What Lance Armstrong Taught Me About Ethics and Cost Cutting
A fact you may not have known about me: I LOVE documentaries. I watch documentaries on all topics: war, natural disasters, social movements, people, etc; What I love about documentaries is that a good one can put you in the place of people living through the events.
So last week I sat down with a glass of wine to watch the documentary Stop At Nothing about Lance Armstrong’s rise and fall. I have never really had an interest in cycling except for taking bike rides during the summer but the story of Lance Armstrong is fascinating: defeating cancer, coming back to win the Tour De France multiple times and then his downfall amidst doping allegations and finally his admission.
Of course Lance Armstrong couldn’t have achieved a deception for so long without a team of people supporting the doping scheme. As I watched the documentary and heard the story unfolding I was struck by how incremental it all was. It didn’t appear to me that Lance Armstrong set out to create one of the biggest doping schemes in professional sports, instead it looked to me like he started down the path, roped in friends and teammates and gradually became obsessed with winning and fame which caused a slew of other behaviors like lying and bullying.
One quote from a fellow rider summed it up perfectly:
“You’re so deep into it… You don’t even have time to take a half step back and look at the big picture.”
-Tyler Hamilton US Postal Service team discussing obtaining & using illegal performance enhancing drugs during the Tour De France
Losing perspective happens so quickly that before we know it we end up in situations we never imagined we could be in. This happens in organizations of all sizes. Before they know it, a small, innocuous accounting change has bloomed into a major fraud. The most alarming examples of this are probably the marquee company failures: Enron, Lehman Brothers, Etc.
But think about the horror stories we hear about other organizations’ HR, safety or financial problems. You probably think that can never happen at your organization. I disagree.
How much of that is caused by the all consuming pressure cooker we put our people in:
- relentless drive for savings
- pressure to be more productive
- cost-cutting that results in less training, less people or less resources
To be clear, I am not against pursuing more productivity or cutting costs. But those initiatives must be paired with strong actions that demonstrate cutting corners or acting unethically/illegally will not be tolerated.
Will the newest cost-savings measures force our people to cut corners on safety or compliance? How will people achieve the new goals or budget? Is it reasonable? Are we communicating when behavior is unacceptable?
There is a fine line between pushing our teams to better performance and setting unrealistic goals that blur the lines on ethical behavior. Next time you’re shocked by a major complaint, fraud or safety violation in the newspaper headlines, think about the above quote. Who lost perspective on the bigger picture? Who failed to stop the slide down a questionable slope?