Ozloop’s take on CSIRO criticisms

Posted on February 20, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized |

The following commentary on CSIRO’s public statement’s relating the the Victims of CSIRO website has been posted here:


The really serious consideration is whether CSIRO Executives will attempt to “shoot the messenger” and discredit legitimate submission to the ‘independent’ inquiry and what impact this may have on the overall quality and outcome of the process.

Reproduced in full below is the article by Steve Davies

CSIRO says bullying claims are dodgy

In todays Canberra Times.

Lots of allegations have been tossed around by stakeholders and media in recent times and I would have to say that the basis for some of those are pretty dodgy,” he said.
Over the last three years, to October 2012, there have been 11 allegations of bullying and harassment made in the CSIRO and 10 of those have subsequently not been substantiated.

CSIRO deputy chief executive of operations Mike Whelan

After reading the Canberra Times article CSIRO bully accusations ‘dodgy’, says executive let’s unpack this very public assertion.

If you peruse the Victims of CSIRO website you will see that there are many references to “endemic” and “systemic” management bullying. This is important as there is a distinction between one on one bullying due to, for example, individuals just not getting on and heavy handed corporate management.

Make no mistake. Heavy handed corporate management encourages workplace bullying and intimidation. It is legitimated by the rhetoric of managerialism and, typically, goes on for years until some people speak out. Most, of course, do not as they see what happens to those who do.

One of the ways corporate areas within the Australian Public Service agencies mask the extent of the problem is to divert attention away from systemic issues and toward the individuals who speak out. This is why they refer to targets and complainants as ‘cases’. To get a feel for this dynamic I suggest you read my post The Australian Public Service – Bullying enhancement strategy 2013.

A key characteristic of corporate management functions, in particular corporate human resources, is moral disengagement. This unhealthy characteristic shapes Australian Public Service practices and notions of what constitutes leadership, management and, with that, workplace culture.

This is significant as corporate management functions strongly influence workplace culture. In this regard I suggest you read The Socialization of Individuals into Deviant Corporate Cultures and view Albert Bandura’s talk on moral disengagement.

Clearly, corporate management functions within the CSIRO and the Australian Public Service as a whole need to look critically at themselves. I see little evidence that they have. In fact, they engage in defensive routines to maintain the status quo.

Looking at the Canberra Times article this is precisely what is being done in a very public way. From a corporate management and communications perspective the strategy is not just obvious, it is a time worn defensive routine that basically rests on:

  • Making claims that minimise and redefine the problem
  • Isolating and labelling complainants
  • Controlling the message

This is precisely what has taken place for years in many Australian Public Service agencies and it goes a long way towards explaining why bullying and mobbing persist. At great human and financial cost.

Given the fact the review is underway it would have been more appropriate for Mr Whelan to take steps to ensure his claims remained off the record pending the outcomes of the review. He clearly did not and what this effectively means is that a very public message has been sent to the effect that the problem really is not that big.

Given that the CSIRO Organisational chart shows that Mr Whelan is responsible for governance, communication, legal and administrative functions serous questions must be raised as to the impact of this message on the conduct of the review itself. In particular the impact on the participation of staff.

The Canberra Times article also points out that in a staff bulletin CSIRO chief executive Megan Clark says,

Misconduct procedures have been updated to include a health risk assessment, amendments have been made to reflect changes to the medical assessment process and we’ve updated our reporting and recording mechanisms,” she wrote.
We also have guidelines for the governance of complex cases.

While this is obviously correct from an administrative perspective, it cannot be assumed that such changes go anywhere near addressing problems with the workplace culture of the CSIRO. Ticking the box on administrative matters is not an indicator of a healthy workplace culture.

The Canberra Times article also states,

As the CSIRO announced details of its independent review of its workplace culture, Commonwealth parliamentarians have been told to treat with caution some of the claims made by former employees.

On balance this is completely inappropriate as, from a research perspective, it amounts to an attempting to influence the status and validity of information presented to the review team. My advice to CSIRO staff is to keep a very wary eye on the conduct of the review.

My advice to the review team is to investigate the impact of the culture and practices of the following corporate functions on CSIRO as a whole:

  • Governance
  • Communication
  • Legal
  • Health, Safety and Environment
  • HR Strategy and Organisational Development
  • Workplace Relations and Policy

I sincerely hope that the review of the CSIRO does not become a sham. However, thanks to these events that possibility can no longer be discounted.

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