‘People’s Companies’ would make a moral difference
Challenge: People Skills or People Management Skills

Emissions, Ethics and HR

As the world gets to grips with the fallout from “Dieselgate” I was amazed to learn that 74% of respondents to a CIPD poll agreed that, “HR should play an active role in building an ethical culture.” Even making allowances for an almost exclusive survey population of HR professionals this seems surprising. One can only assume that they failed to recognise the corollary which is, that in the event of a major ethical failure such as the one that has come to light at Volkswagen, HR would have to be held accountable.  I am sure they wouldn’t like that!

Despite the scale of the consequences of the Volkswagen debacle, the blame could, theoretically, lie with a very small group of individuals, possibly not more than a handful. After all, at the core was a software issue. This could mean that the code was written by a small team, or even a single individual. It is also possible (albeit unlikely) that those responsible for testing the software might have been unaware of the ‘ancillary’ steps or the intention to manipulate outcomes. Then, once cleared, the program would simply have become operational, meaning the software would have become standard and an integral component of the engine, built into every single car using that engine, regardless of the marque (brand) of car. After all that is the whole ‘economies of scale’ thinking behind cars having a ‘common platform’.

As a result you now have more than 11 million deliberately fraudulent transactions.  Even though that was never the initial intention.

Now I am not saying that was the case: simply suggesting that is how it could have happened.  However it came about, it is a classic illustration of how a bad apple can affect the entire crop. Here you see how the actions of a handful of people affect the life of the lives of hundreds of thousands of others. That is why it is important to understand that every individual matters.

VWThe Volkswagen Group is said to have 592,586 employees. For the large majority of them this whole business is just as shocking, unfathomable and unforgivable as it is for the rest of us. Many of them would have been proud to work for the company and they will not only be embarrassed but disappointed, disillusioned and disturbed, particularly as their livelihoods may now be at risk! And that ignores the wider population who may be affected indirectly.  

“Dieselgate” is a wonderful example of the “law of unintended consequences” in operation, but it also highlights the high risks of unethical behaviour. The question is, could HR have prevented it? If so, how? Answers on a postcard please. Otherwise you have to suspect that those who think HR has a role to play have inhaled too many diesel fumes that have perhaps distorted their thinking.  

Bay Jordan

Bay is the founder and director of Zealise, and the creator of the ‘Every Individual Matters’ organisational culture model that helps transform organisational performance and bottom-line results. Bay is also the author of several books, including “Lean Organisations Need FAT People” and “The 7 Deadly Toxins of Employee Engagement.”

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