[photopress:silencesm.jpg,full,alignright]In reading Influencer: The Power to Change Anything, authored by multiple authors (more detailed comments from the book coming soon – definitely a good and recommended read), I came across this interesting set of studies that look at the impact of the “conspiracy of silence” that reigns in many organizations.
One study focused on hospitals, and looked at how the conspiracy of silence held in place powerful norms that kept people from speaking up when colleagues violated hygiene, safety or any other protocol – leading to unnecessary deaths. Take those numbers – 84% of doctors have seen co-workers taking shortcuts that could be dangerous to patients, yet fewer than 10% of physicians, nurses and other clinical staff directly confront their colleagues about their concerns. The main drivers leading to this type of culture in hospitals are the risks of lawsuit and infamy. You can find more on that study at www.silencekills.com.
Another study looked at other industries and found that the same code of silence sustains unhealthy behavior across the board. The vast majority of product launches, reorganizations, mergers and improvement initiatives fail or dissapoint because of it. In fact, the researchers found that 91% of all large scale corporate projects collapse because people fail to speak up and be heard. They argue that a deadly form of corporate silence lies at the root of all failed projects. Project problems are in fact people problems. For more information about that project and to download the findings of the study, go to www.silencefails.com.
Most of us have been in organizations where it is politically unacceptable to speak openly about what is going wrong – only to see projects fail because of weak sponsorship, unreasonable constraints, unmotivated team members, or plain old politics. It is sort of ironic that while not speaking up will eventually kill the organization in which you work and thus your current job prospect – it is job preservation that drives this behavior.
What most organizations do not realize is that this is not based on individual behavior, but rather on social behavior. Fixing this problem will not happen by focusing on changing individual behavior first, but instead by changing the social norms that drive the social behavior – and that is not a trivial task.