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Letters to a Young Manager

The Case of the Serial Numbers, #25
LTYM > Leadership and Values

Dear Adam,
From your last letter, it sounds like you were faced with an ethical dilemma. Your boss asked you to say something that you felt was a lie. It made you feel sick, but you did it. After all, you were new to the job and your wife was expecting your first child. That's a tough call. It reminds me of a similar situation I faced one year.

I ended up working for a company in the Washington DC area through a series of mergers. It was a similar business to the stock market information business of a number of my jobs. That's where the similarity ended. This was a shoestring operation, sharing resources and books with sister organizations in ways that didn't feel as button-down as I was used to. The company felt as if it were struggling for existence on the edge of bankruptcy.

At the end of a long day, I got a call from the head of finance, saying that a creditor may drop in tomorrow and that we needed to label some equipment in inventory before they arrived.

"How many boxes?" I asked.
"A couple of hundred," he said.
"So we need to create a couple a hundred labels and stay late to complete this fire-drill?"
"Don't ask; just do it."

I kept notes and wrote up the incident, determined not to have my team do this again. We should be labeling things when they arrive from the manufacturer. Something didn't feel right.

A few months later, the company and its parent company declared bankruptcy. Charges of fraud followed. There was a trial and the senior executives were convicted. My gut was right.

In current era of Sarbannes Oxley, there are rules to protect the whistle-blowers. Fear of losing your job can be a powerful silencer. But in the end, silence isn't worth it. Listen to your gut. If it doesn't feel right, there's likely something wrong.



Pay attention to what doesn't feel right

Discussion Questions:

1) When you discover something that doesn't feel right in your organization, who can you turn to? Does your organization have written policies about this?
2) One of the tests I learned for ethical behavior was this question: how would you feel if that series of decisions or statements were published in your home-town newspaper? Would you be proud or embarrassed?
3) When is the right time to blow the whistle?

For Further Reading:

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