When in Doubt, Cut it Out

So you've found a cancer somewhere in your organization.  Perhaps it is criminal activity.  Maybe it is a violation of trust.  Or it could be something as inocuous as one employee systematically taking advantage of another.  The point is, you've discovered it and now it is time that heads must roll.

One of the questions you need to answer is -- how many heads?  How far do you need to go to completely eliminate the problem?

In my experience, you should go far enough to make sure you catch everyone involved.  Even those on the periphery.  Even if you're not 100% positive they were involved in the entire scheme.

I once discovered a determined effort on the part of an employee to make illegal shipments to an embargoed country.  It was clear who the ringleader was, and equally as clear what was going to happen to him.

He was going to be fired.

Unfortunately, there were two other employees involved on the periphery.  Without their cooperation, the scheme would have never worked.  But when interviewed, they claimed the lead conspirator (their boss) forced them to participate through threats.  And they claimed they were sucked into the scheme through ignorance -- believing the claims their boss made that the clandestine operation was completely in compliance with both law and company policy (an absurd, but still possibly true, claim).

I was sympathetic.  I could see how they might have been innocent bystanders.

And I kind of needed them.  Removing all three employees would have seriously damaged our capabilities in what was a small office.

So, rather than firing the two peripheral employees, I had a note added to their personnel file, and we allowed them to both continue in their jobs.

That turned out to be a mistake.

Keeping them on had a negative impact on morale at the location, as many of the employees there assumed the pair were deliberately and deeply involved in the legal violations.  Since the investigation was continuing, I didn't feel we could disclose all the facts in order to set the record straight, or even to rationalize our decision.

The lead conspirator, took a job with a competitor, and began assisting them in setting up a distribution network in the territories he formerly covered for us.  Within six months, both of his co-conspirators quit and joined him.  In the process, there was no telling what information they took with them -- information that ultimately proved damaging to our organization.

In hindsight, I should have fired all three of the participants in the scheme.  At the least, the two lower level employees showed extrodinarily poor judgment in the situation -- judgment that should have called into question their viability as managers.  At the worst, they had already tipped their hand as liars and cheats.

When you uncover corruption worthy of termination of employment, make sure you root out all of the corruption.  In the long haul, it will improve morale, and prevent you from being further victimized by unethical employees who have only their own interests at heart.  13.2

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Novels: LEVERAGEINCENTIVIZEDELIVERABLES and now HEIR APPARENT (published 3/2/2013)-- note, the ebook version of DELIVERABLES (a prequel to HEIR APPARENT) is on sale for a limited time at Amazon for $4.99.

These novels are all based on extensions of my experiences as a senior manager in the world of public corporations.