Project managers carry a lot of responsibility. We manage large funds and groups of people, and it can be tempting to misuse our authority. The Project Management Institute has a Code of Ethics, which we should all aspire to uphold. One of the code’s tenets is an obligation to stop and report any unethical behavior we see.
But are you sure you’re catching someone in the act? Smoke doesn’t always mean fire.
Get All the Facts
When I was a project manager, I once got a report that a departing employee was trying to coerce other employees to his new company by divulging his higher pay. But the actual conversation was about something totally different (this was proven by witnesses). The whistleblower had been mistaken. Unfortunately, she’d already spread her suspicions to multiple people. When the whistleblower was reprimanded and word got out, it damaged her relationship with her co-workers.
Instead of finding out the whole story first, the would-be whistleblower acted on incomplete facts. Had she tried to get the whole story first, she wouldn’t have damaged her work relationships. The same applies if you suspect unethical behavior. It’s best to wait until you know the whole situation first before reporting anything. That way, your report will have more substance and weight than if you had just passed along gossip.
Question Your Objectivity
You can’t escape politics in the workplace. Some people just rub others the wrong way. That’s fine—we’re adults, we’ll deal with it.
What’s not fine is when this dislike makes us put another’s actions in a bad light. We become overly suspicious or critical of the other person’s behavior, even if it’s perfectly okay when someone else does it. It might not even be dislike that affects your judgment. Maybe you just have a low opinion of that person’s abilities, or you think he’s motivated by one thing when it’s the opposite. Before you question someone else’s actions, question your own objectivity first.
Go Through the Proper Channels
In the example above, the whistleblower did indeed go to her manager about her concerns. But she also went to other managers—and even some of her co-workers. What she should’ve done was go to her manager and her manager alone, and let him communicate with the departing employee’s manager to quietly investigate. Instead, she spread it around and wound up looking like a gossip.
Find out the procedure in your company. If your suspicions are true, then going through proper procedures will help keep things legal and accountable if there’s an investigation. If you’re wrong, then you’ll minimize damage to both your reputation and the suspect’s.
We can and should stand up for what’s right. But we also have to be careful that we our cause is justified. In trying to do the right thing, we may end up doing even more harm than good. So before you take action, take a breath. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.
Image credit, Flickr, Darren