When they ignore abuse of power, altered notebooks, or planted evidence, they no longer communicate their moral concerns. In a more direct sense, an officer is morally mute when he refuses to testify against officers who have engaged in abuse or criminal activity.

An employee is morally deaf when they:

“do not hear and do not respond to moral issues that have been raised by others” (p. 55).

For the SYP this seems to be a practice within the senior management and a common trait across the police. We can see this in the way that whistle-blowers have been suppressed, discredited, and disavowed.[4] In some cases, people who were involved with reporting police corruption were killed.[5]

An employee is morally blind when they:

“when they fail to see or recognize moral concerns and expectations that bear upon their activities and involvements” (p. 85)

In this category, we can see the problem for police. They are prone to a certain type of corruption called “noble cause” corruption. In this corruption, the officer justifies their illegal or immoral acts as serving a “noble cause”. The ends justify the means without concern for the laws, society, or morality. The problem can occur at the senior levels when the attitude emerges that “As long as the “paperwork is clean”, you can do what you want.” In other words, senior officers do not see a problem with abuse of power by junior officers as long as the results serve the organisation or the preferred outcome.

Employee Silence

At the root of these problems is employee silence. Employee silence is when employees don’t feel comfortable speaking to their bosses about what is wrong in the organisation. They may withhold information or they don’t speak of issues that affect them. Such silence is more than interpersonal issues for it reflects a chosen behaviour within the wider organisation. The chooses as a conscious strategy to remain silent. In this they reflect their own motives as well as the organisation’s approach to employee voice. Although many studies have focused on individual employee motives[6], the problem of employee silence fits within a wider challenge of organisational silence where the structure deters employees from speaking up or speaking out.[7] In particular, there is a deep seated belief within the Police, as identified by the Drew Review that disagreement or voice is dissent. Despite the demonstrated reality that decisions improve when multiple viewpoints are considered as does subsequent performance. Moreover, one has to ask how such an authoritarian culture can exist within the society that claims to be democratic. We see the deeper tension between the Crown institutions, (the police swear an oath to the Queen, not the law, the people, or Parliament before any other oath) and the democratic veneer that the people accept. The deeper reality is the UK institutions remain authoritarian and anti-democratic which they display with varying degrees of intensity internally and externally.

Employee or institutional silence can have severe consequences. In particular, it can lead to a muted conscience. Bird describes six consequences from a muted conscience.

(1) moral concerns not addressed;

(2) accountability systems become dysfunctional;

(3) moral stress increases;

(4) moral development is impeded;

(5) management control and scrutiny increases; and

(6) the role of ethics is marginalized and confused (pp. 125-140).

These six areas describe many of the facets of the SYP culture over the past 30 years.

Moral concerns

The moral concerns were not addressed even if they were recognized. The force went from Orgreave, to Hillsborough, to Rotherham without a change in culture or practice. The accountability structures that existed were dysfunctional and failed to capture the problems or hold officers to account in a meaningful way. In a sense, the normal accountability structures became a shield to avoid morally difficult tasks. For example, the Chief Superintendent could claim that the reason he did not act on Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) was that burglary was the community’s priority. Such a response appears valid and reasonable until we examine it. We see that CSE is a hidden crime, which means that if the community were to have it as a priority things would be so obvious that the police would already be intervening. Moreover, the senior officer would be expected to consider if a crime is affecting vulnerable people. One would expect the police to have a strategic triage to consider the severity of the crime, the scale of the crime, and victim profile. There is no sense patrolling an industrial estate with a greater intensity than a children’s home. When officers were held to account, the abuse was so egregious it could not be ignored. Even then, the officers were often allowed to resign or retire instead of being held to account as well as contest the scale, scope, and severity of the crimes.

Accountability systems.

