by: Doug Michaelides

What would you do if, while browsing a hated competitor’s website, you suddenly found yourself able to access confidential information like customer lists, management reports and internal presentations?

That’s the question that presented itself to a young employee of one Stratford Managers client recently. This individual is highly competitive. As is the case for many people in business, the challenge of beating the competition really motivates him to put that extra effort into his work. The competition is “the enemy” and any opportunity to stick it to them is something to relish.

In a world in which the Internet serves up every sort of content at the click of a mouse, the distinction between “public” information and “private” information has blurred. The widespread use of file-sharing sites to freely access copyright-protected content has conditioned many people, especially young people, to regard anything available on the web as fair game for downloading.

This attitude, when carried over to the business function of competitive intelligence, risks having over-enthusiastic employees crossing the line from legitimate data gathering to hacking. It isn’t much different from other shady competitive intelligence techniques like hiring a consultant to pose as a customer (you may recall that in February, Ottawa-based Halogen Software was accused of posing as a prospective customer in order to gain proprietary information about a competitor in the HR technology industry).

Many companies make a point of promoting corporate integrity. Presumably that means living up to your commitments and not engaging in ethically questionable practices. Corporate policies and, more importantly, the example set by senior managers in an organization all contribute to ensuring that employees act appropriately in their work. However it all starts with personal integrity; with individuals having a clear sense of right and wrong guiding their behavior in an increasingly complex workplace. Character is about what you do when you’re alone.

So it is heartening that when this young employee was alone, he resisted temptation and did the right thing. He backed out of the website without looking at confidential documents and immediately advised his management of the situation. The CEO sent an email to his counterpart warning of the security flaw.

Then everyone went back to competing furiously for business, integrity firmly intact.

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