Bless me Mark and Mike for I have sinned.

Two months ago, I delegated a pretty big ball to one of my directs as more or less a "coaching" assignment. When status was given it was fine....all the time. I failed to follow up. When deadlines were missed, I gave feedback but failed to watch closer or recognize that my man was drowning. I knew this was a stretch for my direct and let other things distract my attention from keeping my eye on the big ball I delegated to him. I threw him into the deep side of the pool and walked away. I just figured everyone learns how to swim....eventually.

He dropped that ball, the project is late and I feel like I let him down. Some coach I am huh?

OK. I'm done with self flagellation. Please forgive me, I was educated in the Catholic schools system and guilt is my thing.

What do I do? Do I apologize to him? I already did my mia culpa to the client...They actually told me to blame it on their scope changes.....LOL. Do I give him more feedback? Do I take the assignment away from him and do it myself? Have you ever screwed up like this?

US41's picture

I'm not Mark Horstman or Mike Auzenne, but I did sleep in a Holiday Inn Express last night.

There are two possibilities:

A. Your direct actually failed and the ball really wasn't that big but just big enough to expose them. Now you are facing the really scary part of accepting the obvious results as feedback on that person and perhaps having to fire them. That's scary, so denial is preferable, and that leads to you creating a smokescreen of your own guilt to cover it


B. It happened just as you said.

I will leave you to ponder A on your own. You will likely settle on B, whether or not A is true, because that's human nature, and I trust your judgment.

The answer to B is: HOT WASH.

Sit down with your direct and do a WWW/TALA on the whole thing. Both of you did some things right and wrong. He could have asked for help more. He could have spoken up. You could have followed up.

Some of your behaviors were both good and bad. You gave him a chance to stretch. You gave him a rope with a noose at the end. Tear the whole experience apart. Be ruthless in your criticism of both of you, and be equally devastating in your praise of him and yourself for what you did right.

Let him participate in and fully witness your inner struggle. Communicate fully with him and hear his struggle as well.

Come up with what to start, what to stop, and what to continue that worked. Set follow ups. Make postits that you move from one O3 form to the other. During your 10 minutes, follow up on your own action items as well as his for what you learned from the experience.

I have been very successful admitting to my directs that I completely screwed up. Early this year one of my directs was struggling as a novice manager. I decided to start skip levels (I decided to come down there and do his job for him by listening to his people backstab him, and then giving them all a lecture about being unsupportive of their boss.). Yay me.

The other day we were at lunch and he reminded me of that meeting and the negative feedback I came back with (I did not do a hot wash - I did a gripe gathering), and that he was still trying to improve on those weaknesses.

I listened carefully (unusual for me), and when he was done, I said, "I am so very sorry. You are still carrying that... what you said tells me what a huge mistake I made in the way I handled that. I won't be doing that again. I undermined you. I didn't mean to. I didn't want to. I was trying to help, the way a parent tries to help their kid do something and makes it worse. Please forgive me, and I'm more interested in coaching you on your strengths as we have been discussing. I had already forgotten those "weaknesses" and figure they have a good enough band-aid for us to get by. Focus on your strengths - how do we improve and leverage those more?"

It was after this that we spoke of bodily fluids and chronic diseases, which, for those who have not been to a conference, are Mark's signal that your O3's are working.

Well, that only took two years.

So, there's my experience, and my recommendation for a hot wash.

BTW, excellent job on apologizing to the client. A TRUE APOLOGY will get that kind of reaction from others - they sense the honesty of it intuitively, and they move to protect you and shield you. People want to protect other people who are good to them. They are hard to find.

Don't beat yourself up for making a mistake and acknowledging it. Be proud. So few, so very, very few, are capable of self-awareness and humility combined with caring for others who have that big 7 in the D column, my friend.

Peter.westley's picture
Licensee BadgeTraining Badge

[quote="US41"]I'm not Mark Horstman or Mike Auzenne, but I did sleep in a Holiday Inn Express last night.[/quote]

Well you say that but based on your characteristically thoughtful and insightful response to AManagerTool are you sure? ;-)

Thank you.

BJ_Marshall's picture
Licensee BadgeTraining Badge

I've only done a few hotwashes, so I'm really curious how this might pan out with only two people (you and your direct). Where was your boss in all of this? Would it be worth adding your boss to the hotwash? Did you already do a hotwash with the client? There might be credence to their protective-sounding claim that scope changes were a problem.

I think M&M have said this, as it serves me well as a reminder: Good judgment comes from experience; experience comes from bad judgment.

Kudos to you for caring enough about your team to do this!! I could very easily see the bulk of managers simply blaming the direct for the whole thing.


thaGUma's picture

Three Hail Mary's and a WWW/TALA my son. Go in gentle as your direct may see an inquest as a mark of their failure.


bug_girl's picture

Can you point me in the direction of the "hot wash" explanation?

It sounds really familiar and I can't quite remember which podcast that was in.....

AManagerTool's picture

Thanks to everyone especially US41 for giving me such good advice. I'll do the Hotwash on Monday with him.

By the way, I do think I need to fire him....and it makes me sad. 41 hit it on the head. This isn't the first time he has dropped the ball. It isn't the first time that he has dragged his feet about coaching and development. The guy wants to coast to retirement and I think failure may be a tactic to get me off his back. I spoke with Mark about this one at the NYC conference. "Everyone gets developed!" including the RIP's (retiree's in place)

The Hotwash will happen Monday. He is off the project. Now I have to mop up myself...I hate programming Access VBA...ech! Ahh, I'll probably just redo it in VB.NET faster. A serious conversation will happen in his one on one Thursday. His review is being done this week as well and I have some options. Next month is our yearly argument over who fits where in the bell curve.

1. Put him in late stage coaching per the MT plan.
2. Immediately place him on a PIP which starts the ball rolling towards termination for poor performance.
3. Give him yet another met expectations rating and wait for the department re-org when he might end up being someone else's problem.
4. Do nothing.

Honestly, I would be a total hypocrite if I went with option 3 but dammit I really want to. I think my real option is number 1, late stage coaching. I don't have much hope but it's probably my most viable option. The PIP would be harder to get without more supporting documentation. My one on one notes are full of me trying to talk to him about coaching but not much documentation of his screw ups.

jhack's picture
bug_girl's picture

Thank you!