hat environmental factors have helped to create the situation Melanie Schmidt faces?

and downloaded everything that looked interest- ing’, he said. Later, realizing Michel was suspi- cious, the boss would say only that he had obtained ‘electronic access’ via a colleague and had not personally broken any passwords. Maybe not, Michel thought to himself, but this situation wouldn’t pass the 60 Minutes test. If word of this acquisition of a competitor’s confidential data ever got out to the press, the company’s reputation would be ruined.

Michel didn’t feel good about using these materi- als. He spent the afternoon searching for answers to his dilemma, but found no clear company policies or regulations that offered any guidance. His sense of fair play told him that to use the information was unethical, if not downright illegal. What bothered him even more was the knowledge that this kind of thing might happen again. Using this confidential information would certainly give him and his com- pany a competitive advantage, but Michel wasn’t sure he wanted to work for a firm that would stoop to such tactics.

What Would You Do? 1 Go ahead and use the documents to the com-

pany’s benefit, but make clear to your boss that you don’t want him passing confidential infor- mation to you in the future. If he threatens to fire you, threaten to leak the news to the press.

2 Confront your boss privately and let him know you’re uncomfortable with how the documents were obtained and what possession of them says about the company’s culture. In addition to the question of the legality of using the information, point out that it is a public relations nightmare waiting to happen.

3 Talk to the company’s legal counsel and contact the Competitive Intelligence Professionals Asso- ciation for guidance. Then, with their opinions and facts to back you up, go to your boss.

SOURCE Adapted from Kent Weber, ‘Gold Mine or Fool’s Gold?’, Business Ethics (January–February 2001): 18.


Change of Culture at Westcode Semiconductors Melanie Schmidt, 36 years old; promoted to the position of EMEA Manager for IXYS Semiconduc- tors in charge of R&D was soon moved to West- code Semiconductors in the UK, the company recently taken over by the German counterpart. She was trained to follow the German business practice which values clear frameworks, facts and proof. She also knew full well a company’s top executives were largely responsible for determining a firm’s cor- porate culture. But these were early days of the merger. As she got into her office having been greeted by a pro- fessional but cold secretary Ms Smith, she wondered what it would be like for her to work here . . .

The first few months seemed easy, as she took such personal pride in the culture of the UK-based counterpart. From day one she introduced team meetings, brain-storming sessions with her product designers and customers; all the things that worked really well for her in Germany. The company didn’t just pay lip service to the values it espoused: integ-

rity, honesty and a respect for each individual em- ployee and customer. Her team set a good example by living those principles. At least that’s what she’d believed until the other day.

One of her colleagues from Germany sent Mela- nie the registration link to the facebook.com web- site, as he suggested that lots of IXYS employees used this social networking tool for communication. She was quite keen to get in touch with some people she was not in contact with during her last few months in Germany. To her surprise she found a group site called ‘Melanie Schmidt Appreciation So- ciety’ created by one of her current UK employees, where he was slating IXYS, the merger and Mela- nie’s approach to management. She could also see which people subscribed to this group, and that all the managers from her team were there, and some had left one or two comments on the page. She at once decided to discuss this issue with the team in the UK and the German office, as her reputation of capable manager was at stake, and she felt she had not done anything wrong. But she needed to have a plan of action.


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Questions 1 What environmental factors have helped to cre-

ate the situation Melanie Schmidt faces? What factors does Melanie need to consider when deciding on her course of action?

2 Analyse Westcode’s culture. In addition to the expressed cultural values and beliefs, what other subconscious values and beliefs do you detect?

Are conflicting values present? When values are in conflict, how would you decide which ones take precedence?

3 Assume you are Melanie. What are the first two action steps you would take to handle this situa- tion? How would your role as a cultural leader influence your decision? What message will your solution send to the other managers and rank- and-file employees?


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