Why didn’t you fire this person?

Why didn’t you fire this person?

I have a “checkered” past.  Meaning, I have been working for corporate America, a start-up, corporate America, a start-up… that kind of a checkered past.

From each, I learned what to do, and what not to do.

When I worked for someone, in a corporate role, I made mistakes, like everyone else.  Small, medium, big mistakes.  Some of the small and medium mistakes a person makes, may never be known.  It may not be seen by anyone including the person who made it, or can be covered up.

The big mistakes are hard to hide, by design.  Some are so embarrassing and personally deflating, that you want to have the Earth swallow you whole.  You know the kind of faux-pas I am referring to?

If I loved my job, and cared for the mission of the company – I know that I would learn from the mistake, feel remorse about causing it, and NEVER do it again.  Moreover, I would be keenly aware of others who may cause the same issue, and be a constant guard against it.

If I do not care about the job, the mission, the team, the company… then I make this mistake again one day, even inadvertently.

What I learned from this is, that the decision to fire someone or not, is less about the mistake, and the severity.  The decision is about the person, and their relationship to the mission.

You see, if the employee really cares about the work done, and feels remorseful about the mistake (even a big one), they take responsibility for it, they will NEVER do it again.  Not at their current employer not future one.

So by letting them go, the following happens:

  1. Your company suffers the consequences of the mistake
  2. The employee is distraught over the consequences, over letting the team down, the shame of messing things up etc.
  3. You spent time, energy, money to train and coach the employee, and now they have learned from the mistake they made while on your payroll
  4. You are going to let this employee and the learning of never making this mistake again – deliver that value ELSEWHERE

In this equation, you are compounding your loss by letting them go.

Its not intuitive, I know.

An employee who expected to get fired, and got spared will not only never make the same mistake – they will be loyal and grateful.  They will learn on their own skin the value of knowing when NOT to fire someone.

That is why I did not fire this person.

So when do you fire them, even if the same mistake is made by someone else?

I can tell by how the employee reacts to the mistake, if they should keep their job and never do it again – or that they are not accepting responsibility for it, and thus, will absolutely make this mistake again.

Most people assume that by admitting a mistake, and taking responsibility for it, they will get fired.  The opposite is true if you want to keep talent around.

Everyone makes mistakes.  Its how you handle them, and react to them that should determine if you get to keep your job or not.

References and Quotes:

Hanlon’s razor

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