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Moral and emotional spaces within organisations

Henry J
Lewis

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

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MAKING decisions is just one way among several of initiating action in organisations. However, it is a familiar one. Actions are often preceded by group activities which the participants describe as decision-making steps.

Organisations are inherently corrupt and corruption is a crime. It involves behaviour on the part of officeholders or employees in the public and private sectors in which they improperly and unlawfully advance their private interests of any kind and/or those of others contrary to the interests of the office or position they occupy or otherwise enrich themselves and/or others, or induce others to do so, by misusing the position in which they are placed. More simply put, it comprises the misuse of entrusted power or responsibility for any private benefit of self or others.

CORRUPTION AND DECISION-MAKING

How are decisions made in Jamaican organisations, both in the public and private sector? What are the guardrails in place to ensure decisions are non-discriminatory (common); punitive, when it is not necessary (common); biased in favour of the big man; and against the likkle man (common), corrupt undertones, based on a 'fren ting' (common), and the list goes on and on.

In some organisations, critical decisions about people's future are made over a drink at a bar. I wonder what kind of results we would get if we were to map the decision-making patterns and practices at Petrojam? This might be an exercise the new energy minister might want to engage in. Let's take, for example, the decision to pay out $13 million to the former human resource manager at Petrojam, which has caused an uproar in the county over the last few weeks. These are some of the questions I would want to ask:

• Who are the chief decision-makers?

• What were the processes involved in making the decision?

• What were the gaps between a suggestion and the final decision?

• How did the decision-makers ensure that they did not fall prey to the following biases:

i. Confirmation bias – overweighting evidence that confirms their hypothesis

ii. Champion bias – overweighting proposals from leaders

iii. Status quo bias – preference for allowing things are they are

iv. Unaligned incentives – incentives to adopt a view favourable for individual, but at the expense of the overall interest of the company

v. Emotional attachments – attachments to people or business segment resulting in misaligned interests (ding, ding)

vi. Sunflower bias – tendency to align with the view of a leader (typically in strong hierarchies)

vii. Excessive optimism – over-optimism about the outcome of planned action (like no one will ever hear of the amount paid out become of the non-disclosures agreement)

MORAL AND EMOTIONAL SPACES

The organisation, as a phenomenon, describes a particular type of social order — one that can characterise the functioning of any social grouping, long-term or short-term, with accomplishing collective aims and purposes. All organisations, therefore, are broken down in terms of who gives orders and who takes orders – these are moral categories, these moral and emotional spaces imply that there is always institutional and structural biases, but it is stratified.

In this system of stratification, people in different locations assume moral orders when they operate an organisation. Within the organisation, there are places in which certain emotions are allowed and certain moral discourses attached to those emotions are allowed, and this happens within a system of stratification in which this emotional moral space creates more or less problems for other individuals and ultimately the system as a whole.

Let's look at the case of the former Petrojam human resources manager again. This was no ordinary woman; she was connected to an emotional identity group inside and outside the organisation that gave her access to certain emotional space that an office attendant or the compensation and benefits manager would not have access to.

The auditor general's report declares that her salary was increased from $10.58 million to $12.98 million within two months, and she was paid two months' retroactive salary with the increase. The report also said she got her probationary period cut from four to two months, which was signed off on by the then general manager.

This is a clear case of positional morality at work, that is a morality that is assumed based on one's position and location in the organisation. This is the default and that's how organisations seem to operate — at least at Petrojam. The generalised principled approached requires a reflective morality that looks at equity, fairness, rule of law, ethics, honesty, and transparency.

What moral protocol was followed in making these outrageous decisions? How do we supervise those who are supposed to follow the moral protocols within the organisation? The problem is that top leaders sometimes exempt themselves from the moral protocols or the organisation, but the 'likkle' man at the bottom of the organisational ladder is expected to abide by all the rules and regulations;. 'Jackass seh worl' nuh level' — truth be told, jackass is right. It is this bureaucratic impersonality that impacts the moral compass on those who occupy privileged moral and emotional spaces.

In these circumstances, moral rules for decision-making can be blunted or muted so that the application of impersonal rules to accomplish so-called organisational objectives or the mandate of the board takes precedence over social and ethical values and norms. Is it too much to expect those in privileged moral spaces to be moral agents while displaying moral qualities of courage, rectitude and ultimately leading by example, and to personify the moral climate of the organisation or of society at large?

The moral wrongdoing by leaders may undermine the morality of an organisation and legitimise all kinds of infractions, as well as undermine the legitimacy of the leaders themselves.

Do our leaders, those who operate in privilege moral and emotional spaces, have the will to deal with the corrupt decision-making practices within organisations which favour just a small percentage of people?

I want to be optimistic, but there is a deficit of will.

Madam Minister of Energy Fayval Williams, I urge you to conduct a decision-making audit at Petrojam and, once and for all, banish the corrupt and biased practices while holding those guilty parties accountable.

Henry J Lewis is a lecturer at the University of Technology, Jamaica, School of Humanities and Social Sciences. Send comments to the Observer or hjlewis@utech.edu.jm.


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