All public sector organisations rely on inspection regimes of some form be they from a private auditor or a public regulator. Such regimes, though, are only as good as their ability to see within the police force for it relies upon a certain level of institutional honesty and self-awareness. We must always remember that when Peter Donnelly was killed while being supervised by Haringey Council, Ofsted gave them three stars for children services. In fact, the head of Children Services used their stars as a defence when they were being held to account for his death. Haringey was able to claim it was an outstanding service even though the reality, upon closer inspection, was different.[8]

Even though the police are quick to point to their inspection reports, the question remains whether they are as thorough as they claim. As anyone who has managed an inspection knows, the inspector relies on the organisation to be institutionally honest. The organisation will always present itself in the best light possible. A more sophisticated approach will be to admit to some minor or inconsequential flaws or faults to suggest the organisation is honest. What is rarely considered, though, are the questions of bad news such as those which existed within Rotherham Council. We know that they had many inspections that failed to identify problem’s scale, scope and severity.

Moral Stress

Within the force, the moral stress would appear within the staff if they are unable to speak up or speak out about what they have seen. One result will be increased stress leading to sickness absence.[9] One could argue that the moral stress of Orgreave and Hillsborough contributed to the moral blindness in the Rotherham scandal. In this way, the moral stress is related to the employees, and by extension the organisation’s moral trajectory. The moral trajectory from Orgreave to Rotherham shows that moral development was impeded as the organisation did not become more transparent nor did it develop increased sensitivity to its moral responsibilities.

Management Control.

The management control continued as senior officers feared bad press so sought to control the media message. In the aftermath of these crises, we are told they can be explained in part by the force’s authoritarian leadership. The leadership created a culture which did not tolerate dissent. The desire for increased control contributed to the employee and institutional silence which helped to create the muted moral consciences. The control served the leadership and the organisation, it did not protect against moral failings as it has emerged that SYP officers were involved in the abuse.

What we see across the preceding items is that moral or ethical issues were minimized. The SYP culture was one that deferred to its leadership. The junior officers surrendered their moral agency as ethical issues were not discussed. If they were discussed, it was in a superficial or marginal way. What we saw in Rotherham Council is that officers stopped thinking about what they were doing. When they stopped thinking, the stopped being moral agents. They did not think about the moral consequences.


We know that SYP suffered from employee and institutional silence. The silence created a muted moral conscience. In turn, this had specific consequences for the SYP. The lessons, though, are applicable to any police force. When they fail to be sensitive to their individual and institutional moral conscience, when they become morally deaf, morally blind, and morally mute; they begin the process by which they will become physical bullies and moral cowards. They will justify their behaviour as being justified by the ends they served. They served the Crown. They served the law. In a healthy society and a healthy organisation, one would expect public officials to reflect on their behaviour. Without such reflection, one reduces society and politics to “might makes right”. We can hope that the Drew report and other changes at SYP signal a new future. However, to avoid past behaviour affecting future behaviour, SYP has to change its culture to one that is open to employee voice and understand that multiple viewpoints improve decisions and performance.**

** The issue is path dependency. Will the SYP follow the previous path or forge a new one?

Jorg Sydow, Georg Schreyogg, Jochen  Organizational Path Dependence: Opening the Black Box Academy of Management Review 2009, Vol. 34, No. 4, 689–709.

[1]  The report admits that it operated under severe constraints. Constraints that suggest its value is superficial for it almost reinforces the narrative that while things were bad in the past, SYP have learned their lessons and things are getting better. The focus on causes moves beyond the organisation or its culture to an external agent, the targets, society, the government, just so long as SYP does not have to look into itself.


[3] Brother Secret, Sister Silence: Sibling Conspiracies against Managerial Integrity

William De Maria Journal of Business Ethics, Vol. 65, No. 3 (May, 2006), pp. 219-234


[5] There is a strong allegation that Daniel Morgan was about to reveal extensive police corruption when he was killed.

