Monday, May 21, 2012

A Lesson in Accountability: Yahoo!’s former CEO, Scott Thompson, hurts his former company and an industry by deflecting

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It’s tough at the top. It’s even tougher when ethics and integrity are called into question.

Former Yahoo! CEO Thompson. (Yodel Anecdotal/Yahoo! Inc.)
A ‘missed’ inaccuracy on a resume continues to worsen the reputation of top executives the world over and placed them at the front of the bashing line. Some of the ire is seemingly deserved.  

Accountability and integrity matter, not just at the C-level, but on every level.

A recent article by Business Insider writer Nicholas Carlson speaks of how former Yahoo! CEO Scott Thompson, although not naming the recruitment firm directly, threw the company that got him hired, first at eBay and then at Yahoo!, ‘under the bus’ while explaining inaccuracies on his resume. Carlson notes that Thompson took some of the blame, but ultimately, in my opinion he should have stepped up and taken all of the blame.

Here’s why.

In the IT recruitment game, resumes are often reformatted and reordered to highlight areas of expertise and to make it easier for client hiring managers to scan everything they need to know quickly. I talked with several members of our recruitment staff and am told the only edits made to resumes are to typos or to make the verb tense of the resume unified. They do not add information (like fictional degrees or continuing education) to CV’s to get someone hired.

Why would they?

It would be counterproductive to their success and to that of the company that employs them.  If you send just one person to an interview with false information it can change your relationship with your client forever and for the worse. Plus as one employee put it, “it just wouldn’t be right.”

As there are unscrupulous people out there who pad resumes there too are unscrupulous companies that can give the recruitment industry, my industry, a bad reputation. They are few and far between and usually don’t survive long.

Can mistakes happen? Of course they can, people are not infallible. There is always a possibility user error could come into play. Does it occur often or could it occur twice over a period of years? Our recruiters say no to both questions based on their experiences here and at other firms. It is a general industry practice and one of our best practices to ask for an updated resume every time we submit a candidate for a position, even if a month or two later. The chances of the same mistake being made twice with the same candidate are virtually impossible.

There is also the case of the interview stage of the recruitment process. Even if a mistake had been made, the false information would likely come up in a background check, although some colleges will not disclose degree type and only confirm graduation) or during the interview itself; or perhaps in an interview on NPR.

Guilty as publically ‘charged’ or innocent; Thompson is ultimately to blame for the second instance of his resume allegedly being submitted with false credentials. As a leader, it is his responsibility to hold himself ultimately accountable for the misstep and no one else’s. It is my opinion that he should have said as such. Unfortunately the damage has been done and several others potentially hurt, including the entire resources industry, as a result of his actions; and there is no turning back.

Rather than participating in the sport of CEO bashing, I am taking this discussion to a different level regarding the importance of accountability, integrity and honesty in our dealings with others as the headlines about corporate leadership continue to roll in.

Shifting blame or saying nothing can, more often than not, hurt others. Taking responsibility for ones actions or being honest from the get go is a much better practice on all levels. Had Thompson come out and said flatly, “it’s my responsibility no one else’s” my industry wouldn’t have been affected in the least. The end result is that the executive search firm in question, Heidrick & Struggles, is most directly affected by his comments. Some companies and job seekers have the idea that our industry is full of money hungry hacks that provide no real value. Thompson’s stance only further propagates this misconception.

The lesson here?

One simple statement to save face or keep your job can have an unseen impact on others far beyond those directly involved. This is true at the C-level all the way down to those closest to the work. While the story of his resume inaccuracy may have broken because of investor hostility, Thompson’s reaction, intended or not, affected Yahoo!’s public image, possibly the recruiting firm which he claims is partially at fault, the workers at that firm not directly tied to the alleged mistake and the industry as a whole.

A lie to cover you tracks at work can have the same effect no matter how small. Say you made a big mistake and let it go in hopes it would just go away. Then your supervisor is blamed for sloppiness. Then his or her supervisor is called into question. In the end it comes back to you, but you’re all let go.

You’ve just cost yourself, your co-workers and their families dearly. They keyword here is ‘you.’

We all make mistakes. Sometimes we make big mistakes. How you deal with them and holding yourself accountable is the key.  Although lying is hard to overcome, mistakes, even the big mistakes, are often an opportunity from which one learns and grows.