Honey, you can't hide your lyin' eyes
- The Eagles
Ethics, of course, is a major concern in business, at all levels of the organization. If you don’t believe me, just ask Scott Thompson, who’s now out as CEO of Yahoo! after the world found out his computer science degree was no more real than unicorns and leprechauns.
This case really makes you think, and those thoughts go deeper than wondering how someone in that position thinks he could fool a company dedicated to the open exchange of information. If a CEO candidate search can’t uncover a simple lack of credential, what chance do businesses have to defend themselves against lower-level liars?
And what can the training department do to help?
Unfortunately, there’s not a lot, at least directly. Candidate vetting is clearly a pure HR function, and training’s role is limited typically to working with those who make it past the HR gatekeepers. Certainly training can help spot the candidate who doesn’t possess represented skills, but the liar you really have to watch out for is the one, like Thompson, who has the right skills but the wrong sense of honesty. Barring some outside intervention, that person can wriggle right through the cracks.
“My, oh my, you sure know how to arrange things,” as the Eagles sang. “You set it up so well, so carefully.”
Setting things up well, so carefully, certainly needs to be the HR takeaway from this embarrassing incident. But what’s the message for training? Legally it would be unwise to assume everyone who tests poorly on a certain subject is a fraud, so the solution must lie elsewhere.
Of course the function’s initial contribution is obvious: Training is often the stage-setter for organizational culture, and certainly integrity need to be the bedrocks of any corporate culture. If honesty and ethics aren’t values you’re communicating, maybe this is the wake-up call you’ve needed to receive.
But then again, anyone who’d tell an easily uncovered lie on a job application is no doubt arrogant enough to assume ethics are something the other guy worries about. So we’re back to the beginning.
Let’s spin the issue around then and consider a rhetorical issue: Does it matter what Thompson did? If his stewardship of the company was successful – and all signs point to yes – is this an offense that mandates dismissal?
Ethically, of course it does. He lied about something important in order to gain a lucrative position. That indicates a weakness of character that could have all kinds of unforeseen implications for company shareholders should the liar decide to tell more current untruths.
But from a performance management basis, what if the best person for the job told a little white one? Are current skills and abilities of more immediate value than a 20-year-old piece of paper? Steve Jobs and Bill Gates can do what they did without college degrees … but they never claimed to have them.
Is this round-and-round making anyone else dizzy?
Obviously there’s no magic answer here. As long as people have deception in their hearts, they’ll find a way around processes and procedures. The best that training (and of course HR) can do it try to be vigilant, be thorough and remember the principle of caveat emptor.
There’s a lot of potential for dialogue on this issue, so tell me what you think. Did Thompson and people like him get tired or just get lazy, to paraphrase the Eagles again. It’s funny how their new life didn’t change things.
How much does this case concern you? Tell me what you really think.