The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions


The Road to Hell
The Road to Hell

Professor Nick Lee of Aston University used a football analogy to explain how role conflict can engender unethical behaviour.

Think of a footballer who cheats in a game. Why does he do it? He has two roles – one is to play as a sportsman the very best football he can. The other is to win games for his multi-million pound organisation. Do these roles ever come in conflict? If he can cheat to win a game then yes they do.

So if the footballer cheats, what happens? His manager says he will watch him more closely. His manager proceeds to watch him more closely. Will this correspond to his unethical behaviour being reduced? No – because the manager represents the multi-million pound organisation.

Nick Lee was giving his inaugural lecture at Aston University on Tuesday evening. This was the fourth of four points where he was illustrating that common sense doesn’t work when looking at how to manage and lead people.

His point here is that a manager may think that by watching his employees more closely he will reduce unethical behaviour, but actually Nick Lee’s research shows that the opposite is true. When role conflicts exist, more observation from a manager actually increases unethical behaviour.

The day after that lecture, the report from the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust Public Inquiry was published. I haven’t read the report, but hearing about the conflicts that existed between patient care and meeting targets really got me thinking. Was it here, to quote Nick Lee, that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions? Was it that the initial good intentions of the nurses, doctors and managers to meet their targets led them down the road of more and more observation, putting the organisation before the patient, until those dreadful events happened there?

And then that got me thinking about schools. For schools, the league table is the constant observer. It is the yearly reminder that you must meet your targets. Does this create a role conflict for headteachers? Could it be that headteachers might put their school’s position on a league table ahead of the educational needs of each individual student? Could this then lead to cheating?

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