[6] Organizational Silence: A Barrier to Change and Development in a Pluralistic World

Elizabeth Wolfe Morrison and Frances J. Milliken The Academy of Management Review, Vol. 25, No. 4 (Oct., 2000), pp. 706-725

[7] Conceptualizing Employee Silence and Employee Voice as Multidimensional Constructs Linn Van Dyne, Soon Ang and Isabel C. Botero in Journal of Management Studies 40:6 September 2003 pp 1359-1392

[8] What the case revealed was the superficiality of such inspections for they never asked the right questions nor were the services being inspected going to provide honest answers. Both sides had an incentive not to ask difficult question or to offer difficult problems.

[9] this table is only a snapshot. However, it is indicative of the challenges facing the SYP. Two caveats must be noted. First, it can only reflect the period after the FOIA became law. Before 2005, it would be difficult to find this information. Second, the SYP of this era is different from the one that went from Orgreave, to Hillsborough. However, the cultural and moral consequences of the approach to those incidents will have shaped the approach to the Rotherham crisis.


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Who was going to stop Roger Ailes?

Rupert Murdoch, Chairman and Chief Executive O...

Rupert Murdoch, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, News Corporation, USA and Co-Chair, Annual Meeting 2009 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In any organisation, the question is never “how did sexual harassment occur”, it is “who is going to stop it?” The organisation will not stop it unless someone stops him. The organisation as organisation will simply continue to function as necessary to deliver profits and serve its customers. The organisation, like any tool, will only do as it is told. As an organisation lacks agency, sexual harassment and bullying can become part of the culture since it is the organisation’s agents which act. The company will have policies, procedures, guidance, and training yet none of this will matter if individuals will not act on them. As we now know, Roger Ailes settled sexual harassment lawsuits without changing his behaviour. He was in a position where he could not be challenged on his behaviour for no junior employee could challenge him and no one senior to him cared to stop him. The company did not require him to change his behaviour, it did not discipline or dismiss him. The company saw the lawsuits as the cost of doing business and as we know, Roger Ailes was making the company a lot of money.

The organisation protects the powerful for it reflects their interests.

Senior executives, like celebrities, have an institutional armour as their status protects them. In most, but not all, sexual harassment cases, it is a senior employee harassing a junior employee. The sexual harassment reflects a disparity in organisational power. When a senior officer harasses a junior officer for sexual favours or treats them with disrespect, it is bullying by other means. The institutionally stronger employee, demands, and sometimes receives, favours from the organizationally weaker employee. The strong rule the weak in such a relationship. At Fox News, like most companies has policies, procedures, and training create a procedural equality. These documents create the appearance of a culture that complies with the law against sexual harassment. In this case, though, the organisation failed in its duty. Any equality was a sham, the company aided and abetted a senior officer’s abusive behaviour. Moreover, the company has only removed Ailes, it has not changed its culture.

Women, Fox News only cared who made more money.

The culture is set by the top and at the top we find Rupert Murdoch. He could have stopped Ailes sooner, but he didn’t. Those that he appointed to replace Ailes could have stopped him, but they didn’t. Why should they when Ailes was making so much money for them? Ailes was not liked because of who he was, his intrinsic worth, but because of what he delivered for the company. As long as he was useful to Fox News and Rupert Murdoch he would be tolerated and protected. Such a relationship tells us about the corporate culture, “it is how we do things around here”, since it shows the staff what is important and what will be tolerated. If you make the company money, or you are a senior officer, you can transgress the policies and procedures that others have to follow. For the women of Fox News, the message is that the culture disrespects them. Murdoch only acted against Ailes when it suited him, not when it when it mattered to the women.

In Murdoch’s organisations money and loyalty appear to be are all that matter. The policies and social responsibility statements provide the appearance of procedural equality. Yet, as long as Ailes was making money, Murdoch and the company had no interested in his behaviour. More to the point, who was going to complain to Murdoch about Ailes? Would Murdoch listen to such complaints if an employee had the temerity to approach him? Would he pass this off to HR who would then in turn do what they did previously – nothing. The brutal message to any female employee is clear. Money matters more than principles and as long as we make money you can and will be harassed and bullied.

