Hmmm…What Does This Button Do..?

A jet being blown out of the sky by a missile. A few hundred passengers instantaneously fragmented. You probably wondered whether the recent tragedy in the skies above Iran was an accident or deliberate.

Well it turns out that the act of firing was deliberate but the assessment of the situation prior to the press of the button had been erroneous.

Sometimes though, huge bollocks are dropped simply out of curiosity. A ‘what does this button do?’ moment. And in this case, while the debates will rage on regarding the aforethought (or lack thereof), the result remains the same. A shed load of deaths. When you consider the intense and far-reaching impact of a single loss of life, the impact here seems incalculable.

Which brings me to the matter in question. When any incident with unwelcome consequences occurs, how do we react to it?

Well, I’ll tell you. We go straight to the outcomes and then to the jugular.

Now, UK law – as do other jurisdictions – takes a different approach because everything needs to be technically examined via a process. Crimes, for example, are classified and ranked and gravity becomes more or less marked depending on aggravating or mitigating factors respectively. This looks at the whole context and its components, not just the outcome. And this is why there is often outrage at sentencing. An incident that leaves catastrophic damage in its wake may have stemmed from an accident or carelessness. It will still attract punishment but in a measure that may seem to be disproportionately lenient.

Not so, in the workplace. There, the mis-pressing of a button will typically be the trigger-point for a whole variety of bureaucratic catastrophes.

Of course, people seldom die – though careers do. In the domain of the paper-crat, misapplied digits ping out email missiles, carrying sensitive, embarrassing, or misplaced data. Feelings get hurt and recipients of data subjects get launched into gut-wrenching emotional rollercoasters.

But at the point that the culprit is metaphorically bent over and spanked, it will only ever be about the actual stink-mass that met the rotating blades of the proverbial fan.

If somebody fires off a deliberately provocative email to a customer with offensive language, and it gets blocked by the firewall, it’ll be a quick word from IT or at worse, the line manager. ‘A word to the wise, young man’.

Absentmindedly send the wrong file that leads to a sensitive data leak and lost customers or accounts, and the whole gamut of formal aggravation will be released upon you. Disciplinary hearings, poor references, involuntary defenestrations. And they do it with a determined sense of passion. They are positively tingling with an adrenaline-fuelled headrush to have you over. They want you bad. Badder than Michael Jackson Bad or Big Bad Wolf bad.

You see, organisations don’t care whether your error had zero malevolent intent. They know very well that the company will be positively teeming with Machiavellian psychos. Sounds like a contradiction in terms? Well, to your average shit-kicking office, it is positive because a fat scorching bubble of sociopathic lava-rage is happily turned outwards onto the market and competing businesses. These are the people who kill competitors (though unfortunately they also kill brands, but hey).

In these bonkers thought-asylums, there are two heinous crimes in these types of scenario: firstly, that you a) rocked the boat by creating a mess that they had to contribute to clearing up. I mean, if you add to the minimal inbox of an HR clown with anything that will lead to their subsequent actions coming under scrutiny, expect to be hit by a downwardly spiralling brown swoosh.

Secondly, that you b) broke a process. And look – these people don’t ever think for themselves. Processes are to be followed slavishly and bring forth an excellent evidence-defined tyre iron to beat some poor sap with, should the need arise.

If some intellectually redundant HR twonk can set up a process to cover the correct handling of data, anyone who contravenes that gets shafted. No ifs and no buts. Even though nobody (apart from naughty saboteurs) deliberately selects ‘balls-up’ as a viable action in advance.

I mean, while ‘Failure is not an option’ is a common refrain (it’s a line of implied threat bleated out by all senior managers who themselves have run out of ideas to constructively support their teams with challenges), it truly isn’t. Few make a concerted effort to fail and accidents don’t attain their status as such until they’ve actually happened. When they’re spotted in advance, they get categorised under the 99.99% of an employee’s daily actions – the doing a good job part that gets taken for granted before even the ink has dried on the employment contract. A document, incidentally, that employers feel stands as a set-in-stone promise for absolute accuracy and excellence irrespective of how they might mismanage or dick with the wider workplace context. Which of course comes as second nature to them.

Now, out there somewhere, some Iranian guy is in the deep do-do. Having a new one torn for him, possibly literally. And he has dropped a biggie, make no mistake. But I wonder whether anybody will be looking at the wider context of recent weeks? After all, all manner of missiles have been flying over Iran recently in all directions, so the button-presser would have been on high alert for something nefarious.

But back to less tragic circumstances but still within the scope of the cock-up.

Meanwhile, in UK businesses up and down the country, under-pressure, under-trained, and often mismanaged employees will be receiving sanctions for errors made without merest soupçon of intent. Honest, loyal, and well-intentioned folk will be making clerical errors in the workplace.

Nobody will have died, but stray emails will have been sent, or files lost, and for the embarrassment that will ensue, some bureaucrats will be shrieking in voices so high-pitched that only dogs will hear their anguish. And then, they will move to administer justice. And for the poor perpetrators, the consequences will be severe.

And businesses wonder why staff leave or worse still why some remain and perform their roles with seemingly little care or enthusiasm?

It’s because in these moments of punitive ‘re-balance’, the health of the psychological contract attains unequivocal clarity. And these are the moments that define and determine all manner of future organisational interactions and deliverables.

So, the message for employers is – get into a forward-thinking gear and be prepared to take the strain when times are tough. You won’t regret it.

Or maybe you won’t and then you will, but you just won’t know why.

unsplash-logoKelli McClintock

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