I’m not qualified to say whether Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki was at fault for the scandal that has rocked the Veterans Administration. I also don’t know how directly responsible he was for the VA staff’s misdeeds which led to his resignation last week. I do, however, know enough about finger-pointing to understand that Shinseki had to go: politicians, the media, and subsequently the public, demanded it.
We see this pattern of blaming in matters of scandal and failure: something goes wrong and then we usually force the resignation of the person in charge. This mostly seems justified. But it’s sometimes mere window dressing, just a move made to make us believe the problem is being solved.
There’s been no shortage of such resignations in this year. Kathleen Sibelius left her position as health secretary after the botched launch of Obamacare. After millions of Target customers’ credit and debit card information were compromised, Gregg Steinhafel stepped down as CEO. Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich, who made a contribution in 2008 to support a measure to ban gay marriage, resigned after being scorned on Twitter by his own employees and thousands of others. Now, the union representing Malaysia Airlines employees wants the resignation of Chief Executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya as he grapples with the disappearance of Flight 370.
Clearly, Flight 370’s fate could not have been prevented by Mr. Yahya, nor can he locate the still-missing plane. But it’s such misguided thinking which brings owners to fire a manager or coach when their team is losing (watch out, Terry Collins!), even though it’s really not their fault. This can be a lame public relations technique and a poor fix for bad situations.
The Veterans Administration won’t be cured because General Shisenski is no longer running it. Its internal culture must be changed for it to become fully functional and fair.
But on second thought, isn’t it the CEO’s job to set the tone and the culture of an organization? Hmmm. Maybe I’m wrong about calling this lame PR and misguided thinking. Your thoughts?