Overcoming Internal Indifference

by Kim Faulkner & Robby Susatyo 17 June 2020

“The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything”

— Albert Einstein

Replace the word “world” with your society, community, company, team, even family… and you’ll see that Einstein is still right. Just some examples in the news recently bring this point home:

A bank branch in Medan, Indonesia, lost $ 30 million in 2 months. Its manager went home with a stuffed sports bag every day. Many employees noticed it but said nothing. It turned out that the bag contained cash stolen from the branch. 

A doctor performed vasectomy on a patient suffering from appendicitis. The nurse who shaved him, the anesthetist, and three other staff noticed something was wrong but remained indifferent. 

A meeting lasted for hours discussing a plan that everyone attending knew would not work. But the boss stubbornly pushed on and, approaching the end of the day, they all politely agreed to the “ticking time-bomb” of a plan, while mentally saying “whatever you say”. 

We can go on with stories of damage done because of internal indifference. Is this corporate phenomenon of indifference unique to Asia? Is it prevalent only to certain cultures, or at certain levels of the workforce? 

Hofstede's studies across 70 countries unveiled endemic gaps in areas such as, Power Distance, Individualism vs. Collectivism and Long-term vs. Short-term orientation. These issues affect public and private sector industries; sectors which should have a higher proportion of highly educated people, many of whom have been trained to be assertive, considered and technically competent. 

Even at the highest levels of management in Fortune 100 companies, internal indifference has led to an unprecedented level of corporate mismanagement. One only has to look at recent examples in the automotive and financial services sectors to know that this has eroded not just consumer trust, but heralded a new level of employee apathy and resignation. 



Visionary CEO’s of major corporations realise that to build a great organisation, they need to build corporate competence as well as corporate character. The latter includes the attitude of caring for others, showing concern, fighting for what is right, and feeling empowered to speak up when something is not right. 

In the examples cited, indifference could actually be construed as sabotage, leading to the negligent behaviour that propagates dishonesty. 

The question is: is that attitude of indifference a matter of motivation, competence or a culture of internal indifference?

We believe that for employees to deliver brand and shareholder value, a framework which promotes proactive internal engagement is necessary.

There needs to be a strong brand value proposition which acts as an “organising principle” for corporate aspirations, behaviour and service delivery. 

Corporate branding should touch on the purpose, values, relationships and long-term sustainability of the organisation. In this context, and with respect to overcoming internal indifference or inertia, we believe that there are 3 key areas of focus:

1. Personal motivation and corporate enablement
2. Social value and corporate culture
3. Personal satisfaction and corporate structure 

In the book, Influencer: The Power to Change Anything, by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler; six sources of influences were identified.

SME Table

Grenny and McMillan1 asserts that motivation and ability have to work hand-in-hand at a personal, social and structural level for change to take place. Sometimes what appears to be a lack of motivation could boil down to an employee not knowing how to do the task. We assume that people show indifference because they lack motivation when in fact they simply need training that equips them on how to speak up tactically and diplomatically.   


The same writers say that “personal” motivation and ability are easily diminished if there is no “social” support. Friends, business associates, colleagues, and senior management are some examples of social support. The writers also add that “structural” resources, such as corporate rewards and accountability; management tools and facilities can also guide corporate behaviour and provide motivation.



Some organisations endeavor to change their corporate culture by plastering their office walls with posters of their new values. The same set of values appear on computer screens, elevator doors, in meeting rooms, corridors, even inside the gents and the ladies. They are necessary, but not enough. After a while they stop making people utter “wow”. They become W.O.W  — literally “Words On Walls”. What we need more of is a change in collective behaviour — so transitioning from being indifferent and disempowered, to being proactive and equipped to “be the change” within the organisation.

In practical terms, being proactive and not being indifferent are broad concepts that require elaboration. They must be communicated and internalised throughout the organisation. Finally, they should be embedded in the systems, processes, and procedures, accompanied by rewards and accountability. There must be a conducive environment; tools as well as the right facilities to enable meaningful change to happen. 

At Activiste, we see strong brands and brand management as a holistic developmental process in which business strategy; managing talent and people; and systems and structures, are brought into focus and aligned through purposeful branding.

*Joseph Grenny and Ron McMillan, together with Kerry Patterson, Al Switzler and David Maxfield write “Crucial Conversations”, and “Influencer”. 


Kim has over 30 years of branding, marketing and design experience in Asia and has lectured and written extensively on the subject of branding, strategy development, marketing and design across the region.

With over 35 years experience in strategic marketing and research, Robby is an invaluable asset to the Activiste team.