by Larry Johnson
The scandal Jayson Blair brought on the New York Times last year by faking in-person interviews and plagiarizing the work of other journalists reminds me that no institution is exempt from the misdeeds of rogue employees. At the time, some reports described Mr. Blair as a victim of an uncaring system that didn’t realize he was in over his head. Some pundits blamed the Times’ aggressive racial diversity policies for promoting him too fast. Some excused Mr. Blair’s behavior because he had “mental problems.”
“Puh-leeze!” The blame for Mr. Blair’s behavior is his, and his alone. He chose to betray the professional and ethical standards of his company in order to get ahead. No one forced him – so no pity parties here for Jayson.
Unfortunately, the-world is full of bad apples like Jayson Blair. And keeping them out of the workforce is difficult because no hiring process is perfect. Candidates may have great resumes, solid references, and interview well, but still turn out to be less competent than you thought unable get along with colleagues, exercise poor judgment, break company rules, or just be dishonest. So eventually, you let them go before they can inflict too much damage on the organization. Not pleasant, but it’s part of a manager’s job. It’s called “weeding the garden.”
Any Management 101 textbook will tell you that it is the manager’s job to know what her direct reports are doing; to help them when they need help; to hold them accountable for meeting standards of quality and productivity; to coach them when they are struggling; and to ensure that they do their jobs within the ethical and professional guidelines of the organization.’ So the front-line manager is, in effect, also the first line of defense between the institution and the rogue employee.
Regardless of the business, it is the first line supervisor who must serve as the guardian of virtue for the organization. Who better to question how a rookie reporter could write so many by-line stories, and be in so many places at one time, than the reporter’s boss? Who better to know what’s going into real estate contracts created under his or her aegis than the managing broker? Who better to wonder why one star performer is selling so much more than his cohorts than the sales manager? Who better to question the accuracy of project budget reports than the project manager’s superior?
But there lies the rub. When things are going well, none of us want to look too closely to find out why. Who cares how the Goose lays the Golden Eggs, so long as she keeps them coming? When an employee makes a manager look good with numbers that are “too good to be true,” they sometimes are – and it requires a great deal of courage for that manager to take a second look to make sure it’s being done on the up and up. This is especially true if the next level up in the management chain only wants to hear about successes, not failures.