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America’s Torture Crisis & Similar Problems in the Workplace

America’s Torture Crisis & Similar Problems in the Workplace

by January 20, 2015

The recently released U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report revealing the CIA’s treatment of prisoners suspected of being terrorists settles the issue of whether America had a systematic program of torture. As stated in the Foreword of the document, “CIA personnel, aided by two outside contractors, decided to initiate a program of indefinite secret detention and the use of brutal interrogation techniques in violation of U.S. law, treaty obligations, and our values.”

America had a systematic program of torture.

In the current climate of peak adversarial politics, this certainly presents a sticky situation for key officials of the G. W. Bush Administration that have acknowledged using torture as well as the Obama Administration that has failed to prosecute them. The United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment requires that those who are involved in the commission of or contributed to acts of torture must be prosecuted by their home country or extradited to a country that will prosecute them. The 1949 Geneva Convention requires similar actions. American is a signatory to both and required by international law to abide by them.

Those who seem vulnerable to prosecution claim the techniques used were “harsh interrogation” not real torture. This distinction conveniently overlooks the fact that America has previously prosecuted as torture many of the techniques that were perpetrated on detainees. U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Dianne Feinstein unequivocally disputes the claim that the so-called “harsh interrogation” techniques were not torture. “It is my personal conclusion that, under any common meaning of the term, CIA detainees were tortured.”

Plus, torture is not always physical in nature. The feature film “Closet Land” staring Madeleine Stowe and her tormentor actor Alan Rickman contains no physical violence but represented certain elements of psychological torture so well that many NGOs chose to use the film to train their expat personnel.

America as the moral leader of the free world questioned

What a stark contrast America’s use of torture presents to the popular image of America as the moral leader of the free world and a shining beacon welcoming all who seek freedom. It certainly leaves room for the world’s population to register doubt on the idea of America as the moral leader of the free world.

A report authored by U.S. Senator Lindsay Graham when he was a colonel in the Air Force after the 911 attack on the World Trade Center in New York City picks up this issue. “The manner in which the United States treats detainees reflects the values of the nation.” The report continues, “Rather than constrain the defense of the nation, compliance with these legal norms shows America’s true mettle and the strength of its convictions. Torture and barbarity must be rejected even in the face of great adversity.”

Not only is the American brand now severely tarnished before the entire world but America has a serious crisis. The values Americans professes to hold dear seem to be in conflict with the ones high-level government officials employed behind the scenes.

Inconsonance between public values and private functional values represents a significant problem for the business community

The inconsonance between public values and private functional values represents a significant problem for the business community as well. In many situations, the corporate values expressed on company websites and posted in offices throughout an enterprise do not accurately reflect the functional core values of the organization. Often employees are well aware of this striking contradiction and creates problems in the workplace.

Identifying the core values of an organization is important as the core values form the framework around which decisions are made and behaviors are condoned. The Business Dictionary defines core values as “a principle that guides an organization’s internal conduct as well as its relationship with the external world.” Core values are often reflected in a corporation’s mission statement or just as often promoted independently such as the now clichéd mantra our employees are our most valuable asset!

“Core values provide a moral compass for your people. They can help your people decide on the right course of action, regardless of the challenge they face,” states Stephen Lynch, author of Business Execution for RESULTS.

“According to the principle of consistency, the communication of information must be considered by the issuer in light of prior communication practices in order to avoid misleading investors,” revealed in the Financial Communications Framework and Practices published by Observatoire Communication Financière. The principle of consistency applies not only to communications in the financial community but it relates equally well in terms of business leaders communicating and adhering to core values.

Commitment to an employer’s core values is the top driver of employee engagement

Core values serve the interest of the entire organization. They are not meant to provide a listing of all acceptable behaviors or actions but are intended to provide guidance in decision-making at all corporate levels. When there are two different sets of core values being represented—one published for public consumption but a second unwritten set for day-to-day operations—the credibility and integrity of the entire organization suffers especially for those at the top who hold authority over managing such issues.

This disconnect contributes to the outrageously high rate of 70% of the workers in North America being disengaged from their jobs as reported by the Gallup Management Journal. Almost all companies say they want to improve employee engagement at their companies—as they should. A highly engaged workforce will be 50% more productive, states Beth Armknecht Miller, a leadership development advisor and author of Are You Talent Obsessed.

“A personal commitment to an employer’s core values is the top driver of employee engagement among 91 possible factors analyzed by Right Management [the talent and career management expert within Manpower] in a new global study” involving 28,000 employees, reports Helene Cavalli, a manager with Right Management.

