Tech & Work

A manager has to decide between honesty and his job

An operations manager for a multinational corporation is required to lie to his employees to preserve his job. He has an outstanding reputation for honesty and integrity and has always been there for his employees--until now. What would you do?


When an operations manager is told that he has to either lie to his employees or be fired, he is put into an incredibly difficult position. Here's a closer look at his situation. After reading it, let us know what you would do if you were in his shoes. Then check out the responses to our previous What Would You Do column.

The scenario
Picture this: You're an operations manager with a large multinational corporation. The company you work for has a longstanding policy of being up-front and forthright with customers and employees. Recently, there have been rumors of severe cutbacks coming, in particular in the operations area. Until several months ago there had never been a cutback in workforce based on economic needs. At that time, an entire section was eliminated with no advanced warning and no severance or transition plan. The rumor mill is now working overtime.

During a recent manager meeting you raised concerns over the approach used during the past layoff. While acknowledging the business justification for eliminating the section, you feel there should have been advanced notification and either a severance package or a transition plan to ease the job loss for these employees. Many had years of loyal service to the corporation. Senior management acknowledged the layoff was badly handled and indicated any future layoffs would include a severance package and a transition plan with assistance in resume writing and job searches.

Your reputation as a manager includes high marks for your integrity and honesty. Both employees and peers have come to rely on you for addressing concerns inside and outside of your particular area of responsibility. While the employees joke that you would bleed corporate colors if cut, they also trust you to deal with them in an open, honest, and fair manner and to champion legitimate concerns of the workers. Naturally, the employees in operations are coming to you with their concerns over the rumors.

Going to the source
You have a private discussion with your boss, who states that he cannot provide any information regarding the rumors. You ask to speak with his boss, the VP of Global Operations, and your immediate boss asks to come with you to the meeting. At the meeting, the VP verifies that layoffs are imminent within operations. Not only is the workforce being reduced, but responsibilities are being combined that will eliminate your job, the job of your manager, and the position of VP of Global Operations.

The VP has found a position for you outside of operations, but at this point your boss and the VP will be out of work in two weeks. It is apparent that your boss is just learning of this situation from the lack of color in his face. The senior executives are concerned that if the layoff is announced early, there will be widespread panic and that the company may lose key employees from operations or be exposed to sabotage.

The VP next indicates that this information is company confidential. If you tell anyone what you now know, you'll be terminated for cause. Likewise, the VP will be terminated for releasing the information to you. Your boss will probably be terminated as well. No severance, no transition assistance, no benefits, and no opportunity for finding another position within the company.

In effect, you are being asked to lie to your employees until the official announcement is made in two weeks. Both your boss and the VP ask what you will do, since your action may cost them dearly. Knowing your reputation and respecting you as an individual, they leave the next step up to you.

Your options
You can go up another level to one of the corporate executives. If you do, the VP will lose his job for divulging information to you that you were not authorized to have. You may be able to convince the executive that an open approach is preferable, but this has a low expectation of success.

You have an opportunity to begin your new position immediately. Your team will be told it was an emergency assignment to preserve a customer relationship. This has happened in the past, and so should eliminate any suspicion. The problem is that all members of your team have your home number and your policy has always been to be available if they needed to talk. You anticipate that at least some team members will either call you at home or look to find you on campus to discuss their concerns with job security. If you take the new position, you will be forced to lie to your employees.

You have two weeks' vacation available. If you take vacation, your team members will not call. This preserves the options for your boss and the VP, and eliminates the need to directly lie to your employees. What would YOU do?

What would YOU do?
You can submit your ideas either by e-mail or by posting a discussion item at the end of this column. A week after the publication of a scenario, we'll pull together the most interesting solutions and common themes from the discussion. We will later present them with the situation's actual outcome in a follow-up article. You may continue to add discussion items after the week has elapsed, but to be eligible for inclusion in the follow-up article, your suggestions must be received within a week of the scenario's publication.

Political decision threatens security of departmental LAN
Here is a summary of your responses to a previous column that detailed one IT manager’s attempts to preserve the security of his LAN.

Your responses fell into four distinct categories: technical, political, strategic, and in favor of the campus-wide IT (CWIT) support group:

Technical
Among the technical solutions, there was a great deal of disagreement concerning the exact role of network address translators (NAT) in network security, whether this tool would actually achieve what the IT manager wanted, and how its functionality could be most effectively replaced while still complying with the requirements of CWIT.

Political
“My experience has taught me that politics trumps technology,” wrote C_Tharp. The IT manager must be prepared to negotiate with CWIT to achieve his desired result, agreed CatAdmin. The IT manager “needs to bring his security concerns to the head of CWIT, along with the documentation that proves his LAN is secure, and state that before he will give in to the new policy, he needs to verify the security of CWIT's network. If CWIT doesn't have a good security policy in place of their own, this manager should discuss setting up a task force between both units to review and set up better security for all LANs,” wrote CatAdmin.

Strategic
A strategic approach involves using technical knowledge to bring about a solution by employing a political approach. Charles McCubbin most succinctly expressed this idea by writing: “be prepared to negotiate with CWIT. To negotiate successfully you need to understand why you need and have NAT and what the alternatives that CWIT might suggest do or do not provide. Thus, [you can respond to] every suggested alternative CWIT makes with, ‘but that does not provide for this.’”

Pro-CWIT
And, finally, some readers felt that our IT manager was wrong to even consider not conforming to the requirements of CWIT. Jim HM wrote, “CWIT needed to take control of its Campus WAN. First, how does IT ensure that licensing is correct if machines are hidden? Second, how does IT control IP addressing? Third, how do they control the content of the network? If this department wants to be a college player, it needs to get on the college team and support what IT is attempting to do.”

The IT manager in question is still in the middle of this situation so, as yet, we have no resolution to report. Hopefully, your suggestions will help him achieve a resolution that meets both his needs and the needs of CWIT. We will stay in touch with the IT manager and report back on his progress as soon as we can.

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