Crime and Punishment Between the Generations

It has been a couple of months since an incident I experienced in the workplace, and I feel that it’s been long enough that I can finally write about it. This incident, in the grand scheme of things, might not seem like much when I reflect on it in 30 years, but I can honestly admit it changed my work life forever.

The Incident:

For the few days before Thanksgiving this year, I decided to drive down to St. Louis and work from my parents’ house. I could then be around to help my mom in the evening with cooking and baking to prepare for the "Big Day."

I had been experimenting with communication methods, and wanted to send some reflections from my team after a conference earlier that fall. I did a short "movie" with pictures, statements about the conference, and of course some background music. I sent out a note to our North America teammembers (about 400) about the event, about the Internal Use Only link to the video, and a brief introduction to our new team. I wished everyone a Happy Thanksgiving, and moved on to the next thing.

A teammember called me shortly after to say that someone had given me the wrong name for a reference. I corrected the typo, reloaded the video, and figured no one would be the wiser.

As my mom and I headed to the grocery store to pick up the turkey, I saw a note from a Traditionalist (Todd*) in the company. It was a Reply Allabout the typo:

"…This smacks of overreaching and pretending we are sophisticated experts when the spelling shouts out at top volume that we don't know what we're talking about…"

As if that wasn’t enough, there was a second Reply All from him within the minute to remind people to never guess when spelling names.

Why hadn’t he called me? Or sent a note just to me? I had already fixed the problem because someone else was kind enough to pick up the phone. Not that I’m saying that I was wrong, I should have triple checked my sources, but was it really necessary to Reply All…twice?

My Blackberry erupted. Throughout the day I received phone calls from concerned teammembers, including my boss who was on vacation in Mexico at the time. Additionally, I got at least 30 personal emails from all across the organization sharing their support. This escalated so quickly, an Executive chose to respond:

"…Today Todd caught a typo and reminded us all to be careful when publishing work - let his email be a reminder to us about the importance of double checking such things before posting as a way to ensure top quality.

Let Emily's work also be a signal to us all of the power of creativity and multimedia which, when broadcast over the internet can provide a wonderful way to educate, engage, and entertain…"

Reflections:

Ironically enough, someone told me that this couldn’t have been a better publicity stunt if I had planned it. One of the other Executives came up to me to say he had watched the video three times and couldn’t find what the fuss was about, assuming that the mistake had been fixed before the emails even went out. The following week, I had heard from more people within the organization, either by them stopping by my office or sending additional notes.

The message: I came out looking good in this.

Why?

Because the punishment didn’t fit the crime. I was being made an example of, put in my place if you will, when a simple call could have solved everything.

Not that I advise you find a way to have your own "incident," but I’ve developed a thick skin because of it. I know the network I have built internally was strong enough to support me. I learned that the Executives valued me as part of the team, and it renewed my trust in our leadership. And finally, as my officemate said to me, I found I can be pretty ballsy when I want to.

I am not afraid to try new things anymore, and that is refreshing. 

 

*Names have been changed to protect identities.

Email text is excerpted.

The views expressed in my blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.

Graphic courtesy of Clipart

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