What makes this particular case so interesting is that literally all the people I got to know in George’s company were astounded that the company got in so much trouble. That people died. Even those who worked in the affected divisions seemed genuinely shocked and embarrassed that they or those they knew did not come forward.
Even after publishing and circulating the company’s plea agreement the employee reaction was, “Okay, that’s the government story. What’s the real story?” In other words, “This can’t be true . . . not where I work.”
One of the most insidious circumstances is that bystanders are willfully blind to what’s going on, generally believing that in their own words, “It can’t happen here,” even if it’s going on in the next cubical.
One supervisor’s comments stood out in my mind from the many transcripts I reviewed.
She said, “We were so with the program that we failed to anticipate that something could go wrong.” “When there were problems we marketed anyway and repaired on the fly.” “Those who did ask tough questions or make waves wound up in company political hell.”
Today, this company is thriving, saving lives, developing medical products that help provide better medical outcomes. They are still in the Fortune category and like so many healthcare related companies have survived a variety of civil litigations. They remain occasional clients, mostly related to monitoring the visibility of civil cases.
The case lasted six years and because this was a truly good company. The pain and shame they so rightfully suffered revealed some extremely powerful truths, especially about leadership. I came to call these lessons, “The Ethical Expectations of Leadership.”
They are based on the notion that the leadership of every organization must implicitly and explicitly recognize the ethical expectations of its leaders by everyone else inside and outside the organization. If you seriously examine the expectations of employees, stakeholders, customers, regulators and others connected to an organization who want leaders to act ethically, this list or something very close will emerge.