What do departing employees think about when they leave your employ along with your corporate forms, your client list, your pricing list, or your database of company private information? Unless they approached you for permission beforehand, they’re stealing.
Many former employees justify intellectual property theft with a litany of excuses in an attempt to minimize the severity of their crime. Excuses include:
- They won’t miss it
- What harm could it do?
- Who am I hurting?
- They owe it to me
- It’s meant as a compliment to them that I should want to use it
Many employees are sincere in their sense of entitlement and ownership after having made some contribution toward the development of your proprietary information. They can sometimes perceive the employer’s property as their own, given the hard work and dedication they have put toward the company or a project.
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The reality, however, is that they may have set aside their moral compass and lost sight of the fact that their “contribution” was bought and paid for during the course of their employment at the expense of their employer. I have lost count as to the number of candidates interviewed who have sat across from me with a promise of bringing on board “their” clients and “their” contacts.
I have made the mistake of falling to the temptation.
I once owned and operated four companies simultaneously (big mistake, but that’s another story) of which one was a temporary personnel placement agency. Sam Salesman presented himself to me from a competing agency, touting a stable of clientele with whom he had nothing short of a stellar relationship. With a pledge of being able to provide oodles of valued man hours and a truckload of gold bullion to follow, my hiring this talented individual seemed like the perfect (justified as a good business move) thing to do to expedite the launch of my new company.
Mr. Salesman produced zero results and within three months had moved on (no doubt along with any proprietary information I had).
In my dash toward making a quick buck, two subsequent employees who I hired over the next few years ended by leaving my employ along with my database, seduced my employees away and downloaded proprietary material. One started her own temp agency within days of leaving and the other provided stolen information to a competitor who immediately began soliciting my clients with revised pricing to compete against me. Tough luck; I got what I deserved.
What Goes Around…
Whether we are the recipient of pilfered, pillaged or pinched information or whether we steal it ourselves, culpability rests with both the thief and the receiver of the stolen property.
It takes years and a lot of money to acquire information or to populate a database with clients and contacts in a process that never ends. The cost of amassing lists, purchasing contact names and addresses, hiring dedicated call personnel, sales, marketing, advertising, administrative time spent to update, the daily maintenance to keep information current and secure is a bottomless pit of expense.
To those of us who have hired an employee(s) with the promise of stolen data as a reward for exercising business savvy, resign yourself to the fact that your new hire has the very real capacity of doing it to you. Your newest golden acquisition is now someone to watch and guard against. You will forever know in the back of your mind that a leopard’s spots don’t change and that your proprietary information is at risk of becoming someone else’s. So, if a venture begins based on distrust, it comes to you termite-ridden and deteriorating before it starts and is unlikely to endure the test of time.