Wise, Foolish & Evil

Organizational HR issues are often complex and complicated.  Because people are multi-dimensional and each situation has its own unique factors, it can be difficult and even frustrating for leaders to know how to respond.  

  • Are we being fair to the individual?  
  • What is best for the rest of our employees?
  • Will the proposed solution really fix the problem?
  • Are we complying with legislation and taking all risks into account?
  • What precedent are we setting for the future?

Just last week, I shared a concept with a client that I refer to often.  It comes from my favourite author - Dr. Henry Cloud - in his book titled "Necessary Endings".  In this case, the leadership team needed to respond to an employee who was breaking the code of conduct, but the question was whether they should suspend or terminate her employment.  

I explained that no one person is all good or bad and it can make it hard to see the situation clearly.  This employee has strengths to share and has a family at home. But she also has some weaknesses that are impacting her performance and disrupting the lives of the people around her.  In cases where the situation is not black and white we need to use a tool that will assist in the decision-making process.  Using Dr. Cloud's framework, he suggested that there are 3 kinds of people - wise, foolish and evil.  Wise people are continuing learners who respond well to feedback and consciously use it and desire to improve to get better.  We all want a team of wise people!  Foolish people are the next group.  They are a little misguided in their efforts and are causing some issues, but with some boundaries and coaching, they can be a contributing member of a team.  Generally, you can work with the foolish group.  Finally, there is the evil category of people. Unfortunately, they do not respond to feedback.  In fact, they actively cause trouble and create havoc.  Boundaries and coaching will be ignored and are a waste of effort most of the time.  Removing them from the organization is the only option as there is no chance of improvement.  Leaving them in place to cause more destruction can increase the potential risk in the future.

The wise, foolish and evil tool of Dr. Cloud's was helpful in the client's situation, as I have found it to be most of the time.  Discussing the foolish and evil categories, the group became clear on the action that had to be taken and then we began actively planning how to communicate the decision in a manner that was respectful to the employee and her team.  

HR decisions like this one are never easy.  Hours of thoughtful discussion and preparation go into a meeting with a discipline or termination meeting with an employee that lasts minutes. While it is a stressful time for a leader, I often explain that I will begin to worry about them when it isn't.