You may recall the comedies Dumb and Dumber and Dumb and Dumber 2. The main characters are played by Jim Carrey (Lloyd Christmas) and Jeff Daniels (Harry Dunne). Not the sharpest knives in the drawer, they bumble and stumble their way through a number of misadventures, many of which leave you scratching your head and asking: “Is it really possible for anyone to be that dumb?”

I have encountered a number of the Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunne types throughout my career. Some qualified for the Dumb Hall of Fame. But others were far from being dumb. They were extremely intelligent and tried to play the role of the dumb employee. It was a deliberate strategy designed to deceive.

I remember one case where an employee was caught selling dope on company premises. When asked to tell us what went down, he responded: “I didn’t know it was illegal to sell dope on company premises.” REALLY. It was probably the most incredulous thing I had ever heard.

I remember another case where a white collar employee was caught with a company owned laptop with a hard drive full of pornographic photos and videos. He too employed the dumb strategy and claimed he didn’t know if was against company policy.

How do you deal with the dumb strategy?

  1. Have clearly written policies that deal with theft, illegal drug use, the use of company information technology and other issues. Present these to your employees and get a signed copy for inclusion in personnel files. Conduct education sessions. Keep records of who attended.
  2. When an employee plays “dumb” in an interview, pull out the signed policy and present it. Ask: “Is that your signature?” Follow up with probing questions.
  3. You could also show the employee the section in the Criminal Code that deals with the alleged criminal activity. Ask the employee to comment on it. Follow up with probing questions.
  4. Ask additional questions. Why did he or she think the company would believe their allegation of ignorance? What are they trying to cover up? What’s the truth?