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Wow, what an email to read and it brought back flashbacks to company I worked at where the CEO wrote a similar memo stating "No failures tolerated and you will be fired for failure". The response from the engineering team was simple: we only "designed" what was done or being done at the competitors and we went from leading the pack in profits to almost going broke.

Paul Gribbon

I think that the real problem is that the employees weren't giving the "110%" which was asked....

I always give 111% which makes sure I never makes mistakes.

Joking aside, I hope that a journalist didn't write that memo.

Dave Moran

Wow! The memo opened up with a great articulation of the problem, but then launches into how there will be zero tolerance for errors and action against those in the “mistake chain.” The wording then shifts back to how this is a great opportunity to review and improve. Later on, in the midst of talking about how getting it right is more important, wording that “jobs are on the line” creeps in.

The undercurrent of a fear-based system is certainly present, and the opportunity to set a, “We’re in this together, what can we do better as a company?” tone that encourages open, honest communication is lost. This would not work in our organization, and something like this really only offers the appearance of working. People who are working in a fear-based climate will eventually leave, and while they remain they will go through the motions and take whatever action they can to keep from being associated with even the perception of a mistake in order to preserve their jobs. In addition to the lack of candor, I doubt that there would be much initiative in this atmosphere. I work in a software company, and we need initiative and open, honest communication!


I've always found "zero tolerance" to be a silly policy. In this case it is presented as outright nonsense:

"Effective immediately, there is zero tolerance for on-screen errors."

Now that would make sense if anyone who makes a mistake was immediately fired, no questions asked. But that's not how the memo goes on. It says:

"Mistakes by any member of the show team that end up on air MAY result in immediate disciplinary action against those who played significant roles in the "mistake chain," and those who supervise them..."

Or, presumably may NOT, i.e., the mistake MAY be tolerated. Even if not "tolerated" per se, it is very unclear what the consequences will be, which

"...may include warning letters to personnel files, suspensions, and other possible actions up to and including termination, and this will all obviously play a role in performance reviews."

In other words: effective immediately, try to avoid making mistakes; if you are found to have played a significant role in making a mistake you may be fired (if the mistake is big enough) or it may just be something we'll discuss as part of your overall performance.

That's a NEW policy?


Wally's got it right (as usual).

I would add that the memo is a perfect example of the "default culture" that lies just beneath the surface in many organizations, called up out of the grave by stress and frustration. The executives actions are defensive in a classic sense, but come across as highly offensive and aggressive. They are acting as if their own competence is under attack and have planted the poison of mistrust in a way that is likely to last years and years.


When you don't have a second chance and mistakes shouldn't happen, as in the case of surgeons, You can work to build and coach excellent teams, nonetheless (or thanks to) fear.

I think, the single, and most devastating, point in your great post is the "It is more important to get it right, than it is to get it on." pattern.
Or, we can say "getting it right pays, no matter the outcome". "Formally correct" or better "visibly correct", this pattern is at the core of nepotistic organizations, fraudulent business or even corrupts countries.

Mike Sporer

Mistakes like these, when made too often, indicate that the problem is likely systemic and cultural. A collaborative discussion intended at driving down to the "why" works better than fear. Fear-based management simply does not work, period! Change the culture, change the results.....

Wally Bock

I think there's an important distinction between "mistakes" and "failures." You need to tolerate both, but in different ways and for different reasons.

Failures are part of innovation. They're what we call it when the experiment doesn't work. You learn from them by conducting some form of after-action critique that helps you adjust your next trial.

Mistakes are different. They're what humans do. Most mistakes are isolated incidents and hardly merit attention, let along analysis. That changes when you have a pattern of mistakes.

The memo implies that a pattern exists, but doesn't describe the individual mistakes or their frequency. When you have a pattern of mistakes, your analysis can lead you in different directions.

You might find that the mistakes are mostly by (or involve)n a single individual. Then you have to dig deeper to figure out if you have a training problem or a supervisory problem.

You might find that that the mistakes are tied to a single process. Then you try to figure out why and what to do about it. Ditto if they're tied to a single cultural norm.

What you don't do is implement an organizational death penalty for mistakes. What that gets you is hiding, lying, lack of trying, and lots of blaming and weasling.

It also leaves you in the position have having to enforce your edict. Do we really think that the star, ratings magnet anchor will be shown the door?

And mistakes won't go away. If you're working with humans, they will make mistakes. No amount of exhortation or memo writing will change that.

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