Don’t Leave a Wake

Be aware of your bad moods!!

Several years ago when I was a General manager at Macy’s, I had one of my direct reports approach me after I was having a particularly difficult and stressful day and told me something I’ve never forgotten. It’s helped me be a better manager and leader and it’s something I now often share with other leaders when needed.

I’m the type of leader who likes to circulate around the floor or office and visit with my direct reports (as a GM for approx. 100 people at Macy’s) and co-workers (as an HR Professional).  My goal is to build relationships with the people I work with by talking about both business or personal things and get to know them better.

It’s called Management by Walking Around.  It allows the leader to keep his finger on the pulse of what’s really going on in the organization. When you build trust and people see and know that you are interested in them and what they are doing they are more willing to share information with you that may be important to your department and the organization.  Please understand that I truly love getting to know people and building relationships and am not cynically trying to extract information from people to use against them.

Generally all is good after I make my rounds because it energizes both me and, I like to think, my direct reports and co-workers.

I learned, however, those same people are also very aware and sensitive to all of your moods – both good and bad.

On this particular day that I mentioned at the beginning of this post,  I had been doing what I normally do – circulate around the floor- and after doing my rounds, one of my direct reports came up to my office and asked me if I was OK.  I, of course, said yes and asked her why she wanted to know.   I try to maintain an even level at work and thought I was doing so that day.

Apparently not.

She told me that I was leaving a wake with my bad mood as I visited each person.

What?!?!

Apparently it was obvious that I was having a bad day and everybody was picking up on it.

Because I was unable to mask my bad mood, the wake I left that day made my employees nervous and uneasy which affected their performance and morale.  I don’t even remember what was making my grumpy, but it was enough for my team to pick up on it and enough for my direct report to tell me.

People typically assume the worst.  So with me Managing by Walking Around and circulating while in an obviously distracted and in a bad mood, my team assumed there was something going on that might affect them.

Was it a reorganization, a RIF, hours being cut, or any number of things that cause concern?

So the point of this post is, as a leader, we must always be aware of the fact that our team watches us closer than we realize or like to think.  We are constantly under their microscope and they pick up on anything and everything we say and do.  And if there is unusual or incomplete information, as there typically is, they often fill in the blanks with negative thoughts.

It’s also important to be self-aware of your moods and attitudes on any given day.  If you are having a particularly difficult day, be aware of it and don’t go out and leave a wake.  Despite how hard I try, I can’t completely hide my moods when I’m at work and in my experience It’s a very rare person who can.

So my advice when you are having a rough day is to not leave a wake.  If you are like me and practice Management by Walking Around, don’t do it that day.  Hole up in your office or at your desk and get through all the stuff you’ve been putting off.

To wrap up my little story, I had to go back the next day when I was in a much better mood and did some damage control.  Looking back, I’m sure I’ve left wakes before but was never called on it like I was this day.  But ever since that day, I learned to be more aware of how I was feeling and make every effort not to spread my bad day around unnecessarily and leave a wake.

Effectively Dealing with Sexual Harassment in the Workplace – Do the Blocking and Tackling

Since sexual harassment is currently such a big issue these days, I’m going to talk about the tools I’ve effectively developed and used over the years.  I’m writing this in November of 2017 and you can’t watch TV, listen to the radio, or read anything online without learning about some high profile politician, media personality, or famous celebrity being accused of some form of sexual harassment.

What frustrates me is how it has become such a “popular” thing to expose all of a sudden.  If we are being honest with ourselves, we all already knew this kind of behavior has been going on for years but nobody ever did anything about it.  At the highest level possible, we had a two term President in the 90’s who we all knew engaged in it.  And we now have a current President who was recorded bragging about it before winning the election. We also all knew about the infamous “casting couch” in Hollywood which has been around since the 1920s and probably even earlier. 

I’m frustrated that our society tolerated it for so long.

It’s about time that women are finally feeling comfortable about coming forward with their stories of harassment. There is no place for sexual harassment in our workplace and private lives. Never has been and never will be.

While all of the stories, so far, have been from women, and I fully recognize that most of the victims are going to be women,  I’m waiting to hear some men start coming forward telling their stories of how they were harassed – it happens to all genders, in every industry, in every socioeconomic status, etc.

