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How far should your company go to address touchy workplace issues?

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When you don’t pay on time, your business is bound to pay some bad consequences.

Theory to Practice: Thinking With Emotions

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Openers: Just Say Yes?

Avoiding groupthink begins with what’s in your own head.

When to Defy Orders

Fall 2012

Soundings

When to Defy Orders

By Louis Ferrante

Louis Ferrante is a former Mafia associate and heist expert. From Mob Rules: What the Mafia Can Teach the Legitimate Businessman (Portfolio/Penguin). ©2011

Philadelphia don “Little Nicky” Scarfo wanted to whack mobster Salvatore Testa. Scarfo had one of his capos give the contract to Testa’s best friend, Joe Pungitore. Pungitore was unhappy with the job, but business was business; he had to do it or he’d be killed himself. He agreed to lure Testa to his death but refused to pull the trigger.

When Scarfo was told of Pungitore’s response, he laughed and said, “What the fuck’s the difference?” Scarfo understood that participation in a murder was the same as personally killing someone.

Big corporations don’t put contracts out on their employees, but they can perpetuate evil just as effectively as the Mob.

Unlike a member of the Mafia, who must follow orders or be killed, as an employee of a company, you can say no to an unethical demand or assignment. You don’t have to deny treatment to an ill person who has no health insurance. You don’t have to pick up the phone and harass an old woman drowning in credit-card debt. You can say no. No is such a powerful word that Gandhi, a small man dressed in rags, brought the mighty British Empire to its knees by saying it.

If you’re aware of shady business practices and either look the other way or say to yourself, “I’m just following orders,” tell me, “What the fuck’s the difference?” You’re as guilty as the people you work for.

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The Conference Board Review is the quarterly magazine of The Conference Board, the world's preeminent business membership and research organization. Founded in 1976, TCB Review is a magazine of ideas and opinion that raises tough questions about leading-edge issues at the intersection of business and society.