Scapegoating for Dummies (or for Corporate Execs)
– by David Matthews 2
It must suck to be a corporate executive right about now. Here it is the start of 2009, and you have all of these so-called “masters of the universe” that feel like they were pushed into the Twilight Zone.
All of the things that they USED to swear by are now under scrutiny. All of the practices and behaviors that used to be commonplace are now evil to the core. And what used to be an entitlement is now thoroughly demonized.
Take, for instance, bonuses. Bonuses used to be a matter of entitlement for executives. You worked, you got both a base pay and then you got a bonus. And it didn’t matter why you got it, because you made sure it was in your contract. You were just entitled to have it. It’s just something executives do.
Now all of a sudden bonuses are considered to be “evil”. And these guys are supposed to be living off their base pay! Now that ain’t right! These guys have to pay all the expenses for a trophy wife, an ex-wife, at least two kids, a mistress, and a couple of former nightclub girls that they knocked up a few years back. And all on their base pay? You must be joking!
Unfortunately for corporate executives, this isn’t a joke. What used to be right is now wrong, and what used to be celebrated is now reviled.
What’s worse is that pretty soon some of those “masters of the universe” will be engaging in a whole new embarrassing ritual that requires lawyers and a certain set of linked bracelets that will look like the kind of items their mistresses would have, only this one would be without the fur and without the fun.
Yes, if you’re a high-level corporate executive, you too will probably be doing the “frog march” in front of the media and have your name and face plastered all over newspapers for something OTHER than the “business” section. It’s not a joke and it’s not some horrible, horrible nightmare that will disappear in the morning.
The hard part, then, is being able to survive it all.
Understand that you’re not alone in this situation. In fact, you’re in some pretty good company. After all, you’re now walking in the same shoes worn by politicians, mob bosses, televangelists, and movie stars. If they can survive this, then you can too.
Here are a few quick steps to help all you “Masters of the Universe” get through these trying times that will probably end up with you BEING tried.
DO NOT try to fake your death! Faking your death to avoid being arrested or to avoid being vilified for your actions only serves to make you even MORE notorious. If they didn’t hate you before this, they’ll hate you after doing it, especially when they find out that you’re really not dead. Plus you now have a REAL criminal charge to worry about.
DO NOT hold a “bargain basement” sale! You may think that you’re being smart by selling your five summer homes to your ex-wife or mistress for all of ten dollars. After all, if you don’t own it, then you can’t be forced to sell it should you be sued. Unfortunately it also serves to further demonize your actions. A seemingly honest mistake is now seen as an intentionally malicious act.
Plus once you have sold your items and both the full scope of your misdeeds and your wealth are exposed to the media, then there is a really good chance that you may not get your items back afterwards. Remember televangelist Jim Bakker? He “entrusted” his ministry to a guy that he believed was his friend, only to have his “friend” take over the ministry and kick him out of it. The same thing could very easily happen to you.
DO NOT store your money at home! Keeping tens of thousands of dollars in the freezer or buried in your back yard or under your mattress may seem like a novel idea, but it doesn’t help your cause any. In fact, it makes you look cheap. Think offshore accounts; someplace where the government can’t get to it.
DO NOT blame everything on a computer virus! Computer viruses and malicious software can do so much damage to electronic items, but most viruses destroy data or transmit data to other people (i.e. account numbers, passwords, email addresses). They don’t change terms on mortgages or issue bonuses, so they really can’t be used to explain what happened.
But that does bring us to an important element to survive this newfound notoriety, and that is using a scapegoat, because let’s get brutally honest here… the difference between spending your retirement in Florida versus spending it in the Old Folks Prison will rest in how you are able to diffuse the blame for your actions.
Get your story straight first! If you haven’t gotten your story set up by now, then you need to stay silent until you do. Don’t admit to being either guilty or innocent. You have the right to remain silent and you need to aggressively exercise that right until you can explain your situation.
One of the worst things that you can do is to change your story in the middle of the game. Sure your original story sucks, but changing it halfway through will prove that it was just a scam. Then you have TWO stories that people won’t believe; your old one and your new one. Whatever story you concoct at the beginning, be sure to stick with it right to the end.
