Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 22, Issue 20;   May 25, 2022: On Reporting Noncompliance

On Reporting Noncompliance

by

Regulating compliance with process design in organizations requires monitoring process usage. Typically, process monitors depend on reports from process participants. In blame-oriented cultures, fear of retribution can limit what these reports contain.
The lies inside the truth

If your role involves monitoring one or more processes to ensure compliance with standards and the reliability of outcomes, the quality of your information about those processes determines how well you can perform your function. In some organizational cultures, gathering reliable information about noncompliance can be difficult. Some of the organizational cultures most exposed to this risk are those that are oriented around blame (BL cultures), rather than accountability (AC cultures). When something goes awry, BL cultures seek causes so they can punish, while AC cultures seek causes so they can learn and perfect their performance. [Brenner 2005]

To gather the information needed to detect and deal with noncompliance, the process monitor must build a network based on trust and safety, even if the culture is blame-oriented. A foundation for that network of trust is an understanding of the challenges that the people of the organization must confront. This post considers some of the difficulties of monitoring processes for compliance within a BL culture.

The dynamics of witnessing noncompliance

To monitor To monitor a process in which we aren't
direct participants, we must rely on
information from direct participants.
That's where trouble begins.
a process in which we aren't direct participants, we must rely on information from direct participants. That's where trouble begins. Suppose that in a BL culture, a process participant observes an instance of noncompliance. This exposes the observer to the risks associated with a difficult choice. The observer must choose whether (a) to intervene personally, or (b) to do nothing for now, or (c) to pass the information to a process monitor. A process monitor is someone who is bound to act on evidence suggesting noncompliance, and who then can initiate investigation and possibly corrective action. In BL cultures, choosing option (c) is equivalent to "snitching."

Anyone who observes noncompliance can choose option (a), intervening personally, if supported by formal lines of authority. But if not so supported, in a BL culture, the intervention is likely to appear to be a political attack. And because attacks precipitate retribution, personal intervention unsupported by formal authority is rare.

Option (b), doing nothing "for now," is likely the most commonly chosen option in BL cultures, because it seems so safe. The only serious risk arises from a charge of negligence. The basis for such a charge emerges when the observer of the noncompliance is found to have known about the issue and then to have chosen to do nothing. Some observers can manage that risk by carefully avoiding situations in which they can observe incidents or patterns of noncompliance. For some, though, avoidance of all incidents isn't possible.

Option (c), passing the information to a process monitor, is an attractive option for those who cannot avoid (or who couldn't avoid) witnessing incidents of noncompliance. Having reported the incident, the observer is protected from charges of negligence. But in BL cultures the person who receives the report is now in a difficult position, having been converted into a witness by receiving the information from the observer. So let's examine that process monitor's position more closely.

Options for process monitors

For process monitors, option (b), doing nothing for now, is rarely selected, because they have a duty to act. In some cases, the process monitor can intervene directly, investigating and taking corrective action. In other cases, the process monitor can only pass along a report to someone with a greater span of control. But in either case, the process monitor might be required to identify the source of the information.

In BL cultures, identifying the source of the information could subject that source to retribution. And such retribution can jeopardize the future flow of information to the process monitor from that source or any other sources similarly situated.

How to protect the identities of those who report noncompliance

To preserve access to information from process participants, process monitors can take four steps that people in BL cultures understand well.

  1. Forge an agreement between the process monitoring function and senior management that acknowledges the importance of protecting the identities of observers or process participants who report process noncompliance.
  2. Establish a procedure for reporting process violations that enables the process monitor to receive reports confidentially.
  3. Establish a procedure for investigating as a performance issue the unauthorized disclosure of the identity of any observer or process participant reporting process noncompliance.
  4. Conduct irregularly scheduled process audits.

The last item above requires some expansion. Audits are helpful for uncovering noncompliance, but in BL cultures irregularly scheduled audits help to protect the identities of those who provide information about noncompliance. They do so because they can serve as cover for investigations of situations that have been topics of confidential reports of noncompliance. When a process monitor receives a confidential report of noncompliance, the process monitor can conduct an investigation without arousing concern that someone might have reported noncompliance.

Last words

I've suggested above a framework for process monitors in blame-oriented cultures. They can use that framework to help them determine the degree of compliance with standards. It's helpful because it alleviates to some degree the symptoms of the problem. Those symptoms relate to constriction of the flow of information from process participants or observers to process monitors due to fear of retribution.

But that framework doesn't address the root causes of the symptoms. The root causes lie in the culture and its orientation around blaming people for its failures. Converting a blame-oriented culture to an accountability-oriented culture is another task — a task outside the scope of the process monitor role. Go to top Top  Next issue: Mental Accounting and Technical Debt  Next Issue

52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!

Footnotes

[Brenner 2005]
Richard Brenner. "Is It Blame or Is It Accountability?," Point Lookout blog, December 21, 2005. Available here. Back

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenZLkFdSHmlHvCaSsuner@ChacbnsTPttsdDaRAswloCanyon.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 Devious Political Tactics:

The Roman ColosseumDevious Political Tactics: Divide and Conquer, Part I
While most leaders try to achieve organizational unity, some do use divisive tactics to maintain control, or to elevate performance by fostering competition. Understanding the risks of these tactics can motivate you to find another way.
Allied leaders at the Yalta Conference in February, 1945Devious Political Tactics: More from the Field Manual
Careful observation of workplace politics reveals an assortment of devious tactics that the ruthless use to gain advantage. Here are some of their techniques, with suggestions for effective responses.
Police line tapeCounterproductive Knowledge Work Behavior
With the emergence of knowledge-oriented workplaces, counterproductive work behavior is taking on new forms that are rare or inherently impossible in workplaces where knowledge plays a less central role. Here are some examples.
A leopard stalking its preyHow to Hijack Meetings
Recognizing the tactics meeting hijackers use is the first step to reducing the incidence of this abuse. Here are some of those tactics.
A hot dog with mustard on a bunCounterproductive Knowledge Workplace Behavior: II
In knowledge-oriented workplaces, counterproductive work behavior takes on forms that can be rare or unseen in other workplaces. Here's Part II of a growing catalog.

See also Devious Political Tactics and Problem Solving and Creativity for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Tuckman's stages of group developmentComing December 7: Reaching Agreements in Technological Contexts
Reaching consensus in technological contexts presents special challenges. Problems can arise from interactions between the technological elements of the issue at hand, and the social dynamics of the group addressing that issue. Here are three examples. Available here and by RSS on December 7.
An actual straw manAnd on December 14: Straw Man Variants
The straw man fallacy is a famous rhetorical fallacy. Using it distorts debate and can lead groups to reach faulty conclusions. It's ad readily recognized, but it has some variants that are more difficult to spot. When unnoticed, trouble looms. Available here and by RSS on December 14.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenZLkFdSHmlHvCaSsuner@ChacbnsTPttsdDaRAswloCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, 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 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
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.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.