Ten years ago today the “Chinese Milk Scandal” broke. We learned that companies were adding melamine (used to produce plastics) to infant formula to give the appearance of higher protein content. Fifty-four thousand babies were hospitalized and 6 of them died.
This was not the result of a single employee gone mad. The scheme was well known and endorsed by management. We saw similar widespread wrongdoing at Volkswagen more recently. With Walmart in Mexico, the problem was more localized but, still, many layers of management were aware.
These cases highlight the importance of raising concerns early on. When only one employee is involved in the wrongdoing, it is easier to find an avenue to report the misconduct. But when the wrongdoer is supported by his manager, things get complicated. With each additional layer of management involved, the chances of someone speaking up goes down. Where should they go? How will they be protected?
To assist in early detection, organizations should not wait for employees to raise concerns. Every supervisor should proactively ask their direct reports if they have any concerns about how things are done in the organization. These conversations should be part of the quarterly one-on-one performance meetings.