Article: Confessions: The Great Escape

Life @ Work

Confessions: The Great Escape

An HR manager's account of how difficult it is to take action against a high performer
Confessions: The Great Escape

During the busy quarter with so many important projects, no one noticed how an email that was meant for one of our clients ended up going to a not-so-direct competitor with sensitive information in it


I am a talent manager working with a large multinational company. In my 10 years of experience, I thought I had seen it all. But, then life never stops surprising you. This time, the HR challenge was unique: How do you punish a high performer who made a careless oversight but enough to jeopardize the company’s reputation?

It was a case that stumped me. The person in question was a high performer, known for meeting his targets, getting the job done in time and very well regarded in the company. This person didn’t have a black spot on his record at all. In fact, he was one of the most highly sought after people for working on projects because of his timely delivery and excellent track record. So what went wrong?

Well, before I get into that, here is the context for the story. The company had to work on multiple projects last quarter. There was so much work that everyone was stretched to the last mile. They were so busy that nearly every day, the staff put in long hours at work. In fact, I had to arrange for home drops for everyone. All the projects were of equal significance and any slip ups were instantly pardoned. During the entire melee, no one noticed how an email that was meant for one of our clients ended up going to a not-so-direct competitor with sensitive information in it.

As the quarter drew to a close, everyone breathed a sigh of relief. A lunch was ordered and people were happy until the phone call came. It was from the competitor. A senior manager at the client company had received an email that was not intended for her. What first looked like a harmless mistake soon turned out to be much bigger than that.

The senior manager conveyed the contents of the mail to her contact in the company. Upon realizing that sensitive information had been sent to the wrong person and the enormity of the mistake dawned on everyone, all hell broke loose. Soon, an investigation was launched to find out why and how this happened. While looking through the email records, we found out that the high performer in question had sent out that email.

Now, what do we do? We don’t know if we had to make an example of the person to make sure such an occurrence does not happen again or do we let it pass since the person in question had impeccable integrity?

We were flummoxed. Never before has a case like this come before the HR department. Though some of the employees were baying for the high performer’s blood, the senior management prevailed over us. They came to the conclusion that we should not punish the high performer as it was a one-off mistake. His track record also helped in making the argument. We let off the person with a warning and said if the mistake happens again, we will not be so kind.

But, I must confess I did feel like firing the high performer. A mistake like that has probably cost the organization its competitive edge. By leaking confidential information, the high performer jeopardized the functioning of the company and may have let competitors gain valuable knowledge about our clients and processes. We should have made an example of the high performer (it doesn’t matter he has a squeaky clean record) as it would have sent the right signals to everyone else in the organization. Now, we have let the competition take the cake from us and eat it too!

(The writer is an HR manager with a multinational company)

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Topics: Life @ Work, Watercooler, #Blog

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