Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 13, Issue 10;   March 6, 2013: Before You Blow the Whistle: Part I

Before You Blow the Whistle: Part I

by

When organizations know that they've done something they shouldn't have, or they haven't done something they should have, they often try to conceal the bad news. When dealing with whistleblowers, they can be especially ruthless.
Rofecoxib, the active ingredient of Vioxx

A model of the chemical structure of Rofecoxib, the active ingredient of Vioxx. At a U.S. Senate Finance Committee hearing on November 18, 2004, Dr. David Graham, a safety scientist for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, testified that the agency's handling of Merck & Co Inc.'s withdrawn painkiller Vioxx, was a "profound regulatory failure" by an agency "incapable of protecting America" from another dangerous drug. Shortly thereafter, as reported by Marc Kaufman in The Washington Post, the nonprofit Government Accountability Project (GAP), which assists whistleblowers, started receiving anonymous telephone calls discrediting Dr. Graham and his work. With a little sleuthing, the GAP staff members were able to determine that the calls were coming from Dr. Graham's FDA managers. This incident is an example of a professional attack that failed. Many succeed. Image (CC by SA 3.0) by Tarique012.

If you work in an organization that has transgressed in a serious way, you might be considering whether or not to make information available to the public, the media, or to government authorities. If you continue to work there, and you have knowledge of violations, you might be involving yourself in illegal behavior, or at the very least, violating your own moral code. Sorting through these questions is much easier if you have professional support from an attorney, a counselor, or a therapist.

As difficult as these issues are, there are other matters to consider. Specifically, if you do "blow the whistle," how will your employer respond? How will your fellow employees respond?

There are obvious responses, including denials, personal attacks, reassignment, harassment, vandalism, termination, blackmail, extortion, and even brutality. Famous cases of whistleblowers are littered with these obvious measures. Here's Part I of a little catalog of some less-obvious tactics for which it's more difficult to prepare oneself.

Other whistleblowers
People in these situations tend not to consider the possibility that someone else has already blown the whistle, or is about to. If that happens to you, then you might already have been targeted for investigation; you might already be regarded as a co-conspirator.
Perform an inventory of people you know who have information that could incriminate you. Assess the likelihood that someone is already conferring with authorities. If you sense that you're vulnerable, seek counsel and act quickly. If you think you still have some time, estimate how much time you have and get busy preparing material to use if you do contact authorities. Even if you act too late, a freshly prepared store of material could lend credibility to your claim that you were intending to act.
Professional attacks
If the whistleblowerProspective whistleblowers tend not
to consider the possibility that
someone else has already blown
the whistle, or is about to
or prospective whistleblower is in a technical or specialized job, questions about the work products of the whistleblower are generally technical. For this reason, direct professional attacks of the obvious type might be effective, but evaluating them is difficult for people outside the profession. A more effective family of tactics involves degrading the whistleblower's own work products, so as to cause colleagues to discredit the whistleblower professionally. Direct tampering is possible, but so is tampering with data, devices, or the quality of materials upon which the whistleblower's own work depends.
If you suddenly detect irregularities in your own work products, or in the resources on which your work products depend, reporting them through formal, regular channels might not be wise, because it signals the tamperers that you're aware of what they've done. Instead, consider enhancing security protecting your work, or creating a duplicate and far more secure version of your work, while allowing the tamperers to continue their operations on a false, less-secure version.

We'll continue next time, exploring more tactics that can erode whistleblower credibility.  Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: Before You Blow the Whistle: Part II  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrendBbYNrUYjIjeHFuXner@ChacYYmFAYgMdjddQtjcoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Politics:

"Taking an observation at the pole."The Risky Role of Hands-On Project Manager
The hands-on project manager manages the project and performs some of the work, too. There are lots of excellent hands-on project managers, but the job is inherently risky, and it's loaded with potential conflicts of interest.
A view of the damage to the Apollo 13 Service ModuleThe Attributes of Political Opportunity: The Finer Points
Opportunities come along even in tough times. But in tough times like these, it's especially important to sniff out true opportunities and avoid high-risk adventures. Here are some of the finer points to assist you in your detective work.
Admiral Edward Ratcliffe Garth Russell Evans, first Baron Mountevans of ChelseaGuidelines for Delegation
Mastering the art of delegation can increase your productivity, and help to develop the skills of the people you lead or manage. And it makes them better delegators, too. Here are some guidelines for delegation.
President Harry S. Truman, and Gen. Douglas MacArthur, meeting at Wake Island, 14 October 1950Ground Level Sources of Scope Creep
We usually think of scope creep as having been induced by managerial decisions. And most often, it probably is. But most project team members — and others as well — can contribute to the problem.
Monarch butterfly (top) and Viceroy (bottom)Deceptive Communications at Work
Most workplace communication training emphasizes constructive uses of communication. But when we also understand how communication can be abused, we're better able to defend ourselves from abusive communication. One form of abusive communication is deception.

See also Workplace Politics and Managing Your Boss for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A vizsla in a pose called the play bowComing April 26: Why Dogs Make the Best Teammates
Dogs make great teammates. It's in their constitutions. We can learn a lot from dogs about being good teammates. Available here and by RSS on April 26.
A business meetingAnd on May 3: Start the Meeting with a Check-In
Check-ins give meeting attendees a chance to express satisfaction or surface concerns about how things are going. They're a valuable aid to groups that want to stay on course, or get back on course when needed. Available here and by RSS on May 3.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmIkHfcmDuCoezkYjner@ChaclBbEGNcZNpAuAYaJoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

Changing How We Change: The Essence of Agility
MasteChanging How We Change: The Essence of Agilityry of the ability to adapt to unpredictable and changing circumstances is one way of understanding the success of Agile methodologies for product development. Applying the principles of Change Mastery, we can provide the analogous benefits in a larger arena. By exploring strategies and tactics for enhancing both the resilience and adaptability of projects and portfolios, we show why agile methodologies are so powerful, and how to extend them beyond product development to efforts of all kinds. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Creating High Performance Virtual Teams
Many Creating High Performance Virtual Teamspeople experience virtual teams as awkward, slow, and sometimes frustrating. Even when most team members hail from the same nation or culture, and even when they all speak the same language, geographic dispersion or the presence of employees from multiple enterprises is often enough to exclude all possibility of high performance. The problem is that we lead, manage, and support virtual teams in ways that are too much like the way we lead, manage, and support co-located teams. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you how to change your approach to leading, managing, and supporting virtual teams to achieve high performance using Simons' Four Spans model of high performance. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14The Race to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
Please donate!The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…

Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics!
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
My free weekly email newsletter gives concrete tips and suggestions for dealing with the challenging but everyday situations we all face.
A Tip A DayA Tip a Day arrives by email, or by RSS Feed, each business day. It's 20 to 30 words at most, and gives you a new perspective on the hassles and rewards of work life. Most tips also contain links to related articles. Free!
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.