When A Manager’s Judgment is Lacking

October 9, 2017

Topics: Values, Culture and Employment Law

“Judgement” is, among other things, “the ability to judge, make a decision, or form an opinion objectively, authoritatively, and wisely, especially in matters affecting action; good sense.” (dictionary.com.)  Managerial employees are counted on routinely to make decisions using good sense and to come to conclusions that serve the company and its customers or clients.  But have you identified “judgement” as a required quality, let alone a company value that all employees need to exhibit?

Here is a story of a manager who was generally good at his job.  His employees like working with him, and he exhibited solid leadership skills.  He worked for the company for years without incident, until one of his direct reports told him that she felt that she had been harassed by another manager.  Rather than take the complaint seriously and pass it on to Human Resources for investigation, he tried to handle it himself.  In the course of his “investigation” he exhibited very poor judgement and upset the complainant even further.

When the situation was finally escalated to the appropriate senior executive, she was aghast at how the manager had bungled the situation making poor decision after poor decision. It was clear that when placed in an unexpected situation outside the usual routine, the manager simply could not function at the required level.  What options did the company have?

Whenever an employee is not performing satisfactorily, the first thought should be to see if the employee can be coached, counseled, or disciplined towards improvement.  As long as the expected behavior, attitude or performance is within the employee’s abilities, guiding an employee towards required behavior is an appropriate action.  It helps if the expectations are spelled out so there is a policy, procedure memo or other document that can be referenced to say “Here.  This is what you need to be doing.”  Employees should be given opportunities to improve and demonstrate that they can perform as required.

But what about a situation where the requirement is not necessarily something that can be coached, counseled, or otherwise taught to the employee?  What about a situation where the employee’s judgement has been proven to be so poor that leaving him or her in a position of responsibility could be exposing the company to greater risk?  There can be times where (1) the employee clearly does not have the qualities the company needs, (2) the qualities cannot be taught (at least, not with the time, effort, and energy a company is usually willing to invest in its employees) and (3) letting him or her go is the only option.

In such a situation, even if “good judgement and common sense” was listed as a company value, a meeting with the employee should focus on the improper actions taken and the effect created. For example, in this case, the manager could be told that:

Instead of turning a complaint over to human resources as you had been instructed, you tried to handle it yourself – but this is not something you are trained to do. You said xyz to the employee who came to you for help, which was insensitive and signaled that you did not take her seriously.  Rather than defusing the situation, she got more upset and now the company may be facing a litigation.  We need people in management roles who can handle unexpected situations with good judgment.  That’s not what happened here.  For this reason, we are going to let you go.

Once it becomes clear that employees are lacking necessary qualities or values, and that the omission cannot be improved with usual actions, termination may be the option.

Remember to identify the qualities and characteristics needed for a job, and not just the specific job-related skills or abilities.  Include them in company culture values statements when they are expected of all team members.  Consult with counsel to ensure any termination is handled appropriately.