If I were a leader in the General Services Administration (GSA) right now, I would:
- convene a serious soul-searching session about what went wrong and how to prevent it from happening again. This is a teachable moment. I would have employees at all levels of the organization weigh in on their feelings, their observations, their fears, and their suggestions for change. GSA leaders must encourage employees to vent internally rather than externally, so the agency can move as quickly as possible to solution mode.
- determine whether the Las Vegas scandal symbolizes a temporary loss of institutional control, or whether the organization is deeply corrupted and the culture is sick – and respond accordingly.
- ask my employees to hold their heads high. GSA is the butt of jokes and talk-show tirades. It’s important to remember that GSA provides valuable services to the entire federal government. I would ask employees to defend the agency and continue to be positive about its mission.
- avoid punishing all for the reprehensible acts of a few. While new auditing steps, oversight, and procedures will likely be necessary, these changes need to be balanced against treating your honest employees like criminals. The individuals who perpetrated this scandal are effectively terrorists – they have created fear and distrust. But the response needs to be measured. Your employees shouldn’t be held up in the equivalent of an airport security line because of what these morons did in Las Vegas.
- I would not eliminate future business conferences. Some will say that conferences by their nature are wasteful and encourage bad behavior. Of course they do – anyone who’s been to an out-of-town business conference is well aware of those temptations. But there are ways to make business conferences effective, professional learning and team-building experiences. For long-term organizational effectiveness, employees in a far-flung organization regularly need to meet in person and build relationships and shared understandings.