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‘Eternal vigilance is the price of dishonesty’

4 August 2014  

The headline is a quote attributed to John Z DeLorean, an automotive legend – if not for all of the reasons he might have aspired to.


As a fervent deregulator, I do appreciate the need for some rules, but the question of how many we have to have is always a hard one to answer.

What tends to happen is that there is the pendulum swing effect that sees us tighten up until the rules strangle us and then have to relax again until someone decides that things are too loose and back we go.

My first experience of this cycle was 40-odd years ago when I was in the wholesales office and every three months or so there would be a purge on scrutinising sales returns and expense claims from the reps. The purge would last for about a month and then the time being spent on it would be used elsewhere for another quarter. “Keeps ’em on their toes, boy”, my boss would say. But the key principle of this system, and every other version of it that I have seen since, is that it is based on a lack of trust and the belief that people are inherently dishonest.

That there are people who are inherently or occasionally dishonest is beyond dispute and therefore John Z had a valid point, but application of vigilance needs to have some balance. It is part of risk management and the aim should be to ensure that the actions that you take do not outweigh the benefit, so the periodic purge approach mentioned above has some merit if it provides an economic return.

Although I have encountered a variety of approaches over the years there has been a parallel theme in that the worse the leadership, the more draconian the measures being taken to “Keep ’em on their toes” – and I don’t think that there is any coincidence. One of the central planks of leadership is trust, and the less you trust people the more you will want to have them looking over their shoulder.

Well-led teams tend to be so enthused and focused on their goals that they rarely show any inclination to do the things that need policing. Occasionally you encounter a maverick, but in my experience as both follower and leader a light hand on the tiller works best.

John Bowen is an FM consultant

http://thatconsultantbloke.wordpress.com/