The fish rots from the head down

We know that organisations go toxic when their leadership are toxic. An organisation will take its cues from its leadership. Staff are encouraged to conform to the organisational culture which creates an organisational silence in such matters. Ailes set the corporate culture and employees followed or looked the other way. Even now Murdoch and the other senior managers want to avoid their moral responsibility for what Ailes has done. They and the senior managers point to Ailes’ secrecy and independence to explain how he was able to get away with it. Others have pointed to a culture of fear where Ailes did not entertain questions and people did not ask them. Even if these claims are true it does not avoid their moral responsibility. If anything, it makes the situation worse. A leader can only create a culture of fear or secrecy if others, both above him and below him, enable that behaviour. The board and senior managers, those paid to push back and challenge, did not hold him to account. Murdoch was either complicit in the behaviour or, once again, asleep and in the dark. One wonders if he knows if anything is going wrong in his companies. The other senior officers carried out his orders, *even though* they know it created a culture of harassment which was ethically and morally wrong. At no point did senior managers push back or seek to restrain him. It is these same managers that Murdoch has promoted to replace Ailes. As long as Ailes delivered the results they wanted, they turned their face. They chose wilful ignorance. Fox News has an ethical structure where this behaviour was accepted and endorsed.

Murdoch companies suffer ethical lapse that reflect his ethical blindness.

Ailes behaviour is not out of the ordinary in Murdoch media companies. We know from other Murdoch organisations that such abuse and bullying was tolerated. At the now defunct News of the World (NOTW), the then editor Andy Coulson was described as a bully by an employment tribunal.[1] He was not disciplined or dismissed even though the paper had to pay out almost 1.5 million dollars for a tribunal claim. The tribunal’s finding of fact was that he engaged in bullying. The tribunal also found the management team contributed to and aided the bullying of an employee suffering mental health issues.[2] None of the managers defended the employee from his bullying. They failed in their ethical and moral duties. They surrender their ethical responsibility. Not a single manager showed the moral courage to push back and resist the bullying.

Murdoch companies and employees show a disturbing pattern.

The NOTW’s corporate culture was toxic. We know that bullying was rife within the organisation, which was ignored because the editor and the paper were making money. We know the editor and the corporate legal affairs manager put people under surveillance.[3] The legal manager admitted that he had ordered surveillance of opposing lawyers. The editors often attacked critics and those people who displeased either Murdoch or one of his friends. The UK’s Leveson Inquiry revealed that the tabloid culture was toxic. Tabloids, in particular the Murdoch press, would “monster” someone.[4] Monstering is where a paper publishes a series of articles attacking a person, their character, job, or family. They are targeted because the paper, the editor, or the proprietor want to harm them. They are chosen either to send a political message or because they are a critics or enemy. It is a method to control the public domain for it demonstrate the paper’s political power. The method also deters those who might think of crossing the paper and its chosen allies.

Ailes ran his company in nearly the same way The News of the World was run.

Roger Ailes is alleged to have run Fox News with a similar approach. Ailes had political operatives and private detectives to attack his critics.[5] He used the company to further his interests. His interests were the company’s interests. Ailes appears to have behaved at Fox News just as NOTW behaved. From what has been reported, Ailes and the News of the World, enjoyed being a bully and punishing those they did not like.[6] The institutional and organisational bullying is accepted behaviour. The employees accept and promote it by their tacit or open support for the organisation and its culture. The employees are the culture by their ability to enable through a failure to act. If anything, the Ailes case demonstrates the moral cowardice that exists within Fox News and its employees. A fish rots from the head down and the inside out.

Was Ailes pushed by internal politics than a desire to do the right thing?

