It's All About "Show Me The Money"

Last Updated Apr 26, 2007 11:17 AM EDT

Two of my colleagues recently approached me and told me they were starting their own firm and wanted me to join them. I thought about it for a night, realized I liked my current employment, and respectfully declined. When I told them the news, they said that they would expect me to keep their plan a secret. The problem is that I know they will try to steal some of our current clients, which would hurt my company. At the same time, I'm honored that they approached me about their project and don't want to sabotage their plan. Where's the line?

Remember that scene in "Jerry Maguire" where Tom Cruise gets fired from his agency, announces he's going to start his own agency, and sets off a mad scramble where he tries, unsuccessfully, to steal all of his old clients. Remember how it ends? "Show me the money." That's what you have to remember here.

The second your colleagues hatched a plan to start their own firm, they became competitors. They think they can do the work better than your company currently does it, and they no doubt have been scheming up a way to convince your company's clients to come with them. They're planning to show them the money... your money.

Your allegiance is to your own company, and you need to protect your interests. Every client that walks out the door with your colleagues is money from the company coffers. And it's those coffers that pay your mortgage and put food on your table.

It's great that they asked you. Take a second and enjoy the honor. Now do what it is that made them want to steal you in the first place. Be a good businessman and protect your company's interests. The best defense is a good offense. They've been planning their offensive in secret, and you have the ability to begin a counter-offensive before it's too late.

If you want to be the good guy, you find your colleagues, tell them you feel an obligation to inform your superiors, and give them the option to do it themselves. If they balk, or give you grief, or scold you for violating their secret, the game is on. March right into your boss's office, let them know what's going on, and then start the work of keeping your clients. I'd begin with the accounts handled by your two colleagues, because those will be the most vulnerable.

This isn't personal. It's business. Come on and say it with me. "Show me the money."

Have a workplace-ethics dilemma? Ask it here, or email wherestheline@gmail.com.

  • William Baker

    William Baker is a freelance writer living in Cambridge, MA. His work has appeared in Popular Science, the Boston Globe Magazine, the New York Daily News, Boston Magazine, The Weekly Dig and a bunch of other places (including Field & Stream, though he doesn't hunt and can't really fish). He is a regular contributor to the Boston Globe, where he writes the weekly column, "Meeting the Minds." He holds a master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and is at work on his first book.