Will a Mess-up Mean a Job Loss?

One of employees' great fears is making a mistake and being tossed overboard.

By + More

Michael Wade
One of the most chilling comments I've ever heard in the workplace was when an executive muttered: "We don't recover our wounded."

I remember thinking, "If that worries you, imagine how the practice is viewed by your employees."

The late Earl Long, eccentric governor of Louisiana, was assured by a follower that although he'd gladly support Earl when he thought he was right, he couldn't on one occasion because the governor was wrong. Long replied, "You crazy [expletive deleted], I don't need you when I'm right."

A great fear of many employees is that they will be set adrift in the wake of a reasonable decision that didn't work out, or after a minor blunder. They worry that for all of the talk about loyalty, if loyalty becomes inconvenient, management will not support them. Vague standards and arbitrary enforcement of rules foster that fear.

To provide assurance and predictability, leaders should talk about the distinctions between good and unacceptable conduct, whether it is by an executive or a file clerk. Values and expectations need to be frankly discussed so fear of arbitrary action can be reduced. Employees gain confidence when they know where the swamps are and how to avoid them. Without a clear delineation of the trails, they may assume every shadow is quicksand.

One firm declared: "Make a technical mistake and we train you. Make a values mistake and we discipline you." That standard is not perfect, but it provides a rough sense of the boundaries. It should be the start of an ongoing discussion.

Michael Wade writes Execupundit.com, an eclectic combination of management advice, observations, and links. A partner with the Phoenix firm of Sanders Wade Rodarte Consulting Inc., he has advised private and public-sector organizations for more than 30 years.