ACS Observer – The staff are revolting

When I started this occasional newsletter yesterday I thought it might be weekly. One day later, I find that events are moving too quickly for that. The place is about to explode.

Senior staff at the Australian Computer Society have joined the battle for the organisation’s future. ACS directly employs about 150 people, and many are very unhappy about the behaviour of the Management Committee.

Next week they plan to go public. A number of them have contacted me. The organisation is leaking like a sieve. They are extremely concerned about the way the ruling clique within the Management Committee is pushing through projects and strategies that are totally antithetical to the organisation’s aims. Million dollar projects are being initiated with no oversight, with staff then being asked to retrofit the requisite governance procedures after the act.

Staff turnover is very high. One of my informants tells me that less than one quarter of the people who worked there when he joined just a few years ago are still there. Another tells me that around 30% of staff leave every year. I have seen other analysis which confirms these numbers.

Many are worried about the culture of bullying that seems to be standard operating procedure within ACS. Now some concerned staff have formed an informal group to try to reverse the organisation’s descent into chaos. I had a long chat with one particularly well-informed whistle blower yesterday, who confirmed many things I had previously only suspected.

He really opened up. The most interesting of his revelations is the level of toxicity in the workplace environment. Earlier this year reformist President Ian Oppermann hired consultants to conduct a staff survey focusing on their views of the organisation and its direction. The findings demonstrated a worrying culture of bullying within ACS amply demonstrated by many examples that staff members have shared with me.

Oppermann went to the Management Committee with his concerns about what the survey revealed. CEO Andrew Johnson’s response has been to introduce staff sessions on ‘resilience’. Address the symptoms, not the causes!

Johnson is now accusing President Ian Oppermann of bullying him. This is truly astonishing, it is Johnson who is the bully. ACS staff I have spoken to regard Johnson as one of the most bullying managers they have ever had the misfortune to work for. I know Johnson. I have worked with him. I fully understand what they are saying.

“They have a playbook,” said my informant. “The plan is to harass Oppermann until he resigns, then reinstate Johnson as CEO. It starts with the bullying claim internally, then they will escalate it beyond the organisation.” Johnson is due to leave on 9 October, but is plotting to stay on.

Separately, I received a confidential email just last evening from a former senior employee. ”Johnson is possibly one of the worst bullies I have come across in over 40 years of business,” he said. “It is laughable that he himself is complaining of being bullied. Clayton Utz must be splitting their sides laughing as they make their way to the bank after more ridiculous legal action.”

This informant told me that would-be reformers within the ACS “are being outmanoeuvred at every turn as they simply don’t have the guile to deal with the Johnson camp.” One person I spoke to said that Johnson and his clique will do anything to maintain their positions. She told me the Management Committee simply does not care whose careers they destroy, so long as they get their way.

And then I got yet another call, from one totally pissed off ACS Branch Executive Member said to me he was considering resigning in disgust but would to hang in there to try to fix things. Yet another current employee told me the biggest bully is Chief Digital Officer Stephen Buckman, currently stood down on full pay for apparently well-deserved accusations of sexual harassment. Buckman is well known within ACS for his screaming fits and public humiliation of his staff, two thirds of whom have resigned within the last twelve months.

I also understand from mutual friends that Oppermann himself has considered resigning but wants to hang in there to see it all through. Bullying behaviour brings out the best in the best people.

Whatever the case, this large group of senior ACS staff have had enough. They were keeping quiet, but they are now contacting journalists like me. I am assured by some of them that the next step will be to go to the Fair Work Ombudsman with what seems to me to be very valid complaints. The natives are restless. What a mess!

it is truly astonishing what is going on within ACS. Beyond the increasingly paranoid members of the management clique I have not found a single person defending their actions. The entire computer industry is up in arms over their behaviour. Now the staff have had enough.

ACS clearly has many problems. I have drawn attention to many of them. Others, such as Roger Clarke’s Rescue Your ACS group, have highlighted many others. Membership statistics are atrocious, the management accounts are deficient, the corporate governance is demonstrably compromised, the communication process is non-existent, and any sense of accountability to the membership that made the organisation what it is is totally lacking.

Now the organisation’s own staff are coming out against these many deficiencies. What an absolute disaster. I have been assured there will be a mass walkout if Johnson forces out Oppermann and stays on as CEO.

There are also serious allegations of financial mismanagement, which are being handled very poorly. That’s a whole other story, of which the details are only slowly becoming apparent. I’ll revisit that at a later time. It’s a real mess.

The entire Management Committee should resign. New and fair elections need to be held. The situation is untenable.

Posted in: ACS