Live from the ECEI in London – The Myth of the Rogue Employee

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This morning in London, Donna Boehme and Sally March discussed the oft-used myth of the rogue employee.

Companies in trouble and facing media scrutiny for some sort of scandal often rush to the rogue employee excuse as an explanation for whatever scandalous events have occurred. The most common timeline looks like this:

1. Bad thing happens in company

2. Company blames the rogue employee

3. Someone investigates

4. Uh-oh…

5. Company publicly re-thinks the rogue employee statements

This has happened too many times to count, and always results in the companies looking dumb. In fact, as Sally so eloquently put it, “If you blame a rogue employee before doing an investigation, you’re setting your company up to look dumb twice.”

Take for example the News Corp. phone hacking scandal:

  • 2005, News of the World published a “scoop” on a member of the royal family.
  • 2006, News of the World’s “Royal” editor and a private investigator were arrested for phone hacking.
    • Both plead guilty and through the court case it came out that the pair of them had accessed phone messages of celebrities, an MP, and several football representatives.
    • During this, the private investigator was paid £117,000, including £12,000 in cash.
  • 2007-2009, parent company News International sticks to the “rogue” reporter defense.
  • 2009-2011, News of the World dealing with more than 20 civil claims for breaches of privacy that cover period after “rogue”
    reporter was jailed.
  • 2011, a rival newspaper reveals that News of the World hacked a kidnapped girl’s phone (hacking so egregious, they deleted an email, giving the girl’s family a sense of hope that their daughter was alive and using her phone).
  • July 2011, News of the World prints their last paper as they go out of business.

While this is a particularly outrageous example, many companies follow the same path. This is why it’s up to compliance officers to change the conversation. This can happen as a matter of training to build an ethical culture, but it can (and should) also happen by way of the board.

When speaking to the board, you as CCOs should tell them the reality of the rogue employee; that they really don’t exist (at least they are few and far between). Let the board know how important culture is, and what they can do to support a positive and ethical workplace.

Donna  and Sally had some great advice for CCOs and Boards of Directors:

Rather than looking for rogue employee after the fact, look for warning signs of culture deficit, such as:

  • Authoritative, dictatorial management style
  • Communications only about financial goals and performance
  • High staff turnover
  • Complaints about bullying or poor management
  • Clues in exit interviews
  • Sense of entitlement, evidenced by abuse of expense policies or
  • False reporting
  • Inconsistent or unduly lenient discipline
  • Employee surveys regarding trust in their managers
  • What behaviour really gets rewarded?