In fact, two of my three biggest sexual harassment investigations were with women as the instigators.  So I know it’s only a matter of time before we hear about a woman politician, media personality, or celebrity harassing a subordinate. Let’s not forget how many female teachers, a female dominated profession, are being caught having sex with their male underage students. So it cuts both ways. Both men and women can be deviant creeps.

So how do we stop sexual harassment?  I’ve been reading a lot of articles about how the old traditional ways of dealing with it – an up-to-date policy, training, and investigate quickly and fairly to all complaints – no longer work.  That we must do something different to put an end to it, things like promoting more women and  implementing predictive analytics!

There is no easy solution and, sadly, no matter what we do, sexual harassment will never end.  It is, unfortunately, part of human nature.  Harassment, sexual and other types, have been around since the beginning of time and will be around until the end of time.

The only way to deal with it from an HR standpoint, in my opinion and experience, is to effectively and consistently do the basic blocking and tackling of having a strong and updated policy, conduct training annually and during onboarding, and conducting quick and fair investigations.  

I’ve had a lot of experience handling sexual harassment complaints and investigations.  And I can say that by effectively executing the basics I listed above is the best way of slowing it down and keeping it under control.  It creates a culture that clearly demonstrates that sexual harassment is not tolerated in the workplace and will be quickly addressed.

I have three steps of a Harassment Policy process that I find work best.

First, during onboarding,while reviewing the employee handbook, I stress that there is no tolerance of sexual or any other type of harassment  in our workplace.

When setting up the employee handbook, I make sure the policy is the first one listed so as to emphasize it’s importance. I also make sure I review it, along with our legal council and/or an employment lawyer, at least once every two years (I would do it right now regardless of when it was done earlier because of the current high profile cases in the media) to ensure it’s up to date. It’s also good to make sure the policy is written in plain english, not in legal handbookese that nobody understands.

Make sure each employee’s signee Acknowledgement of Receipt is in their file so there’s evidence that you reviewed the important policies with them.

Second, later in the onboarding schedule, I have a Harassment Training  session.  I will conduct either a live presentation or show them a video depending on the size of the onboarding class. I have two compliance trainings during onboarding, Harassment Prevention and Drug and Alcohol Prevention, and this again emphasizes the importance of our policy by putting such a primary focus on it during their onboarding. AION Recovery Rehab Center provides professional care in this respect.

I also have two mandatory annual all-hands Harassment Prevention training sessions, one for the general employee population and one for the supervisors and managers. I require managers and supervisors to attend the general employee population session so they are seen by all employees to be part of and fully supportive of the process. This also emphasizes to the managers the importance of the policy.

Each of these training sessions has a quiz that I require each employee to take and turn in after we review the answers. This gives you a document for their file that they’ve attended the training session and interacted by taking the quiz. Also make sure the employees sign an attendance sheet and file those sheets with your training materials.

Third and finally, when a complaint is received, I immediately jump into action and start an investigation. I once drove five hours from my office in Denver, CO to a remote location in central Wyoming the same day I received a complaint and immediately started the investigation. I stayed there for two days to interview people, have discussions with management, decide on proper corrective action, communicate our conclusion to affected employees, and conclude the investigation.

I then write up a final report documenting the process of my investigation, who I spoke to and what was said, my conversations with management, and the results of the final decision and corrective action taken.  This document goes into the accused’s file and I like to have a copy in a separate investigation file with other investigations I conducted.  

As you can see, I will always drop what I’m doing and immediately start an investigation when I get a harassment complaint because harassment is the most toxic workplace situation. It creates all sorts of serious legal, morale, productivity, ethical, safety, and many other similar problems. Problems that I can head off if I address the complaint immediately.

While it’s important to keep the investigation as confidential as possible while on site, we all know that the grapevine will communicate why you’re there and what you are doing.  Employees will see the corrective action and understand why.

This final step of a quick and fair investigation followed by the appropriate corrective action, if warranted, sends the strongest message possible to employees that harassment is not tolerated and will be dealt with swiftly. And it only really takes one or two instances to send a clear message and make a positive impact on the culture.

