VAdm Mark Norman on "What right looks like"
That’s not my line, but it certainly struck a chord with me. “What right looks like.”
It comes from a directive penned earlier this week by Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, Commander of the Royal Canadian Navy. Although it hasn’t been released to the public, there’s nothing about his message that is secret; and it is certainly worth sharing with the denizens on Bay Street and across the innovation ecosystem.
As much as the military has drawn attention regarding harassment and gender issues, a survey of the senior ranks of Canadian investment banks and VC firms would show that Canada’s military isn’t the only place that can — in some corners — do better on the diversity and sensitivity front. At its core, Admiral Norman’s message is about judgment, culture and core values. Something that every entrepreneur thinks about when they go through the first, second and even third phase of hiring. The challenge becomes, as the Navy found, ensuring that the core ethical / cultural ethos is maintained when an organization gets very large, or long in the tooth.
Equally so, however, for smaller firms. As I found 15 years ago on Bay Street, even if everyone knows “what right looks like”, that doesn’t mean they want — individual by individual — to admit that something wrong might be going on in the corner office. It is easier to turn a blind eye, and pull a Sgt. Shultz. That’s why, in part, whistleblowers are still a rarity in Canada. And, sadly, why American whistleblowers are usually women, as Time Magazine highlighted some years ago.
Everyone who runs a company will be able to find a way to apply this Admiral’s message to their own firm, whatever sector they play in. Bravo Zulu to Admiral Norman for not mincing words, and giving the business community a sense of just how strong Canada’s military leadership really is:
Several months ago, we undertook the task of reviewing personal conduct in the RCN and found that it required a course correction. Since the release of our own report, I have been both inspired and heartened by the actions taken by all levels of leadership in the RCN to bring our culture more in line with the expectations of Canadians. That is why, like many of you, I was dismayed by the findings of Mme Deschamps; to imagine that there are individuals within our ranks who have experienced such heinous treatment is deeply disturbing, and cause for concern. For this reason, I think it is important to put “a fix on the chart”, and provide some broad guidance for the continued modernization of our culture, which is integral to our ability to deliver excellence at sea for Canada.
While we await both the report from LGen Whitecross, and the resultant direction from the CDS, I want to commend you for continuing the corrective action already implemented to eliminate behaviours that promote a sexualized culture and sexual misconduct in the RCN. Your efforts to date to foster a working environment that promotes transparency and facilitates open dialogue across members of all ranks, has laid the groundwork for follow-on initiatives. In much the same way that we continue to tackle the issue of organizational culture through our RCN Code of Conduct, our future success in eliminating sexual misconduct from the workplace will hinge on our ability as leaders to reinforce behavioural expectations within our own “guardrails”. Going forward, our message must be positive, consistent, and unambiguous: to identify the champions of this resolution, we must start by looking in the mirror.
Although the original purpose and scope of our internal analysis was different than that of Justice Deschamps, it should come as no surprise that the root causes of sexual misconduct are very similar to those we have found in our own work on issues of personal conduct. In particular, the inconsistent application of deck-plate leadership, the intentional contravention of well-established rules and regulations, and the misuse of alcohol are all common and defining features of the collective findings of the past several months.
Though we cannot let the actions of the few define who we are as an institution, we must openly acknowledge that sexual misconduct is an issue within the RCN. Our people deserve to operate in an environment that promotes unequivocal respect for all the members of our team – irrespective of gender or sexual orientation. There is no excuse for disrespecting anyone, degrading their dignity, eroding their trust, or abusing rank and authority. Furthermore, there is no excuse for any person who witnesses or is informed of these types of behaviours and fails to intervene.
Let me be clear: I do not consider the misconduct characterized to date to be inappropriate behaviour- rather, I find it to be absolutely unacceptable behaviour. There will be no room in the RCN for those who do not agree with, or fail to demonstrate their complete commitment to supporting our shared responsibility in this regard.
In the short term, we have an opportunity through the normal rotation of personnel and changes in command and key appointments, to improve our ability to communicate and outline our core organizational values, and the expectations of conduct we have set for our team. This includes facilitating sometimes uncomfortable discussions, and helping our people to understand what constitutes sexual misconduct, and the damaging effect it has on victims, unit cohesiveness and ultimately, operational effectiveness.
It is genuine concern for our sailors, the divisional system, and our ability to look after our shipmates that have anchored our proud past. This time will be no different. For this reason, we will fully commit to implementing any and all further direction with diligence and vigour, while we continue our own work to finalize the RCN Code of Conduct. I am confident we, as leaders, will continue to define and emulate for our sailors and officers “what right looks like” as we effect real and positive change.
(disclosure – I’m the Hon. Captain of the RCN)