Until last November, having grown up in Pennsylvania, I’ve never known of another Penn State football coach than Joe Paterno. He covered up something so heinous, it makes all of us sick. God bless the victims. One thing is certainly obvious from this case, and it’s applicable in our personal lives, careers and business practices: cover-ups never work.
Trying to hide mistakes is simply wrong; the price will be paid, sooner rather than later. And the more time goes by, the steeper the price that will have to be paid. Nixon tried the cover-up route – it didn’t work. So did Enron. That didn’t go so well, either. Ted Kennedy came clean about his responsibility almost immediately after Chappaquiddick, and he remained in the Senate until he died. One can argue about what costs he paid, both personally and professionally, but he ‘fessed up to some degree within a relatively short time, and he “survived.” Ronald Reagan did, too, with the Iran-Contra arms deal. He admitted some of his people made mistakes and he was responsible because they were working for him.
Point being: when something’s not right, fix it, make it right, and just do it NOW. We all make mistakes, but covering them up? Come clean, live with the heat, ‘fess up, and be better the next time because of the experience. From the book, Leadership Principles of Attila the Hun: ”Never shoot the messenger who brings you the bad news. Shoot the messenger who hides or doesn’t bring it to your attention. It’s much simpler to deal with when it’s fresh, not old.” Penn State missed that opportunity. Heaven forbid the same should happen to any of our businesses.
Everyone remember the Domino’s commercials a few years back? “Hey, we admit it, we’re making a lousy pizza, but we’ve heard you, and we’re changing it.” An article in Southwest Airlines’ “Spirit” magazine this month discusses this marketing tactic in detail. Turns out, Domino’s faked out everybody about how bad their pizza was. They faked us into thinking their pizza was bad, and then they turned a supposed fault into a 14.3 percent sales boost. Since they pulled this little stunt, their sales have gone up another 20 percent.
Like many of us, I’ve been watching from some distance the case of the glass industry employee who’s accused of stealing company drawings/data/trade secrets and taking them to a new position with another company. The twist is his old employer sold off the new company, and the argument is whether the employee took confidential information that affected the buying/selling price to either party, and who, if anyone, got an advantage in the transaction. All of us probably send something to our personal email addresses, or copy something onto a flash drive to work on at home at night to catch up a little. It’s what one does with such info later that in this particular case has been interesting to watch.
But of even more interest is how the original employer found out what had gone on. By accessing both his office AND home machine (by some legal means, they confiscated the employee’s home computer, the grounds being he had sent info to it from the office), the former employer was able to trace back for a number of months all of the employee’s computer activity, both in emails sent/received, data transferred via flash/portable drives, etc. All of it. They KNEW every move the employee had made, what went where, when it went, and to whom it went, if anyone.
Most employers have company policies on what you can and can’t do from the office computer. Better brush up on them if it’s been awhile. I venture to guess a lot of them aren’t strictly enforced. Until one person steps over the line, and then the pressure’s on everyone to measure up, and THEN watch the enforcement step up.
The experts have been telling us: when we’re all this linked together, when you hit the send button, someone’s going to be able to trace it. If you don’t want it to come back, don’t put it on the ‘net, on Facebook, on anything anybody’s going to find. Hitting the “post” or “send” button is like carving it on Mt. Rushmore: it’s gonna be out there an awfully long time. Potential employers are asking new applicants for access to the new hire’s personal Facebook and LinkedIn sites. This is why I’m reluctant to tweet: I say too many dumb things to risk putting anything down in writing.
George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Paterno failed to learn from history what happens in cover-ups. And, we all should learn from the history of those who have misused their work computers. Everybody read George Orwell’s “1984?” Big Brother CAN watch you. From the “Hill Street Blues” TV show, “let’s be careful out there.” Some tracks you leave won’t ever go away.