While everyday people are falsely accused and unfairly imprisoned, there are people who are incarcerated for crimes they did commit and for which they pleaded guilty. Nonetheless, we utilize significant analysis and technology to reduce the possibility of punishing someone for a crime they did not commit. We also commit substantial resources to rehabilitate offenders and support efforts to “clear” one’s name.
Similarly, in our work lives there are offenses for which people are judged (e.g. performance issue)and convicted (e.g. suspension), with most of the “crimes” of an interpersonal nature – a failure to be accountable for a project deliverable, being late or not showing up for a meeting, making a significant calculation error in a proposal, and so on. We are often much less skilled and committed in helping employees “clear” their reputation and move on professionally.
These “crimes” are inevitable but they are often not dealt with directly, too often leading to a cultural vigilantism including gossip, slights, denial of opportunity, and a lack of support in the absence of leadership.
Effective leaders understand and have the courage to address these issues in a just and circumspect manner, while recognizing that there is also a place for compassion in our imperfect world.
Everyone in the organization profits when a leader or manager deals with these “crimes” as follows:
- Focusing on the behavior and the applicable standard to make sure everyone understands the relevant leadership expectations.
- Trying to understand the past “offense,” the context in which it occurred and other related factors, from the perspective of the offender. It is not rare that an offender has little idea that they have been judged and convicted of something that has not been directly discussed with them. In general, supervisors and co-workers often refrain from discussing such issues directly because of their personal discomfort, not because of the offense itself.
- Identifying proactive strategies with the offender to address any related present tense concerns while creating a strategy for addressing them. This plan can include a variety of options for moving forward.
- Refraining from engaging in gossip and other behavior without the offender present. This sends a clear message to everyone that you don’t support such behavior. If the issue is brought up with the offender present, it is an opportunity for clarification and discussion about the future, not dwelling on the past.
Yes, there are people who leave their employment or are terminated for many justifiable reasons, including violence. In my experience there are many more that are plagued by reputations that deserve an honest, face-to-face plan for renewal.
Consider the following: you have an employee that meets or exceeds performance expectations, but is dogged by private innuendo (everyone knows except her) for a past workplace transgression. Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote about this a couple centuries ago and this is your chance to rewrite the story with courage and leadership.