Volume 9 | Issue 3Putting it in context
A message from CDC Integrated Services, LLC
Pitfalls and Problems
At least once a year, I write about one of my favorite topics – people taking shortcuts. Over the years, we’ve had the opportunity to unscramble several messes brought about by these pitfalls on behalf of clients.
The lure of taking the often tempting shortcut leads to pitfalls and problems very few see until they fall into the pit or run smack into an insurmountable problem. Yet, for all the risks, taking shortcuts is almost a ‘way of life’ for many. Unfortunately, in the world of business, depending on what level you’re working, shortcuts can:
- Contradict the ethical standards set by the company’s Mission Statement and Code of Conduct
- Set the wrong example within both the company’s management and operations teams
- On an operations level, this can lead to lower, ignored, and in effect, redefined quality control and safety parameters – often undocumented and unmeasured.
- Unaddressed on this level can result in substandard, out-of-spec, and potentially dangerous products/services released to customers.
- When ‘tolerated’ by management and operations alike, the company’s employees, vendors, customers, prospects, and regulatory and safety agencies are likely to react negatively.
Here is an essential truth. Shortcuts, or deviations from the norm, always start small and are almost always a group decision. I remember when I was a boy scout and our scoutmaster, leading us on a hike, stopped at the edge of a ridge overlooking a gorge about 200 feet deep.
He picked up a stone and threw it a larger one a short down the hill. He hit the rock and moved it a small distance down the slope, and other stones followed it down to where it stopped. He then picked up a much large stone and threw it down the hill, and this stone dislodged a lot more stones that traveled almost to the bottom. There was much more noise and dust.
He turned to us and said we all throw small stones. We often don’t think we are, but we do. He also said that we might start throwing small stones, but they never stay small; we inevitably pick up larger rocks, and the consequences of throwing larger stones always have more significant effects.
We may have been teenagers, but we understood what he said. Shortcuts, like that metaphorical stone, may start small, but once taken, other shortcuts will follow – only they will grow in size.
Here is another truth. The first thing compromised by the first shortcut is the person’s ethics. And once that first compromise happens, other accommodations become easier. It is a well-recognized axiom that good ethical practices are an essential part of a company’s culture. It is the intangible thing that builds a company’s reputation. Very few people feel comfortable working for a company with a poor reputation.
Before the pandemic of 2020, a company’s turnover rate was a red flag indicating a company that did not practice what it preached. Likewise, companies seeking to do business with other companies look at whether that company pays its bills on time, but also at the prospective company’s HR practices, marketing techniques, and other areas that cast light on that company’s internal practices.
A leader often sets the tone in their company, and what the leader says and does provide the measure by which all other employees carry out their duties. A corollary to this is ethics sets the tone of any business relationship between the contracting parties. It is true internally (Employer/Employees) and externally (Vendors, suppliers, customers/clients).
As soon as one party engages in unethical practices, shortcuts being one such practice, the relationships begin to break down, often causing the work environment or contracted interaction to suffer. When one uncovers unethical behavior on any level of interaction, it leads to a breakdown in trust. The other party is left wondering what unethical behaviors remain concealed and go unnoticed.
These behaviors can be, and many times are, contagious. When management engages in unethical behavior amongst themselves, it’s far more likely their employees will also engage in similar questionable practices. In such situations, what happens in the house does not stay there. It inevitably will get out and become known.
When a company’s leaders tolerate changing key parameters to save schedule or money, it’s not surprising they take these same shortcuts and other similar actions with vendors, suppliers, and customers. In short, once the spiral begins and becomes entrenched, it’s easier to repeat the offense in the future.
If management is less than honest and open in their dealings with their employees, clients, or contractors, the employees see that. It invites employees at all levels to sometimes engage in other unethical practices, even stealing from their own company. A company’s willingness to deviate from established norms will eventually separate this company from its competitors, and not in a good way.
What are some of the indicators or warning signs one might look for in their work environments?
Unsafe work environments stand out – Whether you are new on the job or you’ve been around a while, it doesn’t take long to recognize a dangerous work environment. It includes the interactivity environment (office), physical workspaces, and production operations.
Payroll errors are an indicator of processes not being followed consistently. Hours worked are not recognized and recorded, or checks/deposits are chronically late. These failures often result in employees;
- Being unproductive
- Giving less than their best
External indicators – dealing with vendors and suppliers of goods and services
Among the several examples that come to mind, providing incentives to vendors or suppliers is one of the most common and is used:
- to influence the award of a project or contract to your company
- to allow/accept a product or service that doesn’t meet quality standards
- to approve inflated or bogus contract variation claims
Additionally, in some industries/situations, vendors/suppliers have, in the past, ‘Organized’ the bidding process to create collusive arrangements. Many schemes have attempted to benefit participants in an industry to the detriment of companies buying goods and services.
Whether you are looking at a large construction project or a highly sought-after technical product, these shortcuts are both illegal and, by default, unethical. All of us can find examples where we, or the companies we work for, paid more for a product because the situation or circumstance was stacked to favor the other party.
It doesn’t matter if you work in the private sector or for a government agency; sole-source awards should only occur through a transparent process from start to finish. The lack of transparency at any point in the process leading to the final decision is a red flag.
I make a point with my clients to remind them that the more often the company leaders communicate their company’s values and standards, the more natural it is for internal conversations to reflect those values. They become an organic part of regular workday conversations and become part of everyday decision-making.
Food for Thought: “Be honest and work hard to get what you want. Don’t take shortcuts; you only cheat yourself in the long run. Success is not measured by money or fame, but by how you feel about your own goals and accomplishments and the time and effort you put into them.” (Willie Stargell)
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