Leaders deal with problems directly

Don’t let the worst employees define your processes.

Years ago I worked for a company that had internet access for all the employee computers but the sites Yahoo! and ESPN were unavailable. It turns out a couple of employees had been spending way too much time checking basketball scores – so the company had eliminated the potential for that to happen again. Someone else had spent too much time on checking their stock portfolio on Yahoo’s site. Same solution.

At another company I worked at, there were specific tables outside where you could smoke a cigarette and dedicated times for smoke breaks. Apparently a couple employees had taken too many smoke breaks and done them right outside the main doors. So the problem was solved.

In yet a third example of this pattern, I once worked at a company where the vacation request procedures required more than ten steps and three people to sign off. This basically eliminated any kind of last minute vacations. But it protected the company from a person who had once used a few more hours than were actually available to them.

I’ll end this series of examples with one that I experienced recently where every line of code written – during the day or night, on company computers or personal ones – was owned by the CEO. I’m sure someone somewhere had written a line of code and the question of ownership had come up. So employees were now required to sign an agreement when they were hired.

In every case, the situation was the same. A couple of employees did some things that weren’t great. But rather than deal with them individually, the organizations decided to enact procedures that would protect them for it ever happening again.

Unfortunately, this approach had its own ancillary consequences. Chief among them is that it annoys high performers because it treats them like low performers.

When you use the activities of the worst employees to define the procedures for all your employees, it’s like a tax on your best. And sometimes the result is that you lose your best ones.

Leaders don’t create burdensome processes to protect themselves from poor performers. Leaders deal with problems directly.

Then they create more freedom for their best employees.