When New Employees Make A Public Error

A tough place for on-the-job training

If 22 year old football player Perry Riley of Stone Mountain, Georgia needed a proponent on this Monday following Thanksgiving weekend, there are few better choices than sports columnist Mike Wise. Following America’s four day orgy of football, eating and shopping that marks the gateway to the holiday season, you may roll your eyes about a small business blog writing about football play, but the events are wonderfully illustrative. The Washington Redskins were losing by four points near the end of yesterday’s game when rookie speedster Brandon Banks returned a Green Bay Packer punt for a touchdown that would have put his team in the lead.  As Banks celebrated, officials upfield were busy penalizing one of his teammates, our friend Riley, who blocked someone in the back. The problem?  He had done the same earlier in the game. What happened?   No touchdown.  The Redskins lost by those same four points.

When New Employees Cause Problems

Riley’s peers cautiously praised his skills although one anonymous teammate opined that he hoped the rookie wouldn’t lose his job.  Washington Post sports columnist Mike Wise, author of two books and host of a popular local sports talk show, defended Riley.

Don’t buy the idea that if the Redskins’ 22-year-old linebacker hadn’t needlessly clipped a Vikings player on Brandon Banks’s scintillating punt return for a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, this town would be alive with noise and belief about its 6-5 NFL team – that it’s all the kid’s fault. Scapegoat the rookie and you’re as reactionary as the former brain trust. Riley’s brain-lock moment was merely a window into a season – a decade, really – of self-inflicted wounds…

Wise then did a thoroughly professional, analytical job of evaluating the organization rather than the new employee who made a very public mistake. Truly great business leaders detach that way, tap a level of introspection that goes far beyond the actual events and understand the strategic issues that created the issue. Perry Riley may still lose his job or be demoted.  Mike Wise saw that very real possibility when he wrote that the newcomer could become a scapegoat.   But Wise also described the environment in which Riley’s blunder became magnified for the game and the season. If you are applying this to your business, think about a transaction and a customer or a customer and the business quarter.  Your takeaway as a small business leader is that reacting harshly to a new employee’s mistake is easy and could very well be the wrong thing. Firing the hiring manager, firing the new employee, clearing the decks–all are reactionary measures. Analyze and assess the situation with brutal honesty. Strong leaders find the root cause, fix the issue and help employees become better at their new job. Weak leaders are intolerant and address the surface issues, perhaps fulfilling an internal need to show their boss they reacted in some way. Perry Riley screwed up yesterday, and his mistake cost his organization. But Perry Riley is not the first or the fifth or the twentieth issue strategic issue the organization should address. How will you react when the time comes to handle a multi-layered crisis in your organization? Source: “Perry Riley’s illegal block is not the Washington Redskins’ problem” – Washington Post, 11/29/10 Image: FedEx Field in Landover, MD by kcjc009 via Creative Commons

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