Now, remember, these steps will not completely eliminate harassment but they will go a long way in significantly reducing it to the point there will only be a few cases.  

But you have to do the day in and day out blocking and tackling consistently in order to minimize harassment and keep your company culture one that makes it clear it’s not tolerated.

Taking a Knee is a Workplace Issue

NFL Players are Hurting Their Employer's Business

I’m going to throw my hat in the ring on the NFL players taking a knee during the National Anthem thing. Personally, I don’t like it and, as a result, have changed my NFL viewing habits because of it. With that out of the way, and since this is an HR blog, I’m going to address how this relates to HR.

To me this is purely a workplace issue, not a free speech issue. The players are at their workplace when they are protesting. These protests are hurting their employer’s reputation and earnings as evidenced by the significant drop in attendance and drop in TV ratings week after week.

The players’ free speech isn’t constitutionally protected here. The constitution prevents the government from making a law that stops freedom of speech and the government is not preventing them from protesting. Their protests are causing the NFL direct financial harm by fans boycotting their games either by not attending and/or not watching.

I’ve never worked for an employer that would allow me to protest while I was at work and if I did, I’m 100% certain, I would be disciplined and/or no longer work there.

I’ve read some articles claiming their protests are a protected concerted activity under the National Labor Relations Act. This one from the New York Times and this one from a pro-union blog. Their arguments are compelling but I really don’t see it as the players are not protesting their working conditions nor are they engaging in political advocacy as it relates directly to their job.

From my understanding they are protesting in support of former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Here is what he said when this all started:

 “I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me, this is something that has to change. When there’s significant change and I feel that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, and this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.”

“This stand wasn’t for me. This is because I’m seeing things happen to people that don’t have a voice, people that don’t have a platform to talk and have their voices heard, and effect change. So I’m in the position where I can do that and I’m going to do that for people that can’t.”

“It’s something that can unify this team. It’s something that can unify this country. If we have these real conversations that are uncomfortable for a lot of people. If we have these conversations, there’s a better understanding of where both sides are coming from.”

“I have great respect for the men and women that have fought for this country. I have family, I have friends that have gone and fought for this country. And they fight for freedom, they fight for the people, they fight for liberty and justice, for everyone. That’s not happening. People are dying in vain because this country isn’t holding their end of the bargain up, as far as giving freedom and justice, liberty to everybody. That’s something that’s not happening. I’ve seen videos, I’ve seen circumstances where men and women that have been in the military have come back and been treated unjustly by the country they fought have for, and have been murdered by the country they fought for, on our land. That’s not right.”

His statement has nothing to do with working conditions or political advocacy that relates directly to the job of being an NFL player. I don’t see how these athletes are being oppressed. They’re living the American Dream. They get to play the greatest game on earth, get paid millions of dollars, are celebrities, and are worshiped as heroes by millions of fans.

Kaepernick’s protests are an attempt to bring attention to other people who are being oppressed. In fact he even said “This stand wasn’t for me” in this statement. Whatever you think of his statement and the reasons behind his protest, this has nothing to do with working conditions and political advocacy as it relates directly to their work in the NFL.

I think his reasons are admirable but he brought it to his workplace and decided to protest during our National Anthem and flag unfurling. This has caught on throughout the NFL and many of us don’t connect the two and find it offensive and disrespectful to our country and those who have fought to ensure and protect our freedoms, despite what they say to the contrary.

Now many fans are exercising their power by boycotting games causing the NFL to lose a lot of goodwill, reputation, and most importantly, revenue.

When an employee’s conduct directly hurts an employer’s business, as is clearly happening here, that employer has every right to take corrective action on the employee. The protesting NFL players are protesting while at the workplace and are causing a serious negative financial impact on their employer.

The NFL is, in my opinion, obligated to take the appropriate corrective action to protect their business.

Dealing with National Politics in the Workplace

You can’t get away from it these days. It’s all the media is talking about, it’s all over our social media feeds, it’s on all the award shows and entertainment programs we’re watching, it’s overheard in the stores and coffee shops we are visiting, and it’s in our workplace. Political discussions are everywhere and we are more politically polarized than I’ve ever seen in my life.

