Choose your employees, customers and business partners well. Nothing will allow you to sleep at night better than knowing the people you work with are honest, reliable and can be counted on to live by the letter and spirit of their agreements with you.
If you can't count on them, you'll likely end up in court at some point in time, and that experience can surprise even the most jaded of senior managers. Here are a few examples of what can (and did) happen.
An employee who worked in my business unit left for a competitor. Not unusual by itself, but I discovered soon after he was out of the building that he had taken megabytes of critical, sensitive information along with him. I later learned that he had been meeting with the CEO of the competitor, and had even had dinner at his house prior to the sealing of their "secret" deal. I ran to the courts seeking an injunction preventing my former employee from taking the job.
Result: Court agreed the employee was attempting to steal confidential information to use in his new job, but wouldn't grant the injunction! He was simply given a stern warning not to use anything confidential in his possession, and allowed to continue on his merry way.
In another incident, three employees blackmailed the company into a "harassment" settlement, under threat of revealing sensitive company information as their case proceeded in court. The information concerned a scandal they were aware of, but had no bearing on their "case." We backed down quickly on that one, providing a hefty payment to each complaintant, and were happy it didn't go any further.
A third incident involved the termination of a senior manager and partial owner of a joint venture. In the separation, I agreed to buy his shares of the venture, to allow him to completely leave the company. When I refused to complete the purchase (due to the fact he had been "cooking the books," thereby giving an incorrect impression of their value) he sued the company and me personally. The judge compelled me to complete the transaction anyway, despite the fact we had relied on false information from the owner when extending the offer.
In a fourth, I was forced to avoid the courts completely, when a foreign licensee threatened to fabricate "evidence" of our involvement in their sales to a blacklisted country (totally false, I might add). That might have been a godsend since the case would have been tried in a foreign court, and I seriously doubt we would have prevailed.
One of my former bosses used to say: "Business is great fun, except for the people."
When you go to court, you receive a decision, not necessarily justice. In most cases, once you're on the path to legal action, you've already lost. You're taking a situation that is in you control, and placing it in someone else's hands. And for the honor, you'll likely pay your attorney a handsome fee.
So do your homework on the front end to make sure the people you deal with are honest, reliable and ready to live by both letter and spirit of the agreement. Craft your agreement well, so it is clear to both sides exactly what is expected when any number of unexpected situations arise. And when you become embroiled in a dispute, endeavor to settle it amicably and without reliance on the courts.
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Non-Fiction: NAVIGATING CORPORATE POLITICS (released 7/19/12)