Damage Control

Take the right step.

As the peeps at VW are learning realtime, the best way to handle a crisis is not to have one.

Yet many of us deal with potential crisis periodically. And while forgetting your third-grader’s science project is indeed a nightmare (been there) I’m talking about problems in the office. Questions about intent, ethics, judgement. Things we really worry about.¬†Remember, bad news, unlike wine, does not get better with time.

In my career I’ve been a part of many investigations of all types in the workplace. And the challenge anytime you look into potential problems is that its hard to find all the pieces after the fact. You put together what you can – akin to a broken mirror – and do your best to interpret it. Like a Picasso perhaps.

Some cultures are healthy and vibrant in this area, maybe most in the middle and a few are dangerously torpid. I’m putting the Bug-makers in this last group. So, how do we move towards healthy and avoid damage control?

Three keys to healthy systems:

Don’t Let People Judge – Recently I worked a case (no I never share real names) where truly nefarious behavior wasn’t hidden at all: no one ever bothered to report it. An off-hand remark overheard by another investigator led to uncovering a stunningly base episode. Why did we have to find out the hard way? Because two different managers in two different groups made judgement calls that there wasn’t “really an issue” using the flimsiest rationale. Why? Because they thought they had that choice. No. Suspect something smells funny at all? Report it. Provide multiple channels for reporting, protect those who do and let the pros assess the issue.

Put Self-reporting Systems in Place – One client I worked with found out about potential revenue problems simply by having a self-reporting check pop-up quarterly on the desktops of those who might touch revenue. Included were questions about any questionable actions: routine concerns uncovered revenue almost booked in the wrong quarter (surprise) and were quickly corrected simply by paying attention. Put systems in place and use them.

Investigate with Professionals – I’ve seen good and bad: good is better. Anytime you’re facing financial irregularities, potential liability through agency or serious policy violations like harassment or cover-ups, do yourself a favor: have a team of qualified people ready to determine what’s happened already in place. Internal resources, external or combination, have a tiger team ready to go. And escalate as soon as you need to. Potential problems are best not best left to amateurs and wannabe’s. Have the right people ready to investigate quickly, quietly and competently.

Problems happen in even the best environments: a key question is, are they mistakes or malfeasance? Having the right systems in place, current and healthy, is the best way to deal with a crisis.

Apart from not having one at all.

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