With today’s massive megaphone of social media and the 24 hour news cycle, many people have expressed their passion about the political issues and their candidates. And there’s something to offend just about anybody with the current hot-button issues such as race, class, gender, abortion, LGBT rights, immigration, terrorism, religion, etc.

I would venture to guess that we have all witnessed some very heated exchanges between family, friends, and coworkers regarding today’s political climate. I’ve seen people I respect and care about say or write some pretty horrible things about others based simply on their political beliefs.

People are more polarized in their positions like I’ve never seen before and those positions are making their way into the workplace and affecting morale and productivity.

In addition, many of today’s issues swerve into employment law. Political discussions about issues that affect working conditions such as minimum wage, equal pay, and paid leave might be protected by federal law.  While, on the other hand, political discussions about race, gender, and religion may lead to harassment or discrimination claims. And it only takes one person to pop off during a heated discussion and alienate another employee and/or cause a hostile work environment or a potential harassment claim.

I make it a practice not to discuss politics at work – especially these days. I hear enough of it on my Sirius radio when I commute to and from work and when I’m home trying to catch up on the news. Frankly, I’m exhausted of it all and don’t want to have to deal with it when I’m at work.

But, I’m HR, so I have to deal with it at work.

As such, I’ve come up with a couple of proven recommendations to help keep things under control.

First and foremost, HR must remain neutral. This is my number one recommendation. Whatever your beliefs, HR must be neutral and not take a side in a disputed conversation about politics. HR absolutely should not engage in a conversation with other employees expressing their political opinions and joining in with them bashing a side. Whenever you feel there is a political discussion ahead, try to focus on HR needs. Surely HCM software from Nominak enables you to easily manage HR functions, but it is also your option to get away from tricky conversation. I guarantee that you have employees on the other side who will hear or overhear what you said which will erode your credibility with them.

The purpose of your neutrality allows all of your employees to feel safe coming to you with their concerns about potentially uncomfortable or hostile political conversations they overheard or were part of. It’s HR’s job to make sure employees feel safe to surface any concerns they have from conversations they’ve had or overheard that make them feel uncomfortable or offended.

Second, Establish and communicate ground rules. Meet with your senior leaders to determine what political discussions your organization is willing to tolerate/accept at work. Will you ban it entirely or will you allow some as long as their respectful, appropriate, and inclusive of all beliefs?

Once you have that established,  conduct an all hands meeting and follow up with an email reminding your employees to be professional, respectful, and tolerant of other employee’s political beliefs. Remind them of the process for airing their complaints and how they will be dealt with and what the consequences will be for violating these ground rules. You must, as HR, clearly communicate to your employee population where you draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable behavior. You can’t be ambiguous.

It’s also important to understand that you can’t ignore the issue at work. Ignoring it will only make the situation worse because these conversations may escalate into profanity and direct threats. Other employees who want to stay out of these discussions may also be unwillingly dragged in.

When you overhear a controversial political discussion happening at your workplace, and you’ve established the accepted ground rules, you simply remind the employees engaged in the conversation that they are not behaving in an acceptable manner (professional, respectful, or tolerant). If they continue after your reminder, you simply begin your organization’s disciplinary process.

Hopefully these suggestions will help you keep your workplace professional, respectful, civil and ultimately productive! Also, if situations arise where intervention of a third party is required to ward off office politics, expert help and counsel on several matters can always be available at Labor Law Compliance Center. Feel free to reach out to them.

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An Interesting Alternative to the Traditional Annual Performance Appraisal

Adobe's Check-in Performance Approach

It’s a new year and now that the holidays are over, it’s time to start thinking about everybody’s favorite topic – THE PERFORMANCE APPRAISAL!

Yay.

I’ve written extensively about the traditional annual performance appraisal and believe there is a place for it in certain organizations but I also think it’s time to explore something new and innovative that will be more effective in today’s modern workplace.

There’s a lot of talk about scrapping the performance appraisal altogether. I’m starting to believe that the traditional annual PA is becoming obsolete in today’s modern workplace. There still needs to be some sort of tool, however, to set employee objectives and expectations and then to measure how the employee did against those expectations.

