Small Thinking Errors That Lead to Workplace Fraud

Those seemingly unimportant decisions in life can have dire consequences if you don’t take the time to think clearly

Posted by Dawn Lomer in Ethics & Compliance, Fraud on October 10th, 2011

Of all the critical thinking errors that can lead a person down the slippery slope to fraud, not paying attention to the small things may be the hardest to spot. Everyone has busy lives and we sometimes simply have to make quick decisions about small things that we think don’t really matter. But it’s these “seemingly unimportant decisions” that can start us down the wrong path, says Patrick Kuhse, a consultant and speaker on business ethics, who speaks from the unique perspective of someone who has lived the life of a white collar criminal, international fugitive and prison inmate.

Kuhse talks about “seemingly unimportant decisions” that turn out to be not so unimportant as one of the eight critical thinking errors that lead people into unethical behavior.

Small Choices, Big Consequences

“We’re all so busy in our lives, personally and professionally, and we’re all trying to balance our lives,” he says. “So we don’t necessarily spend enough time making clear decisions, weighing it out, or thinking about it or seeking counsel and sometimes we just fire one off. And those are the ones that usually start us down the slippery slope.”

He gives an example of a seemingly unimportant decision a mother might make to stop for milk on the way to pick up her daughter from dance practice, even though stopping will make her five minutes late. If there’s a problem because she’s late, the decision wasn’t so unimportant after all.

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“We have so many things that we need to do that we’re always recalculating: ‘Which one am I going to do first and which one is the most important? Maybe I can put this one aside and come back to it later.’ But the one you’ve put aside might have turned around on you and become a big one,” he says.

Accountability Prevents Bad Decisions

As seemingly unimportant decisions go unchecked, an employee can start on the path to serious unethical behavior at work. To combat this, ensure everyone is accountable, says Kuhse.

“Emphasize at all times that everyone is accountable to somebody else in business. Most of the time the problems that I see in business are when someone has their own little fiefdom and everybody reports to them but they don’t report to anybody,” he says.

“When people are held at an accountable level on a consistent basis there’s usually very little, if any, problem. It goes that way in our personal lives too, with our kids, you can hold them accountable. This generation of kids coming up behind us, the entitlement generation, we don’t hold them accountable as we were when we were kids.”

Kuhse’s advice: “Be careful and don’t undervalue every decision that you make because even the littlest ones can take you down a path you don’t want to go on. My hope is to raise to a higher level of consciousness the fact that every decision that we make does carry a consequence.”


Dawn Lomer
Dawn Lomer

Managing Editor

Dawn Lomer is the managing editor at i-Sight Software and a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE). She writes about topics related to workplace investigations, ethics and compliance, data security and e-discovery, and hosts i-Sight webinars.