The Forgiveness Index
post # 124 — July 4, 2006 — a Managing post
There are organizations and managers out there who will tell you that they want you to experiment, but if you ever mess up, you are tarred with an indelible black mark on your reputation. Other organizations and people are so loose with their standards that they never get around to following-up if people fail to meet them. From this simple idea, I have developed what I call my “forgiveness index.”
A forgiveness index of 0 means that if you drop the ball once, the person or the organization will label you for life. You might just as well quit now, because you’re on your way out. The blade might not fall immediately, but the decision to drop it has been made.
Few people would want to live in an organization (or deal with individual people) this tough-minded, though I know a few institutions and people that operate this way. Some even pride themselves on so doing, on the grounds that as elite organizations, they need to test people in action and cannot afford to carry those who can’t make it.
Lets call people and organizations that have absolutely no forgiveness “The Warriors.”
At the opposite extreme, a forgiveness index of 100 means that you can break an organization’s (or person’s) declared standards for a very long time, and there really won’t be any adverse consequences. They are infinitely forgiving
This option also looks unattractive. An organization that has rules but never deals with departures from them is wasting their time, and an individual who preached a lot of things but ALWAYS forgave himself, herself or others clearly did not live them would lose a lot of respect immediately (not to mention being very annoying and frustrating to be around.)
Let’s call these people “The Infinitely Understanding”
BTW, I’m not making arguments here about valuing different aspects of performance, but how things are dealt with when an honest-to-goodness mistake or failure has occurred.
I’ve experienced both, personally and professionally, and have been on the receiving end of both high and low forgiveness.
As a manager and as a buyer, I’ve probably also been guilty of both GIVING too much and too little forgiveness.
It should be fairly clear that the ideal is to be somewhere in the middle, although it’s not clear which way the balance should be tilted.
I have a theory that super-successful organizations have a forgiveness index that is lower than average, but still well above 0 ( a level which would suppress innovation and experimentation.)
Anyone out there got any views on the right amount of forgiveness, and how you know when you have found it?