Don't Throw Them Under the Bus

This month’s “Best Boss” characteristics are being a problem solver and a team builder.  Best Bosses  often exemplify these characteristics in tandem, at a moment when lesser bosses solve problems at the expense of the team.  That moment is when poor performance has resulted in a problem and it just seems easier to throw the “guilty” under the bus.  Instead, effectively redirecting poor performance can single-handedly change the fortunes of an employee, team, or even the organization as a whole.  The best bosses use these redirection moments to not only take performance from bad to good, but build team morale. Let’s use a specific example to make sense of the skills that shape these characteristics.  Thomas is an engineer working with a team of other engineers on a project with the company’s most important client.  Thomas is tasked with providing specs for the design of a key portion of the project to the team, upper management, and the client.  During the presentation, the client becomes very upset when a fundamental error is discovered in the supply chain logistics.  The client leaves the meeting and tells the team lead, Sarah, that she has one week to fix the problem before they begin looking for a new engineering firm.  Sarah is taken back by the threat of losing the client and now has some very tough decisions to make.

The first thing she does is assemble the team and give them the latest details on the timeline and the mistakes made.  Sarah’s next step clearly identifies her as a “Best Boss.”  She says, “Look, at some point, we’ve all made a mistake that could impact the success of our team.  I don’t blame any individual for the supply chain issue, but I now ask that we all lean on one another to fix the problem, and in the end, we will flourish as a team.”

At this critical moment it would be very easy, and costly, for her to blame Thomas for the mistake.  After all, he is in charge of the supply chain.  To some bosses, he must be held accountable which in many cases means punishment.  Fortunately, Sarah does not jump to place blame, but instead rallies the troops to come together and fix it as a team.  From that moment on, the team will have increased morale and a sincere sense of being a part of a true team.

The next thing she does is facilitate a rigorous problem solving session where they:

  1. Identify the Problem
  2. Explore the Problem
  3. Set Objectives
  4. Create an Action Plan
  5. Measure and Correct

In the end, the team finds the cause of the error and fixes it to such an extent that the client thanks them for their attention to detail.  They remain their top client to this very day.  Thomas is now a team lead on a different team and claims that, without Sarah, he would never have reached such a level in the company.  He still calls her weekly for tips on managing his new team.