IT is a pretty difficult job for most managers to deal with, to decide whether a subordinate has committed something wrong or not. But it is a situation that one is certain to come across, in the course of one’s management career. So here’s a situation that our readers who are managers or managers-to-be could practice on.
One of your direct reports (let’s call him Manager A) has been reported to you as having colluded with a competitor. During your debrief, he tells you that one day, he received a telephone call from a manager of your rival company. The caller informs him that he has sensitive information on another manager (let’s call him Manager B) in your organization, who is Manager A’s rival for a job promotion. Manager A decides to meet with the competitor, to hear what he has to say about Manager B, just in case it may prove to be useful information that could help Manager A gain advantage over Manager B in his quest for promotion.
When other employees in your organization learned of Manager A’s meeting with the competitor, they were totally appalled with his transgression. After all, your companies are deadly rivals in your industry, and you have never really held any meetings with each other, for fear of compromising valuable industrial secrets. Although it is not clearly spelled out in your company manual, everyone understands that meeting with representatives of competitor organizations is something that is not in keeping with behavior expected of your own company’s employees.
With this understanding in mind, you confront the erring employee, and ask him to tell you why he should not be discipline for his actions. And in his defense, he explains it like this. “One day, I get this phone call from a friend, who told me that Mr. X, a manager of our rival organization, had sensitive information about Manager B, which could help me gain advantage in my quest for job promotion. So I agreed to meet with him, just to hear out what he had to say.
However, when I arrived at our meeting place and started talking with him, it turned out that he did not have anything at all on Manager B, and all he wanted was to sell me some used cars. The meeting lasted for only 20 minutes, and it was really a nothing, as far as I am concerned.”
Ok, this is how he explains the story to you. Now how are you, his direct supervisor, supposed to decide on the propriety of his actions? Was he culpable or not? Did he do something wrong by meeting and discussing with a competitor, or were his actions in fact “nothing,” as he claims.
I am sure that any right-thinking manager would doubt the veracity of the employee’s story. There are just too many loopholes in the tale, that one suspects there must be something not quite right that went on. And in any case, his assertion that “he did not have anything on Manager B” does not excuse his act of meeting the competitor manager in the first place. It is just like a robber who breaks into a house, and pleads innocence to the police who catch him, saying that there was no money or anything of value to steal, so he did not commit anything wrong.
So if this is how any right-minded manager would conclude and judge the actions of Manager A, why is it so difficult for the American people to condemn Donald Trump Jr. for meeting with a Russian attorney, because the latter supposedly had sensitive information that may be valuable to his father’s campaign? Does the fact that “no valuable information was provided” excuse the improper meeting with an agent of a rival country in the first place?
If Donald Trump Jr. had been Manager A in his father’s organization, he would have been promptly fired for his actions. Should he now not be similarly called out and made to account for his improprieties by the American nation, in meeting with his country’s fiercest “competitor”?
Published in the SunStar Cebu newspaper on July 15, 2017.
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