Today, I’m going to explore an alternative to the annual performance appraisal that, in my opinion, is one of the better systems. I did some research and landed on one that seems to be the best, Adobe’s Check-in Performance Approach.

There are three components that make up the Check-in Framework. It’s important to note that the Framework emphasizes that it is the employee’s responsibility to take ownership of their career. I love this approach because it aligns very closely to a similar feedback system I’ve been using and refining in the field for years called Responsibility Based Performance, something I will write about in the future.

1. Expectations, which is driven by the manager. This is where the manager works closely with the employee to establish the employee’s expectations and goals. The manager also helps the employee clarify their role, responsibilities, and success criteria throughout the year.

The first step in any sort of performance appraisal discussion is the need to establish clear expectations and objectives. The Check-in Framework is no different. Employees want to know exactly what’s expected of them and how their performance aligns with the organization’s objectives.

Employees and managers need to meet annually to establish and outline the employee’s objectives in writing. The objectives should be clear to both the manager and employee on what needs to be accomplished and how it should be accomplished. Once the objectives have been agreed upon, they will need to be reviewed and refined throughout the year. The frequency of this periodic review will depend on the department or business unit.

In order to hold everybody accountable to this Framework, employees will need to be surveyed several times throughout the year to make sure they have set expectations with their managers and are having regular follow-up meetings to review and refine their objectives. It is also critical that senior leaders show their support for the program and are following up to make sure this is happening.

2. Feedback, which is driven by both the manager and the employee. Feedback is the key to the entire Framework and will require the most amount of training. This is where both the manager and the employee give and receive ongoing feedback. The manager also provides ongoing and timely feedback that recognizes good performance and works to improve and address performance issues.

Again, feedback is the key to the entire Framework and is the most difficult component to get right. It will require quite a bit of training of the organization’s managers and follow-up by HR in order to get it right. The goal with the feedback component is to have employees at all levels of the organization give and receive feedback.

Feedback needs to be timely and relevant to the needs of the business and the employee. It needs to be given with the honest intention of helping the employee understand that they are doing a good job or that they need to improve. Remember also that feedback should be both positive and constructive.

If employees are not meeting their objectives or performing up to their expectations, they will need to enter into the organization’s corrective action process.

Adobe uses the Specifics, Ask, Impact, Do (SAID) model of giving feedback.

Specifics – State what the person has or has not done by using concrete examples.
Ask – Ask open ended questions to understand their perspective. (How do you see the situation? Did I contribute to the problem in some way?)
Impact – Express the impact on the business, team, or you. When framed as a means to reach a specific business goal, it becomes an opportunity to solve a problem or understand how their actions impacted the business directly.
Do – State what needs to continue or change.

I also strongly recommend taking a look at the Manager Tools Feedback Model for advice on how to give effective feedback. It’s similar to SAID but leaves out the Ask element.

Its also worth taking a look at my friend Morag Barret’s recent article on delivering tough feedback.

Again, to hold everybody accountable, employees will need to be surveyed throughout the year to make sure they are receiving regular feedback from their manager. Senior leadership will also need to support and follow up to make sure this is happening.

3. Growth & Development, which is driven by the employee, supported by the manager, and enabled by the organization. Here, the organization and manager must provide opportunities to the employee to develop and increase their skills, knowledge, and experience in their current role. These opportunities, of course, must be aligned with the business needs of the organization and the employee’s individual ambitions.

The organization must provide a work environment that encourages and helps employees grow and develop their skills and knowledge as it relates to the organization’s business. Giving them different job experiences, providing training and opportunities are ways to help employees expand their skills in their current roles and to develop them for future roles within the organization.

The skills and knowledge that are being developed must, of course, align with the needs and objectives of the organization in order for the employee’s growth and development to be relevant and actionable.

The organization should create a form that will help employees communicate their interests, career goals, and professional aspirations. The employee and manager should discuss these so that the appropriate opportunities can be provided by the organization and supported by the manager.

Once again, to hold everybody accountable, employee surveys will need to be taken to measure the effectiveness of the Growth & Development component as it relates to employee engagement.

