25.10.2016

From our CEO: My biggest mistake as a manager

As a manager I’ve made a ton of mistakes. But there’s one mistake that stands out above all others.

Leaving the pitcher on the mound too long

I remember hearing a CEO say something that really resonated with me: "the longest period of time is the gap between when you lose faith in somebody and when you do something about it."

It is so true. The biggest mistake you can make for the good of your organization is "leaving the pitcher on the mound too long" (I first heard this phrase used by Jeff Weiner, and it's stuck with me ever since). By that I mean failing to take action when a person is not right for a role.

You know that their actions are costing you dearly in productivity and team morale. You know that something needs to change. And yet you don’t replace them.

Replacing someone is one of the hardest things we have to do as managers. But not doing it or doing it too late is one of the worst things you can do.

It’s not you. It’s not them. It’s the fit

It is not always the case that a person who has become toxic to the organization is actually a toxic person. Nor is it a sign of failure on the part of the manager. Often the issue boils down to a combination of performance and culture.

The thing to remember in all of this is if somebody is not the right person in the role at the time, it doesn’t mean they’re a bad person, it doesn’t mean they’re not good at things, it just means they’re not the right person for that role right now.

Trying to fix the issue

Naturally as managers we have a legal and ethical responsibility to provide the person with an opportunity to make things right. Maybe there’s still a place for them somewhere else in the organization. The important thing is to have that very tough conversation sooner rather than later.

I’m one of those people who always preferred to give people one more chance than one too few. I still am. But I learned that, harsh though it may sound, you can’t always be the good guy. Sometimes the person may genuinely try and do better, but if they are the metaphorical square peg in a round hole, it’s just not going to work.

Consequences of holding on too long

Letting someone go is a job that no-one should get pleasure from. I’ve always aspired to the servant leadership model of management, which emphasizes collaboration, trust, empathy, and the ethical use of power. Any decision I make around people has those values behind it.

But doing nothing has severe consequences:

  1. It chews up an extraordinary amount of your time
  2. It chews up time of others worried about the situation
  3. It affects morale across your team and the organization

Leave it go long enough and eventually people whose lives have been made harder will leave. You get stuck with the toxic person, watching your best people go to your competitors.

After the decision

Making a decision to cut inevitably results in a feeling of relief, of a weight lifting off the shoulders. But soon afterwards comes that regret: why didn’t I do this a month, three months, six months earlier?

You have to learn from it and, next time, do the right thing by yourself, your organization, your people and the person who just doesn’t fit. Bite the bullet and pull the pitcher from the mound.

 

Didier Elzinga is a People Geek and CEO/Co-Founder of Culture Amp. You can follow Didier on MediumTwitter or LinkedIn.

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