The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are

 the easiest person to fool.

Richard Feynman, Physicist and Nobel Laureate

When most people think about dishonest employees, they think about theft and greed. They think about people trying to get something.

A far greater risk is employees who are protecting something. What would that be? It could be stock price, credibility with customers or confidence of bosses. It needn’t be something so tangible. It might be the reputation of an individual or a company. Surprisingly, people will do all manner of things to protect beliefs. Some are actions but often what people do is deny. When the beliefs are shared by a large number of people you can form a veritable army of people who will resist information that contradicts their beliefs.

The need to be right, to win or to forge ahead has caused small missteps as well as big disasters, such as the loss of the Challenger spaceship. GM famously hid issues that caused loss of life. At Volkswagen, it seems that some engineers couldn’t bring themselves to admit that they hadn’t solved the problem of how to improve mileage while lowering emissions in diesel-fueled cars. Instead, they rigged the measurement methods. Thankfully this did not cause deaths but it certainly has damaged the brand, credibility and trust.

Did someone pay them to do this? It doesn’t appear so. What would drive someone to do this? Reputation. Volkswagen has engineers whose reputations are exceptional. Perhaps they couldn’t admit defeat. Why weren’t they discovered sooner? Beliefs.

You are probably saying, “sure glad that isn’t me.” Maybe there isn’t anything lurking in your company. It’s worth asking yourself these questions:

  1. Are mistakes happening? If you answer “no”, you have a problem.
  2. Do some new projects or initiatives fail, quickly? Some should.
  3. Do leaders live in their office? It’s a limited view.
  4. Do managers make people feel ashamed of mistakes? Are you sure?
  5. Do managers demand loyalty? If so, to what?
  6. Do you assume you can’t prevent misdeeds? You can, most of the time.