“I don’t ask questions. I simply comply with theinstructions given to me.” So said Malusi Gigaba,South Africa’s new finance minister, after JacobZuma, the country’s president, appointed him to thejob last month after firing Pravin Gordhan.
“我不会问问题。我只服从命令，”南非新任财政部长马卢西?吉加巴(Malusi Gigaba)是这么说的。前一阵子，南非总统雅各布?祖马(Jacob Zuma)在炒掉普拉温?戈登(PravinGordhan)后，任命他接任财长。
Far from obeying Mr Zuma’s instructions, MrGordhan had asked questions, persistently, aboutcorruption and what he saw as inappropriate government spending. Rating agencies greetedthe dismissal of Mr Gordhan and the appointment of Mr Gigaba by cutting South Africa’s creditrating to junk. Tens of thousands of South Africans took to the streets in protest at Mr Zuma.
The protesters, and the rating agencies, understood that a country whose senior officials askno questions when confronted with dubious behaviour is heading for ruin. The same is trueof companies. Arthur Andersen, Enron and Lehman Brothers all crashed because people insidethem, seeing their organisations taking wrong turns, did not ask their superiors: “Why are wedoing this?”
抗议者和评级机构都明白，如果一个国家的高官们在面对可疑行为时不闻不问，这个国家注定要毁灭。公司也是如此。安达信(Arthur Andersen)、安然(Enron)和雷曼兄弟(Lehman Brothers)破产的原因，都是内部人士看到公司做出错误之举后没有询问他们的上级：“我们为什么要这么做?”
By contrast, when Jes Staley, Barclays’ chief executive, ordered staff to find out who had senttwo uncomplimentary letters about a newly hired employee, they did not run off to do hisbidding. They pushed back. Barclays’ compliance department had classified the letters aswhistleblowing and told Mr Staley that any attempt to track down the writer was not allowed.
When Mr Staley tried a second time to find the letter writer, enlisting a US law enforcementagency, someone inside the company reported him to the board. Mr Staley is now underinvestigation by regulators in the UK and US. Barclays’ board has formally reprimanded him andplans a substantial cut to his bonus.
Whatever the outcome of this murky saga — it is not yet clear whether this was a true case ofwhistleblowing or anonymous malice — the Barclays system seems to have worked. Anattempt by the boss to brush aside the rules failed.
After a series of scandals, most damagingly over Libor manipulation, there are Barclays staffprepared to say: “However senior you are, what you are asking me to do is wrong and I amnot going to do it.” Righteous disobedience of this sort is seldom career-enhancing, but it canhelp ensure the company’s health and even survival.
Most employees seldom confront such stark “really, must I?” orders from their bosses. Butmany face everyday managerial boneheadedness — instructions that, in their needless rigidity,damage the company, its customers and its reputation.
Last week’s order to United Continental cabin crew to remove four passengers from anaircraft about to take off from Chicago was an excellent example. Having failed to findvolunteers to leave the plane to make way for United employees travelling to take charge ofanother flight, the airline nominated four passengers to leave and, in videos seen around theworld, called in airport security staff who dragged out and injured the most recalcitrant, aVietnamese-American doctor.
It is harder to persuade passengers off a flight after they have boarded it than when theycheck in, or at the gate. But airlines have more at their disposal than the $800 United wasoffering passengers to leave the plane. They could have told passengers their next flightwould be business class, or that they could have a free flight in addition to the next day’sone. If there were still no takers, they could have offered free return flights to Paris or Bangkok(safe in the knowledge that the volunteers would be able to take advantage of the offer only inoff-peak travel periods when there were empty seats anyway).
There are enough passengers, even those already on the plane — or “boarded and luggagedand situated”, as Oscar Munoz, United’s chief executive, put it — who are ready give up theirseats if the price is right.
Mr Munoz, who issued a series of badly received statements, now says he understands that hisflight attendants need more freedom to act sensibly. “We do empower our frontline folks to adegree, but we need to expand and adjust those policies to allow a little bit more commonsense,” he said.
It will take a determined effort, and a long time, to implant that culture in the company.Employees need more than empowerment. They need to feel they have the right to say no, asMr Gordhan and some at Barclays did. Blind obedience may please the boss. But those whodemand it do not deserve to be in charge.