When is it OK to be unethical?
There are a multitude of books, authors and public speakers that can provide an opinion on this topic, but how many of them are available to you just at the moment when you encounter difficult situations? Unless you just finished reading a book or listened to a speaker that detailed just the experience that you are encountering, then you are left to fall back on the basic tenets of good ethical behavior, probably taught to you by your parents, coaches and business leaders.
Ethical dilemmas can occur at anytime and anywhere in your journey through your personal and your business life. I don’t plan to talk about an issue in someone’s personal life as I will leave that to be guided by parents, religion and your own life experiences. However, I would like to talk about the challenges of facing such a situation in the business world. In particular, I would like to talk about the recruiting process and the behavior of the parties on both sides of the interview process.
There has been a lot of press in the past decade about individuals lying on their resumés to make themselves look better and to further one’s career, so I am sure that you have heard many people state quite bluntly, “it is not worth lying since it can ultimately catch up with you and can lead to a loss of your position”. That seems pretty straight forward although the majority of us are often coached to use specific words and phrases to enhance the appearance of our resumé, we are cautioned about outright lying. However, what happens when we encounter questionable behavior, from either the applicant or the hiring manager during the interview process?
I would like to share a scenario with you that I encountered as a hiring manager while working for a telecommunications company:
I was trying to fill a Director level position and because we were considered the new up and coming player on the block, it was not unusual for us to attract individuals from our competitors. One particular interview involved a meeting with a young lady who had risen through the ranks of one of our competitors and she felt that she was now limited in her ability to advance further, thus she was applying for the role on my team. She had been recommended to me by a colleague in the industry so she came to the meeting armed with one of the best assets and interviewer could ask for; an unsolicited recommendation from someone that I respected.
About midway through the meeting she brought out a binder of her work to illustrate the level of complexity of many of her projects and I quickly recognized it contained confidential information about customers and her current employer. I indicated that this did not seem to be appropriate information to be showing to a potential employer as I did not want her to feel that she needed to compromise her position in order to impress me. She then went on to indicate that she didn’t see this as a problem and in fact if she was hired she would bring significantly more information with her to assist us in getting a competitive edge. I think I considered this possibility for about a “nano second” before determining in my head that I would not be hiring this individual. As much as I would like to understand the structure and pricing models of my competitors, I felt that if she was willing to treat her current employer in this fashion, she would probably do the same to my company when she felt it was time to move on. I was feeling quite pleased with myself as we wrapped up the meeting and I was starting to think about how and what I was going to tell the individual that had provided the recommendation. As we were parting, she handed me a package which she indicated contained her resumé and references from customers and previous managers. I didn’t really look at this package until three days later when I was looking up her email address to send a note indicating that we would not be proceeding any further. What I discovered is that her package included confidential pricing as well as sales and marketing strategies for her current employer. All documents were in a three ring binder so I think it is highly unlikely that they got included by mistake. Whether intended or not, the ethical dilemma now rested with me…what do I do with this information? I could argue that I had made a point of telling the individual not to share this information with me and that I had inadvertently come into possession of some information that could prove valuable to us. On the other hand how do I live with my own conscience, since the first option seemed to contradict my own personal values. In the end, I destroyed all of that information and flagged her resumé in my personnel files for future reference by any hiring manager.
After this was all said and done, I shared this story with several associates at various levels and found that some people sided with me and my actions while others thought I was an idiot for throwing away the confidential information, as they argued that I had done everything that I was supposed to do as an ethical manager, therefore in their eyes I should have used the information to my advantage.
What do you think?
Author: Navigating Corporate Life www.navigatingcorporatelife.com