The article ‘Why the US Military usually Punishes Misconduct, but Police Often Close Ranks‘ in The Wire got me excited, and thinking. Why so? While the article is about the US system, I know it to be true of India too.
And, can the reasoning be extended to the corporate world too?
I found the sum of the article in this paragraph-
The US military culture stresses organizational, rather than personal, loyalty. When Gallagher’s SEAL colleagues reported him, they were doing what Navy SEALs are taught to do: They put the good of the institution before the individual.
This – placing the institution as higher than the self – results in its members to be willing to sacrifice the reputation of an individual, if that is necessary to protect the reputation of the institution. This makes it possible for the members to report violations by rogue individuals, since the reputation of any individual is below that of the organisation. When it is not, as happens in police, violation is not reported and, in some cases, actually supported.
And what is the deeper mechanism here? One finds it in the very next paragraph of the article –
And the pride Marines famously feel, for instance, comes from being part of this well-respected corps.
I suppose this is it.
When there is pride in belonging to an organisation or institution, the institution gets placed above its constituent members. They are now ready to fight for its good name, and if some of their colleagues get hurt in that fight, so be it.
Here I draw upon my personal experience and see if above hypothesis is validated by it.
Indian army is known to be punishing its errant members, far more than is the Indian police. Army punishes its people for minor violation of law, or even ethical aberrations, while the police does not do so even in major cases. It is true that this facet of the army culture is on a downward trend but that is a different story.
The army consciously projects the unit as being higher that the individual. Every unit builds it history in terms of peace time awards and honours in battle. These are very well documented and provided high visibility on unit cards, quarter guard, mess and other functions. The army goes to some ridiculous extents to establish that. At times, I have myself rebelled against this.
I could never understand why an officer is expected to ‘seek’ the permission of his Commanding Officer for his marriage? Why on earth should the CO have a part to play in this?
Now, I see that this could be building up the concept that the ‘unit (represented by its CO)’ is something far bigger than the individual. This helps the strengthening ‘pride’ – an essential ingredient of exclusivity. Zero haircut for cadets and recruits, senseless bullshit, high rejection rate – all help in building pride. ‘I could endure this, while you couldn’t have’ is a good feeling. Trophies, march-pasts, pomp-n-show, ornamental dresses, separate cantonments and decorative messes – all make sense.
If you are member of a club where others can’t in, it is indeed a matter of pride. This also clarifies to me, what someone said, ‘I do not want to belong to a club that will take in even people like me’ (probably Ralph Waldo Emerson.)
That is why paratroopers pay so much emphasis on its probates going to ridiculous lengths to prove their fitness and thus, acceptance to units. The more difficult it is to be accepted in any organisation, the more worthy the membership. Note that the para commandos place an even greater reliance on exclusivity than do regular paratroopers.
Who is benefited most from a high sense of pride by the members in the organisation?
Undoubtedly, it is the organisation. Through this mechanism, the organisation sets up its immunity system. This system scavenges rogues through an internal mechanism.
So, what do we get out of it? What can organisations learn from this?
As much as possible, make it necessary for members to have to sacrifice something dear, in order to belong to the organisation. That will force them to place the organisation over themselves as well as over other members. And that will ensure that they’ll be willing to report and fight misconduct just to save its good name, rather than hide or support it.
Of course, it is easier to set up such systems in the army that in the police. That army is centrally led and tightly controlled A person remains part of a unit for years, sometimes decades. On the other hand, people move in and out a police unit and it is not centrally led.
What about corporate organisations? The degree of control exercised by corporate leaders over their subordinates is yet lesser. However, the dictum remains true.
Some corporate entities e.g. Tatas have managed to instil ‘pride’ in their people. a sense of ‘izzat’ for the organization. Others do not even try. Maybe they will learn something from this.