When Is It Tattling and When Is It Just Good Business?

When we are children, many of our peers tell us (and even many of our parents tell us) that if you are telling on your friends, brothers, sisters, etc. you will be labeled a ‘tattletale’. And a tattletale is a bad thing to be because no one will like  you, everyone will think they have to ‘walk on eggshells’ around you, and it will lead to others scrutinizing the things you do more closely.

Even Jesus says in the Bible, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” So when you’re at work (we’ll deal with only at work, but this could apply anywhere), and you see something that you think is wrong, unethical, a bad business practice, or outright illegal…what are you supposed to do?

Here are 4 reasons it falls to you to do something about it:

1) You’re responsible for a poor (or positive) workplace. What you do and accept in your life (and at work) will lead to building your surroundings. My father used to say, “You want to see who you are, look at the people you hang out with.” While that was not always the case in total, each person you hang around with (or work with) is a part of you. At work, this is very true because you are part of a larger team. If you are pulling in one direction, and others are pulling in other directions (or not pulling at all) then your team is very weak. Everyone at work needs to be putting in the work it takes to get things done. If someone is not doing that, their actions should be addressed immediately.

2) Tolerating others’ behavior tacitly says their actions are approved. If you don’t say something to someone about their laziness, rudeness, inappropriate jokes, racism, sexism, or illegal or unethical activities, then you are advocating those activities. At West Point, the Honor Code states that, “A Cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, nor tolerate those who do.” So you don’t work at West Point perhaps, and we are not all bound by the Cadet Honor Code. Sometimes being a ‘boy scout’ or ‘girl scout’ means finishing dead last, and, of course, everyone wants to succeed. I understand. However, as a leader, what message are you sending if you want to win at all costs? There have to be some ethical, legal, and personal boundaries that you will not cross just to win. Winning at all costs always leads to long term failure. Look at Lehman Brothers and the fiasco that occurred for all those people who were suddenly unemployed by a company that had been in existence for so many years. Those people (and an industry filled with people like them) took severely unethical risks and the bubble popped leaving thousands unemployed from just Lehman Brothers alone. The downfall of this goliath business was a series of small improper practices, cheats, uncorrected actions, and unethical deeds that undid the lending industry in 2009 and set off a huge recession world wide. When you see something wrong, don’t dismiss it as just one action that won’t hurt anyone. If you do, your saying it’s allowed and you approve.

3) Peer pressure (Negative and Positive) is contagious. The work environment is truly cutthroat many times, and the idea of telling on a fellow employee sounds like a bad idea. People could tell lies that can be spread about a person and the damage those lies can do to that person’s career could be horrific. However, there are plenty of high-powered, high-stress work environments that thrive on the mutual accountability system in the workplace today. Look at Zappos! In his book, Tony Hsieh (CEO) wrote about a moment when his company was trying to build itself up and create the most customer friendly, customer responsive call center. He and the employees of the company were all on the same mission to create an incredible customer experience. Tony and his friends were out one night at about one o’clock in the morning, and someone had the idea to call up the Zappos call center to order a pizza. What a great test of service… except, Zappos sold only shoes, not pizza. They called anyway, and within minutes the call center operator that night came back with several pizza place suggestions in the area where Tony and his friends could go buy a pizza. Why is this story so amazing? Zappos has gone on to be one of the most incredible success stories in the business world and continues to be just as innovative and amazing today! If that call center employee would have said, “I’m sorry, but we don’t sell pizza,” that might have been appropriate. If the employee would have said, “We don’t sell pizza, and it’s not my job to help you,” that would have been a terrible setback in their quest to be the best company in customer service. However, what the employee did instead will generate return business over and over again because they gave their customer such a wonderful experience! Plus, that attitude is contagious within the community and culture at Zappos! Just as this positive experience was used as an example of what to do, many of the Zappos employees will continue to do the same for others. That is the power of positive peer pressure! You should be held accountable at work for helping things along in the right direction. That’s the power and efficiency of a highly functioning team – each member of the team holds the others accountable for their best performance. It’s expected, it’s competitive in a friendly way, and it’s the way all great and successful teams operate.

4) Do what’s right for you and simultaneously for the group. It might sound selfish to do what is right. People may even call you self-righteous or condescending if you try to correct them in an environment where the high-functioning team mentality is not already established. However, if you don’t start to call each other out on poor practices, and celebrate each others’ good practices, then your business culture may never find itself in the high-functioning team category. Doing what’s right is not only good for you, it’s good for the whole team! When everyone is challenging one another in a friendly, competitive way, people want to perform. They want to come to work in the morning. They have more fun at work. Productivity increases exponentially and the effort seems to be less because more people are carrying the weight. Trust increases because people know that you will do what you say, and you know that the others will come through for you. It becomes a selfishly unselfish work environment for everyone and business gets done!

This article is only one man’s ramblings from experience, but I think it will ring true for others as well.


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