I really like this Framework and would love to help an organization implement a version of it. It’s an innovative system that would be very effective measuring employee performance and developing employees in today’s modern workplace.

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Week Seven of the PA Cycle: Deadline Week for Final PAs and Objectives

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Image courtesy of mapichai at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Here we are at the final week of the PA cycle. Whew! It’s been a lot of hard work but also very rewarding because you’re almost done with this very important project for the company.

Although this is the final week, there is still a lot of work to be done. Dangit!

This final week is when your managers are finishing up delivering the PAs to their direct reports and finalizing their Objectives. Frankly, they should be done but in reality, there will be some managers that haven’t even started delivering their PAs.

Again, I make Wednesday the deadline day. You’ll get approx 85% of the final PAs and Objectives back in by Wednesday and you’ll need to send out a gentle reminder reminding everybody that the deadline was Wednesday. This will spur several managers to get theirs in but your chronic procrastinators, more than likely the same procrastinators from the earlier deadline week will need to be reminded several times.

Here’s a copy of the email I send out on Thursday, the day after the deadline:

Subject Line: Missing PAs and Objectives

Hi Managers,

Thank you to all who got their final PAs and Objectives turned in by the deadline of February 24! I appreciate your efforts getting them in on time.

I still have a number of missing PAs and Objectives and would appreciate getting those completed by the end of the week.

Thanks,
Rich

This is the first post-deadline reminder email and it thanks those who got their final PAs and Objectives turned in on time and subtly reminds the procrastinators that the deadline has passed and you need their completed forms turned in.

This week is also when it’s particularly critical for you to be organized and keeping the PA and Objective Checklist updated as soon as the final forms are turned in to you. If you don’t stay organized as they are turned in, you’ll lose track and misplace documents and emails making you look bad to everybody in the company. You’ve put in a lot of work throughout the cycle so don’t let it fall apart in the end.

Forms will be turned in to you during the week as you are doing other work and you’ll have the tendency to put them aside until later when you have time. Instead of doing that, schedule several times a day where you stop doing what your doing  and get your filing done so that you don’t fall behind or you’ll end up with a huge stack to go through later in the month. You will need to know who’s turned their forms in and who hasn’t so  you can remind those who haven’t, and remind them, and remind them until they get them turned in. The only way to know is to have the Checklist updated and current and the forms properly filed.

This, of course, is the second Deadline Week in the cycle and it’s much more work intensive than the previous Deadline Week (week three) because you have a lot more moving parts.  You are having hard copies of the PA and Objectives turned in to you which need to be scanned and saved to the appropriate electronic files we set up during week three.  Remember that in week three, we established electronic files for each manager. Under each manager’s file, file the final PAs in folder named Final and the final objectives in the folder named Objectives.

Once you are done with the scanning and electronic filing, the paper copies need to be filed into the employees personnel file, if you use paper files.  If your personnel files are electronic, you’ll file them electronically.

It’s also very important to formally thank everybody for all the work they did during the cycle. Your managers dislike this process and if your organization is typical, people are never thanked enough and a sincere thank you will go a long way.

I usually send out the thank you email sometime the week after the deadline week and thank the entire management team for their work and efforts on the cycle. The email I sent out and described earlier in this post thanked them for making the deadline and reminded those that didn’t to get their forms turned in by the end of the week. This one is thanking them for their work and efforts and provides another opportunity to remind the procrastinators they are late.

Here is a copy of the email I send out:

Subject Line: Thank you and closing out the 2015 PA and Objective Setting Cycle

Managers,

I want to thank everybody for their excellent efforts in successfully delivering the 20XX PA and Objective Setting Cycle! I know it’s a lot of hard work and something very few people look forward to doing. But it’s an important part of our jobs as we take the time to formally discuss and evaluate the asset that makes everything else work in our organization, our human capital.

Thank you to all those who completed and turned in your PAs and Objectives by the due date of 2/24 (or shortly thereafter!).

I will be sending out emails this morning to those managers who’s PAs and/or objectives I’m still missing. I would appreciate getting those completed and turned in to me ASAP so I can close out this year’s cycle.

