10 Lessons Learned (So Far) from the HP Scandal

Opinion: The top-level management mistakes made in the recent Hewlett-Packard leak investigation provide good examples of what to do and what not to do.

With only a few days to go before the top Hewlett-Packard leaders—and ex-leaders—appear before a congressional Committee on Energy & Commerce hearing on September 28, I thought it would be a good time to recap what I believe are the top lessons learned so far. For our full report on the Hewlett-Packard scandal involving false identities, e-mail viruses and surreptitious surveillance in the quest to uncover a leak from the board of directors, click here.

1. A question of balance. In the equation of the desire to root out the source of a leak from the companys board of directors versus a high standard of company ethics, ethics lost out. Whats the lesson? Dont be blinded by a mission that might be successful in detail, but at a cost of company reputation. Forbes has a good commentary on HPs board.

2. Really think outside the box. Thinking outside the box is a hackneyed business management phrase. But in this case it would have been well worth the time of the entire board of directors to think about how their actions would appear to someone looking in on the boardroom. Even leaving the questionable practices (of which there were many) aside, was the board acting as a group to develop a successful business strategy for HP? Or was it mired in internal warfare?

3. Dont dawdle. Yes, facts need to be separated from fiction. But the spectacle of lawyers hiring lawyers and executives being brought down slowly a notch at a time (board chairwoman gives up the chair slot and then finally resigns) simply prolongs the agony. The art of management is being able to judge when you have sufficient facts, not all the facts.

/zimages/2/28571.gifClick here to read about Hewlett-Packard CEO Mark Hurds first public comments on the scandal.

4. Read the memo. If someone hands you a report on the status of a company investigation and actions regarding leaks from the board of directors, you should read the memo.

5. Pay attention. While the chairman of the board at the time may have been the driving force behind the investigation, that does not absolve anyone on the board from making it their business to know the investigations status. Issues that are treated as "not my problem" have a way of becoming your problem.

6. Connect the dots. If there is going to be an investigation by an organization that does not have any governmental investigatory powers, you need to connect the dots. Investigations proceed in a very prescribed manner that includes finding sufficient facts, getting court approvals and knowing that crossing the line in evidence gathering can mean an entire case thrown out of court. If your organization doesnt have any of those powers, you need to ask hard questions about who will be gathering the information and what methods they will be using.

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7. Public press conferences, not public apologies. At press conferences, someone usually makes a statement and then takes questions from the assembled journalists. Standing in front of a bunch of journalists and reading prepared statements has nothing to do with a press conference. If you are going to hold a press conference, prepare to peppered with tough questions. If you are not ready for that grilling, dont hold the event.

8. Look inward. Take the heat. If you let your ambitions to succeed or find a source of leaked information override your companys ethics guidelines, then you know the right course of action is to resign.

9. Reaffirm the companys guidelines through action. Be able to say to the company, "These are our guidelines and this is what Im doing to make sure those guidelines are upheld." That action shouldnt include hiring more lawyers—there are probably enough of them already. To view HPs ethics guidelines click here.

10. Beware the music you play while on hold. Could this have been the worse choice of pre-conference music ever? While waiting for the HPAudio conference on Friday, Sept. 22, in which HPCEO Mark Hurd was going to talk about the investigations status, those of us on audio hold were entertained by country singer Gavin DeGraw singing, "I dont want to be." Those lyrics include the following:

I dont want to be anything other than me
Im surrounded by liars everywhere I turn
Im surrounded by imposters everywhere I turn
Im surrounded by identity crisis everywhere I turn
Am I the only one who noticed?

eWEEK magazine editor in chief Eric Lundquist can be reached at eric_lundquist@ziffdavis.com.

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