Cautionary Tales are like the Fairy Tales in organizations. They tell people what not to do. They feature people who did the wrong thing and the consequences that were suffered as a consequence.
The motivation that led to the action may also be mentioned, for example being greedy or careless.
Consequences may be for the person who broke the rules, for their colleagues or for the organization. It may be in financial terms, social distress or other means.
A couple of people went out at lunchtime last year and came back drunk. They were sacked immediately and were not given any good references.
When I started I didn’t bother sharpening the tools after I used them. The foreman gave me a good telling off about how it would cost others time and money. He also showed me how to sharpen tools properly. I’ve never forgotten that and it’s worth remembering.
There was a chilling documentary featuring a cautionary tale:
When a nuclear bomb is in danger of accidental detonation, established procedures are carefully followed, and cooperation takes precedence over assigning blame. Or so the hopeful viewer might think before seeing Command and Control, a PBS American Experience documentary now in limited theatrical release before its broadcast debut.
Cautionary tales also tell much about the culture of the organization. A story that leads to the person who transgressed being severely punished betrays a command-and-control culture, whilst the story that focuses on the damage done to other people indicates a more socially-focused organization.
Tales that talk about motivation and other factors help the listener to extend the learning into motivations and broad areas that are forbidden or frowned upon.
Cautionary tales are very important for newcomers and are often repeated by fairly recent newcomers to those who have just joined. ‘Whatever you do, don’t XXX — a woman who did that last year ….’.