The firestorm created by an independent filmmaker who documented
some unsavory activities in a couple of offices of the Association
of Community Organizations for Reform Now - or ACORN - did not
strike me as all that out of the ordinary in the day-to-day
spitting match between the extreme edges of our political spectrum.
In the wake of the filmed escapades of a pimp and one of his
prostitutes (the filmmaker and his associate) being instructed by
ACORN staff on how to lie on a mortgage application, the ire of
many was raised. You can feel free to read any of the tens of
thousands of articles, comments, blog posts, and tweets on the
topic and decide how fair or unfair the arguments have been.
What struck me as interesting was the promise that, following the
maelstrom of media coverage, the entire ACORN organization would be
essentially shut down and "immediate in-service training for all
frontline staff has been ordered within 48 hours."
This should not be that surprising, I suppose, since training is at
the core of how ACORN operates. According to The Nation, "For all
its organizational problems, ACORN does vital, indispensable,
unglamorous work: it trains legions of organizers, builds
grassroots leadership, and wages disciplined and effective local
and statewide campaigns, such as its minimum-wage effort in Florida
A Google search of "ACORN training" brings back hundreds of hits,
not just coverage of the recent mess. The organization provides
e-learning and instruction that not only supports the organization,
but also the communities and neighborhoods where it operates. It is
wholly committed to the concepts of learning and training. On its
own website it boasts:
"ACORN understands that community organizing experience is rare, so
we train a lot. New organizers learn how to conduct an organizing
drive and a local campaign. We train organizers to recruit members,
build an organizing committee, turn people out to meetings and
events, develop campaign strategy, work with leaders, do grassroots
fundraising, write press releases, and much more."
Before you decide to tar me with the Liberal brush, let me assure
you that would be wrong. I keep my politics to myself. But I think
that every learning organization should be just a bit impressed
with this group's commitment to training. In its very first
response to the crisis, ACORN CEO Bertha Lewis wrote: "When we
uncover such behavior, we take disciplinary action; and we
continuously strive to improve our training and management systems
to root out and prevent such behavior in the first place."
Time will tell, of course, but she was certainly saying the right
The big exception
How often are organizations, including yours, willing to stop everything they are doing to address a critical situation? The fact is that many can't, or won't, take such drastic actions.
The one organization that seems to believe in the practice, and
uses it without hesitation, is the United States military. In
recent months, the United States military has called a halt to
everything else it was doing to tackle an organizational crisis.
Earlier this year U.S. troops across South Korea attended training
designed to curb a six-month rise in assaults, thefts, fistfights,
and other discipline problems that military officials said began
after a shorter weekend curfew was put into place. According to
Stars and Stripes, U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. Walter Sharp
announced in early April that all service members were required to
attend the fourhour "Stand Down for Standards" training on such
topics as sexual assault, human trafficking and prostitution, and
gangs in the military. Sharp had previously shortened the curfew on
weekends and holidays, saying troops were responsible enough to
behave. The previous weekend curfew was 1 to 5 a.m. But after a dip
in violence in the first month under the new curfew, the number of
off-post incidents rose, military leaders said.
According to the publication, soldiers gave the training high
marks. Much of the material covered during the unitlevel training
paralleled that presented during in-processing, but many said it
was a good refresher course. It also sparked discussions within
units, particularly about sexual assaults.
"We didn't expect to fill the whole four hours, but we did. We
could have talked longer," Major Craig Rivet told the newspaper.
A bigger military stand-down to address an even more disturbing
problem took place. In February Army Secretary Pete Geren ordered a
stand-down of the Army's entire recruiting force and a review of
every aspect of the job in the wake of a wide-ranging investigation
of four suicides in the Houston Recruiting Battalion.
According to The Army Times, "Poor command climate, failing
personal relationships and long, stressful work days were factors
in the suicides, (an) investigation found. The investigating
officer noted a 'threatening' environment in the battalion and that
leaders may have tried to influence statements from witnesses."
"There were some things found that are disturbing," Brigadier
General Del Turner, deputy commanding general for Accessions
Command, told the newspaper.
The four recruiters who killed themselves were combat veterans of
Iraq or Afghanistan, but the Army did not identify them.
Ask yourself the question
What would prompt you to take such a radical step? Can you imagine
a crisis in your company that would ever require this kind of
action? I would be interested in hearing your opinions, examples,
or responses. We will follow up with other examples in a coming
issue. Contact me at the email address below.