12 July 2011

Standards in any organisation are shaped extensively by the behaviour of senior managers; tone at the top is trite but true. The good intentions of junior staff will make little headway if there is indifference or hypocrisy among the executive team. Practices at News of the World, condoned by management, became the paper’s norm.   The irony is a reported strike back by staff in the last edition. Despite the editor having a careful review to avoid any criticism of her by journalists, clues of disaffection were incorporated in the crossword.

Staff readily identify where  their leaders fail to meet the expectations set for their subordinates.  It can be compounded when there are explicitly different standards.  A contemporary example is the code of conduct for employees at the IMF.  The Managing Director and his directors were exempt.

The requirement for managers to model ethical behaviour is one of the “6 trust elements” underpinning  integrity in the State Services. Workers inevitably replicate the way their superiors behave. Leaders who walk the talk will find their behaviour is copied.  And where only lip service is given to standards, misconduct will be commonplace.  Staff take pride in leaders who exemplify high ethical conduct, but they quickly recognise where this does not happen.  In the 2010 State Services Integrity Survey, employees’ responces were that senior staff were held to lower standards than those required of others.  This poor perception of senior staff was one of the few deteriorating aspects  compared with the previous survey in 2007.

Yesterday the State Services Commissioner republished his guidance to chief executives about their declaration and disclosure of expenses, gifts and hospitality for the first half of 2011. This is a reminder of the requirement to lead by example.  All agencies should have internal processes for such declarations by all staff.  Ensuring that chief executives very publicly disclose all apparent benefits received from sources apart from their employer, means State servants everywhere know what is expected and have no reason for not similarly disclosing any benefits which could be perceived as a potential conflict.

Where that does not happen, the 6 trust elements expect decisive action to be taken.

The inquiry into allegations of bullying at the Department of Building and Housing may well reflect the State Services Commissioner giving effect to this “decisive action” element. In the last week, several instances have been reported of decisive action in overseas jurisdictions.  China’s Minister of Railways has now been stood down following the investigation into his corrupt handling of Shanghai high speed railway finances.  Croatia’s most senior military officer has been arrested on corruption charges.