“Do no harm?”-The Imperfect Org

When was the last time you were given a set of instructions or protocol from an authority figure inside the workplace only to find yourself thinking, “Wait, that doesn’t seem fair to our customers!”
When you had this illuminating thought, what did you do about it? Did it scar your conscience? Did you question your manager or simply go with it, because hey, you were obeying orders right?
“Stanley Milgram…conducted an experiment focusing on the conflict between obedience to authority and personal conscience.  He examined justifications for acts of genocide offered by those accused at the World War II, Nuremberg War Criminal trials. Their defense often was based on “obedience” – that they were just following orders from their superiors (McLeod, 2007, para. 2-3).
Miligram, tested his obedience theories by having one participant (the teacher) administer shocks to the other participant (the student) anytime the student could not recall words from a list they were asked to remember. Unbeknownst to the teacher, the student (who was in on the trial), was not receiving shocks.
The teacher was encouraged to continue increasing the voltage in order to shock the student with each word the student could not recall. Despite the teacher feeling this was morally wrong, and despite the fact they were harming an individual (so they thought), they continued to shock the student, simply because they were encouraged to do so by the authority figure (the man in the white coat-the experimenter) who was supposedly recording the results.
(McLeod, 2007).
Results rendered
  • 65% (two-thirds) of participants (i.e. teachers) continued to the highest level of 450 volts. All the participants continued to 300 volts (McLeod, 2007, para. 16).
Why did the teacher, who visibly displayed discomfort with each shock given, and the student, (who cried out in agony, although he was not really being shocked) continue with the experiment?
 “People tend to obey orders from other people if they recognize their authority as morally right and/or legally based. This response to legitimate authority is learned in a variety of situations, for example in the family, school and workplace” (McLeod, 2007, para. 18).
Should organizations take an oath?
“Psychologists take reasonable steps to avoid harming their clients/patients…with whom they work, and to minimize harm where it is foreseeable and unavoidable” (APA, 2010, 3.04).
Should organizations take this oath?  To blindly follow a leader to the detriment of a customer is “doing harm”.  It is the perfect recipe for failure as customers slowly learn and pass the word about the company’s quality of service.
Does it matter the sort of organization you are employed with? My answer, is no.
My advice? Rally around your manager or team members to create the sort of organization you can believe in.
The next time you are tempted to follow company policy when you know, it’s ethically or morally wrong, think again. You will have a job one more day, but you have to wonder; “Should my organization take an oath”?
APA. (2010, June 1). Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/ethics/code/index.aspx
McLeod, S. (2007). The Milgram Experiment. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/milgram.html

Author: theimperfectorg

“Joi Su”, has been diligently working to help bridge the gap between what people expect in any organization and what they receive. Joi Su has earned a Master’s degree in Organization Development and a Bachelors in Psychology with an emphasis on Applied Behavioral Analysis.

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