Institutions have a bad habit of not learning lessons. The unlearned lessons may even be from their own history, yet they go unlearned or unheeded. Examples continue to pile-up like a stack of unread reports or emails.
To compile just a short list of such examples, consider the following organizations and what each failed to learn: the Catholic Church, Toyota, VW, Wells Fargo, Penn State University, Michigan State University, The Ohio State University, Congress and the current President just to name a few.
The Catholic Church has known about a significant problem for many decades with pedophile priests. Yet, protecting the institution was the first motivation, not stopping the abuse of children. Even after major scandals occurred in Boston and Ireland, signicant change did not occur to prevent future molestations.
The unlearned lesson is you focus on the abused as you fix the problem, not protecting the institution. When you address the problem openly and painfully, that is how you protect the institution. Cover-ups eventually fail, because the truth has a way of getting out.
Penn State, Michigan State and Ohio State are major universities and sports marketing franchises. Leaders within Penn State and Michigan State have known for years that there was a sexual predator in their midst. Yet, they chose not to act, trying to hide it from the public. As a result, more young boys, girls and teens were molested. By not addressing the problem, they brought appropriate shame to their marketing brands.
Ohio State has a similar issue with a physician who worked with the wrestlers. It has been known for years by athletes and coaches to avoid this doctor due to his practice of checking for testicular cancer for any visit, such as the flu, cold, fever, etc. Yet, nothing was done until several men came forward about their experiences.
For-profit companies are notoriously protective of their brands, but the better solution is to come clean and remedy the problem. Toyota was very slow on their floor rug braking problem. VW purposefully cheated emissions tests and were very slow to fess up after discovery. Many car companies who used Takata air bags also were slow to reveal a massive and deadly problem.
But, it is not just car companies. Banks and financial entities have experienced issues with aggressive and even illegal sales practices. Wells Fargo has justifiably gotten a lot of press for setting up false accounts as staff tried to keep jobs and earn bonuses. Bank of America and American Express have been fined for selling products and services that people did not request or need. And, pay-day lenders have a business model of excessive usury.
Even our governments have a hard time learning lessons. When the incumbent dishonors the office, the institution must penalize the incumbent. It matters not what party the incumbent belongs to. This applies to local, state and federal levels of government. It must apply to Congress and the White House. The punishment can vary from formal rebuke to censoring to removal from committees or from office.
Trust in institutions has waned. Some of this mistrust is due to hyperbole, such as what the current President has done to protect himself, but much is due to institutions not dealing with problems openly and appropriately. It also is due to them being more concerned with image than substance.
On this latter point, another unlearned lesson is the best way to keep your job is to do your job. And, when others don’t and/ or harm people, the institutions should fix the problem and let people know that they have. It is the right thing to do and avoids covering up and abetting criminality.