Kaci and Brad’s Sunday school class is studying Ten Commandments from the Backside – and this week they discussed “Thou Shalt Not Steal”. We’ve all been victims of theft and we’re all guilty of taking things that don’t belong to us. Robbery, kidnapping or embezzlement are vivid examples, but what about taking advantage, long term “borrowing”, or overlooking mistakes? Long ago, taking someone’s cow might have grave consequences to a family. Today, noticing you weren’t charged for the water in the bottom of your shopping cart doesn’t really “harm”…or does it?
All week long this topic has weighed on me – and this story is in my thoughts. In my former life with BIG BUSINESS, I accepted a promotion to run a facility where the exiting Sr. Manager was being recognized and rewarded by top leadership and groomed as “the Golden Boy”, he was honored as Sr. Manager of the Year and was moving up in the company. Typically my jobs were comprised of hiring, firing, training and general clean up of messes made by incompetent management, so stepping into a spotlight job was an exciting change for me.
A couple of weeks in my new big office, imagine my surprise when I reviewed an invoice for gas – the charge ticket was signed by Mr. Golden Boy’s girlfriend for her personal vehicle. Curious, I pulled some files and found he had paid her “contract labor” as well as listed her as an employee (so she had health insurance), put a new motor in her vehicle, rented an SUV while her car was in the shop AND paid her travel mileage. On my office supply bill, there were lunch boxes, back packs and a dorm refrigerator. I uncovered expenses that totaled $40,000 in just a few months. At that point I stopped looking because I didn’t want to know.
As I reviewed reports, I noted hours some employees worked were completed “off the clock”, meaning they weren’t getting paid. It was one thing after the other. Suddenly, this location that WAS the shining star, was now running over budget. I was paying the employees for their hours, catching up back bills that had been hidden away, and taking the time to do things right. More hours, more expenses and a productivity tank. My boss was on my case.
I did what I thought was right and went to Mr. Golden Boy with the remainder of the unpaid bills. He laughed and said that “discretionary spending” was a fringe benefit of upper management. He suggested I go buy some furniture and just shut up.
Now what? I love to shop and that is usually my distraction of choice, but…um….no. Silly me, I had been using my own checkbook. (insert scarasm here) Besides that wouldn’t really help me cheat payroll, now would it? Or live with myself.
I continued to look like an incompetent manager while quietly fixing the problems and the heat from above became intense. My director drilled me on a conference call with my peers. From his vantage point, the problems started with my leadership. Here I was doing my best to balance leadership with integrity and loyalty – and I was being cast as THE problem.
That was 14 years ago, but it’s still as vivid in my mind as if it were yesterday. What would you do? I’ll post later what ultimately happened, but I’m curious to see what others think. I’ve had great bosses and crappy ones – those at the director level of BIG BUSINESS can be wonderful leaders or smart-ass snakes. In my decade of Sr. Management, I did not ever experience anything in the middle.
Shoot me a note with what you think would have been an appropriate choice – and remember at that time I was not in a position to throw my career out the window.