It is not easy to be perceived as the bad guy. In a room full of management, I once looked my employer's CEO straight in the eye, and told him that the software he was ready to deliver did not work. It did not work, and was one of the ugliest pieces of user interface I had ever seen. In fact, I told him, I had seen school projects that were better quality that the junk the company was about to deliver to a major client. I will never forget that definitive moment of corporate terror, the reflection of panic from the sweat beads streaming down his crinkled face; the death of silence in the room.
What went so wrong that this product was almost allowed to ship? Why was a mid-level software ...view middle of the document...
And so it was necessary for a subordinate to blow the whistle in an attempt to prevent a travesty--at great personal risk. Thankfully, the company did realize the individual contribution and ultimately fired the offending manager. The defective software was not shipped to the customer, but was completely reworked by a different project team. The client was not pleased at the delay, but was appreciative of the circumstances and the efforts expended in delivering a quality product.
This type of situation cuts to the bone of the corporate ethical culture. The Web site College Journal, analyzing the presence of a formal ethics system suggests questioning a prospective employer "Are workers at all levels encouraged to take responsibility for the consequences of their behavior or to question authority when they are asked to do something that they consider to be wrong?" (No date, par. 6). Another question presented on this site is about formal mechanisms that protect the whistleblower, "Are whistleblowers encouraged and are formal channels available for them to make their concerns known confidentially?" (No date, par. 6). My situation with the CEO was not under any umbrella of formalized protections--he could have easily told me that I was out of line, and fired me without hesitation or recourse.
Thankfully, the incident became legendary in company circles, and served as an archetype for product quality in the organization. When prospective employees evaluate the ethics of this company in the future, they might ask the questions presented, again, on the College Journal Web site, concerning the informal corporate ethics system in place:
"Does analysis of organizational stories and myths reveal individuals who stand up for what's right despite pressure, or is conformity the valued characteristic?", and
"Do people get fired or promoted in these stories?" (No date, par 7).
From my experience, the answers to these questions was that the company I worked for did reward me to stand up and speak in the name of quality; that no one will be fired for doing so. The system worked for me, not because of any formalized set of...