Leadership at the Legislative Research Commission, whose staff drafts the laws we live by in Kentucky, systematically wrecked a cardinal law of management: the rule of no surprises.
A report on the LRC released late Monday describes a place where an official information vacuum gave rise to a communication maze that is "inefficient, irregular, subject to error" and doesn't reach all employees.
Workers aren't told what's expected of them, how they will be evaluated, how their pay is calculated, who they report to or the goals of the organization.
Under former executive director Bobby Sherman, they rarely saw top managers, almost never had staff meetings, and didn't know about job openings until they were filled.
The legislative leaders who oversee the LRC staff have violated the rule themselves, promising new leadership and a rapid response after sexual harassment charges laid bare endemic problems and forced Sherman's resignation in the fall of 2013.
They quickly contracted with the National Conference of State Legislatures to analyze the agency and pledged an intense search for a new executive director.
Instead they surprised staff and public with ... nothing. At least until, after pestering by this newspaper, they finally released the draft NCSL report, nine months after receiving it.
Enough. It's time for action.
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, and House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, who lead the legislative group that oversees the LRC, must begin the search for a permanent executive director and develop a strategy to improve the culture and working conditions at the LRC.
The authors use the term "red zone culture" — characterized by low trust, high blame, risk avoidance, alienation, anxiety, cynicism, hostility, suspicion and sarcasm — to describe the type of deep dysfunction that is overtaking the LRC staff.
Despite this, the staff continues to take pride in its work and to get high marks from legislators, the report noted. And the interim director, according to the report, has made some positive changes.
But, the authors warned, the LRC's problems, "if left unaddressed, may undermine staff morale and contribute to a decline in ... performance."
If that happens, we all lose.
Although the LRC is unknown to many Kentuckians, there are few agencies that have such a wide-ranging impact.
The modern LRC came into being in the 1970s when legislators, tired of simply taking orders from the governor, saw the need for their own full-time, independent and professional staff.
As staff for the part-time citizen legislators, the LRC performs research on every issue the General Assembly considers, drafts the laws that govern us and provides the nuts and bolts support that keeps legislative offices functioning.
That's why the surprises must end and the reforms begin.