When good people do bad things

Too often, we see colleagues lose their job for covering up a mistake that would not have led to any form of discipline, let alone their termination.

Those are the saddest moments.

They expose a low-trust culture where an employee is willing to risk her job or her career for fear of admitting a mistake.

Our typical response – to shake our heads in disbelief and then move on – is unacceptable. Someone just lost their job, in part because of the culture we created or tolerated. We ought to examine how we do things and look for what might have led to this unfortunate outcome.

Questions to ponder:

  • How do we react when others make mistakes, miss a deadline, fall short of a goal? Is the reaction commensurate to the missed opportunity?
  • When we make mistakes, do we admit them freely? Do we share the mistake and its learnings with others (demonstrating that one can survive mistakes)?
  • Do we go as far as encouraging mistakes by asking our employees to be curious and to experiment?
  • Do we recognize colleagues for pursuing innovative ideas, even if they fail?
  • Do we have unforgiving compensation schemes, where huge bonuses are paid for meeting 100% of the goal but nothing if 99.9% of the goal is met?
  • Do we offer an ombudsman program where employees can ask for advice while remaining anonymous?
  • Do we forgive mistakes made by senior leaders more easily than those made by the rank-in-file?

To be clear, employees who cheat, lie, and steal to cover up a mistake deserve to be punished. But let’s remember that everyone has a breaking point. So when someone breaks, how much of that pressure came from us?

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