The January 1986 explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, at a cost of seven lives, has been analyzed from several
The January 1986 explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, at a cost of seven lives, has been analyzed from several managerial standpoints: poor decision-making, poor management control, and poor leadership have all been blamed. We can also see in this tragedy an example of the unethical use of organizational power.
It has been determined that the explosion that doomed the space shuttle was caused by poorly designed seals on the booster rockets. The boosters were manufactured by Morton Thiokol, a major defense contractor. When the U.S. Congress initiated its investigation of the causes of the disaster, it found several disturbing facts. To begin with, several Morton Thiokol engineers had warned that the boosters were unsafe early in the design stage, but no one listened. Once the boosters were in production, engineers again warned of possible problems, but to no avail. The company kept the information quiet. Equally disturbing was the fact that after two company engineers testified in the congressional hearing, they were abruptly transferred to undesirable assignments elsewhere in the company. When asked by Congress whether they thought their transfers were in retaliation for their whistleblowing, both engineers responded yes. One noted, “I feel I was set aside so I would not have contact with the people from NASA.” The company had, in effect, used its power to try to isolate those who talked freely with the congressional investigators. In its defense, Morton Thiokol responded that it had demoted no one as a result of the investigation. “We’ve changed a lot of duties . . . because we’re reorganizing,” a management representative said.
1. How is power used in organizations?
2. How can managers use strategy to counteract the negative use of power in organizations?
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