Shoot-to-Kill Policy, Shock, Awe and Change Management
Last month's mistaken execution of a London commuter by British security forces holds a management lesson worth learning for all kinds of organizationsfrom governmental to corporate to professional practices.
The security personnel appear to have carried out their orders by the book. But those who put the policy into place, people in the British government, blundered into a classic management snake pit that American executive teams fall into far too often.
The Poms' lethal gaffe is the result of two colossal clangers, one I'll name "The Polaroid Instant Blunder" and the other I call "The Etinuum Error."
The government secretly put a "shoot to kill" preventative execution policy into place for the police.
That policy only became known because the men and women doing their jobs executed a man commuting to work with five shots to the head at close range. He turned out to be an innocent bystander.
Part of what made backlash so strong to this management blunder is that the action is very un-British.
Unlike over-amped police in New York City and some Third World countries like Guatemala, the police in Britain don't normally kill non-Irish people only to discover the target was an innocent person. Aggressive policing is not part of their national self-image.
The policy, as reported by London's Sunday Times, allowed a senior commander to authorize police to execute without warning people suspected of carrying a bomb.
The goal was to prevent potential suicide bombers from doing the psychopath thing; police were apparently directed to shoot at the head to take out the suspect without setting off the device with gunfire.
I won't argue about the merits of preventative execution (the ultimate "no strikes, you're out" form of enforcement).
I have a personal opinion that's not germane to the lesson in this example; I do see both the logic around which the policy became operational and why it guarantees the public execution of innocent people.
Police needed new procedures; change was required; the procedures chosen were radically different from any historical precedent the country has known within its borders since, I believe, The Restoration (1660).
The problem I want to discuss is the fact that, like too many big corporate change initiatives, the bosses didn't consult stakeholders and didn't even pretend to listen before making a change that would be seen by the stakeholders as not just very different, but possibly antithetical to their self-image.
It's hard to equate any corporate flub to the erroneous execution of an innocent, but the mistakes British officials made in keeping their policy secret is one that corporations make way too frequently.
The perfect corporate poster dude for this is the recent devastation of the Polaroid research department (the company's crown jewel) by the new conglomerate owner.
Rather than uphold the tradition of innovation that is at the very core of Polaroid's identity, the new owners decided to simply attach the name as a "brand" to goods designed by cheaper outfits.
If you're going to change a research-to-product company into an OEM that pastes stickers on products built by other companies, you can get away with hiding the truth from your customers, at least for a while.
Next Page: The coverup is the more persistent problem.