We recently had a client that was the victim of quite an elaborate scam. The Executive Assistant to the CEO received an email (from whom she thought was the CEO) to transfer $35,000 to a bank account in San Francisco. This was on a Sunday and not at all unusual.
The EA in action mode, made the transfer (she had the authorisation to do so without any additional layers of authorisation) and not too long after she realised that something about the transaction did not feel right. Instantly, she got onto the phone to the bank and they were able to stop the payment. (Well most of it, they ended up being $8,000 out of pocket).
Whilst this seems like a story about scammers, its actually not. What this story is really about is how this client handled this situation and what it says about their culture. In most instances we would get a phone call from our clients asking how they should instigate a disciplinary process for such an act of misconduct but this client rang to get advice about how they could assist this long standing employee cope with the stress of what had happened.
The employee in question had 18 years service under her belt, she had no previous infractions or marks against her name and was in every respect a model employee. Loyal, hardworking, diligent, well liked and extremely good at her job.
In this instance, mortified the employee wrote out their resignation letter, took it into the CEO and apologised profusely for their mistake. They accepted responsibility, admitted that they should have checked and stood there ready to accept whatever punishment was about to be doled out.
What happened next was astounding. The CEO and broader management team did not want to instigate performance management, or conduct a misconduct investigation, or accept the EA’s resignation. Instead they praised her, assured her that her job was safe and said that due to quick thinking they were able to recover the majority of the money. Shocked the employee who was obviously extremely shaken went back to her job, amazed at the way she had been treated.
The CEO, knowing how embarrassed and remorseful she was sent her a beautiful email saying something along the lines of….
“You are a valued employee, everyone makes mistakes, and the real tragedy of this whole scenario is not that we lost $8,000 in a scam, that someone like you, who is a loyal valued employee believes that they are going to be sacked or needs to resign because they made one mistake.”
And therein lies the problem, in most organisations and big corporates we have created an environment where people do not feel safe. They feel like that at any moment whether they do something wrong, or if the organisation fails to balance the books they are going to lose their jobs. This typical environment of dog eat dog creates a negative toxic culture where people are literally fighting for survival, and this drives certain kinds of behaviours. Like the ability to throw colleagues or superiors under the bus in order to survive or get ahead.
It’s not often we hear stories like these where organisations look after employees, stay loyal even when someone makes a mistake and this type of reaction surely creates a positive culture where employees are loyal, feel valued and want to contribute to the success of your organisation.
So, the next time you have a crisis at work, think about your values and how you handle the situation will impact on whether your employees feel safe, or at risk of being thrown to the wolves.
Written by Head Guru Emily Jaksch