In any organisation, there has to be a way to stop such behaviour. Some rely on whistle blowers. Other companies have a clear zero tolerance policy. Many have mandatory training and awareness programmes. These programmes are enforced with regular monitoring to protect staff from predatory behaviour. Fox News dealt with it by an internal investigation. The investigation was to deal with a potential lawsuit. Even though the company, in its reputation management mode, was quick to point out that it investigates all sexual harassment claims, they have not explained how Ailes was able to settle sexual harassment lawsuits without oversight. Moreover, they have not explained why he was not disciplined or dismissed. Instead Ailes was able to resign, with a large payment, without a public apology or admission. Despite the seriousness of the accusation, it is likely his departure has more to do with the internal politics, as Murdoch and sons found an opportunity to remove him, than from an organisational desire to do the right thing.[7] What is clear is the culture has not changed. The senior managers who were complicit in such behaviour remain at the organisation. So, what was the point of the change?

To stop Ailes and his culture requires moral courage.

Despite the special characteristics that make this a Fox News scandal, the fundamental issue is the same for all organisations. “Who will stop such behaviour when it comes from the top?” Is there anyone in Fox News or any organisation with the necessary moral courage to confront such behaviour and change it? From what we have seen for the past 30 years at Fox News, the answer is no. At other companies, the answer is different. At Fox News one has to ask, “How do the employees live with the knowledge they work in, enable, and represent such a culture?”

[1] Andy Coulson, was named in a tribunal case in which the News of the World had to pay out nearly £800000.  “[A] tribunal ordered the News of the World to pay Driscoll, 41, £792,736 in compensation for being the victim of “a consistent pattern of bullying behaviour”   see also  If readers are interested, Mr. Coulson denies he is a bully. He claimed the Tribunal was unfair in its judgement. His witness statement can be read here:  The Tribunal judgement can be read here:   The salient paragraphs are paragraphs 106 and 116 and 130 and 141

[2] For an insight into the News of the World culture, the Tribunal provides reference to the way the company responded to the claimant’s mental illness.  On this issue see paragraphs 198.1-198.4. Suffice to say the Tribunal did not find they were either sympathetic or understanding. In particular, even after the claimant’s claims were proven true which was the basis for the second disciplinary warning, they refused to accept it. (198.2)







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If the future of work is automation, what is the future of management?

English: Jim Tracy, the manager of the Colorad...

English: Jim Tracy, the manager of the Colorado Rockies baseball team. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have been wrestling with this question for a few months. I have been interested in the way automation is changing work and what it means for the future of work. Some of my essays over the past years have looked at the manager and their role. What seems to return is the need for managers as someone to translate the vision from the top to work packages for the staff who deliver the work. The manager also resolves the issues from the from the staff so that the top of the organisation can understand whether its vision is working as intended and what changes if any need to be made.

On the surface, that seems a sound approach where managers will always be needed. They are the “jam in the sandwich”. Will automation make their fate a sticky one? Will the demand for automation redefine what a manager does and what it means to manage? In many ways, I foresee a time when the manager becomes more of a supervisor or coach instead of managing since the decisions they might have made are taken out of the work process by automation and algorithms. I would not suggest that automation and algorithms replace managers, although it will replace those workers who have been labelled managers when their work is really open for automation.

How does automation augment managers?

Instead, I want to look at how automation augments the manager and management. The questions arose after I read this blog post[1] based on this paper.[2] For paper, the author (a PhD student) was embedded in a large grocery distribution centre. In the centre, computers directed employees in their work.

The author wanted to study the following question.

As computers become better at “thinking,” or using algorithms to make decisions — a phenomena which, once networked with systems of memory, is not all that different from human cognition — more and more types of work have the potential to become “computer controlled.” What can that mean for the human beings controlled by computers?

