Enticements and Ethics

Here is a real life case….straight from the board room.

All the senior managers’ received similar mails from the MD’s office, informing them about a meeting to be held the next day at 10 am sharp. What was surprising here was that it was an unplanned meeting, that too in the middle of the week and without any mention about the agenda, which was quite unusual especially knowing fully well how the MD liked to keep the communication clear and perfect.

The moment we all entered the room, there was a silence as you always have before a storm and we all knew something appalling awaited us and then without much impediment the MD gave the verdict, that one of our colleagues, Samir Chawla (VP Supply chain and procurement), who had been with the company for nearly 13 years was asked to leave from that very moment, no explanations asked, no exit formalities, no termination, no reasons given…

The HR head was asked to take his resignation and the VP- Operations was asked to take proper handover of all documentation and all other important stuff. Uuurgh!! The only person who reacted openly to this unprofessional scenario was the Head of HR department – Nivedita Sharma. The heated discussion started between the MD, the Chairman and Nivedita and knowing very well that her fate may also be written in a similar way as that of Samir’s, she continued to put forth her aversions confidently. In the mean time every one else was asked to leave the room and to continue with their day as usual. Alas! If only that would have been possible, the rumor mill would continue to roar the whole day and may be for many more days to come as such incidents were not a regular feature.

There were four people in the entire room, one could even hear them breathe such was the stillness of the room and then the Chairman started explaining in his heavy accent, about Samir’s last 13 years and progressions, how business was lost to competitors, how the procurements were not being handled, why retail business was complaining about supply being late and how customers had been cheated and a parallel business was operated by Samir, it was too much to digest for Nivedita and then she looked at Samir if he would speak anything to rebuke such accusations, but none came not even a single word.

Nivedita, was more shocked than surprised, as in the last 2 years she had seen Samir as one of the closest aids to the MD, role model of many in the organization, sincere, professional, suave and charming, then how could such a person deceive the organisation? And what were the leaders doing when he was at his fraudulent best, the question is that how could all the people be so naïve for 13 long years to not notice any wrong doing?

Another important disturbing fact was that just 7 months back Nivedita declared Samir’s promotion as Vice President. What changed Samir into a con in 7 months time? Or things were going long before that but the owners just could not see the sham? Isn’t this a leadership crisis, which will only deepen unless some fundamental change is made? There is an urgent need to do some soul searching and hard thinking regarding how to best train leadership for the next generation.

Can placing trust on an old employee really be harmful for business? Or it is the case of blind trust and not managing it properly? Divorcing ethics and values for some capital gains isn’t a new thing now days, and morally it’s really heart breaking to have things wrought up like this.

We should expect and, indeed, demand better of our leaders in both the public and the private sector. People can’t manage situations successfully if they don’t have the facts, and the only way to get the hard facts is by acquiring truthfulness.

Perhaps at no time during the last two or three decades has business ethics, or the lack thereof, been of such vital importance to the well-being of our business entities. Ethical dilemmas are not clear choices between breaching the law and being law-abiding; they are at times complex moral mazes with no easy resort.

In a larger sense, the ethical behavior and culture of a company is certainly part of the function of upper management, but there are some things within our control that we can do to improve the situation. There are other areas of corruption exposed, including Satyam; Siemens; Halliburton; with issues of high compensation and bonus at AIG, Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs.

Are we asking for Ethics as a subject in Business Schools?? May be the errands of sleaze might condense by a few percent. Let’s hope for the best… :)

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