When an issue comes up and responsibility is ambiguous, many good employees willing and able to take charge, don’t. Why? Blowback. Act without clear authority, and others are quick to label you as reckless, political, or insubordinate. And that’s when your actions are successful. When your actions fail, run for cover.
But in a modern, fast changing world, where issues aren’t falling so neatly within the boxes of the org chart, we can’t always wait for every stakeholder to gather in a room together to sort out responsibility. Organizational agility demands a culture of initiative where individual members feel empowered to take responsibility. Perhaps organizations need their own version of a Good Samaritan Law.
In 1959, California was the first state to pass a Good Samaritan Law when several bystanders failed to assist people who were injured, likely because they feared being sued. The law attempts to prevent any hesitation to help, by protecting bystanders from legal liability (and in some cases even requiring bystanders to provide reasonable assistance). Since then, every state has adopted some form of the law.
Does the Good Samaritan Law work? It’s up for debate. Some argue the law is too ambiguous, ensuring that shrewd lawyers who are insistent on suing a Good Samaritan, will find a way. But at the very least, the law sends a strong message: we, as a community, stand by those who attempt to do the right thing, even when it leads to unintended consequences. This kind of bold stance, even if mostly symbolic, can help foster a culture of caring, initiative, and responsibility.
Maybe a Good Samaritan Policy, at least in spirit, can do the same for organizations. If leadership declares that they will stand by well-intended members who step up and lead during times of group inaction, even when it results in the occasional failure or ruffled feathers, then those well-intended members just might act more often. And hopefully a Good Samaritan Policy will encourage their colleagues to be a bit more trusting of them when they do. Because when people are genuinely quick to praise initiative, and slow to admonish it, you may realize that your organization has more Good Samaritans than you could have ever imagined.