Expert Comments On HP Scandal: Spying Not The Answer

In light of the Hewlett Packard scandal that has dominated the media for the past month, employers, CEOs, and media personnel alike are questioning when and if "spying" on employees' is ever appropriate. New software programs have been created that enable organizations to "bug" emails and trace the message's journey. Monitoring of employee internet use is prolific as employers become more and more concerned that their employees are finding new and improved ways to goof off.

However, in spite of the alleged need for leaders to be pro-active in ensuring proper use of office time, Keith Ayers, leadership and office productivity expert, says that while leaders do need to be concerned about employees being responsible and giving an "honest day's work, " spying on employees is one of the worst things a corporate leader can do to increase accountability.

In his highly anticipated book, "Engagement is not Enough, " (to be released October 2006), Ayers outlines the reasons why CEOs, like Patricia Dunn, can unintentionally push employees into betrayal and corporate sabotage by obsessively controlling the work environment. "Authoritarian leadership does not produce accountable employees, " says Ayers. "Managers who believe that strict controls and micro management results in a more productive workplace are operating under a delusion. They think that their control-based approach is working for them because people are doing what they are told. But the reality is they are getting less than 50 percent of what their employees are capable of producing."

Under this authoritarian leadership approach, employees start working in what Ayers calls "resentful compliance, " a situation where enjoyment of work and pride in the end result have been extinguished. He says, "It does not take more than a very basic level of understanding of human nature to know that the more you attempt to control people, the more resentful they become. Eventually they will look for ways to rebel - like browsing the internet instead of working - or worse, look for ways to harm the organization."

Ayers says the fact there was a leak to the press that was damaging to HP, and the way Dunn responded to the leak are clear examples of an authoritarian leadership style. The damage done to the trust employees in HP have for their senior executives will haunt the company for years to come. Instead of approaching her board members openly and honestly with the facts (that one of them was leaking information) and asking them to take some responsibility to help the company - an action that would have shown the rest of the directors that she trusted them and valued their input - she instead spent $325, 600 to try to catch the traitor. And Ayers believes that the cost and impact on employee morale will be even greater. He also believes that this use of investigators and invasions of personal privacy to solve the problem was "an example of using authoritarian leadership to fix a problem caused by authoritarian leadership." It triggers a downward spiral.

And now, after Dunn's actions have been reviewed and re-stated in court, she refuses to accept responsibility. At her trial she stated, "If I knew then what I know now, I would have done things very differently, however I do not accept personal responsibility for what happened."

"This refusal to accept responsibility is another area where Dunn lost an opportunity to re-establish trust with her shell-shocked employees, " says Ayers. He also stresses that when leaders are obsessed with avoiding responsibility they destroy their credibility in the eyes of their employees. In "Engagement is not Enough, " Ayers writes, "the failure of leaders to accept responsibility for their actions destroys trust. Leaders who are obsessed with avoiding responsibility blame their employees or external factors when things go wrong, when what they really should be doing is looking in the mirror. Leaders, especially the CEO and the executive team, create the culture that employees work in. Leaders who are not thinking about the impact they have on their organization's culture may be unintentionally destroying trust with employees and customers."

When employees' trust for their leaders is diminished, whether it is the result of unethical behavior or authoritarian leadership, they "switch off" into resentful compliance or rebellious sabotage. If CEOs have unproductive (or even dishonest) employees, Ayers believes that spying on them and attempting to force them to comply will exacerbate the problem. "You can't manage people, you can only manage the environment, " Ayers concludes. "If your employees are not behaving the way you want them to, fix your culture first. To do that, leaders must look in the mirror at the leadership behavior that is creating the culture."

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