7 Reasons Not To Blame "Rogue Employees" For Organizational Problems

When a word or phrase is used multiple times in the same way it starts to have the ring of messaging. And several times now, the word "rogue" has been used to blame federal government employees for wrongdoing carried out under the government's name:

Example #1, May 16, 2013:
  • "News of (Acting IRS Director) Miller's resignation followed revelations that the IRS has identified two 'rogue' employees in the agency's Cincinnati office as being principally responsible for the 'overly aggressive' handling of requests by conservative groups for tax-exempt status, a congressional source told CNN". Miller in the same briefing stated that the employees were, quote unquote, "off the reservation."  (CNN)
Example #2, August 27, 2012:
  • "Since the controversy was first exposed, a divide has developed between the ATF staff in Phoenix who oversaw and implemented Fast and Furious; and their supervisors at ATF headquarters and the Justice Department. The Phoenix officials say higher-ups approved of the case. But the higher-ups say it was all the brainchild of rogue ATF officials in Phoenix." (CBS News)
Management writer Lawrence Serewicz points out that the term "rogue" is frequently used as an excuse for bad organizational behavior, i.e. "rogue ex-employee," "rogue trader," and so on. In "The Myth of the Rogue Employee: Rotten Barrels Create Rotten Apples," he explains why this is dangerous:

1. "All employees work and operate within an organisational context. For a rogue employee to exist, and operate, there has to be a lack of organisational (managerial) oversight."

2. "The 'rogue employee' is a dangerous myth because it is an attempt to cover systemic issues."

3. "When a rogue employee defence is used, it is also an admission that the internal communication system, where negative (or critical) information is not being communicated upwards, is not working."

4. "The rogue employee myth allows the fellow employees to feel that they have no responsibility for their colleagues’ behaviour."

5. "It presents a false, deceptive, dangerous image to the public."

6.  "The barrel becomes rotten before rotten apples emerge."

7. "The defence, undoubtedly developed for managerial reasons as well as legal reasons, (leaves) the organisation vulnerable to its unravelling. Once...proven otherwise, the whole defence crumbles."

At the end of the day, scapegoating people with this kind of language, even if technically accurate, creates more problems than it solves. Better to assume responsibility (quickly), make all information transparent, implement the necessary reforms, and move on.

* As always all opinions are my own.


Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal is an author, independent brand researcher, and adjunct marketing professor with 20 years of varied experience. An avid researcher and prolific, creative writer, Dr. Blumenthal's interests span communication, marketing, qualitative media content analysis, political rhetoric, propaganda, leadership, management, organizational development, and more. An engaged citizen, she has for several years worked to raise awareness around child sex trafficking and the dangers of corruption at @drdannielle on Twitter. You can find her articles at Medium, www.AllThingsBrand.com and www.DannielleBlumenthal.com, and she frequently answers questions on Quora. All opinions are Dr. Blumenthal's own.