When an Employee Lies . . .

Should he automatically be fired?

Q: Icaught one of my supervisors in a lie. He told me that some orderswere shipped before they actually went out. He said he didn'tknow about it, but the shipping clerk said that she was told it wasOK to do it. I am confident that he lied because he was going tomiss his monthly production quota if they had not been credited inthe prior month. Should I fire him?

A:There are at least two issues involved in your question. The firstis the issue of lying. In my opinion, based on the information inyour question, I think you should fire the supervisor. Lying, aswith cheating and stealing, is very difficult behavior to change.The problem is that once you catch someone in a lie, it changesyour view of all future interactions. Even when the person tellsyou the truth, you may be suspicious and will be unable to respondappropriately. It is better to help the person find another jobwhere he will be able to change his behavior without prejudice.

In our company, lying, cheating and stealing are terminableoffenses. Although these behaviors can be changed, it is verydifficult to do so. If someone has cheated you in the past, hisaltruistic behavior in the present may go unrewarded because youare suspicious of its nature or origin. All the behavioral researchshows that when punishment does not occur immediately, it isinefficient and ineffective as a way to change behavior. Whilepositively reinforcing a productive, constructive or moralalternative is the best way to deal with any negative behavior,this is difficult to do because of the perceptive bias created bythe undesirable behavior.

I would not want you to get the impression that if these thingsoccur within your family that you "fire" your children orspouse. In the family, you have closer observation of behavior andmany more opportunities to determine when desirable or undesirablebehavior has occurred. Undesirable behavior can also be correctedat work, but it is an extremely long and difficult process thatrequires close and continuous supervision. If you cannot affordsuch, termination is the best thing for the employee and theorganization.

Next Step
Needto fire a problem employee? Make sure your termination processis both tactful and legal.

If you lack an in-house HR manager, check outThe Hiring and Firing Question and AnswerBook by Paul Falcone, which provides real-world solutionsto sticky personnel problems.

The second issue relates to your management behavior. Itappears, at least on the surface, that you have a negativereinforcement management style. Your manager was apparently soafraid of missing a performance goal that he lied. While this iscertainly no excuse for lying, it should be a wake-up call for youabout how you manage.

Even though negative reinforcement is by far the most common wayto manage in this country, one of the many negative side effects isthat it can cause lying, cheating and stealing. If keepingone's job, status or reputation is dependent on attaining aparticular goal, you can be sure that there are many people whowill "attain" the goal at any cost.

Use goals as a way to define success instead of how they aremore commonly used, which is to define failure. Set sub-goals everyday, if possible, and positively reinforce performers when thesesub-goals are accomplished. In my opinion, it is almost impossibleto set goals that are too small. Small goals provide manyopportunities to reinforce improvement. Of course, reaching finalgoals should be the occasion for celebration. One final thought: Ifan employee consistently fails to meet goals under thisarrangement, you have a situation in which the cost of changing thebehavior is probably more costly than hiring a replacement.

Aubrey C. Daniels, Ph.D., founder and CEO of managementconsulting firm Aubrey Daniels & Associates (ADA), is aninternationally recognized author, speaker and expert on managementand human performance issues. For more about ADA's seminars andconsulting services or to order Aubrey's book Bringing Out the Best in People: How To Apply TheAstonishing Power of Positive Reinforcement, visit www.aubreydaniels.com, orcontact Laura Lee Glass at (800) 223-6191 or lglass@aubreydaniels.com.

The opinions expressed in this column are thoseof the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended tobe general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areasor circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consultingan appropriate expert, such as an attorney oraccountant.

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