By Mariann B. Snyder, CCEP
Global Compliance Communications Lead
No matter your political bent, as a compliance professional, you likely felt a twinge of sympathy for FBI Director James Comey when he said to the Senate Judiciary Committee this week that his decision to go public with the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails 11 days before the election was a choice between speaking up and concealing—between bad and catastrophic.
“Catastrophic not just to the FBI, but well beyond,” Comey said. “And honestly, as between really bad and catastrophic, I said to my team, ‘We’ve got to walk into the world of really bad.’”
Speak up. Or conceal.
Just two choices. Between the proverbial rock and hard place.
Even if you believe Door Number 3 was an option, let’s assume for the moment that Comey was well-intentioned and that his dilemma was to choose 1 or 2.
I’ve never faced a decision with such broad implications as Comey’s, but I was struck by his analysis.
If I were a Volkswagen employee working on the new emission tests, what would speak up or conceal look like? Speaking up could mean clarifying with management whether they mean for me to hit the emissions target no matter what or to aggressively, relentlessly pursue the target within the bounds of the law. I might fear losing my job. Or I might get to be the hero who exposes a misunderstood directive. And saves the company needless embarrassment, grave reputational harm, and a whole lot of money. Concealing happens when I realize the bounds of the law have been breached yet fail to speak up to identify the issue.
It’s tough for us to accept that concealing―hiding, keeping quiet―is the opposite of speaking up. We like to think there’s a safe space of inaction in the middle called self-preservation. We suspect a co-worker is padding expense reports but decide to “mind our own business.” We have reason to believe that a third-party manufacturer is engaging in sex trafficking but decide we can’t really do anything to change how “they” behave, so why ruffle feathers? We notice a child in our neighborhood who always seems especially bruised and timid but don’t want to get involved by reporting our suspicions.
Concealing. Turning a blind eye. Minding my own business. If I know about it, but don’t expose it, I am concealing it. The thing we conceal is unlikely to go away or get better. It is our speaking up that provides our organizations the best opportunities to learn, course correct, and grow.
Speak up. Be the next PR disaster that never happened because you did.
No one says it will be easy. But you might be the difference between just bad and catastrophic. And odds are good your organization will be a better one because you stood in the gap, between the rock and the hard place, and made the tough choice. To speak up.
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