A Guide to Dysfunctional Management and the Evil Workplace
January 25th, 2013 by William

The Pearl Harbor Syndrome

The December 7th, 1941 surprise attack on the American pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor, by Japanese naval forces, was the singular event that drew the US into WWII in the pacific.

The Pearl Harbor attack launched an official Congressional investigation. In the investigation report, blame for the disaster was laid at the feet of everyone from the Secretary of War, to commanders on scene, and even President Roosevelt. After the attack, Admiral Husband E. Kimmel–Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet–and General Walter C. Short–the Army commander on Oahu–were relieved of duty and demoted.

The report cited that Washington-based officials failed to give proper notice to a series of intercepted Japanese messages that indicated their keen interest in the harbor berthing plan and placement of US ships. Also it cited that Washington didn’t react quickly enough to the message sent from Tokyo to Japanese diplomats in Washington, ordering them to destroy code books and indicated that hostilities were to begin.

Much of the dysfunction was centered in Washington yet it was the field commanders at the lowest level that suffered the wrath of a country on a witch-hunt. I find that interesting because it mirrors what typically happen in the modern workplace.

There’s been a lot of finger-pointing over the last 70 years and the controversy over what could have, or should have, been done prior to the attack will continue for many years to come. One thing is certain–the field commanders could have used a rock-solid paper trail to bail themselves out when the investigation started to turn on them. In other words, they could have benefited from what’s now called a “Pearl Harbor File.”

A “Pearl Harbor File” is a file (or database) maintained to show one’s innocence after an anticipated disaster takes place. It takes its name from the attempts to avoid blame for the failure to prepare to defend the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii from Japanese attack.

You might not yet think that having a Pearl Harbor File can benefit you at work, but wait until the first time you’re targeted for blame for something you didn’t do or where told to do by a higher-up. This kind of blame-setting happens every day in workplaces all across the business world.

So how does one create a Pearl Harbor file? Whenever you are told to perform a task which you believe to be questionable, write an email that says “per our conversation, I’m doing x, y and z”. Then print a copy, save the electronic copies, or whatever you have to do to be sure that 3 days, 3 weeks or 3 years from then you have your Pearl Harbor audit trail that proves you weren’t the stupid one. To be on the safe side keep copies of all correspondence that involves any decisions being made or direction being given. In the case of the Pearl Harbor commanders, they could have benefited from a paper-trail showing not so much what they were told but what they “weren’t told.”

Remember the words of Dean Acheson, President Truman’s Secretary of State; “The memorandum is written not to inform the reader but to protect the writer”

If you find yourself in an organization mired down on fear and where blame is regularly metered out–regardless of how insignificant a problem may be–then you definitely need to keep a Pearl Harbor File. When an entire organization practices this CYA game they are said to suffer the “Pearl Harbor Syndrome.” Once it gains a foothold, this syndrome spreads like wild-fire.

In my book Puttin’ Cologne on the Rickshaw I detail fifteen characteristics of a dysfunctional organization–sort of a checklist that you can ask yourself to see if your organization fits the model. One of the major characteristics of a dysfunctional workplace is the need for inhabitants to keep a Pearl Harbor File.

So how do “you” know you should be keeping a Pearl Harbor File? Here’s a quick checklist of questions you can ask yourself:

  • Does your boss leave you to figure out your direction on your own
  • Does your boss avoid making decisions that are crucial to your particular work
  • Does your boss withhold information crucial to you performing your job successfully
  • Have you been instructed to do something that seems a little odd or even unethical
  • Do you find yourself the target of any of the slanderous interpersonal games that I detail in my book Puttin’ Cologne on the Rickshaw
  • Does your organization practice repeated “lessons-learned” goat-ropes with little constructive results
  • Does management constantly voice their abhorrence of “surprises”
  • Do you repeatedly see your peers and colleagues being blamed for everything that goes wrong
  • Do you hear management preaching; “it’s the process, not the people,” when problem solving, yet someone always ends up being blamed
  • Is employee turn-over high in your organization
  • Is the threat of holding people “accountable” used by management whenever problems arise
  • Does your organization appear bankrupt in practicing their stated values

As I mentioned earlier, you may not think you need a Pearl Harbor File, but in a dysfunctional organization, run by sociopaths, it’s just a matter of time until you pull the short straw in the blame game. That said, I must add a caution. A Pearl Harbor File may not be your savior in an organization that scores high on the above checklist because of another dysfunctional management practice called “plausible deniability.” In this lecherous management behavioral practice, blame is metered out to underlings regardless of any evidence to the contrary. It was the mechanism that brought down the commanders at Pearl Harbor.


2 Responses to “The Pearl Harbor Syndrome”
  1. Tony Shears says

    Hurrah, that’s what I was searching for, what information! present here at this web site, thanks admin of this web site.

  2. Katrin Hoolan says

    Everyone loves what you guys are usually up too. This kind of clever work and coverage! Keep up the fantastic works guys I’ve added you guys to our blogroll.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Reload Image