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The Machine

Every once in awhile, I use this list to circulate a blog. This week I am writing about Chicago and Illinois, where I grew up, and using some events that occur this week to illustrate some resulting lessons we all can apply at work and in life.
Illinois politics (especially Chicagoland politics) have long been known for being very dirty. Legendarily dirty. Even Canadians watching what is currently going on in our own parliament may not have a full appreciation of how dirty politics can get in Illinois. They are known for being run by “The Machine”, a politically powerful group of people, who have been very effective in controlling the outcome of elections, especially in Chicago. Their tactics have been ruthless at times. Rarely is The Machine convicted of crimes, although in my lifetime, there have been two governors who went to jail, countless corruption investigations especially in Chicago, and conclusions that The Machine’s greatest success to date was putting Kennedy in the White House by using not-so-above-board means. The risk of jail does not seem to be a deterrence.

For me personally, the existence and power of The Machine has been a source of disappointment; believing that the city could be so much better than it is without the backroom handouts and special projects. Funny enough, one of my most significant memories of growing up in Chicago was watching the News. ½ the news was focused on what was going on in politics (who was getting snow removal and who wasn’t, the latest scandal on toll road jobs, the wars of Bilandic, Byrne, and Washington and their battles with the Alderman) and in the mob activity (of which several movies starring Robert DeNiro or Joe Pesci have been made hence).

I mention The Machine in this blog because there was another major political scandal in Illinois this week. The current governor, Rod Blagojevich, was arrested in connection with alleged attempts he made to extort money from candidates seeking to fill Barack Obama’s senate vacancy. I was actually reading Rod Blagojevich’s wiki last night and learned that at one time he worked for Ed Vrdolyak, a famous Chicago Alderman who made extraordinary efforts to make the mayor of the time, Harold Washington, ineffective. For years in Chicago, nothing was accomplished. My point in adding this is that Blagojevich learned his craft from a crafty person. I know that in the U.S. you are innocent until proven guilty, but I’ve heard the Blagojevich tape excerpts and it is pretty clear what his intents were. I believe the citizens of Illinois have every right to be outraged and it will be interesting to see whether the controversy will force Blagojevich to resign or if they can get a conviction.

Now how does any of this relate to the field of human resources? I have two points. As professionals:

• We have an opportunity to encourage good decision making when it comes to selecting our organizational leaders. (right fit, good character, not necessarily about the connections)
• We have a responsibility to encourage the adoption of good governance practices that will minimize the risk of fraud or corruption.

When times are bad, as they are getting now, it becomes so easy to think about taking short cuts, and on the issue of values and principles these are short cuts that should never be taken.

And how does this relate to Canadians? I have two points. As Canadians, we need to encourage:

• Governmental leadership (and out of fear I’ve already made this more political than intended, I offer no opinion on this), to create processes to enable things to happen, effectively, with best practices and the will of the people both being considered.
• People who play in the parliamentary sandbox to play nicely and constructively.

Have a great week!

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