It´s the stuff of made-for-TV-movies and paperback thrillers (well, maybe a hardcover in this case . . . ). I´m talking, of course, about the recent revelations regarding the FBI undercover sting that helped nail three people for trying to sell Coca-Cola secrets to Pepsi. Truly, though, you couldn´t write this stuff-it´s so unbelievable. How could someone actually believe that a real payoff would arrive in a Girl Scout cookie box? Isn´t that simply blasphemous?
Actually, what´s really stunning is the brazenness (and naivety and stupidity?) of the three arrested. You´ve got a major brand and the powers that be haven´t thought about the possibility of employees acting unethically??! I think my favorite part of the story (this is from CNN.com) which seems to read like a comic book is this: "Isdell [Coke´s chairman and CEO] also thanked PepsiCo officials for alerting their competitor "to this attack.´ A Pepsi spokesman said the company was glad to help." The Pepsi spokesman went on to say that the company was glad to help. " " We did what any responsible company would do . . .´"
Okay, but will Coca-Cola do the responsible thing and examine how employees are trained in ethical behavior? What do they do now? What do you do? So much of what we expect of people is something we believe should come naturally. But people surprise us sometimes, don´t they? They don´t exactly behave in the ways that you or I might behave. Indeed, what may come naturally to some seems strange to others. People talk about "doing the right thing" whether it´s giving to local charities or helping a pedestrian avoid an oncoming vehicle. We do the right thing, right? Not always.
Keeping company secrets secret would seemingly be the right thing to do. But some would prefer cash to, say, a box of Girl Scout Cookies and let´s just say for argument´s sake that we´re talking Thin Mint (really good if you store them in the freezer, but I think that may be another blog . . . ). And isn´t it ironic that they were arrested on Independence Day?
If you think that someone on your staff could be receptive to trading company secrets, listen to your instincts and do something about it. If you think your staff is trustworthy, that´s great, but it doesn´t mean you should assume that all will always be fine. This incident with Coke should be a reminder that we never really know what might motivate an employee to give up classified or confidential information. I sound pretty cynical, huh? That´s not my intention. My intention is to offer up this story as an object lesson in business. This is the time when you might want to ask yourself what your company would do in this situation. Beyond the obvious, like a running shoe box vs. a Girl Scout Cookie box (okay, I´m upset about this-I used to be a Girl Scout"?¦), think about what your company has that another might want and determine what kind of security you have to keep your secrets from competitors. Make sure your people know, for example, that the actions and behavior cited in the news today will not be tolerated. And make sure you can answer employees´ questions when it comes to ethics and the consequences for betraying a company´s ethics policy.
Also, and perhaps most important: what is your company doing NOW to prevent what happened to Coke from happening to you? Do you include ethics training in your employee development program? Will you consider doing so in the future? Let me know.