Your team broke the rules. You knew but didn’t do anything. Then some time later, your boss finds out. What do you do?
Well. First off. Don’t get yourself in this situation.
If your team breaks the rules and you know about it, you have to DO something.
One at a time, or altogether, you need to make clear that the behaviour was unacceptable, clarify expectations around the rules, issue appropriate warnings and clarify the consequences if there are further breaches. This is basic HR.
If you’ve got any sort of leadership experience and you can’t do this, your boss is rightly going to wonder whether you should be managing anything at all.
But if you’re new… and Leadership Jetway is all about helping new managers… and you’ve gotten yourself in this situation, here’s what I’d do.
First… Put your hands up.
Say to your boss, “Blimey. I see what you mean. I got this one wrong. Here’s what happened…”
Explain what you were thinking. How did you find out they’d broken the rules. Why didn’t you do anything about. What was happening at the time.
Then ask for your bosses help. “What should I do now?”
If your boss is any good, I hope she’d say something like this.
Option 1: Go back to the team now, and say “You know that thing that happened? Sorry but, I got that one wrong. I shouldn’t have let it slide. It was wrong, inappropriate and unacceptable, and we can’t let it happen again.”
You have to decide whether there will be disciplinary consequences now. It might be that “informal verbal warning” and “clarifying expectations for the future” is as far as you should go. But that will depend on how serious the rule breach was, and how long ago it was. (But if you’re going to formally discipline the team for a historical foul up, you should be expecting your boss to discipline you for not taking action at the time!)
Option 2: Don’t say anything to the team now. File it away as a lesson learned for you. Don’t make the same mistake again.
If your boss is a good one, she’ll help you pick which option is appropriate for the circumstances.
But what you don’t do… What you should never do… Is blame a junior person, who knew about the rule breach but didn’t do anything, or was caught on video talking about it with colleagues… and let them carry the can.
You shouldn’t deflect from YOUR management mistake of not dealing with the matter robustly when you found out by claiming you didn’t know, or that you didn’t realise it was a rule breach, or suddenly realising that SOMEONE else got it wrong.
YOUR mistake was not dealing with it. Your mistake was allowing the team to think the behaviour was OK.
And you need to own that.
If you’re new… It’s ok. You made a mistake. Own it. Learn from it. Do better next time.
But if you’ve been a leader for some time? Come on.
If the rules apply to everyone… and part of you and your team’s job is telling everyone they have to follow the rules…
When your team breaks the rules… and you don’t do anything about it… you lose trust, integrity, respect, authority…
Basically… you lose your ability to lead.
Make sure you’re engaging properly with your team to avoid situations like this. Grab my free PDF with the secret to Perfect 1-2-1 meetings by hitting the button below.