MetroCareers: Know When to Make New Rules, Take 2
By Kathy Zucker
The article below is a revision of an article originally posted on this site. In the original article, I wrote about the recent scandal in the Olympics fencing competition and, in order to make a point about the accountability of and trust in organizations, I drew a comparison to the recent cover-up at Penn State.
When I first discussed the story idea with the editorial team, neither they nor I raised any red flags. However, readers voiced their concerns and we listened. As per reader request, here is the rewritten article minus any mention of Penn State.
Two days ago in Olympic fencing, during a bout to reach the gold medal match of the women’s épée competition, the time failed to run down during sudden death. Instead of acknowledging the error and awarding the win to the lower-ranked competitor who had priority, the referee had the fencers continue until the gold medal favorite scored a touch that gave her the victory.
We are all human. We make mistakes, and people we trust make mistakes. Some mistakes are small, others are huge. Every once in a while, we see someone make a mistake that is so huge, so egregious that there is overwhelming popular support against it. It is instantly obvious.
I was watching live during the Olympic matchup, and saw the fencing federation attempt to cover up the timekeeping error. It was only after 24 hours of social media coverage that included a Lego reenactment, multiple Youtube videos and comparison to Monty Python that the FIE even began to acknowledge that something went wrong.
By then, it was too late to avoid serious damage to the FIE credibility and brand.
The FIE followed the rulebook. They did the absolute minimum required to follow up on the situation when it was appealed, and then tried to brush it under the rug.
Nobody wants to be a senior official when a scandal like this hits your organization. Careers ended yesterday; I doubt that Barbara Csar will ever referee a high-profile match again.
But perhaps the worst part was the cover-up that followed. When the Korean fencer appealed the referee decision, the higher-ups had a pivotal moment on their hands. They could either follow the rule that states the referee decision is final and refuse to overturn the victory, or do what was right and give the victory to the person who won in the eyes of everyone in the stadium. Or redo the last second of the bout at a proper distance. At the very least, they needed to acknowledge that a mistake was made.
The FIE senior officials took the easy, cowardly way out. And now their organization is paying the price, in the form of public censure and relentless negative PR coverage. It will take years to recover from the damage, if ever.
To those of you reading this article who don’t follow fencing, this scandal is of a magnitude on par with the judging scandal that rocked the 2002 Olympic pairs ice skating competition in which a judge and the president of French skating were banned from the sport for three years.
But my ultimate point isn’t about scandals and sports competitions. With great power comes great responsibility. That statement is not just for superheroes; it applies to anyone thrust into a pivotal moment. It is too easy to look the other way and say, “It’s not my problem.” Whether it’s a sporting event, a school committee, a city council, a nonprofit organization, a small business or something on a much larger stage, ultimately the responsibility of identifying foul play comes down to each of us as individuals.
If you are an entrepreneur, you need to consider the morals and values that you will use at the beginning. As the expression goes, “start as you mean to go on.” And in the course of operating your business, not only do you need to operate ethically, but you need to be prepared to call out any unethical or illegal behavior that you encounter within your organization.
As the chief executive officer of Metro Moms Network, LLC, I have been working with the management team for the last year to create a structure that facilitates early identification of problems and a framework for correcting them. Corporate responsibility is the key to operating an ethical organization.
Kathy Zucker, serial entrepreneur and mother of three, writes about juggling career and family in an urban setting. See what Kathy is up to at her blog and on Twitter @kathyzucker.
Tags: CHOICES, ethics, metrocareers