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Submitted by cwatine on



I have a case and I would like to get your comments.

One of my directs manages a group of persons. The results of this group have not been improving for the last months and there was a serie of mistakes done.
One day, he got very nervous about another mistake and gave to the person who had done it, a written notice of the mistake which he made her sign. She was shocked ... And the team too, because the person who got the sanction his the best performer of the group.

I usually ask my managers to call me before giving this kind of notice or any sanction to a direct, so we can talk about it before. I also ask them to wait until the following day ... I want them to cool down before they do those things.

I did not agree with this sanction and my direct said if he had thought a little bit more about it, he would not have given it.

So I suggested he scratched the paper and appologize to his direct.

He said he was not at ease with that because he had learned at school you should not do this because "it decreases your authority ?"

I do not agree with this ... I would even say that recognizing you made a mistake and correcting it INCREASES your authority.
I finaly said I would respect his choice, even if I don't agree 100%.

He finaly said to his team that, yes, the sanction was a little bit to hard, but it was a way to send them a clear message that the mistakes had to go down.

What do you think ?


LouFlorence's picture
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Jour de Bastille heureux! (and I hope Babelfish did its job well enough for that to come out right!)

This is a great case. I’m sure MT’ers will provide what you need here. I have two comments.

First, it sounds like waiting for mistakes to accumulate has resulted in a blow-up. I think of Mark’s comparison of feedback with breathing. No breathing and something dramatic is going to happen. The same for feedback. If there is no feedback, then the message to the employee (and to your direct) is: “it’s OK for you to make mistakes.” Then, when the boss blows up and letters fly, the employee is surprised, confused, scared, enraged, etc. Feedback is the answer, positive and adjusting, every day.

Second, if your direct concludes that the letter should not have been issued, then it should be withdrawn. Having to take back an improperly issued disciplinary letter is a sign of an ethical person, even though issuing it in the first place is poor performance on the manager's part. Any step towards a termination is difficult for the employee – it is a direct threat to their security from the person or organization they depend on for food, shelter, clothing and often, self-esteem. It almost always, in my experience, creates a strong emotional response – fear, anger and even panic – especially when it is a surprise. To put a person through that and then say “nevermind” is not effective. Regardless, if it is the right thing to do, then it should be done, no matter what all the employees might think.


jhack's picture

Cedric, sounds like a tough situation.

First, I think the manager (your direct) needs feedback on his behavior and how it has a direct impact on team results, and that if his team is not performing, then he needs to change.

(John Hack's first law of business: when things screw up, it is management's fault!)

Second, he really should apologize. (M&M had a great podcast on apologies!). It takes a strong person to say "I'm sorry, I made a mistake" and it's false bravado to never apologize. Again, direct feedback if he won't ("when you refuse to apologize, it makes me wonder if you have the skills to be an effective leader...")

Third, you may have mistakenly "respected" his choice. I don't know enough about the performance issues, the personalities, the dynamics, etc, so it might be a bit much to suggest you come back to him and say "I was wrong, we should rescind this sanction" but maybe you need to say those most difficult words.

This must be very difficult for you, and I hope it works out.

Mark's picture
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An apology is appropriate and you should tell him to do so. (There's even a podcast on how).

There is never value in supporting something wrong to save face. Horstman's Law: You're not that smart, and they're not that dumb.

Go in on Monday, call him in, and tell him to apologize. Coach him if he needs it.


cwatine's picture
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Thank you for your help.

It confirms my first feeling. I already explained that to him by phone but with less clarity than you just did. This kind of things is hard to explain by phone when on vacation !

My manager choose to explain his action rather than purely appologize, which would have been much more powerfull.

But when I said I thought he should, he was very surprised and said that he was told the other way around during his studies.

I told him I thought it was incredibly stupid, and it was against common sense, ethics, respect and everything I ever heard or read about management !

He asked me if I could give him some material (books, etc.) to show him this. You just gave it to me.
Any text reference to support this ?

I really want to make him understand that it was a mistake and explain him why. We cannot change the past, but it will help him for the future.



PS : 14 Juillet would more be described as "La prise de la Bastille"

rwwh's picture
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[quote="cedwat"]He asked me if I could give him some material (books, etc.) to show him this. You just gave it to me.
Any text reference to support this ?[/quote]

Are your direct reports aware of Manager Tools?

cwatine's picture
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He doesn't easily read English.
Is this case, I will translate this page to show him.

cwatine's picture
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Well ... It was a difficult conversation. Very hard for my director's motivation because he felt I told him he knew very few about management and the road is still very long for him ...

He also felt that it was not a 100% mistake because the person had really done a mistake. He also felt the group needed an "electroshock" to see that enough mistakes had been done and it was a serious issue.

I just told him he did not pick up the right "gun". He shot hard one random person instead of shooting the whole team.

He was a little discouraged and not completely convinced (I felt that).
He has in his mind that "you can't do an omelette without breaking a few eggs". He finds it very difficult to have at the same time goals on figures [u]and[/u] preserve people ...

And ... Well, I did not go as far as forcing him to withdraw the document. He will appologize if the issue is raised by his direct in the next O3.

Not a perfect score for me I guess. :oops:
But this is real life and there is sometimes a gap between what you should do and what we do ...

The good point is that it allowed a very deep and open conversation between us.

Anyway, I want to thank you for your help. It was really usefull to show him your comments. He had taken some advice from a friend of him who told him he should not appologize or withdraw the notification.

He kept the paper and already told me that he got especially a better understanding of feedback (special thanks to Lou).


Mark's picture
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Sounds like a typical management day: it's rarely a perfect outcome. Hopefully behavior in the future will be effective.

It's moments like these that make me appreciate the investment in time that we spend in one on ones, knowing that this EVENT will pass away but the relationship will continue, and that POSITIVE feedback can do a LOT to make negative feedback more palatable.


cwatine's picture
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I agree. And I will never thank you and Mike enough about that.

O3 and feedback [u]are[/u] the best tool I have ever used. They have changed the relationship between people here. They don't make things easier, they make things clearer and more effective.

O3 and feedback build a stronger relation between the boss and his directs, because they force them to go to the real important points. What I did not say is that there was another very long and interesting conversation with my direct yesterday ... Very positive.

The next aspect which is very important to develop, is the team cohesiveness. This is our next step here.

I feel O3 and FB are not the best tools here. Even if they contribute, they are not team builders. What do you think ?

Best regards,


WillDuke's picture
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I think sharing goals, and getting the whole team on the same page builds cohesiveness. The weekly meeting M&M recommend is a great place to get that. But don't discount O3 and feedback as part of that process; they're the grease that makes the wheel spin.

On the prior activity, it's great that you had a good conversation with the other manager. If she is the top performer, the rest of the team knows it. She might harbor resentment over being unfairly singled out. These two items are going to undermine the teams trust in the manager. If there's no trust, there's no cohesiveness.

If team cohesiveness is a primary goal, he has to apologize. If team cohesiveness is a problem, you've identified the source.

cwatine's picture
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... One of the sources !

Thanks for this.


LouFlorence's picture
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Thanks for your kind words. I'm very pleased to help out.

Have you listened to the members-only podcast on Teambuilding? It clarified a lot of things that I had suspected-- that teambuilding exercises are a waste of time and that high-performing teams are a result of other effective actions (not the other way around).


cwatine's picture
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Yes I listened to it and I also got some very nice advice by reading Lencioni books or listening to his audio.