By Admin

June 28, 2010

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” – Lord Acton (1834-1902)

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We’ve probably all heard this phrase at one time or another in our lives.  It is mostly associated with our politicians, some of which who are voted into office again and again because they did something good 30 years ago.  A few yard signs and a couple kissed babies come re-election time and they are good for another 4-6 years.

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The moral can be applied almost anywhere though.  Granting full autonomy to someone can have its pratfalls.  In a previous edition of The Abacus I mentioned how it is best to budget with a group or board.  Let the findings of this group of collaborators dictate the specific actions of spending throughout the year.

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I made the mistake of granting autonomy to one individual at my last place of employment when it came to ordering office supplies and small equipment.  I wanted to respect the fact that this person had been with the company for awhile and overall had a great deal of experience.  This was a very big mistake on my part.

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In the hands of this individual, the power to order at their hearts content was a tool or weapon to be wielded to suit their purpose.  Certain offices got all the best supplies if you just so happened to be good friends with this person.  Nice pens you want?  You got them.  Just be ready to cash in my favor when I ask for it.  This person had the absolute power and it was used in a corruptible manner.

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More specifically, this person deemed that we needed a laminating machine shortly after I handed over the keys and title papers to the supplies wagon.  I was new at my position at that time and didn’t realize it was a new piece of equipment.  The laminating machine was severely abused, then a hasty attempt to repair was made which made it unfit to use.  As you can see, power corrupts pretty quickly.

Looking back, I doubt that I would have approved of such a purchase.   The machine was used infrequently and did not add any substantive value in my opinion.

The lesson I learned was that while this person could place all of the orders, someone needed to approve the purchases.  Not only is this a needed internal control to prevent fraud, but it would help in using the company’s funds wisely.  I could have helped remind this person that such a purchase did not fit into the company’s budget or purpose. Certainly, the laminating machine wasn’t a fraud, but the $200 could have been used more productively elsewhere.

Collaborate on budgeting and provide an approval process.  This will protect the company and protect the individuals involved.  What does it protect individuals from?  Simply, it protects them from themselves.