The company used performance data to create incentives. The incentives, like a game, would mask the work’s repetitive, isolating, and physically taxing nature. The worker had to exceed the expected, not minimum, standard to get the reward. The rewards led to a performance league table where staff were ranked on their “running ability”. This was their ability to fulfil orders and exceed the performance targets. The incentives and league table gave the work meaning. In creating incentives and the performance table, management created a virtual social space. In the virtual space, work gained meaning aided by the incentives.[3]

The social meaning workers crave is also what managers need

The essay and paper have insights that can be applied to managers. The case study focused on a large warehouse where there are repetitive tasks, yet, the same logic can apply managers. The need to create incentives and meaning is found at all levels of an organisation. What is different, though, is the way that the work is directed by computers. Even though the digital effects are not new since we have had computer aided design and manufacturing for decades.[4] What is new, though, is how the digital revolution, as exemplified by the paper, will influence managers. Managers will have to adapt to algorithms that advise or direct their work. Moreover, their work will be increasingly modified so that it can be replaced or augmented to fit the digital framework.[5] Manager, in effect, will have to react to computer control in digital arenas that are created for them.

Is the future of management to design work to keep workers engaged?

The future is not a simulated work experience. Work will be more than a virtual computer directed exercise.[6] Instead, what was traditionally understood as management will be reshaped to fit digital control. The computer enhanced manager is what will deliver economies of scales and competitive advantage. However, this is not simply a knowledge worker. What we will see are managers who find their decisions supplemented by algorithms. At the same time, some work will be replaced such as those that are amenable to routine optimisation.[7] Even if we want to reclassify managers, and others, as knowledge that only begs the question. We need to consider two levels to this issue.

Can managers be reduced to an algorithm’s decision tree?

At the first level, the question is how far can work or management be reduced to an algorithmic function. To the extent that it can be reduced, managers may become more of supervisors as fewer problems need to be solved. What exists are problems like office conflict that cannot be solved by an algorithm. If supervisors solve issues like what is this week’s rota and managers solve problems, what is the work priority for highest effectiveness, then computer aided work requires less managers.[8] The term manager will be hollowed out as a descriptive title. As work becomes computer directed, then a manager will be the one who understands, creates, and manage the virtual social spaces that provide meaning for the employees. The follow up question, though, is “Who will provide meaning for the managers?”[9] The problem is not one of infinite regression. The challenge is to find the point at which management re-emerges. Where does the relative autonomy of a knowledge worker begin in a computer aided organisation?

Who will create engagement and meaning for managers?

A manager is not defined by the skills that computers can replace. The goal is to find an advantage from faster decision loops.[10] With the rise of sensors and the Internet of Things, a manager will face increased real time data and ubiquitous performance monitoring and reporting.[11] However, that is not the role of a manager simply for that can be done through a heuristic system. The question is whether a manager is needed. Other commentators have suggested that managers will retain a comparative advantage. The manager, so the argument goes, will provide a unique role in the following areas.

  • Asking questions,
  • Considering exceptions
  • Accepting ambiguity
  • Soft skills.

These areas show that managers provide a personalized service. They are face of the organisation or process, where nuance, emotional intelligence, and personality are prized. The manager translates the organisation’s vision into practice. In a sense, managers will become more human and less robotic as machines and algorithms take care of the pure decisions where algorithm or machine learning is superior. The manager will give the staff the social context, the virtual social space that gives the work meaning and incentives.[12] All of this is true and remains a constant. What is missing is who provides the engagement and social context for managers?

The computer enhanced manager will find they create their own meaning.

When we consider this question, we move to the second level at which the computer enhanced manager will emerge. We can understand that a computer cannot explain a vision. Even though a computer can guide workers to be more efficient, it cannot explain a vision. In this role, the computer enhanced manager will create their own meaning. They are not exempt from the need for someone to create their social context, instead it is that they will be in a position to shape their narrative or their work’s meaning. Even if one argues that managers will not face the repetitive tasks, automation will change what they have to do and how they do it. However, the change is less a difference of degree, manage with a digital accent, than of kind, what managers do will be different. The managers of the past will be more coaches so that fewer managers exist with more employees either supervisors or coaches who work with employees to develop their skills, techniques and productivity. The difference in degree is that the organisation is changing and that change is what will help us understand the future of the manager.[13] As Drucker explained, a manager is understood by being effective within an organisation is getting the right things done. The manager will be required to identify the right things to be done for the staff. Even though repetitive tasks are already identified as the right tasks, it will be the manager who identifies the task to be made repetitive and why. The difference is that the computer aided worker is more efficient. The question is whether the computer aided manager is more effective?

