Hold employees accountable for their bad behavior

I was listening to the radio one morning and heard New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez apologize for lying to the American public back in 2003 when he said he didn’t use steroids. Shortly thereafter a suspended employee sat down at my desk, having been instructed to return that day after a discussion we had the previous afternoon.

During that talk about her violation of a couple of our policies she tried to defend herself by telling me that two other individuals had given her permission to do what she did.

Having checked the veracity of her excuses prior to her return, I again asked her why she violated our policies, reminding her of what she said. The look on her face told me that she knew she’d been caught in a lie. I told her so. Her response was that “she didn’t mean to lie.”

How can you “not mean to lie”? Either you lie or you don’t. Either you tell the truth or you don’t. “I meant to tell the truth?” Does that make sense? I asked her about that and she mumbled and stumbled over an answer. Her demeanor said to me that she really didn’t think it should be a problem. She said she knew she was in trouble so she was just talking. When I told her that lying had repercussions, that I was holding her accountable for her behavior, that she was responsible for her own future, she looked at me as if I had lost my mind.

After she left my office, I took a deep breath and reflected on what had just happened. Is it a natural reaction to lie when you are in trouble? Under that premise, should I overlook the lying? When we are children, I suppose we all try the lying defense – until our parents teach us that it is best not to do those things about which we feel we must lie. Perhaps there are some of us who never learn that lesson.

For instance, Alex Rodriguez and the situation in which he finds himself.  My son tells me that A-Rod might not be chosen for the Baseball Hall of Fame and any records he has earned may have asterisks after them because of the steroid use. I hope there are consequences for him. I believe there may be a correlation between some of our public role models and the behavior of a lot of people. If Mr. Rodriguez is not held accountable, how can people who worship him reasonably expect to meet resistance when behaving in a similar way? I wonder if Alex learned from the example set by Roger Clemens, former pitcher for the Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays and Astros. “The Rocket” was an inspiration to millions but is embroiled in a steroid scandal of his own, in which he is accused of lying about his steroid use. Barry Bonds, the former San Francisco Giant and holder of the all-time record for homeruns, is under indictment for the same thing.

But not one of them has lost his fortune. Not one has gone to prison. While they might suffer asterisks by their names, their lifestyles haven’t changed much. I’m not so sure that they now understand that the decisions they made have consequences. From the outside looking in, it certainly appears that lying had positive effects for them.

Celebrity Paris Hilton certainly hasn’t seen her life change as a result of lying on Larry King’s television show about using drugs. She isn’t held accountable for her outrageous behavior, unless you call going to jail for a few hours for drunk driving being held accountable. Quite the opposite, she then capitalized on that experience by getting paid to go on television to talk about it.

We seem to have example after example after example in our society of people who don’t feel repercussions from lying and other negative behavior. Maybe these people affect the behavior of those who look up to them, or at the very least hear about them. If you add to that mix the politicians who lie (and there seems to have been a plethora of them recently) and yet go on to become wealthy and successful, can I reasonably expect employees to tell the truth?

The answer is yes, of course I can, and so can you. Ours is an ethical organization, and it has set forth a very reasonable Code of Employee Conduct. It isn’t unreasonable to ask employees to not sleep on the job, to come to work on time, to not take extra breaks in order to smoke, or to come to work with clean hair and clothing. It isn’t reasonable for an employee to tell a lie in an effort to escape discipline for their failure to adhere to our requirements.

I will continue to hold employees accountable in spite of the examples set for them. If necessary, they will feel the consequences of losing a job. I’m not so sure that putting asterisks by their names would be as effective.