A Cover-Up, and the ‘Voluntary Fail’
I was auditing a facility the other day and was taking a look at their payroll records. It seemed that the staff clocked in when they arrived, clocked out for lunch, clocked back in half an hour later, and then clocked out when they left. The contract said that they were to be paid for only the time they were “on the clock.” So far so good.
Then I noticed that the employees were also paid for the half-hour they were at lunch. This was in direct opposition to the contract. So I asked the manager about it. “We have always done it that way,” he said. “Under this contract and the previous one, we have always paid our employees for their lunch.”
I have no problem with paying for someone’s lunch. However, I do have a problem when it is not in writing. I told the manager he had better come clean with the owner and get a “note” in writing from him and keep it in the file. If not, he could find that one day the owner could simply ask for a check, for the total amount that had been paid to the employees for their lunches over the years.
I have found that “coming clean” is difficult in many situations. People just don’t like to ’fess up and discuss difficult problems. I have always thought that bringing problems to light is easy. Consider the concept of “‘voluntary fail.”
Let’s say you discover that one of your cashiers has been dipping into the till. You have two ways to go – you can transfer or fire the cashier and cover the loss and “cover up” the problem, or you can immediately report it to ownership and mutually discuss the issue and what is being done to rectify it. My experience is that in most cases the first option is the one taken.
After all, “Why rock the boat,” or “What they don’t know won’t hurt them.” These decisions are usually made at the lowest possible level. I’m covering not only the incompetence of my employee, I’m covering my own. Life goes on.
Or does it?
What happens when the owner finds out about the problem and you haven’t reported it (usually from guys like me). All hell breaks loose. You are called on the carpet, considered incompetent, and you potentially could lose the location and your job. There are screaming and yelling. You fall on your sword. A reputation – yours – is tarnished.
Now consider the “voluntary fail.”
You discover the problem and immediately take action. You go to the owner and discuss the issue. You tell them exactly what has happened, and what you are doing about it. You are forthright. You know that mistakes can be made – as does the owner – but you aren’t standing for it.
You agree on the action taken, the owner thanks you for your honesty and is impressed by your ability to solve problems, and you actually come away with a “win,” or, at worst, a neutral reaction.
However, if you go to the owner one second after he finds out about the problem from someone else, you are a goat. no discussion, no changes, no action will help. He thinks you are simply reacting because he found out, not because you are doing what is right.
We see this in politics all the time. It’s not the problem, it’s the cover-up.
Clinton was impeached for lying, not for his dalliance with Monica. Nixon’s presidency was destroyed not from a simple burglary at the Watergate, but for the complex scheme to cover it up.
Reagan was known as the Teflon president because nothing stuck to him. When there was a problem, he ’fessed up, said, “Yep, it happened,” discussed the problem and moved on. He got out ahead of the issue.
Bad news is best brought early. Give everyone a chance to deal with it. By the time the auditor finds the problems, it’s too late.
In another case, the operator was struggling with a particular location. There were personnel issues, layout issues, equipment issues. All were causing pain for the operator, the customers and the ownership.
The operator was upfront with the ownership. He sat down with them and discussed the problems and the different things he was doing to fix them. It was not as simple as hiring and firing. The operator explained that quality personnel were difficult to find, and that he was placing a senior vice president on-site to assist and train the local staff.
He acknowledged the equipment issues and began a program of replacement, but was candid that the new equipment would help, but it wouldn’t solve all the problems. Adding five more exit lanes would, but that was impossible.
Rather than “soldiering on” and ignoring the issues, this parking CEO faced the problems head on. Working with ownership, he got most of the issues resolved, acknowledged what they couldn’t and built a solid relationship.
This manager was upfront, took the fail before the problem exploded in the boardroom, and came out a hero.
Use your “voluntary fail.” You can be a hero, too.