Punishment, Whistle Blowers and Anti-Corruption

Preventing Organizational Corruption
Preventing Organizational Corruption

Punishment as a Behavior Modifier

If you read this blog, you know that I focus heavily on prevention of corruption and decay of organizations over investigation and prosecution. I believe that investigation and prosecution are critically important, but are fundamentally incomplete as anti-corruption tools.

We understand this from our everyday experience. Let’s take the traffic cop. Every day he hands out tickets for driving violations. Day after day. More tickets and more violations.Cover-NewToolsforFightingCorruptioninOrganizations

He knows his presence frightens some people into proper behavior. But mostly it does not. The traffic policeman, from his point of view, comes to believe that nothing can be done about traffic violations. By and large, we share his view.

As children, some of us may have been caught by our parents for some misdeed. Many of us were punished and our parents hoped that the beatings would encourage us to proper behavior.

But when I survey people about their experience as children I find that it did not make them better behaved. It simply made them cleverer at avoiding detection.

Indeed, when I working alongside law enforcement in the U.S., I often heard them say that they weren’t ready to arrest someone because it would merely provide training about how to do it “smarter” next time.

Punishment doesn’t even work on animals. If you’ve had a dog, you know that punishment creates sneaky thinking and distrust. If it doesn’t’ work on animals, why in the world would we think it would work on human beings?

Punishment and fear of getting caught creates some results, but not long term change in people.

We see the same phenomenon with anti-corruption that we see with the traffic cop. We detect, investigate and prosecutor more people, including very high-level people, every year. The list of “heads” taken by anti-corruption investigations rolls out daily from Transparency International. But it’s not really focused on correcting behavior BEFORE things go wrong.

Transparency and accountability is helpful. But lets not kid ourselves. It really means “make it easier to see you, catch you and punish you.” Thus, as an anti-corruption tool, transparency and accountability is fundamentally a punishment based approach to changing behavior, and is fundamentally inadequate without considerably more attention on motivating different behavior BEFORE crimes take place.

Other Pressures Fighting the Improvement of Organizations

Unfortunately, while we are focused on punishment as a means to obtain correct behavior, we typically overlook the pressures inside most organizations that make it very, very difficult to correct misbehavior prior to things going wrong.

These pressure opposing anti-corruption are, ironically, the same pressures that must be in place to build strong organizations.

There are the essential characteristics of groups. I discuss these important characteristics of organizations in a two-minute video What is Anti-Corruption? They are:

  • Group Identity
  • Group Purpose
  • Intention to Extend into the Future
  • Ability to Defend Itself From Internal and External Attacks.

Ironically, these same characteristics of a group that are vitally necessary for its survival also create an enormous blind spot and obstacle to self correction.  In fact, the more serious the issues are that require correction, the more challenging the reaction against all efforts to change the organization.

I am still identifying the gradient steps of organizational reactions to demands to change and resistance to change.  However, the gradient appears to follow the path I’ve laid out below, and includes the general organizational reactions I note here.

Gradients of Self Correction – by Groups. (Including Groups within Groups)

From lowest to highest.

1. Mentoring and guidance.       Result: Peer pressure promotes behavior compliance.

2. Observation by Supervisor.    Result: Peer pressure and immediate supervision promotes compliance.

3.  Misbehavior reported to Supervisor.     Result: Supervisory correction. Possibly discipline.

4.  Internal Report above Supervisor.     Result: Correction/Discipline.

5.  Comments from sources external to the organization.     Result: Self-protection of organization – correction/Discipline/Public Relations.

6.  External investigation due to reported violation of law/policy.     Result: Self Protection of organization and Executives/Public Relations/Denial/Discipline.

7.  External Prosecution.     Result: Self Protection of org/ protection of execs/PR/ Discipline and change of identity.

I encourage you to consider organizations, departments within larger organizations, and nations and test our your observations against this gradient scale.

Let me know how this matches up to your experience and observation.

Brian Pinkowski

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Cover-NewToolsforFightingCorruptioninOrganizationsCheck out my new iBook on Fighting Corruption in Organizations:



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