Why Regional Businesses Need to Protect Their Privacy
Regional businesses have unique challenges.
I’ve worked with many regional businesses over the years, and the one message that came through loud and clear was the need to protect their privacy in relation to their business decisions and their numbers.
The bigger you grow your business, the more people in your local community will take an interest in what you are doing and will want to know more about what you are up to and what you have. The tall poppy syndrome is still alive and well in Australia, although there does seem to be a lessening of the behaviour associated with this. Nonetheless, when your business is going gangbusters, people start to take more of an interest.
Issues like hiring and firing staff, decisions relating to expanding or contracting your business, plans to buy the property next door or down the road, ideas for a different direction and strategies for building your business may best be discussed by consultants who aren’t in your local area. In this way, there is no risk that the information or discussions will inadvertently become known before you want to make the important announcement or deal with the issue.
There is a lot to be said for giving and receiving support from your local community and peers. This is an important part of business in regional areas and in many cases, will help you to grow your business through referrals within the community. But when you’re wanting to make big decisions about the direction of your business, it may not be appropriate to be seeking the advice of those in your local community. There may, in fact, be a conflict of interest which you aren’t aware of.
Sure, there are rules and regulations and the Privacy Act to protect your interests when dealing with professional service firms, but sometimes it may be as simple as the receptionist letting slip something when chatting to a friend and suddenly you find yourself in a position where your business information or decisions become known around town.
One of my agricultural business clients, let’s call him, Bob, has been dealing with a situation with an employee, let’s call him Jack, who injured himself at work. WorkCover took on the case and paid Jack’s wages for some months before eventually undertaking some surveillance which identified that Jack was not as injured as he had made out.
One of the issues is that Jack knew other members of the employers’ family and identified that Bob was due to inherit a sizeable Estate and as a result, he is now suing Bob for a range of other matters, all of which are trumped up charges. Unfortunately, there is no Privacy Act to protect against family members talking. There is no question that the claims are unfounded and have been designed to force Bob to pay Jack money to ‘go away’.
This has all been compounded by Jack talking to his friends in the community about how badly he’s been treated and how Bob has so much money, and he should just pay him what he thinks he’s entitled to. The issue has also caused a strain on the family relationships such that Bob now has very little to do with those family members who talked to Jack.
Bob has had to retain lawyers to deal with the claims and has been told to make sure he doesn’t talk about the matter or about Jack to anyone in the community, and also to keep his business decisions to himself and to make sure he uses advisors who are out of the area.
Now think for a minute about your business. Do you feel comfortable talking about your challenges and big decisions to consultants in your area? Are you sure that there’s not a conflict of interest or the risk that some information may inadvertently become known around your community? And if you’re not comfortable with your answers to those questions, now’s the time to make some changes.
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