Thanks again,
Rich

This email gives you a chance to remind everybody that you understand that nobody likes doing PAs and Objectives but that it’s a very important part of their jobs. It also reminds senior management of the importance of their Human Capital and that without the people in the organization, there is no organization. And, finally, the last sentence  reminds the super procrastinators to get their completed forms turned in and that I’ll be sending them a personal email with what they have missing.

I recommend that you email the procrastinators so you have documentation that you’ve communicated their tardiness. Although I prefer face to face or phone conversations, I’ve found the emails are more effective and provide cover if you are ever questioned why there are missing forms in the future – you will occasionally have those who never get this done no matter how hard you try.

Well crew, we are finished with the PA Cycle series. There are seven weeks to the cycle and I hope I did a decent job of explaining the mechanics of each week.

In future posts, I will go into detail of how to write an effective PA and how to establish employee objectives. I touched on some of this in the Training Week post and when I explained  the PA and Objective Setting forms but I need to go into more detail to properly tie out the PA cycle.

Out of the Blue, a Manager Wants to Terminate an Employee. What do You Do?

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We’ve all been there. A manager calls us to say they’ve had enough and want to fire one of their direct reports. But we go back and look through the employee’s personnel file and see that there are no disciplinary actions and their performance appraisals don’t reflect a problem.

This is the first time we’ve heard of the problem but the manager, however, has finally had enough of their direct report’s poor performance or conduct and is ready to fire them and move on. But they haven’t done their part and properly supervised their problem employee or documented any of the performance or conduct issues. They spent years avoiding or ignoring the problems because dealing with them is, well you know, awkward and uncomfortable.

Now the puck is in your zone (I’m a hockey dad). You are the HR pro and they expect you to take care of the problems they weren’t willing to deal with.

What do you do?

I’m going to assume you have a progressive discipline policy in place. You just simply need to start the process. Of course, it should have been utilized by the manager before it got to the point they called you. But, as is often the case, that doesn’t always happen.

The progressive discipline policy I use is Dick Grote’s Discipline Without Punishment. I will cover the details of how I have incorporated this method in a later post but simply put, it goes like this: Reminder One, Reminder Two, Decision Making Leave, and final separation. Of course, the ultimate goal is for the employee to make the necessary performance or conduct improvements before the need to take the next step. I will use this method to describe how to terminate a problem employee who the manager has finally had enough of but hasn’t yet documented any of the performance or conduct issues.

First, you need to meet with the supervisor and discuss exactly what the performance or conduct issues are. Find out from the supervisor if they have any documented conversations or criteria that the employee failed to accomplish. Review the past several performance appraisals and look for any statements that are pertinent to the present situation. There usually isn’t any of this documentation in the scenario I presented above but it is still important to double check with the supervisor. Its fine if there isn’t any at this stage because we are starting the process from the beginning anyway.

Second, write up and deliver a Reminder One and title it an Overall Performance (or Conduct) Correction Reminder. Describe, in as much detail as possible the performance and conduct issues where the employee is falling short. This Reminder is not for a specific incident but rather an overall performance correction so there needs to be several examples of where the employee is failing to meet expectations. In addition to the areas where the employee needs to improve, there needs to be steps the employee needs to take in order to improve their performance or conduct. Finally, there needs to be a deadline for immediate improvement. Usually 30 days is an appropriate amount of time. During the 30 days the manager needs to constantly monitor the employee’s performance in order to measure improvement.

When delivering the Reminder One it is important to inform the employee that the goal of this process is to have the employee improve their performance or conduct and not have to go further. But you still must discus the next steps(Reminder Two, Decision Making Leave, and separation) in case there is no improvement in their performance or conduct.

The employee needs to be reminded that it is their responsibility to make the necessary improvement within the 30 day period. You need to meet with the employee on the 30th day regardless if they have made the necessary improvements or not. Hopefully, the employee will get the message, make the improvements needed and the meeting will be a congratulatory meeting. Often, however, the meeting will be to deliver a Reminder Two.
Normally, a Reminder One is delivered by just the manager but because this is an Overall Performance Correction, it would be best if HR is included in this meeting.

