The subtitle of this book “Easy to Start, Hard to Run” and the articles in this series “Everything is Easy Until You Start” and “When Things Go Wrong” all address the same subject: deviations from expectations commonly called issues or problems will occur. By their very nature, they cry out for a solution. The problem may require immediate action with a stop gap solution or a long-term fix or perhaps an agreement to do nothing (which seldom works). Even the decision to take no action is an action in itself. Unfortunately, unless one step is not taken, the decision, whatever it is, may not be in the best interest of the company. That one step is very easy to describe; it involves asking one question: “Who is not in the room that should be?” The “room” could be a physical conference room with a number of people considering the problem and the alternatives; it could be two people involved in an email dialogue, or it could be one person just thinking about the problem and the best way to handle it. The missing person could be a person with factual data about the situation or the customer or person that is being impacted by the problem. Finally, it could be a reporter capturing the discussions and alternatives being considered that will make all of the information available to anyone and everyone. The question is: “Would you act the same if the customer or news reporter were present or not?”
We all like to think that we would act the same independent of any potential disclosure. Unfortunately, the fact is that quite often we do not. It seems that a week does not go by that we hear breaking news about a public official involved in a situation that did not stand the light-of-day test. In an effort to avoid the embarrassment, rationalizations are provided or worse, a cover up is attempted that often results with the cover up viewed as worse than the triggering incident.
It is unrealistic to assume that every discussion about every subject should be available for public disclosure. Competitive positioning discussions, legal matters, or personnel issues are three obvious examples of the need for privacy. Hard and fast rules are not needed to determine when to assume the other person is in the room. Simply taking a moment to think about the question will provide the correct answer. This thought process must start with the CEO who needs to expect, and even demand, adherence to this process throughout the organization. Without setting the proper tone and expectation, it is only a matter of time before an organization gets caught or caught up in making an improper choice because they ignored the person who was missing.
Integrity and doing the right thing for the right reason all the time must be non-negotiable.