While this is not the only factor that contributes to employee engagement, it definitely represents the most significant factor as inability to commit to conflicting sets of core values deteriorates employee’s confidence and trust in management.

When management willfully misrepresents the core values, the organization definitely has a serious problem

Employees readily experience the difference between the core values used for marketing and the functional core values employed on a daily basis in the operation of the business. When management willfully misrepresents the core values by lending lip service to the one’s meant for public consumption and behaves in accordance with a lower standard in daily operations, the organization definitely has a serious problem. Employees quickly recognize this duplicitous posture and lose trust in leadership’s ability to manage other area of the business operation.

This inconsonance may not always be willful in nature but it in any case is it still just as problematic. The published core values may represent a vision of where management would like the organization to go. But unless these aspirational values are represented as a vision and there are visible efforts to realign the functional core values that guide daily decisions and behaviors with them then their use and promotion is disingenuous.

“There is nothing wrong with aspiring to have a certain type of culture, but without acknowledging and understanding the pre-existing environment, the road to that goal will be difficult and frustrating,” states Dr. Natalie Baumgartner, founder and chief psychologist at RoundPegg, in an interview with web blogger Meghan M. Biro.

Daily business decisions are made in accordance with the functional core values

The corporate workforce operates in accordance with the functional core values. Those values that are promoted for public consumption or represent wishful thinking are inconsequential except to expose a lack of consistency when they are not in alignment with the functional core values. The bottom line is that daily business decisions are made in accordance with the functional core values. These are the values that drive the type of workplace environment employees experience on the job.

Suppose the published core values state that we value our customers! But if the functional core values indicate that we shortchange our customers whenever possible, employees easily translate that to also mean that management shortchanges the employees whenever possible. This type of disconnect fosters a non-supportive workplace environment where worker productivity is dampened by a lack of trust in management, internal conflicts, lack of communication, and a variety of similar issues that disengage and demotivate employees. The motivation of management to conceal this type of operation and the core values that drive these behaviors reveals the true character of an organizations leadership.

But the distinction between public core values and functional core values may not be that starkly obvious. Consider the issue of safety. The public core value might be safety is our number one priority! All well and good until stopping an operation for potential safety issues confronts a significant price tag as was the case with the space shuttle Challenger. Prior to the 1986 loss of the space shuttle Challenger, the public core value was reflected in the phrase “failure is not an option” coined by Mission Operations Director Eugene Kranz and popularized during the Apollo moon missions. But the behind the scenes core values experienced by contractor engineers who pushed for stopping the ill-fated Challenger launch were overruled by NASA management confronted with the price tag of nearly million dollars per day a launch delay would cost not to mention the stress it placed on an already strained launch schedule.

In situations like this relevant functional core values that are often implied, if not communicated directly, surface as raise a significant safety issue that threatens production and your job may be on the line. Risk management professionals know that this places an unreasonable level of stress on employees and often results in devastating accidents.

A supportive workplace environment produces the most productive workers

Rarely would management maintain positive functional core values and not want to reflect them accurately in the public sphere.  For instance, consider this functional core value. We respect our customers and seek relationships of mutual benefit. It is far more likely that an organization with this functional core value also sustains the functional core value we treat our employees with respect and seek relationships of mutual benefit. This forms the foundation of a supportive workplace environment and it is well understood that a supportive work environment produces the most productive workers. Clearly there is alignment between public and functional core values to which the workforce can easily commit. There is no reason that management of this organization would not want to promote these functional values in the public sphere.

The test is whether an organization operates under a set of functional core values that are in conflict with their public core values. When such a situation is allowed to perpetuate, at issue is the productivity of the operation as well as the integrity of management. Leaders who dare violate this principle do so with a cavalier disregard for their own reputations, the wellbeing of their employees, and to the detriment of corporate shareholders. Whether applicable to the global leader of free world or a small business operation, the public and private functional core values must be in alignment.

About The Author
Fred Stawitz
Fred Stawitz, a national award-winning educator and writer, is the author of the inventive new book on employee engagement Don’t Run Naked Through The Office! He has developed effective training programs for the American space shuttle program as well as Shell’s natural gas pipeline and headed up the development of online technical training for one of America’s largest pipeline companies. He has been the featured guest on several television news/talk shows including CNN Headline News – Local Edition in Southern California and a PBS local affiliate special in Pennsylvania, has chaired national HR and HSE conferences, and was quoted in a special Congressional Quarterly Report.

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