Enforcing Ethics in the Sales Arena

As the manager of sales team, what should you do when you discover dishonesty among your team? In a recent article published by Harvard Business Review, Sandeep Puri explores the hypothetical situation where a pharmaceutical sales manager discovers falsifications in a sales report from the company’s top sales representative.

The Situation: A sales manager runs across falsified customer call information in a report from the organization’s top sales representative. He said that he was meeting with prospects, when in fact he was watching a World Cup football game. The CEO is informed and must decide how to handle the situation.

The Dilemma: The sales representative in question has been one of the company’s best and most productive employees for half a decade. He is always helpful to his co-workers. The company will take a big financial hit if he is let go.

On top of that, this behavior is very out of character for him. When confronted about the issue, he explains that he did meet with the prospects listed, but on a different day than he stated in his report. He cites feeling underwater at work stemming from having a newborn at home. He apologizes profusely.

While trust is essential to the company’s mission, there is clear evidence that the sales representative has perpetrated a lie. On top of that, the company has positioned itself as “the ethical pharmaceutical-marketing company.”

The Question: Should the employee be terminated?

The Author’s Take: Puri explains that this sort of situation can crop up with high-performing employees because managers tend to think that they don’t need to be monitored. The safest strategy is to “trust but verify.” While the sales representative’s family situation is tough, it does not bear consideration in this situation.

Puri recommends that, in this situation, the CEO begin by issuing a formal written reprimand. Why this, rather than termination? There are two factors:

  1. The sales representative’s dishonesty did not impact his compensation. He didn’t cheat the company out of money with his lie.
  2. Firing the sales representative would put the company at risk. Not only would they lost key sales, but its possible that the terminated employee would pursue a wrongful-termination lawsuit.

Finally, in the wake of this incident, the CEO should take some time to focus on what he can do to encourage ethical behavior within his organization. Then he should instruct his managers to operate with a “trust but verify” strategy when it comes to all employees.

For more details, including the real-life situation on which this hypothetical scenario is based, read the article in full at Harvard Business Review.