Why you should fire employees with poor judgement

When I was in 8th grade, my “arithmetic” teacher’s name was Mrs. Gailbreath. Strangely, her husband had been my English teacher the year before. I can only imagine how riveting the dinner conversations were. Anyway, Mrs. Gailbreath would always admonish me to “show your work.” She wanted to see my decision process. I, however, wanted to jump to the answer, the result. As I later learned in law school, the result, really, isn’t the point. In fact, the conclusion may not even matter; the reasoning that led to the answer is what matters most.

Recently, I heard “success” defined as the sum total of all your decisions—specifically limiting the number of bad decisions. I was familiar with the first part, but I never really thought about limiting the bad decisions as part of the equation. See, Mrs. Gailbreath wanted to see where my reasoning went off track; she wanted prevent the little problems from mounting. Just like one crooked row of bricks affects the later rows, bad decisions build one on top of another.


Our culture, specifically in business, is “results oriented.” Shareholders demand better returns with a “do what it takes” mentality, until it backfires. Then these paramours of profit are paraded on the news as villains. If Mrs. Gailbreath dug into their problem solving, I’m sure she would have seen the bad decisions along the way. Enron didn’t create an empire of deceit in one quarter or even one fiscal year. A series of bad decisions paved the way.

So, how do you limit bad decisions?

A very well-respected, physician friend said that he would fire a doctor that had an extra-marital affair or a DUI. I assumed it was a morality argument, but he went on to say, “I can’t trust their judgement with someone’s life, if I can’t trust their judgement with their own.” Just like Mrs. Gailbreath’s math problems, my friend knew that bad decisions, in one capacity, may show up in other aspects of their lives, and the stakes are too high for the risk.

In business, we promote people that “do what it takes” to get the deal done. We praise those that generate the most profit, but we don’t always ask them to show their work—we may be afraid of what we’ll find. On the job and even in our personal lives, our judgement comports.

For every really bad result, there were a hundred signs along the way. We simply can’t turn a blind eye to the little errors in judgement. Little cheats and little white lies may seem innocent, but however minuscule it may seem at first, the pattern may result in major problems down the road. Do yourself (and probably them) a favor, bring the bad decisions to light early and often.

Image shared via creative commons license by Henry Burrows.

Jeremy Floyd

Jeremy Floyd is the President at FUNYL Commerce. Formerly, he was the CEO and President of Lirio, Bluegill Creative, a marketing and communications firm in Knoxville, Tennessee. In addition to managing the digital strategies, Floyd was an adjunct professor for the University of Tennessee Chattanooga MBA program teaching digital strategies and social media. Floyd blogs at jeremyfloyd.com and tweets under the name @jfloyd. Jeremy is licensed to practice law in the State of Tennessee and holds a law degree from the University of Tennessee College of Law and a Bachelor of Arts degree from MTSU in English and Philosophy.

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