As I mentioned above, the organisation is changing. The change is how Knowledge Management (KM) and Organisational Learning (OL) interact with automaton. If KM and OL are what help the organisation to be more effective by making the manager more effective, then we need to know whether automation can improve KM and OL. Automated KM and OL could create the computer enhanced manager. The difference is that automation, understood as computer aided workers, is what makes a worker more efficient, can it make a manager more effective by automating KM and OL? As George Grant argued eloquently, the computer does not impose on its user the way it works, which leads us to ask whether the way the user applies the computer to work affects the work.

What will automation do for knowledge management and organisational learning?

The computer enhanced manager will rely on KM and OL systems to be effective. The computer will help them find information, explore alternatives, and test possible hypothesis about what is to be done and how best to act. In this role, the manager will find automation makes it easier to share and find knowledge across networks within and outside the organisation. In that way, automation will change the way the manager works. Imagine a manager who could extract information, data, and knowledge from the organisation as quickly and readily as they can through various search engines. We may find that we are moving in beyond the information-organisation. We appear on the cusp of a knowledge organisation where algorithmic learning systems will create the automated or knowledge organisation.

All business philosophies reflect a political philosophy, what does automation reflect?

The challenge is less about what will happen to the frontline worker, as those effects are already upon us, and only a little more about the manager’s future which is what is being revealed. Instead, what has to been addressed is the future of the organisation. It is this change, this disruption, that will define the future of work. At one extreme, the individual will become their own organisation, their own company, enhanced by the various OL and KM systems that make them productive. At the other extreme, the organisation is simply a platform that workers interact with as and when their skills or insights are needed by the individual and the organisation.

The question is how managers and management will navigate these extremes. Can a path be found between them?



[3] What gives work meaning and what gives life meaning in the age of automation will be the defining question for its success. See in particular the conclusion to this article.

[4] Consider this article in 1962 that explored the issue. Automation and the Management Process by Thomas L. Whisler and George P. Shultz The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 340, Automation (Mar., 1962), pp. 81-89

Published by: Sage Publications, Inc. in association with the American Academy of Political and Social Science

Stable URL:

[5] In this article the authors describe a software programme called iCEO that automates complex work by subdividing into smaller tasks. Even though the article conflates management with project management, the insights are useful. The question then becomes what work cannot be reduced to this level? If some cannot, what is it that makes them immune? The deeper question is whether technology has forced us to think technologically by looking at the world through a lens where everything is broken down into tasks that can be managed by a computer.

[6] Some commentators have suggested that the future of work will be about avoiding boredom. If the work is rendered into repetitive tasks working along pre-set pathways without variation or creativity, then yes it will be boring. See Sloan and

[7] misses the point and does not consider how managers will be affected.


[9] Although this article focuses on the frontline worker, it also applies to managers. Unless we assume that a manager’s tasks are non-routine and ones with intrinsic meaning.


[11] See also the issue of big data swamping management with increased amounts of performance data.


[13] Lynda Gratton indicates the way management is changing because managers have to work differently. They have to adapt to the new ways of working. Even though her focus is the manager, the unstated issue is that the organisation has changed in response.

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Answering Drucker’s Questions for an information Organisation

When organisations want to buy an Electronic Document and Records Management System (EDRMS), they often believe it will solve their records management problems. They find they have lots of paper. They have lots of electronic documents. They have shared drives that are full and disorganised. The EDRMS is often touted as the magic bullet, it will solve these problems. However, if we read Peter Drucker, they are solving the wrong problems because they have not asked the right questions.

