Harvey Mackay

Cheating's Never Worth It

Don Sutton, the Hall of Fame baseball pitcher, was occasionally accused of altering baseballs to create more movement on his pitches and make them harder to hit. When asked if it was true that he used a “foreign substance” on baseballs, Sutton replied, “Not true at all. Vaseline is manufactured right here in the United States of America.”

Cheating and integrity are back in the news, big time, as we hear about the Houston Astros and possibly other Major League Baseball teams having used technology to steal signs of their opponents, causing irreparable damage to the game. After an extensive investigation, it was determined that the Astros' video replay room was decoding opponents’ pitching signals using a centerfield camera and relaying the information to their batters via various signals.

Like the college admissions scandal, it will have far-reaching effects for years to come.

While it should be easy to verify credentials and performance history online, it should not be easy to lie about test scores or use technology to misrepresent one’s accomplishments. But it happens all the time.

The statistics are alarming when it comes to cheating on tests and homework, plagiarizing and copying papers from the internet. A stunning 95% of high school students in one survey admitted to some form of cheating during their high school years.

I recently heard from a college professor who was trying to figure out how to deal with a former student who posted his old tests (as well as other professors’ tests) online, and the current students who benefitted from ill-gotten answers. The proposed punishments went from losing course credit for current students to taking away the perpetrator’s degree. That’s a high price to pay for an already expensive college education.

Ask any human resources manager how many resumes contain a little -- or a lot -- of creative but not quite accurate self-promotion. Then ask them how many of those cheaters land the job. Or if they actually got hired, how long it took to expose their lack of qualifications.

As any businessperson knows, when you cheat at business, you lose business.

In sports, there is a referee or umpire to make sure participants play by the rules, and consequences of violations are usually immediate. But it’s different in business. Regulations and watchdog groups do their best to guard against malfeasance, but those decisions are rarely swift enough to benefit affected customers. Cheaters can drag out complaints for months or years of court proceedings. And the beleaguered client often feels doubly cheated when they have to wait for resolution.

We’re way beyond the butcher with his thumb on the scale here. Little acts of deception often lead to bigger acts. As Sir Walter Scott wrote, “Oh what a dangerous web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.”

My advice is to play by the rules, no matter how hard or expensive or lonely it may be. Set your code of conduct higher than the rules, so your customers know that you will never cheat them and that they can trust your word and your products and services. Your reputation as a person and a businessperson should line up. And if all else fails, ask yourself, would you want someone to treat your grandmother this way?

Mackay’s Moral: If you have to cheat to get ahead, you’ve already lost.