After years of denial the seven times winner of the Tour de France admits to wining by using performance enhancing drugs. Television catches out a premiership footballer” diving” to try and con the referee into giving his side a penalty. The new boss of Barclays tells staff adopt a new ethical approach or go. A multinational coffee house is exposed for massive tax avoidance. In all these cases those found out defended their actions by claiming everyone was doing it or if you can get away with it you’d be a fool not to. But the public sector is different. Well it use to claim to be but the more it becomes like the private sector the more it becomes like the private sector.
League tables and naming and shaming have put a lot of pressure on managers to hit performance targets. A whole industry has developed around finding ways to “legitimately” exclude unhelpful stats or including helpful ones. This is different to fiddling the figures which involves changing the numbers to ensure performance is always improving.
If performance is important reputation is even more important. The private sector will go to great lengths to prevent damaging information getting into the public domain whether that’s the use of child labour in third world countries, environmental damage caused by cutting corners or bribes to foreign government officials to win contracts. That’s why they invest so heavily in public relations and reputation management. Have you notice a trend in the public sector, whilst posts are being cut on the front line, in the back office and in management, an army of communication staff, media managers, marking consultants and reputation mangers grows.
When organisations are more concerned with managing their image and reputation than how they make their money then ethics don’t come into it. The worse they behave the more they need a good reputation manager. If you reduce staffing levels and claim it hasn’t affected the quality of service then you don’t want whistleblowers contradicting you. When managers are gagged, whistle blowers persecuted and loyalty to the organisation is more important than professional values then it really is just about whatever you can get away with.