Should organisations cover up bad behaviour?

On August 27, 2015

A CEO did a bad, bad thing.  The board immediately investigated and found that there was enough evidence to dismiss him. The chair confronted the CEO and he offered his resignation.  The board accepted and the job was done.

Or maybe not.

What is the message for staff, clients, regulators, funders and others?

Perhaps it’s ‘The CEO resigned and now we need to find another one’ which is the quick and easy option.  But is this a missed opportunity?

Let’s say the CEO made some inappropriate racist remarks and acted as a bully. Should the board make the statement ‘Our board will not tolerate inappropriate behaviour within our organisation’?

This could be followed by ‘Our quest will start for a new CEO who demonstrates the high standards of behaviour that we expect from this organisation’s leader’. If this was the response, would the board have been prouder of the way it responded?

This type of statement raises questions, such as ‘What did he do?’ but it sends a strong message from the organisation’s senior leaders.  It sends a strong message to staff, clients and other important stakeholders, including future CEOs.

It is not the easiest pathway, but in the long run, it’s the approach that will be remembered and respected when the truth about the CEO’s misbehaviour finally emerges.

The truth has a habit of coming out eventually, usually at the most inappropriate time, even when we try to keep it a secret to protect others.

So here is the question.  Would you advise the board to take the first and easy option or would you advise it to make a stand?  I have asked this question of many people and the response is divided.  To those who support the easy option, isn’t this condoning the behaviour?  Could this be why issues like racism, sexual harassment and sexual discrimination continue unaddressed in our workplace culture?

I look forward to your comments.

By David Hawkins