Articles on Professional Matters:

Doing The Right Thing Even When The Job Was At Stake

Hereís a true story Iíd like to share about doing the right thing-even when her job was at stake.

Her name is M. and she is an attorney who manages the legal department of an insurance company. As my coaching client I supported her through a really challenging ethical dilemma with her boss. She had finished giving her annual performance evaluations to her small team, two of whom received the highest marks. Their annual salary increments were based on these ratings.

Mís boss meanwhile was on a new track regarding performance evaluations. He felt that the trend in recent years was to for managers to be too generous. He wanted stricter accountability in certain areas and this meant lower ratings in general.

So he called her into his office one day and told her that he disagreed with one of the two highest ratings she had given. He wanted her to lower her evaluation for this individual.

M. genuinely respected her boss but felt that he was mistaken in this case. She really believed that the person to whom she had given the excellent rating deserved it. She thought it would be unfair and potentially very damaging to his morale and commitment to the job if his evaluation was lowered. So what to do?

M. had impressed me from the beginning of our coaching engagement with her deep connection to her spiritual values and how she tried to use them as guides in her work. She was nearing retirement age and was working on a Masterís degree in pastoral counseling, something she looked forward to doing at her church when her lawyer-ing days were over.

So after informing her boss that she didnít want to change the evaluation rating of her direct report and why, he continued to pressure her to do just that. They had several conversations that didnít create a win-win resolution.

We discussed her feelings, thoughts and options in a couple of coaching sessions. M. felt very strongly about her position and even concluded that, if push came to shove, she was willing to risk her job rather than back down on the issue. In fact, during one of our sessions, she was convinced her boss would fire her.
Fortunately for her, she was in a financial position where she could take an early retirement.

Would she have taken the same strong position on her value of fairness and honesty if she was at an earlier stage of her career? What if she had a young family to support-how would that have affected her willingness to compromise with her boss? Letís face it, circumstances do play a role in how far we are willing to go to do the right thing. I guess everyoneís conscience operates differently, so there really isnít any one ďrightĒ moral course of action in so many of the situations we face. We take everything into account-our values, our feelings, our needs, the needs of others who rely on us -and then we make the best ethical or moral decision we can. And thatís not always easy!

In a coaching session, we worked through the steps listed in the ďTipsĒ section below. M. decided to stick to her guns and to let the chips fall where they may. Doing so had an interesting effect on her boss. He stopped trying to persuade her to lower the evaluation. Instead, he took full responsibility for his decision by lowering the evaluation himself and telling the employee that it was his decision. He prepared M. for what he was going to do and she had time to think it over before the three of them met together. She decided that, even though she disagreed with what he was doing, she could live with it as long as the employee knew where she stood.

During the meeting her boss took the high road and made it completely clear that the lowering of the evaluation was totally his choice and he gave M. the opportunity to state her position. The consequence of this was that her relationship with the employee remained solid and M. felt good about herself for taking a stand on one of her core values. Her respect for her boss increased because of the way he handled the situation in the end. The employee wasnít happy, but his feelings were balanced out some by the show of integrity from both superiors, she found out later.

Notice how M.ís taking the moral high road influenced both her boss and her direct report to do the same. Instead of initiating a nasty grievance process or resigning, her employee dealt with his setback in-house rather than going outside for help or leaving.

This story strongly illustrates the ripple effect of putting trust and integrity principles into practice at a high level. When one person does this, it seems to turn on a light for others, and thatís really beautiful to behold. Itís so easy to take our cues from others, after all weíre social animals. But then someone comes along who takes their cues from somewhere else, from a place deep inside and we call that special place by so many different names. So when a courageous person does this, then we are all reminded that we have that place inside too, and we start to dare to live from there once again. I want to encourage you to be that courageous person.

If you are struggling with an ethical dilemma at work, and arenít sure how to move forward, email or call me, and Iíll be glad to discuss the situation with you.

Tips for Doing the Right Thing When Facing a Tough Ethical Choice:

* Take your time. Before making a tough ethical decision at work, take the time to identify the core value you feel is in danger of being compromised in the situation.
* What are your needs? Once you identify your core value at play, clarify your needs in the situation. For instance, M. needed to act with fairness and honesty, to maintain her direct reportís high morale and commitment, and to continue her good working relationship with him.
* Look for the third alternative. What are your options for getting these needs met? This can be tricky, because if strong emotions come into play, which they often do, itís human nature to narrow down our options to one or two courses of action, usually the ones at either extreme such as giving in or getting out. There may be a third alternative you just canít see yet for meeting your integrity needs. In Mís case, the third alternative presented itself after she drew her line in the sand. Iíve seen that happen a lot. When you take a strong stand, the other person stops trying to change your thinking and changes their own instead.
* Wait and see. Sometimes, if possible, doing nothing is the best response to pressure to do something that feels unethical or against your conscience. The person applying the pressure just stops after a while, often because they regained their emotional balance.

