A crisis uncontrolled

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A crisis uncontrolled

Legendary General Motors CEO Alfred Sloan once responded to a question by consultant Peter Drucker as to why he spent so much time on hiring decisions. Sloan said, “If we didn’t spend four hours on placing a man and placing him right, we’d spend four hundred hours cleaning up after our mistake .?.?. The decision about people is the only truly crucial one. You think and everybody thinks that a company can have ‘better’ people. All it can do is place people right - and then it’ll have performance.”

In “Adventures of a Bystander,” a rich collection of Drucker’s autobiographical stories and vignettes, the famous management theorist said that the “people-focused” Sloan, who paid close attention to management details, told him that some people make fewer mistakes not because they necessarily have good judgment but because they are prudent.

Sloan’s advice and emphasis on hiring the right people can be applied to the Park Geun-hye administration from what we have seen from the scandalous incident involving presidential spokesman Yoon Chang-jung, who was sacked due to a sex scandal during the president’s visit to Washington.

Lee Nam-ki, senior presidential secretary for public relations, criticized his former staff for almost ruining the otherwise successful first overseas state visit by President Park. Yoon Yeo-joon, former lawmaker and minister for environment, said the guy guilty of misconduct and his bosses, too, were all a bad bunch. If the presidential office was sensible, it should have handled the situation in an entirely different way.

First, the Blue House should have investigated the case thoroughly and promptly. Accidents and unexpected incidents can always happen. What the presidential office should have done first of all is to get to the bottom of the truth as thoroughly as possible. It should have questioned the victim - a Korean-American female intern hired temporarily to assist the presidential entourage - who is reported to have been sexually assaulted and harassed by presidential spokesman Yoon. It should have questioned the driver who accompanied the two. But the head of the Korean Cultural Center that hired the temporary staff interviewed the victim for only 10 minutes, and Lee was briefed on the misdemeanor by Yoon himself for about five minutes. That’s too fast.

Lee would have had seven hours to control the crisis if he had not accompanied the president on her schedule around Washington. If several hours, not a quarter of an hour, were spent handling the case, the presidential office would not be wasting its time cleaning up the mess for more than 150 hours. Most of all, the president herself should have been briefed much earlier.

Second, the presidential staff lacked awareness of the gravity of the incident. Not only Lee, but all of the senior staffers including chief of staff Huh Tae-yeol, should have been on the case to decide whether the presidential office should interfere, repatriate Yoon or leave him there for police investigation. The presidential office in one way or the other should have been active working on the fact-finding. Most importantly, it should have been sincerely truthful and frank. It should not have made the obvious lie that Yoon returned home unexpectedly because his wife was sick.

Third, the presidential office erred in the apology ritual. It had to apologize for a shameful scandal. But an apology is not the end of the story. Apologies from politicians rarely come from the heart. Even when a statement uses the word a thousand times, the public may not accept it as a true apology. An apology carries weight when it is accompanied by accountability.

In the 59 hours after the incident was reported, the statements by the senior secretary on public relations, the chief staff and the president had one thing in common: An emphasis on what President Park accomplished during her trip to the U.S. In her apology statement, the president spoke about the assault in 490 words and described her achievements in 930 words. It’s no wonder some sneered at her apology as an excuse to brag about her diplomatic accomplishments.

Finally, the presidential office should have been quicker and more resolute in its follow-up actions. A former senior presidential official once said that cleaning up the mess from misconduct was like a surgeon cutting out a larger portion of an internal organ when removing a malignant tumor. It should not have tried to deflect criticism by saying it would exclude drinkers from state visit entourages or promising to strengthen discipline in public office. Instead of vowing to demand accountability for misconduct in the future, it should have asked for stronger responsibility for the current incident.

All the senior staffers in the presidential office have messed up either in big or small way. Yoon’s immediate supervisor Lee as well as Huh, the chief of staff, have been lax. The senior secretary on civilian affairs briefly talked of the legal perspective while the senior secretary on state affairs remained more or less mum.

They all pointed fingers at former colleague without saying anything to the president. The blame game, however, ends up highlighting President Park’s biggest mistake - for hiring the wrong person in the first place. It appears that there is little prudence on the presidential team at the Blue House.

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Ko Jung-ae
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