Dogged inaction by leaders when staff raise issues is one cause of organisational silence (which I wrote about last week), and ultimately causes the destruction of psychological safety.
Dogged inaction is what happened to the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs around the immigration detention of Cornelia Rau which lead to the 2005 Palmer Report. Rau, an Australian citizen, was illegally detained for ten months. Due to her mental illness her citizenship was not ascertained for all that time.
The beauty of the public sector, and a challenge for it, is that when there is a stuff-up, inquiries follow. They provide outstanding opportunities for understanding what went wrong, and why. The Palmer Report described the situation at DIMA as follows:
"...the Inquiry found considerable evidence of deafness to the concerns voiced repeatedly by a wide range of stakeholders, a firmly held belief in the correctness and appropriateness of the processes and procedures that exist, and a culture that ignores criticism and is unduly defensive, process motivated and unwilling to question itself. Energies seemed to be channelled more into justifying and protecting the status quo.”
As I wrote last week, you need powerful stories to shift emotions when bringing criticism to leaders. Yes, you can paint them a picture of what is in it for them, but people make decisions on emotion first and logic second. If they are not ready to receive a message containing criticism, you need to prime them with a story. I have gifted you two stories. My personal story of HIH Insurance which is chronicled in the report of the Royal Commission (see last week’s blog) and this DIMA one, chronicled in the Palmer Report.
If neither of these stories quite suit your need and you don’t have your own, I suggest you go looking for other public inquiries. For example, the inquiry into the Challenger space shuttle disaster in the US or any of the Royal Commissions held in Australia over the last decade. Sadly, there are soooooo many to choose from.
Stay safe and influence leaders to build psychological safety!
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Bryan Whitefield works with strategic leaders across all sectors to help organisations harness uncertainty – uncertainty is the strategic leader’s best friend. He is the author of DECIDE: How to Manage the Risk in Your Decision Making and Winning Conversations: How to turn red tape into blue ribbon. He is the designer of the Risk Culture: Build Your Tribe of Advocates Program for support functions and the Persuasive Adviser Program for internal advisers. Both can be booked individually or in-house. For more information about Bryan, please click here.