“Favoritism is always unacceptable wherever the legitimate interest of others who depend on the success of the firm is involved.” With these words my colleague Howard Whitton comments on my post, How to Win the Fight Against Nepotism. In his comment, Howard admonishes us all to stick to our ethical standards. Howard, is right, of course. Howard also presents us with the advice of Mr. Soichiro Honda, former head of Honda Motors – “When you are recruiting someone to the firm, always choose someone who is different from you – even someone you may dislike a little: otherwise, how will Honda Motor ever get anyone who is better than you?”
With advice so reasonable, why is it so hard to implement?
I offer here that the challenge presented by this advice is found in the natural limitations of people to, first, understand, and second, accept their responsibility for larger groups of people. I also offer that these limitations reveal the solution to controlling nepotism.
In Southern Sudan, there is a large group of people in the Dinka Tribe. They have survived 75 years of suppression by working together and supporting each other. In 2005, Southern Sudan became a semi-autonomous region within Sudan. The Dinkas were predominantly, but not solely, responsible for this occurrence. Now the tribe holds many of the top government posts and some ministries are widely perceived to be staffed almost exclusively with Dinka.
Other tribes have periodically cried “foul” and accused the Dinka executives within these ministries of nepotism. From the point of view of the tribe, “nepotism” was key to their survival over 75 years of suppression.
Now, the same pro-survival behavior is seen as corruption. Of course, it is corruption FROM THE VIEWPOINT OF THE NEW, LARGER GROUP.
Naturally, not all Dinka are capable of assuming the larger viewpoint of survival for ALL the people and tribes in the country. Indeed, a rare few are openly dismissive of the right of other groups to claim positions in society.
I share this story about the Dinka because it shows that behavior which supports the survival and, here, liberation of a group can be seen as corruption from a different point of view. Indeed, the nepotism behavior of the Dinka is similar to the behavior of other tribes that have “pieces” of the new government. If one draws the analogy of a political party and a tribe, it is immediately apparent that there is a great deal of nepotism in other societies – including the U.S. (See Interview with Brian Pinkowski in the Cherry Creek News.) But, I will save the discussion of political parties and nepotism for another day.
I believe that what is happening in most situations is that people have not yet expanded their sense of responsibility to match the new zone in which they are operating. In the case of the Dinka, they have had to make a shift from operating as a predominant tribe within a revolutionary group, to being citizens and leaders responsible for the many tribes and peoples in their geographic area. This is not a shift that happens quickly. Experience suggests that some may not make the shift during this lifetime.
The same condition occurs in western countries and even in organizations that are charged with teaching “Best Practices.”
For example, one organization working in the Middle East is staffed full of experienced democracy and governance professionals and former government executives from all over the world. The leaders of this organization are aware that nepotism is a violation of policy. However, like many organizations, they have difficulty implementing the policy and, with an extensive list of justifications, will often hire on the basis of favoritism. (See GTD White Paper – Effective Policy in the Fight Against Corruption).
In addition to the warning provided by Mr. Honda, when hiring is done on the basis of favoritism (nepotism), it weakens the overall organization because it tells the employees that the integrity of leadership cannot be trusted.
In any organization, in any country, word spreads quickly among the employees and into the surrounding community despite management efforts to keep such practices hidden. If the integrity of an organization comes into question, it quickly invites other forms of unethical behavior from employees. Because nepotism often seems harmless to managers, it can be viewed as a “gateway” form of corruption that opens the way for other forms, such as embezzlement.
Most people, including managers, are basically good and trustworthy people. They know of these possible outcomes. Thus, the puzzle is: Why do they do break with their own policy?
I suggest that they do this because they have not accepted responsibility for the impact of their actions on others. I believe that my friend Mr. Whitton is calling for an expansion in the responsibility level of leaders, and he is right to do so.
How do you teach someone to increase their responsibility level?
Some can accept responsibility for themselves and their families. Some can accept responsibility that encompasses entire nations. But these individuals are few. Far fewer than the number of people that seek such positions.
It would be convenient if people accepted responsibility in an orderly sequence of expanding zones of influence. Of course, they do not. Some are capable of accepting responsibility for large groups, but are unable to look after themselves and their families.
We often try to approach this problem through a “negative consequences” approach to education. Of course, we are primarily educating about punishment. “If you do this you will go to jail.” Or “If you do this, bad things will happen . . .” I contend that part of the push for “transparency and accountability” in many matters is to make it easier to “catch” people doing wrong and punish them. There is a place for this, certainly. But punishment does not develop wisdom and it does not increase the responsibility level of leaders.
Education is undeniably the key, but not a solution on its own. For example, we have been “teaching” the perils of drugs and alcohol for decades and some/many people are unable to accept responsibility for their own body. Can we expect them to exercise responsibility much beyond this small sphere of influence?
Teaching responsibility seems to be a challenge that is beyond the ordinary tools of public policy makers. But we do have a logical approach to our policies that can help improve policy implementation.
How to Implement A Policy
First, we have to have the right policy approach. As Mr. Whitton has pointed out, we have the right approach. Just say “no.”
Second, people need to know that this is the policy. In all of the examples above, the individuals knew the policy.
Third, people must know it is the correct policy. Here we run into difficulty. In many cases there is not sufficient training that helps convince managers and others that No Nepotism is the correct policy.
Fourth, the correct policy must be taught. This is an ongoing challenge for organizations in making sure all of their critical policy is taught consistently enough that its managers know, understand, and believe they are implementing policy that is important to the survival of the organization.
Fifth, the policies must be applied. In the GTD White Paper – Effective Policy in the Fight Against Corruption I discuss the need for policy audits. Typically, an organization will view an audit as solely a financial matter. This overlooks the important fact that trouble with finances occurs AFTER policy implementation begins to fail in other arenas. A policy audit is not the realm of an Accountant.
On-going policy training and on-going policy audits will significantly help align institutional practice with institutional ideals. This is key to assuring that policies are known, understood and followed. A policy audit will reveal the various policies that are not being implemented or are implemented incorrectly and help strengthen morale and organizational purpose.
Hiring and Nepotism related policies are important entries for corruption of an organization. Following this approach places importance on institutional integrity, and the implementation of its policies will create trust among its employees, and the sense of security that comes with knowing there is justice. Very few things can create employee loyalty comparable to simple justice and fair dealing.