Peter Drucker suggested some questions in his seminal article The Coming of the New Organisation. ( The new organisation would be based on information. He wrote this in 1988 before the web, digital platforms, or social media, yet had an insight into how organisations worked. More to the point, he understood how computers would influence those organisations.

First, it would allow what people did manually to do it faster.

Second, the data processing would change the structure of an organisation. This was a major insight since it signalled the radical changes in organisations that we are now experiencing.

Third, work will be done differently with sequencing of work being replaced by synchrony of work.

The second point is what I want to consider as it relates to the EDRMS decision. Usually an EDRMS comes with a desire to have “New Ways of Working” (™ © ® etc. etc. ad nauseam (no one ever introduces old ways of working. 🙂 ). The NeWoW reveals, or threatens to reveal, that, as Drucker noted; many layers of management only exist to relay information across the organisation. They serve as signal boosters to pass faint signals from the top to the bottom or farthest reaches and from the farthest reaches to the top of the organisation. However, to make the NeWoW, a success, at least in terms of the EDRMS, the organisation has to know how it works. Here is where most change programmes fail since people rarely ask the questions posed. Or at least, it does not appear these questions are asked. Usually, consultants will come and discuss Business Process Re-engineering. This is useful, except it only address the first point. It helps the organisation do what it does manually, faster with the new digital system.

What I am not aware of, but perhaps a reader is, of an organisation that has asked itself Drucker’s questions.

  1. What information do senior managers need to do their jobs? (We assume we know that, but we have never asked it or analysed the results)
  2. Where does this information come from? (Here we start to see the myriad of flows, relays, and dead ends that emerge.)
  3. What form is it in? (Is it an email, verbal (formal or informal meetings), written report? Is it anecdotes, polished analysis, a written report?)
  4. How did it flow? (What flows upwards? What flows horizontally? At what level? What flows downward? How do managers get information and from whom? Is it a formal flow or an informal one?)
  5. How much of that data is for control and how much is for information? (I would say 80/20 very little information is circulated for information that staff can use, it is mainly delivered for control)

As Drucker says, information is data endowed with relevance and purpose. However, to convert data into information requires knowledge. Yet, knowledge is specialized. Here the command and control system emerges in its fullest culture especially if the belief that information is power and so must not be shared.

When I first started working in UK local government 15 years ago, I was told an important secret.

“You only tell your direct reports 50% of what they need to know to do their jobs. Otherwise, they will take your job!”

The questions are likely to reveal that the people who convert data to information are senior managers and a few middle managers. The rest are passing information around as relays or collecting the data.

I would be interested to know if anyone has asked Drucker’s 5 questions to see whether you work for a command and control organisation or an information organisation. The answers may reveal the gap between the appearance and the reality.

I would be interested in your views on the questions and the answers.



Posted in bureaucracy, change managment, path dependency, records management, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Two Continents, Two Information Governance Conferences, One Conclusion

An excellent overview of transformation in records management and information management. If you are not thinking on these lines you are missing what is coming.


IRMS2016 Innovation Keynote 08Over the last few weeks I attended the AIIM Conference (the theme was Digital Transformation in Action) in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA and the IRMS Conference (the theme was Information Superheroes) in Brighton, UK. It was my third time at AIIM, at which I did one of the roundtables, and it was my first time at IRMS, at which I did the opening keynote (a genuine honour to have been selected). Both the AIIM roundtable and the IRMS keynote (slides available here) were innovation themed. This post is not going to be so much a recap of the conferences as much as it will be my take on how innovation, disruption, and transformation fit into the whole Information Governance / Management (IG/M) space, and how AIIM and IRMS and their members (individuals, sponsors, vendors) may be affected.

Since my session at both conferences was about innovation, that’s the filter…

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