What's Truly Unforgivable? - Kay-Lambert Associates Limited

Kay-Lambert Associates Limited

Training, Coaching & Consultancy for Growth

What’s Truly Unforgivable?

High Standards

Businesses set very high standards for their employees. Typically, the expectations are that they will perform diligently, accurately, and uncomplainingly. Furthermore, it is often assumed that they’ll stay until they get the job done; take on new responsibilities at the drop of a hat; be friendly, energetic and driven to excel. Also, we want them to be change enthusiasts, agile and forward-looking. We want them to be committed to continuous improvement, customer service and quality. And we expect their loyalty and (dare I say it) gratitude for employing them in the first place, and paying their wages.

It’s a tough ask, but it’s remarkable how many employees actually fit this bill, despite being treated in unforgiveable ways by self-serving masters who exploit their good nature. Too many people are being driven into the ground by unreasonable and unhinged managers who take their staff’s loyalty for granted.

Of course, not all managers are like this, and the very fact that there are great managers out there shines a light on those who appear to practice the dark arts. The contrast is so stark. It’s all too common for managers to jump down someone’s throat when they mess up. In some organisation cultures, it’s the norm to punish, threaten, blame and scapegoat people when things go wrong. The only feedback they receive isn’t feedback at all, it’s a kick in the teeth.

As a manager some things are unforgivable, just as some things are unforgivable for an employee. Let’s look at some examples:

The Manager’s Unforgivable List The Employee’s Unforgivable List
Bullying Defrauding the company
Favouritism and Personal Bias Divulging sensitive company data without authorisation
Expecting people to make sacrifices that they won’t make themselves Abusive behaviour based on a person’s gender, sexuality, race, creed, disability and age
Blaming people when things go wrong Not turning up when they are fit and well to do so
Discrimination on the grounds of gender, sexuality, race, creed, disability and age Digging their heels in when change is necessary
Cheating & Lying Smoking, fighting and using drugs or alcohol on site
Failing to take personal accountability Refusing to learn and develop
Breaking staff confidences for personal gain Repeatedly failing to deliver on commitments when everything is in place to support delivery

With the above list, it’s clear that there are some things we should not and must not tolerate on both sides. It is legitimate to say that these are unforgivable and that we will take decisive action against the perpetrator. Sadly, I’ve observed that we tend more towards taking action when employees fail than when manager’s fail; tolerating management incompetence for much longer than we should.

When managing staff, it is important to distinguish between what is unforgivable and what is forgivable. This will ensure that we don’t punish people for behaviours that are sensible, normal and potentially productive. If we are to grow strong businesses that are populated with creative, focused and switched-on people, we need to cut them some slack.


Here’s my list of things that we need to stop punishing employees for. These things are forgivable.  

Setting high expectations is one thing, but expecting people to behave like robots is unforgivable. The fact that people have independent thought, visceral emotions, and physical limitations means that we have to respect these things. With respect comes permission, allowances and forgiveness.

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