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He Deserved to be Fired. . .

January 14, 2013

“Hey Rodney. The Deskside support team just called. No one in Shipping can log in.”

“Is it just email, or the entire network?”

“Well, I can see their email accounts, but it looks like their Active Directory accounts were blown away.”

Uh oh.

It’s Monday morning, and I’m the manager of the Messaging team for a large non-profit organization. As any IT engineer can tell you, the most common day for network problems is Monday mornings. My team was in charge of email, but we often had to deal with network issues. No one cares if their AD account has a problem. What they DO care about is using that account to get to the applications. . .especially email.

My team started following the electronic trail of breadcrumbs to figure out what happened and I went to brief management. . .and inform the directory team.

Fifteen minutes later we regroup for a status update. (When an entire 100 person department can’t get on the network, management wants updates multiple times per hour.)

“So, what did you find out?”

“It looks like the entire department list was deleted on Friday at 5:45pm.”

“Who did it?”

There were some nervous looks around the room. No one wanted to throw a coworker under the bus, but I knew and they knew that senior management was going to ask.

“It looks like James was online at that time. And he’s been working with Shipping to cleanup their employee list.”

“He told me we were finished with that two weeks ago.”

No one wanted to meet my gaze.

“Where is he?”

“He flew out on Sunday for a two week Microsoft Exchange bootcamp in Redmond.”

“Okay, get with the backup and the directory teams and let’s start restoring their accounts. If we have to, we can recreate accounts, but they’ll lose their email.”

I had a phone call to make.

“Hello?”

“James, this is Rodney. Listen we’ve got a bit of a crisis here. Seems that all the accounts for the Shipping department got deleted last Friday at 5:45. We’re doing a restore, but we’re trying to figure exactly what happened. Sorry to bug you during training, but any insight you can provide could really help us get Shipping back on line.”

“Ah. . . that might have been me.”

“But didn’t you finish that project 2 weeks ago?”

“Well. . . mostly. But, I had a couple of things that I tried to finish up before this trip.”

Fifteen minutes later, I’m in my boss’s office briefing him so that he can go brief his boss.

“So, how did this happen?”

“Shipping sent us a file that included their entire employee list. We were supposed to delete the entries with a star in column A. It looks like we ended up missing that note and we deleted the entire file.”

(I try REALLY hard to protect my team, but I wasn’t sure I was going to manage it this time.)

“I told Bruce and the rest of the management team that we finished that work two weeks ago.”

“Yeah, I should not have told you we were finished. I thought James had finished it, but obviously I was wrong.”

“So, what are you going to do?”

“If I call him back from Microsoft, I think we would have to fire him.”

“I think you should.”

“I’d like to talk to him face-to-face before we go that far.”

“Well, he’s your employee. But, I think you’re going to have to fire him anyway.”

“James, you knew that you’re team had to scramble to clean up a problem you created. I’m a little surprised that we didn’t hear from you these past two weeks.”

“I was afraid I was going to lose my job.”

“Well, HIDING isn’t going to help! I’ve talked to HR and we’re going to set up a 90-day Performance Improvement Program.”

“Isn’t that just a formality before you can fire someone?”

“Yeah, it seems that way most times. But, here’s what I want you to do. I know you’re a good engineer. I think you have a problem focusing and that leads you to overcommit and under-deliver. So, for the next 90 days, every Monday morning, before 10:00 am I need you to send me an email with a list of the things you are planning to work on that week. Then, on Friday, before 3:00pm I need you to send me a list of the things you did that week.”

“What if stuff comes up during the week?”

“If someone shoulder-taps you, tell them that you are working on a project for me and they need to submit a service ticket. I don’t want to lose you. You’re important to the team. Hopefully, this will help. No one except you, me, my manager and HR knows about this PIP.”

For the next 45 days things went well. After six weeks James came to me.

“Rodney, can I talk to you?”

“Sure, what’s up?”

“I just want to say that the last thirty days have been the absolute best time I’ve had at this company. Thank you.”

I was shocked. I put him on a PIP and THAT time is the best in his career?

“I just never had a manager that was willing to coach me before.”

Too often we expect that our employees know not only WHAT to do, but HOW to do it.

This episode happened many years ago and James remains a valuable, and happier employer of that organization. Coaching doesn’t always work, but we owe it to our employees to actively manage them; not micro-manage. I specifically didn’t tell James what work to do. He already knew better than I did was needed to be done. I just helped me focus.

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