On organizational leniency

Case One: Einat comes to work late 15 minutes a day; her lunch break lasts longer than anyone else’s. No one has ever said a word.

Case Two: This month, Ori ordered a $40000 spare part circumventing Supply Chain. He does this from time to time. His boss emails him to “try to avoid” this type of behaviour.

Case Three: Zeev always waits till the very last minute to order his plane tickets, so that he will have a more expensive ticket and thus be eligible for an upgrade. Since Zeev travels a lots, nothing is said.

This post is a short case study on organizational leniency, IE, showing more tolerance than expected when things do not go well.

All government agencies are very lenient towards their employees; unionized shops can breed a type of leniency which leads to decay, and crony capitalism breeds a great deal of leniency which leads to economic catastrophes. In this post, I am NOT referring to the above types of examples.

Rather, I am referring to organizations in the private sector which are not unionized and where there is no crony capitalism, yet nevertheless leniency is displayed in the face of gross malfunction.

The case I will describe is the unique leniency of Israeli organizations.

A-What does this leniency look like?

1-The reticence to fire people unless absolutely necessary. Although this norm has changed since 2008, Israelis hang on to excess people much longer than North American organizations would.
2-“We are all guilty” syndrome. In other words, individual accountability is downplayed and to use an Americanism, it is very rare to “hold someone’s feet to the fire” due to an error. The ownership of malfunctions is very obtuse.
3) Working around a problem instead of fixing it.

B-Reasons for leniency

1) Having been the victim of aggression for so many centuries, there is a tendency internally not to “pin” anything on anyone and scapegoat.
2) There is a deep belief that if an organization is not lenient, creativity and commitment will wane.
3) Because life in Israel is very challenging, there is an expectation not to “throw people to dogs” just because of a work related error.
4) For many centuries while scattered all over the world, we learnt how to learn the system and “work it”. It was not our system. There is still lingering unwillingness to “be the system”.

C-Value of the leniency

1) More risk taking at work
2) Better team work
3) Lots of creativity

D-Damage of the leniency

1) Due to lack of consequence, there is corrosion of responsibility and accountability
2) The development of a “so what” attitude in the case of inappropriate staffing
3) Corrective action takes a long time because things need to get very bad to end the lenience.

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3 thoughts on “On organizational leniency

  1. Hi,
    I’m not an expert on Israel, having been there as a tourist once. Your observations fit with the Canadian experience by and large. Unfortunately enterprises rarely show staff how things should be done vs. showing staff a Human Resource manual. Also managers do not feel empowered by senior staff to use constructive discipline or that process is to difficult to follow given the magnitude of the offense. And yes it takes a major f****up until you get fired.

  2. This is an interesting subject. I have found organizational leniency to be proportional to the severity of the contravention as assessed by the culture of the organization. In one multinational that is largely engineering based, technical errors (even serious ones) are forgiven after some time in the organizational purgatory. However, in the same organization, I have witnessed zero leniency for actions considered as “cultural sins”. The top engineer of one particular multinational I have been working with for several years was quickily shown the exit door after having solved a politically sensitive environmental issue without involving his boss. The solution was brilliant and low cost. The cultural norm in that organization: Involve your boss in successes, keep him/her away from your failures.

  3. Levis – you are correct; ‘mistakes’ or failure to follow rules is subordinate to cultural views of behavior.

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