Joe DiSabatino
02 Jan 2007

Joe DiSabatino helps individusl leaders and organizations build high levels of employee commitment and morale by creating high-trust work environments. For more information and support visit:

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Protecting Your Company's Privacy

Today more than any other time in history, protecting company privacy is essential. Unfortunately, the number of cases associated with identify theft have not only risen but also moved from personal to business. Over the past few years, a number of large companies and even government agencies have been in the news for having laptop computers and vital information on employees and the organization itself stolen. What makes this so uncomfortable is that usually, the privacy is being threatened from within the very organization that is supposed to secure it.

Keep in mind that while some organizations are at greater risk for thefts, such as credit card companies, banks, or government agencies, even the small mom and pop shops are at risk. Remember, it would only take one instance of information leaking out to put a company completely out of business. The problem is that not only is data being stolen, but often sold to criminals that know exactly how to extract what they want to make a profit - at your expense.

More than ever, it is crucial to do all you can to protect your organization and employees. In todayís flat work force, many employees use laptops rather than desktops. A laptop enables employees to work from any location eliminating downtime for the field employee and increasing the efficiency of communication. However, every time an employee takes the computer out of the office, the potential risk of privacy is increased. Let us say an employee had a laptop with no logon protection. This employee worked in the financial sector of the business and after going to dinner while on a business venture, he returns to the hotel room only to find the laptop gone. Now, without the computer having any type of password protection, anyone can gain access. However, professional criminals can hack anything with or without protection.

In addition to accidents such as this, other situations could arise putting your organization in danger. For instance, if there were a disgruntled employee, perhaps someone passed over for a promotion, or someone who knows his or her job were ending, this individual may feel there is nothing to lose by leaking out or taking vital information. If this person were unstable or just angry, he or she could cause damage to the company through the sharing of trade secrets, personal data or other sensitive information. Then of course, you have people who go to work for companies specifically for the sake of stealing private data. Although this is not as common, it does exist and this practice is growing.

Yet even with Identity Theft and Privacy being spotlighted in the media, companies remain surprisingly vulnerable. Organizations around the globe have no clue to the quantity of sensitive information being leaked out but even worse, no tracking system is in place to find out or to correct the problem. While we often focus on the computer as a source of theft, private data can be taken out of a company in many other ways. For instance, iPods, USB sticks, or any portable device makes downloading information easy and covert. What happens is that in addition to the company and employees being at risk, customer relations could be severely damaged as well due to lack of trust and confidence.

To give you an idea of just how data is being taken out of organizations, 75% is with the use of a portable device, 63% via email attachments, and 59% from content within emails. Sadly, a number of companies were recently surveyed and of those, just 50% stated they had any concern. If you are working hard to build your organization, you need to take this risk seriously. With so many possibilities for privacy to be robbed, it is crucial that you understand the risks and then take appropriate action to correct them. If major data leaks can occur within tightly secured companies such as AT&T, National Audit Office, Veterans Affairs, and Google, then surely you too can potentially be at risk.

Take steps to protect your trade secrets and sensitive private data. This is an area worth making an investment. With the sheer volume of information that is produced daily within a company, it is challenging to ensure security. However, taking time to understand who has access to important data and how to best protect it is well worth the investment of time and money. After all, what would it cost you if your valuable data was lost or stolen?

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Richard A. Hall is founder and President/CEO of LexTech, Inc., a legal information consulting company. Mr. Hall has a unique breadth of experience which has enabled him to meld technology and sophisticated statistical analysis to produce a technology driven analytical model of the practice of law. As a busy civil trial attorney, he was responsible for the design and implementation of a LAN based litigation database and fully automated document production system for a mid-sized civil defense firm. He developed a task based billing model built on extensive statistical analysis of hundreds of litigated civil matters. In 1994, Mr. Hall invented linguistic modeling software which automatically reads, applies budget codes, budget codes and analyzes legal bill content. He also served as California Director and lecturer for a nationwide bar review. Mr. Hall continues to practice law and perform pro bono services for several Northern California judicial districts.