Ryan Lochte, it seems, has been given a chance to redeem himself to the American public by “Dancing With The Stars.” I for one, don’t intend to give him that second chance.
Ryan Lochte embarrassed not just himself, but his team and his Nation on the International stage known as the Olympics. Once caught, he didn’t even have the decency to apologize or take true responsibility. He vandalized, he fabricated, and he lied. Ryan Lochte’s behavior is noteworthy beyond the Olympics – because within this incident, is a lesson to be learned for all businesses.
The Lochtes of the world exist in every industry. You know who they are. The marketing genius, the legal whiz, the one who breaks sales records month after month. They are the champions of their business – and the ones whose bad behavior gets a pass.
This isn’t about a single incident or indiscretion. This is about on-going, escalating, and potentially reckless behaviors. Behaviors that are largely ignored because the benefits (increased sales, new clients) seem to out-weigh the drawbacks. And in the short term they may. But high employee turnover, poor morale, damage to the reputation of your business, all have a far greater impact than a quarterly sales bump.
I don’t know Ryan Lochte, but I am certain this was not his first mis-step. The crime, deception, and repeated lies to cover it up are not the act of a first time offender. These are the actions of someone who believes they are untouchable and above the rules. Someone who has been given a pass or a slap on the wrist, but has never been forced to suffer the significant consequences which teach us to adjust our behavior.
Who is like this at your company? How can a business “Lochte-down” on such problem behaviors?
1. Honor the business by building a culture that values long term successes over short term gains. Especially where sales numbers or share-holder returns are important, it can be easy to become short-sighted. Remember, the damage done by a tarnished reputation is far more devastating and lasting than a quarterly win.
2. Address problem behavior every time. Especially when there is a pay-off for the business. Yes, you closed a big deal, won the big case, or thwarted the competition, but if these wins came unethically – they aren’t really a win. And to ignore the problem behavior suggests that it is condoned, or even acceptable. Every member of the team will become aware of what the company values, and will either jump on that band-wagon (like Lochte’s teammates), or leave the company.
3. Hold them accountable. Have and maintain high standards of behavior. If an employee behaves inappropriately – be it toward another member of the staff, with a client or toward a competitor, have an action plan for dealing with it. This may include a write-up, suspension without pay, even termination. Keep in mind, without a consequence or down-side, most problem behavior will not change. Ultimately it is the company that models the behavior others will follow – by demonstrating what is and isn’t acceptable.
Side-note: Handle consequences, and even termination, with a level of respect that makes the person want to improve. (See my article on Off-Boarding.)
4. Engage in coaching. Perhaps you can’t bear to lose a champion of your team no matter how bad the behavior has gotten. Address the behavior directly by bringing in a coach and being crystal clear with the concerns and objectives. This builds on #2 (Address problem behavior) because there must be honesty about the reason for the coaching if you want it to bring about change.
5. Speak of the integrity of your business – and demonstrate the sincerity of that message. Employees want to hear a positive message - one they can stand behind. They also want to see actions that back up the words. They will take notice when positive and appropriate behaviors are rewarded, just as they do when challenging behaviors are condoned.
Each organization must find its own place of pride, just as each Nation does. The strength of many, can be overshadowed by the mis-steps of a few. Take steps to "Lochte-down" problem behavior, before it impacts your bottom line.