The Nuremberg Defense Still Works! No matter how high up the executive pyramid that you are, you always have someone else to report to. That gives you the perfect opportunity to say that you were just “following orders”.
Blame Non-People! As much as you would like to pin the blame on either a specific underling or a superior, don’t. In fact the worst thing that you could do is to blame a living human being for your troubles. Blaming other living humans for the things that you caused will often backfire, especially when all of the proof points to you. Plus living human beings have a really nasty habit of rejecting any attempt to be made into scapegoats.
Just be careful about what you end up blaming. Blaming the collapse of your business because of alcohol or the lust for a rare vintage sports car is one thing. Blaming it on your sofa because “it told you do to it” is a little hard for people to swallow.
Blame Policy! If you have to blame anything involved with your company, blame your policy. I know that sounds crazy, but as the old saying goes, “the devil is in the details”. Nobody really reads those things anyway, so all you have to do is say that it’s “procedure” and nobody would be the wiser. All you have to do is make sure that whatever corporate abuses you long to engage in is covered somewhere in your policy.
Blame An Institution! This is one of the favorite scapegoats. Blaming an institution is perfect because you’re able to pass the buck off to an intangible organization. This is even better than blaming an inanimate object, because now you don’t have to blame anyone or anything specific. Now you can blame the whole business group for fostering “a culture of greed”. Better still, blaming an institution doesn’t require any kind of proof to back it up. Your failures and the damages that it causes are all the proof that you need to demonstrate how “the environment created” the problems.
Blame An Addiction! This is more of a desperation move, partly because you have to show incompetence on your own part, but claiming to be suffering from an addiction can be considered a valid scapegoat. Some of the most corrupt and manipulative politicians have been able to excuse their actions under the claims of being a drug or alcohol addict (even thought their own past proved otherwise) and even managed to shave some time off their prison sentences for going to treatment. The downside to this is that once you admit to having an addiction and actually using it as an explanation for your actions, you then have to go to rehab and show up at some addition group for a while to demonstrate your willingness to be “cured”. But fortunately nobody keeps track of how often that you show up to those treatments after the first few times.
Blame The Dead! This is an even bigger desperation move, but also one of the more traditional scapegoats. Blaming the dead seems callous and cruel, but it is far better than blaming things on the living. The dead can’t vigorously refute the charges made against them.
The key to this tactic is that the person that dies has to be in a position to cause the damage in question. That means that we’re talking about an executive vice-president or even a CEO. You can’t blame everything on Carl the janitor. Timing is also crucial. This has to be someone that recently died. You can’t blame your company’s current failures on an Executive VP that died five years ago.
And finally, when all else fails and your good name is destined to go down with your company, you may have to engage in the ultimate sacrifice… yes, you may actually have to…
Take One For The Team! No we’re not talking prison. We’re talking DEATH. We’re talking about taking the eternal dirt nap. We’re talking about cashing in your chips and actually BEING the dead person for everyone to blame. Start drinking and eating dangerously, take up skydiving and stock car racing, find some way to give yourself cancer or some incurable disease… you guys are rich, you have connections, you know how it can be done.
There’s actually a benefit to this depending on where you are. One CEO died after being convicted for his actions, and because he died, he wasn’t able to mount an appeal, so under Texas law, his conviction was expunged. He was actually cleared of all charges just by DYING!
There are some downsides to this. The first is that you really have to DIE. You can’t just fake your death. (Or didn’t you read the start of this article?) The other downside is that YOU get all the blame for the company’s failings. It all goes down on your name.
And perhaps the biggest downside of dying for the company is that you can’t take your wealth with you. That means that your trophy wife and your ex-wife (or ex-wives) and kids and those nightclub dancers that you knocked up a few years back will all be fighting like rabid dogs for every penny that you had in your name. Although for some rich executives the regret is more that their deaths would prevent them from SEEING that rabid dogfight.
Scapegoating is a careful balance of lies and truth. You’re avoiding accountability for your actions even though you will eagerly take the credit had the results been profitable. A good scapegoat takes time to formulate, so don’t feel pressured to come up with one quickly. Just think of it as another business challenge to overcome.