Displaying exceptional leadership skills during times of prosperity is not enough, says sales and management expert Mark Zokle. In today’s post, Zokle opens up about the recent revelation of widespread fraud at Wells Fargo and why management’s blame-laying tactics were the most inappropriate response possible.
Q: In times of corporate crisis, who should be held liable, in your opinion?
Mark Zokle: I tend to take the position that those in leadership roles must be held accountable for problems, even if they claim not to have been aware of the situation’s specifics. I will use Wells Fargo as an example. Greater than 5,000 employees were recently fired for opening up millions of fraudulent accounts in order to meet impossible sales goals. Company CEO John Stumph laid the blame squarely on the shoulders of the company’s lowest paid employees.
Q: How did Wells Fargo’s problems get so out of hand?
Mark Zokle: When you have a situation where thousands of people are doing the wrong thing, something has obviously been amiss for a while. What I think went wrong is that Wells Fargo quit being a bank and began to operate as a money merchant, losing sight of its most important assets – its customers and employees – in the process. Stumph’s actions were described by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren as “gutless leadership.”
Q: How was Stumph’s reaction in the media inappropriate?
Mark Zokle: Stumph deflected any and all accusations of incompetence down to the lowest-level employees, the tellers. These were the people whose jobs depended on meeting sales quotas and who were trained in cross-selling methods. Stumph and other corporate leaders insisted on an aggressive sales culture, going as far as to refer to their branches as “stores.”
Q: Can large corporations avoid these types of problems?
Mark Zokle: Absolutely. It all begins with leadership who is willing to take responsibility for their actions and that of their employees. Accurately being able to determine reasonable sales goals and implementing a series of checks and balances is a vital first step toward ensuring an honest and ethical workplace.