Steven's Blog

Big Consequences of Tolerating Small Infractions

Illicit and unethical behavior should never be tolerated, even if the impact is small. For example, if a manager is padding company expenses for personal gain, you really have no choice but to fire the manager, even if it is for less than a few hundred dollars per year. That can be a hard decision to make when the manager’s performance is high, such as a top salesperson, but it is the right decision.

It is a matter of judgement and leadership of the manager rather than a cost-benefit analysis of the infraction.

While one infraction may have been discovered, you have to wonder how many others are simply invisible. At the same time, if one manager’s illicit behavior is tolerated, what message does that convey to others in the business? How many others will choose to imitate this manager? Will others who perform properly feel they are disadvantaged in a company where illicit behavior is tolerated, or even rewarded? How many good managers will simply choose to leave?

Illicit and unethical behavior if tolerated tends to spread. Click To Tweet

An industrial engineering company I know may have suffered this fate in the extreme. Safety infractions of their frontline staff are common. Accidents are frequent. Fatalities have occurred. Investigation revealed that managers tolerated if not encouraged skirting of safety protocols to boost business results. It had been going on for years, to the point where those in mid-level and senior-level management had been complicit, and had never known any other way during decades-long tenure with the company.

I suspect that years ago, skirting safety protocols to boost results started as an isolated infraction, and was tolerated. Others saw that the good business results were rewarded. Soon, the same business results became expected. The pressure to follow suit must have been intense.

Now a recognized problem, leadership is taking action. However, it is not clear to me that the company is salvageable. The senior executive in charge of safety reform had also been complicit as a manager of frontline staff. How much credibility do you think that manager will have in leading reform?

I define character as the ability to stick to one’s principles when it is neither convenient nor immediately beneficial to do so.

If a person cannot do that for something minor, what happens when something really consequential is at stake?

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