This weekend I watched a film. A film that got at me. You know the type – when you can’t stop thinking about it afterwards.
I don’t watch a lot of films, so I know I am behind the times, but it was called Dark Waters and was based on a true story about a company called Du Pont and a chemical called PFOA. You may know if this as the Teflon case.
It made me feel so incredibly sad and full of despair at us humans. Ethics never seems to be as important as financials. Corruption is a constant battle. I know that Hollywood does not always portray a fully accurate picture of what really happened and there will be bits that have been added for dramatic effect, but having spent some time on google, there are huge parts of it which are true. The result of a $671million settlement on behalf of more than 3.5k people tells you how bad this case was.
HOW DO WE STOP THIS?
I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I do know having good corporate governance in place is important.
Create a culture where speaking up is encouraged and people are not retaliated against. It makes sense that you would want to know, sooner rather than later, that you are being de-frauded / involved in illegal activity or involved in a situation which has resulted in people getting terminal illnesses. The earlier you know, the sooner you can act. You can limit the damage and find ways to move forward in a more responsible manner. Transparency is key.
Build a leadership team who support doing the right thing over short term profits. Part of the issue is quite often, people of all levels, care a lot about their own self-interest. If they can see the boost in sales/profits, they get remunerated for it. Spending money now for future growth is not something any one is judged against or rewarded for – especially in today’s world where people move on frequently, they don’t think about 10 years down the line because the most likely won’t be around to see the reward of their hard work, so finding a way to foster this is hard to do.
When something requires investigation, ensure it is full and fair. You may uncover a can of worms, but better you know about it, than it festering. Ensure people are treated well during the process and that they aren’t ostracised for their involvement. This is particularly relevant during whistleblowing cases. Make sure you are using those who are effectively trained to conduct these investigations.
Make sure the right people are getting to hear about the risks your company is facing – if investigations are highlighting issues then those issues must be addressed, rather than solely sitting with HR from a disciplinary point of view. If there is a gap in process, who can fix that? If there is an education piece, who senior is reinforcing the message?
Accept you won’t always get it right. As a person and as a company. Mistakes will get made but having self-evaluations to identify them and then taking the time to effectively mitigate means you learn from them instead of allowing them turn into bigger problems. Your response is in a lot of ways, more important than the mistake itself.
WHAT DIFFERENCE WOULD THIS HAVE MADE IN THE TEFLON CASE?
Maybe owning the mistakes earlier would have meant people would have got the medical help they needed earlier and survived.
Processes put in place for chemicals of concern could have meant less people being exposed and a way of disposing of them safely figured out.
Red flags raised about the self-regulating not working so other methods could be put in place.
Who knows? But maybe it just wouldn't have felt so hopeless.
Have you watched the film? Do you know about the case? I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.
WANT TO PUT PLANS IN PLACE FOR YOUR ORGANISATION?
If any of this concerns you, and you want to start putting measure in place to ensure your organisation is prepared for the unexpected, as always please contact me.