Half Measures

I’ve been watching Breaking Bad again and noticing new details. For example,  the beautiful photography. Every time I watch an episode I want to move to New Mexico. Thanks to the prequel series Better Call Saul, I’m also paying attention to the character backstories.

Mike Ehrmantraut, ex-cop and now right hand man of drug boss Gustavo Fringe, is a fascinating character. In the season three episode Half Measures, Mike shares the story of the time he chose a half measure. He had the opportunity to kill a serial domestic abuser and Mike instead took him to jail. Upon his release from jail, the man killed his wife. In Mike’s words:

“I chose a half measure when I should have gone all the way... I’ll never make that mistake again. No more half measures, Walter.” 

In many circumstances it makes sense to choose the half measure. In Mike’s case, it was a good option because he did not want to take another person’s life. Unfortunately,  as you see in the video,  he came to regret his decision (fast forward to 1:27 if you are short on time, don’t worry there are no spoilers but there is some graphic language that may be NSFW):

Of course this got me thinking about the half measures we choose in the workplace. The outcomes of our half measures are rarely as dire but they still have consequences in the organization:

Making excuses for poor performance. Sometimes we do this because we don’t want to have a tough conversation, that’s understandable, but we aren’t doing any favors by avoiding the conversation.

If poor performance is the result of miscommunication, a quick discussion can resolve the performance gaps. If there is a more serious performance pattern it will only continue to surface, causing you and your teammates pain when work is not getting done correctly.

Deciding NOT to fire someone. Letting someone go should be the last step an organization takes. And, short of truly egregious or irresponsible behavior, we should always try to find another option, such as a transfer or a different position.  BUT there are circumstances where companies take the half measure, keep that person employed, and it backfires. You can be too cautious and too slow.  

Sometimes a clean break is better than a slow transition. Too often HR gets blamed for being slow to action or dragging its feet when it comes to people decisions.  And in many cases, that’s the right move. But let’s not over rely on process/compliance to stop us from making the quick decisions our organizations need. Half measures rarely work for the long term.