Is Managing Grumpiness the Key to Managing Risk?

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that financial service leaders are examining their cultures and employee attitudes on a range of issues to limit and manage risk. The reason for this examination is these business leaders recognize that statutory regulation and vigorous whistleblower provisions may not be enough to halt dangerous acts before they inflict great internal and public harm to the organization.

And, they’re right. Take a look at our recent economic history. In the past eight years alone, no matter what rules, policies, and standards were in place, certain individuals chose to violate them for personal or, perhaps, organizational gain.

Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, mortgage fraud, or multiple insider stock trading schemes didn’t arise because of a single action committed by a solitary individual who left no traces. Instead, in these and other similar cases, someone recognized the problem, tried to raise an alarm unsuccessfully, or, on the flipside, chose to keep quiet out of either fear or indifference.

In an effort to manage risks, organizations are trying different ways to uncover what makes their employees misbehave. For instance, J. P. Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo chart employee grumpiness in an effort to find a correlation between the satisfaction and improper behaviors and actions. Organizations also track how often their employees go to happy hour. Tracking hidden correlations is interesting; but, as the Journal noted in another recent article: Weighing a pig doesn’t make it fatter. Healthy cultures must not only prevent misdeeds but also, in the language of compliance, help promptly detect and correct them. In other words, the emphasis needs to be on eliminating the fear and indifference that keeps concerns underground.

Rather than looking for hidden correlations, which, by the way, costs a lot of money, why not direct cultural efforts to measure whether people actually feel willing to help detect and correct problems should they arise? Here are two straightforward questions to ask your employees:

  • Do you believe your organization wants to find out about misdeeds that violate policies, value standards, and ethics no matter who is involved and no matter what the cost?
  • Would you personally report an episode of bad behavior using the organization’s processes and policies?

If individuals respond affirmatively and give anecdotal reasons, it means that they trust the stated values of the organization. That’s the key to stopping problems before they arise and for making sure that individuals will report them.

Sending emails, giving speeches, and putting up posters about the organization’s values and policies are just not enough. Employees need to feel confident that their leaders are truly committed to these promises. And, this will only become evident if they observe their leaders following through and modeling these communications.

So, if you really want to know what your employees think of trust and values in your organization, try counting how many times they bring concerns to your attention rather than counting the number of “harrumphs” or cocktails after work.

1 Comment
  • DeeAnn S says:

    Wow. No comments…that message is screaming at an incredible volume. I can either quietly back away or make a comment I guess. In the spirit of bravery, I will say that having been a recent victim of some retaliation in the form of a job termination after challenging a series of reprimands for issues that were not violations of policy but my supervisors preferences unrelated to my manager performance objectives, I will agree that as Dr. leaders we must pick these battles carefully. In my case, the chosen course if action was grossly inconstant with the usual application for this type of thing and was also bin considerate of any intent, current or past performance or years or service on my part. That would 27…years of service by the way. But I whole heatedly agree with quality control measures especially where risk is concerned. Ironically, that was the group I managed, operations and risk. Hmmmm.

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