Walkerton – a lesson for all (Editorial)

By John Hobel
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 02/23/2002

Stan and Frank Koebel, former manager and foreman of Walkerton’s water utility, will be remembered in Canadian history as a pair of incompetent liars whose actions contributed significantly to the seven deaths and 2,300 E-coli cases in their small Ontario community in May of 2000.

But the report on Walkerton’s tainted-water tragedy, delivered by Justice Dennis O’Connor last month following a lengthy inquiry, also lays responsibility for the E-coli outbreak at the door of Ontario Premier Mike Harris and his government. It paints the picture of a cabinet doggedly pursuing its ideological beliefs — and this is where it turns into a tale of poorly executed change management and a leadership style uninterested in dissenting opinions. Rigid ideology applied to any organization, be it public or private sector, is a recipe for disaster.

Change management is a skill that requires thoughtful planning. The manner in which HR professionals and senior management teams execute change can make or break mergers, downsizings and re-engineering initiatives. The message from Walkerton is that speed, quite literally, kills.