A recent Wakefield Research survey of 1,000 American officer workers showed that more than two-thirds felt “…the worst type of boss is one who steals our ideas.” I agree. But, I'd add that the worst type of employee is one who steals ideas from her co-workers.
I've never worked for a boss who stole my ideas and presented them as his own. But, I have seen prospective clients borrow Peppercom ideas presented in a pitch, and then implement them either on their own or with some other firm. Sadly, while a firm can try to protect its ideas with an 'intellectual capital' warning on the PowerPoint and leave-behind, any lawyer worth his salt will tell you such verbiage won't stand-up in court.
Getting back to intellectual capital theft in the workplace, I can tell you we've experienced it at Peppercom. In one of the more egregious examples, an otherwise exemplary account supervisor repeatedly presented her team's media placements as her own. “Oh, I've known John Smith at Fast Company for years. He always takes my calls,” she'd tell the pleased client (even though a junior AE had secured the hit).
This went on for several months until the entire team (and this blogger) met with the client for an in-person quarterly review. After exchanging pleasantries, the client contact began raving about “Abigail”, her amazing media contacts and the quality of her placements.
I looked around the conference room to see looks of astonishment followed by rage. Sensing what had happened, I interrupted the client to say, “We do have a great team and Abigail does do a nice job of managing the moving parts. But, the results you're speaking of were Peppercom achievements, not just Abigail's.”
Knowing she'd been outed, Abigail blushed every shade of red and began stammering, “Steve's right. I'm very proud of these results.” She had the gall to continue claiming sole credit for the results. Rather than have the team pounce on her and begin pummeling the bejesus out of Abigail in front of the unsuspecting client, I instead moved the conversation onto other subjects.
Later, back at the ranch, we sat Abigail down and asked why she'd taken credit for the team's work. She burst into tears, and said she didn't realize the client was interpreting her remarks in such a way. “Yeah, sure,” I said, 'I'll bet you also have a bridge in Brooklyn you'd like to sell.” I told her she'll be fired if it happened again. It did. And, we fired her.
Taking credit for a co-worker's accomplishments tells me two things:
- If the employee will lie about this, she'll lie about anything.
- She doesn't have the ability to produce results on her own, so she claims credit for a subordinate's work.
The latter is key. This only happens when a person is in a position of power and believes her lieutenants would be too afraid to out her for intellectual capital theft. And, she's right (until a public opportunity such as the quarterly review described above occurs).
Taking credit for someone else's ideas isn't just petty and stupid. It's amateurish and belongs on Dorothy Crenshaw's list of Seven Most Amateur Things in PR.
If you're not good enough to achieve media results on your own, I suggest you find an altogether different career path. The Garden State Parkway has immediate openings for toll booth operators, for example. That said, they will fire you if you claim credit for collecting $.35 from a motorist who just handed the change to Anthony in Lane Eight.