Some last words on taking action

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Earlier we quoted Karl Weick, the renowned organisational theorist, who was responsible for introducing ‘sense-making’ as a way of understanding how each organisation constructs its own particular reality. Here at the end of the SFRA guidance, here he is once again on the benefits of breaking down big problems into smaller ones as a means to help manage them:

To recast larger problems into smaller, less arousing ones, people can identify a series of controllable opportunities of modest size that produce visible results and can be gathered into synoptic solutions. This strategy of small wins addresses social problems by working directly on their construction and indirectly on their resolution. Problems are constructed to stabilise arousal at moderate intensities where its contribution to performance of complex tasks is most beneficial (Weick 1984: 40).

He could so easily have been talking about corruption: we redefine the problem twice over, first into a set of smaller problems, and then we reframe the smaller problems into ones that we can solve (see Weick 2001: 426-7).

The example of ships no longer paying bribes in ports, from shipping giant Maersk that we discussed earlier in the book, was of this nature. It certainly wasn’t a simple problem, but nor was it framed in massive terms like ‘tackling corruption in African ports’. By redefining it as a mid-sized problem in three pieces – requiring behaviour change by the captains, a collective action endeavour with the port authorities, and a technological requirement for easy global reporting and monitoring of bribes given – the problem was redefined in a way that made it easier to reach a solution. The point here is that Maersk’s management re-constructed this problem into a form that they could move forward with. This was good ‘sense-making’ by the responsible team in the organisation.

We hope, fervently, that the machinery we have outlined in this book is sufficient to enable you and your organisation similarly to make sense of corruption issues that impact your organisation. That is, by staying away from the ‘big’ problem of corruption writ large and reformulating it in ways that allow you and your colleagues to address, avoid or prevent individual corruption issues that are affecting your organisation’s performance.

We hope too that the issue of corruption will now be more ‘discussable’ in your organisation than it was before, and no longer only recognised at the margins, if at all. In order to bring recognition of corruption as a cause of performance issues into the mainstream, you could ask yourself and your colleagues questions like the following:

  • Is there an annual requirement in your organisation to catalogue corruption constraints? Past ones, current ones, potential ones. Organisations are better these days at structured, regular risk assessments; do corruption risks form a normal part of that?
  • Are corruption constraints (or integrity issues) recognised within the operations of your organisation? Are they raised at daily, weekly, or monthly operations meetings, in the same way that safety worries or environmental risks are?
  • Does your organisation train staff on corruption: how to recognise problems, how to assess them, how to reconstruct them in ways that could be addressed?
  • Have the technical and managerial professionals in your organisation had at least one module of training during their professional certification on addressing corruption risks? Are they required to commit to having such knowledge and keeping it up to date as part of their periodic recertification?

Finally, once again, the importance of leadership: building anti-corruption awareness and competence thoroughly into an organisation is a critical leadership role. In Chapter 3, we quoted the senior NATO civilian leading the organisation’s initiatives aimed at seeding thinking about corruption and integrity into NATO forces and Defence Ministries. We repeat below the apt phrase that she used everywhere across NATO:

We need to get to the point where building integrity and reducing the risk of corruption are embedded into NATO processes – planning cycles, staff assessments, policy reviews, operational planning, procurement – so that it becomes part of  the organisation’s DNA.

This is a big thought, worth repetition: a good organisation that can cope robustly with corruption constraints is one where building integrity/countering corruption is built directly into the organisation’s core processes.

This leadership role is essential in both public and private sector organisations, although the written works to date on this topic tend to be more focused on the public sector (See, for example, Ceva and Ferretti 2021). We hope that with SFRA and this guidance you can redress that balance.


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