Who spilled the beans about my business?

Dear Ken Keller,

I recently had a very strange phone call.

A business broker called me, and asked me if I was interested in learning how much my business was worth. I told him I knew how much my business was worth. Then he asked me if I wanted to sell my business. I told him I had no intention of selling it.

Then he started to rattle off all kinds of confidential information about my company. He went on and on, and I became more and more angry that he knew all this about my company. The only person who knew what he knew was my CPA.

I curtly hung up on this guy and wondered if my CPA had shared the information, and then realized that unless his offices had been broken into, or his computer system got hacked, there was no way that level of detailed information would have come from anywhere outside the company.

So I started thinking about whom inside my company would have shared that information and I decided no one would do this and knowingly hurt me or the company they worked for. It’s been a couple of weeks and I am still wondering how the information got out.

What do you think I should do? —David F.

Dear David:

What I recommend you do is call up your banker and ask them if they would be so kind to provide you with the latest version of a Dunn & Bradstreet (D&B) report on your company.

I’m willing to bet that someone in your company got a phone call from D&B who called to ask if they could update the information on your company in their files. Because they wanted to be nice, but more critically, because they did not know any better, I am sure that every detail that the broker shared with you had come directly from the D&B report. The report was recently probably recently updated courtesy of one of your well-intentioned employees.

This is a learning experience for you and how individuals in your company handle confidential information. The question is, now that you know someone is giving out this kind of information, what else is being passed on to your competitors, your vendors and others who might use it against you?

Dear Ken Keller

When is the best time of year to do performance appraisals for employees? —Marlene H.

Dear Marlene:

I have two thoughts for you to take into account. Feedback on performance should take place all year long. When this is provided, it cannot be generic, as in, “great job!” because that means nothing.

Be specific about what and why you are providing praise about and remember that people appreciate you showing them, or teaching them, how to improve.

The second point is that as long as you provide formal written appraisals at least one a year, the timing does not matter.