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My deputy broke the rules. What, if anything, should the punishment be?

In his weekly advice column, Maynard Webb helps a CEO deal with a well-intentioned but disobedient lieutenant.

My deputy broke the rules. What, if anything, should the punishment be?
[Photo: Drakonova/iStock]

Editor’s Note: Each week Maynard Webb, former CEO of LiveOps and the former COO of eBay, will offer candid, practical, and sometimes surprising advice to entrepreneurs and founders. To submit a question, write to Webb at dearfounder@fastcompany.com.

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Q. Someone who works for our company said they were leaving. One of my lieutenants, disregarded rules, and made a counteroffer without consulting me. This unauthorized offer resulted in the employee deciding to stay. What do I do now?

—CEO of a tech company

Dear CEO,

It seems clear that your lieutenant offered something that was above his authority to do.

But it sounds like he was trying to do it in the right spirit—one in which you were aligned on—which was trying to keep a good employee at the company.

It doesn’t make sense to rescind the offer just because it was unauthorized (this assumes that you can deliver on the offer and it is reasonable, only that it wasn’t approved properly). The offer achieved the outcome that you all desired. So, allow it to stand and make good on it.

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In terms of “punishing” this lieutenant, let’s assume that his intentions were pure; he was trying to save this person and he knew what it would take to achieve that. That’s good. His misstep was in not bringing you into the loop faster.

You need to address the process issue with this person, so that it doesn’t happen again. Make it clear that although this situation was not handled appropriately you are going to honor the intentions with which it was done, but this was his one shot. If he doesn’t get the appropriate approval in the future, he will have to live with the repercussions of the offer being rescinded. Don’t promote a “No harm no foul” mindset. And, document what happened so it doesn’t happen again. Bring in HR—that will help get everyone on the same page so that in the future, you will achieve the right process and the right outcome.

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