In his 2003 published research on the psychology of bystanders, perpetrators and heroic helpers, Erwin Staub made a point that most acts of destruction and genocide had three actors – those who instigated, those who remained as bystanders and few who had the heroic courage to help. 

The same psychology applied to an organization translates into the leaders and people who for their personal survival instigate actions not in the ultimate interest of the organization which leads to gradual and unnoticed erosion of valuable talent.

There are leaders who remain as bystanders even if they have the power to influence and are passive to the ‘un-bricking’ of the organizational foundation. Instead of standing up to colleagues and speaking their minds, they prefer to watch the events unfold, gossip amongst themselves and head back to the confines of their safe havens. They gradually help create a wider acceptability of the destructive sequence of actions in play, as more bystanders join them to ‘un-brick’ the foundation. And then there are a few heroic helpers who are few but bold. They are the white knights of the organization and loyal to the future of business. They stand up, extend a helping hand, or if they are in a position of influence persuade the board to understand that the dominos effect of the unfolding events instigated by a perpetrator will lead to the ultimate destruction of the organization.

This story repeats itself many times over the age of an organization which is unable to lock the perpetrators and bystanders out. Ultimately both valuable talent and heroic helpers dwindle. The discreet events lead to a continuum of change which over decades breaks the very foundation of the organization. The issue with buildings having progressively weakening foundations is that there are no visible signs of organizational decay for years and even decades sometimes. Then the unavoidable happens as the last domino hits the floor, in a matter of months the building collapses and so do organizations. 

In these times, while cash flow and costs drive many business decisions, everyday two kinds of businesses are in news those who have laid off many to ease their bottom line and those who may have made performance cuts but largely protected their valuable talent, the bricks of the organization. Between these two, it should be an easy guess to differentiate between organizations with firm foundations and the others.

In the Covid19 crisis fallout this has become even more stark and noticeable. 

So are you the Bystander? Or the Heroic Helper who can make a choice now to help the affected even if you are affected ? Choice is yours to make.