Years ago, when I was working for a CEO, I made a dumb mistake. No excuses; it was just stupid. Most mistakes are.
The CEO pulled me into his office and sat me down. He didn’t yell; he didn’t threaten to fire me or cut my pay. Instead, he told me how disappointed he was in my performance, and that he had expected better of me.
I left that room feeling like garbage. I promised myself that I would never make that mistake again, and never forgot it. The CEO was so effective because he let me know that I was better than my results were indicating, and I took it from there.
More on Managing Teams
Since then, I’ve always tried to use this same technique with my own people, particularly the A players. They are usually beating themselves up worse than I could or would – which is another reason I like A players so much. For most people, this quiet acknowledgement of disappointment is enough to keep them from repeating the error.
Some Mistakes Are Too Great
Certain mistakes are unquestionably firing offenses, regardless of who makes them and how valuable that person is to the organization. Say, for instance, you have a great A player who has to get a proposal submitted by a certain deadline. It’s for a big deal that you’re fairly confident your team will get. You just need this employee to get the paperwork handed in on time.
On his way to deliver the proposal, he decides to stop for lunch and ends up running late. Consequently, the proposal is not accepted.
This is a stupid mistake – and it happens more often than you want to know. It may not be an intentional or malicious error, but it is, nonetheless, unacceptable. Your team may have spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars putting that proposal together, and on top of that, you lost the deal.
Set An Example For The Team
CEOs have to single out unacceptable behaviors and use them to set an example. This maintains order and sets the standards for a team. The message you send by firing is this: “If the CEO lets such a valuable person go for that mistake, then no one can get away with being careless. We need to make sure these things don’t happen.”
Of course, not firing this person because they’re an asset sends an equally strong message. “If that employee can get away with being so careless, then can I too.” This is not the type of culture you want to create for your organization.
This all circles back to one fundamental point: if you hire the right people, they will hold themselves accountable. They’ll be tougher on themselves than you are on them, and that is a tremendous help. They’ll be much more likely to self-censure and to avoid mistakes – big and small – altogether.