Who Listens?


Does your organization have a listening capability?

Years ago I heard the story of a young psychologist asking the skilled old-timer: "Sir, how do you manage to listen to everyone’s problems and not get affected by it?"

"Easy", the old man replied: " Who listens?"

Yesterday I was sitting in a coffee shop reading the morning newspaper when an article caught my eye. This article:"Denials fly in PPS row with former director" alludes that the Professional Provident Society had brushed off claims that it sought to gag its former financial director from discusiing financial irregulariries that arose when it changed its technology systems.

http://www.businessday.co.za/articles/topstories.aspx?ID=BD4A489586

Apparently the storm arose after financial director Callie Masson resigned after seven years service with the company over "irregularities" he said he found as a result of the implementation of the new system.

Now I don’t know the company, but what really got my attention in this article was that the previous financial director suggested that a forensic audit be conducted as the "irregularities" amounted to some R25 million rand. This was rejected by the Board and in fact the matter was called a "data error provision".

Interesting the terminologies used by professionals and management teams around the world.Could you imagine going to your specialist physician and he gives an"unqualified opinion" about your state of health?

But what irked me is when I read another article in the same newspaper "Alleged malpractice at Avis may total 3 million euro".In this article it states that Avis had commissioned independent experts to conduct a full investigation into the alleged malpractice. In the case of the South African example it is stated that the matter is a "non-issue".

It may be a non-issue to management, but what message is being sent to stakeholders in this instance?

Seemingly there are many South African companies that do not understand fully how to manage and mitigate reputation risk. Allegations do not have to be true to be damaging for instance. In my case, it caught my eye even though I have had no dealings with the organization.

Why would a forensic audit be ignored? If an organization has nothing to hide it should open itself to public scrutiny. It is in the interest of transparency and disclosure standards. This article did not exactly engender my faith in the situation.

In fact if I was the Crisis Manager-on- Call to this organization, I would suggest that they need to prepare themselves for scrutiny. And, not just scrutiny of the issue, but scrutiny of all business practices.Scrutinyt not just by investigative journalists but also by the regulators.

When Nike first erred with their underaged child labour practices, they went about to set the matter straight. Even though it took them years they now invite members of the media to investigate their supply chain up-stream and down-stream, so that any member of the media can visibly see the standards that they now employ in working with suppliers.

So, now where does this leave the ex F.D? I wonder, but there are lessons for organizations in this issue. As an employee what mechanisms are there in place for me to communicate about concerns, hazards, and other working practices? What about my suggestions? Will you listen to me, or must I become a whistle-blower?

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