My friend Larry Linne, the author of “Make the Noise Go Away” has a great saying about employee mistakes.”Your Fault. My Consequence.” A good employee will accept responsibility, and be accountable for screwing something up. Unfortunately, it is still the owner’s consequence. As the owner, you have to spend the time, the money, and the effort to resolve an error you didn’t make, and probably wouldn’t have made.
“Your fault, my consequence” is felt by owners universally. It often leads to anger and frustration. You just worked your butt off to close a new account. It will finally give you a little financial breathing room this month. Then you return to the office, where your manager informs you that the plant supervisor forgot to schedule that rush order you promised last week, and a top customer has taken his business elsewhere.
Any business owner, whether or not you manufacture, felt the pain in that last paragraph.It has happened to all of us from time to time. What is the appropriate reaction? The supervisor can’t pay you back. He is sorry. He does his job well otherwise. Do you fire him, and go through the learning curve with another employee? Do you chalk it up as an expensive ”learning experience?”
His learning- your expense. You can’t make the employee feel it the way you feel it. You know that even the best employee’s pain is limited to going home and saying “Gee honey, I really screwed up today. I feel bad.” He doesn’t feel as badly as you, however, because he isn’t going to see the results of that lost customer in his paycheck next month, and the month after that, and the month after that. You will continue to pay for his mistake long after he has forgotten it.
What if you blew up six months from now? When he says that he needs another employee, can you say “We could afford that, if we had the revenue from that customer you lost 6 months ago!” You would be considered petty and vindictive. His reaction would likely be “Hey, give me a break! I said I was sorry. What about all the good things I’ve done in the last 6 months?” Then he would go home and tell his wife what a jerk his boss is.
People make mistakes; that’s how they learn. As a friend of mine says, “When I look back, I’ve learned so little from my successes.” You can accept it. You can ignore it. You can make it into a learning/training/educational opportunity. You can yell. You can penalize. You can fire somebody.
But you can’t avoid the consequences. They are yours, and usually they are yours alone. Keep that in mind the next time you are wondering how much profit to distribute.