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Oct 2015

VW Deception

(Lessons About Measurement)

The VW deception[1]  is unforgivable. Yes, we should denounce this kind of behaviour and yes, heads should roll.  It leaves one discomforted, distrustful, wondering if it is happening, as yet undiscovered, in pharmaceuticals, medical care or health & hygiene, especially in food processing. (Mind you, a while back it did, with the horse meat scandal[2].)

I see this behaviour as a direct consequence of a culture where measurement becomes the end in itself and not the means to an end. It’s what happens when we ‘cook the books’ to reflect the result we are looking for, instead of assessing the results so as to ensure quality, safety, health, risk control or environmental protection. True measurement goes way beyond compliance to a minimum standard. Proper measurement is a tool for continuous improvement.

What VW did is similar to what is being done by many companies. Whenever a company ‘sets up’ or ‘spring cleans’ or ‘prepares’ just before an audit or alters statistics in order to meet audit criteria to keep the record intact … it is committing fraud by deception. It is defrauding its personnel, or the public or both.

We tend to feel quite justified in making our own amendments to figures. So did the guys directly involved at VW. But now VW is in trouble, because the company was caught out and it has customers who can vote with their wallet. As a top brand there is only one way – down.

Misrepresenting or selectively using data is a world-wide occurrence. Why did we find it necessary to put so much time and effort into the King Commission on corporate governance[3]?  Surely not because there is no problem in our backyards?

ACTION

This is between you and your conscience. Look into the mirror and ask yourself how often and by how much you adjust the figures on emissions, effluents, performance, waste, recycling, accidents, observations, near miss reporting, performance, costs … ? If you are in a leadership position, you might not be directly involved, but you are accountable for the culture which breeds this kind of behaviour in your organisation!

[1]   “Volkswagen: The scandal explained“, by Russell Hotten, BBC News, 7 October 2015

[2]   “2013 meat adulteration scandal“, from Wikipedia

[3]   “King Report on Corporate Governance“, from Wikipedia

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