Performance Management: Does the Punishment Fit the Crime?

Kathy Rapp Kathy Rapp, Performance

One of my favorite memories of 12th grade literature was studying “The Divine Comedy” by Dante Alighieri.  This epic poem describes Dante’s journey through the 9 circles of Hell where we learn about those sinners who are punished in a fashion fitting their crimes.  For example, in the 3rd circle which represents gluttony, those that ate a bit too much on Earth where forced to spend eternity in a vile slush.  Yummy!


I was reflecting on this concept as judgments came down around Sean Avery, soon to be former NHLSean%20avery star of the Dallas Stars, and O.J. Simpson in recent weeks. Did their punishments fit their crimes?  What about our corporate performance management sentences?  Do we (HR) do a good job guiding policy and managers around the proper punishment for corporate sins?


In the spirit of my favorite epic poem, I’ve decided to create my own 9 circles of Performance Management Hell, casting off of Dante’s original work (sort of…mine is much condensed).  Mind you, some of this is tongue in cheek, but hopefully it will also cause to you pause and think about how to properly punish/develop/intervene/salvage/redirect your employees.

  • 1st Circle (Limbo):  Forgot your access card, AGAIN?!!  You are banished to spend the day with the ever humorous and talkative security guard in the lobby.
  • 2nd Circle (Lust):  Caught spending your lunch break downloading pictures of the cute customer service rep at the last company party?  Hmmm.  You’ve won a week’s worth of lunches with the employee who has been known to spend the lunch hour with their pet duck in a warm car everyday.
  • 3rd Circle (Gluttony):  You hear your favorite 5 words of the year – – “It’s Girl Scout Cookie Time” and whoosh – – – there goes the company non-solicitation policy out the door along with $50 for a dozen cookies.  Your punishment:  You are forced to eat all 4 boxes of Thin Mints before you can leave for the day.
  • 4th Circle (Those that hoard and squander possessions): Oh ye that control the office supply closet – you know who you are!  You must make one #2 pencil and one legal pad last ALL year long.  That’s it – no supplies for you!!!
  • 5th Circle (Wrath & Sloth):  Since in the poem the sinners fight and lie gurgling under the River Styx, the punishment for those that can’t stay out of the office politics or flush a toilet are subject to listen to the band, Styx play “Come Sail Away” for 8 solid hours.
  • 6th Circle (Heretics):  Those found bashing the company on various message boards must wear the full line of company logo jean shirts (the button-down kind), sweatshirts, and polo shirts for 2 weeks straight! 
  • 7th Circle (Violence):  No need for detail here – – just think paper cuts.
  • 8th Circle (Fraud):  Those guilty of fraud get to spend a day locked in a padded room wearing a Jeff Skilling mask with a number of still angry ex-Enron employees.
  • 9th Circle (Traitors): You are forced to give a tearful speech in front of the entire company, a la Terrell Owens…and then everyone still hates you anyway.

Now come on, isn’t that much more fun that the typical 3 strikes and you’re out approach?


My point, other than making a former English teacher cringe at my adaptation, is that Dante had it right.  Punishments SHOULD fit the crimes – in and outside of corporate America.  Did Sean Avery deserve to be suspended indefinitely and then cut from the team for talking trash about ex-girlfriends….or did he need to face off with his buddies on the ice and let the chips fall where they may?


Make sure your internal performance management programs reflect the behaviors you are trying to instill in your employees.  Sometimes people need to go and other times, they just need to share their Girl Scout cookies with everyone!