Third, if after 30 days there hasn’t been the necessary improvement, you will need to write up and deliver a Reminder Two. It is basically the same as the Reminder One, but just the next and more serious step of the process. Again, this should also have deadline of 30 days for performance or conduct improvement. Depending on the seriousness of the performance or conduct issues and how the Reminder One’s 30 days went, you could shorten the deadline to 15 days. Again, the manger and HR should be present in this meeting.

Fourth, if after the 30 (or 15) days of unacceptable performance or conduct improvement, you will need to take the next and very serious step of writing up and delivering a Decision Making Leave. This is where you again document the employee’s performance deficiencies and what they need to do to improve. The critical step here requires the employee take the next day off, a paid leave, to consider whether they want to continue working for the company. They are required to write a statement explaining how they will make the necessary steps in order to improve their performance or conduct.

They can also decide to resign at this point. If they return with the document describing how they want to continue working for the company and the steps they are going to take to improve, you need to establish another deadline of 15 to 30 days. This time, however, termination will occur if there is no acceptable performance or conduct improvement.

Finally, you now have all the documentation you need to terminate the problem employee with minimal risk. You’ve given them two warnings with the Reminders. You’ve given them a paid day off to make a decision on whether they want to make the improvements necessary to remain employed. If they do, they wrote up their plan. And if they fail to live up to their plan, you have all you need to safely terminate the problem employee.

I Fired Santa.

“He’s doing it again, Rich, and customers and employees are irritated with him” said Tina, my department manager.

“Are you serious?” I said  “I just had another talk with him a couple days ago and he promised me he would stop! I will talk to him again.”

Being the long time retail anchor in downtown Missoula, it was up to us to provide the “official” Santa Clause for the community.  Every parent wants to have a picture of their little one with St. Nick.

Up until then, I had no problem because I just simply hired the gentleman who had been doing it for the past decade, but this year he was no longer physically able to play the roll.  I had to find a new Santa and I hit the jackpot – I thought – when I discovered a professional birthday clown/Santa Clause looking for work!  He had experience, could tie balloon animals, and had his own Santa suit!

We set up his chair, the camera, and backdrop along a main aisle.  We ran an ad in the Missoulain and posted his hours throughout the store.  Now I could focus my attention and concentrate on executing the store’s Holiday sales, profit, credit, and customer service strategies.

Instead, we quickly discovered our new Santa had a very odd personality – one that my customers and employees found very irritating. Irritating enough to complain and avoid him.

He would make a strange comment or crack an awkward joke to everybody who walked by him – nothing inappropriate but strange.  It got to the point where my employees would take another longer route in order to avoid having to walk by him when they saw he didn’t have a kid on his lap.

I sat down with him in my office, with him in full costume, and had a “fierce conversation”  letting him know that I had received complaints and that he needs to concentrate more on being jolly and less on being irritating. He initially resisted but after I gave him several examples of his irritating behavior, he agreed that he would  try to do better.

This was Santa’s first warning.

I noticed an improvement in his behavior but that only lasted two days. He reverted back into his old irritating ways and the complaints started again.  I sat down with him again, again with him in full costume, and we had our second “fierce conversation” where I told him that he needs to alter his behavior quickly. He’s driving customers away and irritating my team causing a reduction in their productivity.  The critical Christmas season is short and I can’t afford to have Santa hurting my business.

This was Santa’s second warning.

Again, it took another two days before his behavior to reverted back to his irritating ways which led to the conversation at the beginning of this post.  Well, I had had enough and sat Santa Clause down in my office for the final time, again him in full costume, and said the words “I’m sorry, Santa, but I am going to have to let you go.  It’s just not working out.”

I had just fired Santa.

So now I had no Santa.  Now what?  Well, all I know is that the General Manager of the store (me) would mysteriously disappear whenever Santa showed up to for his shift…

You gotta do what you gotta do to make things right.

This story points out that we occasionally have to do some very uncomfortable disciplinary action on employees or independent contractors.   I sure could have avoided dealing with the situation, he was Santa after all.  And he was only going to be in the store for a couple more weeks.

You have to have the courage to do what’s right.

Even if it’s firing Santa.

A Manager’s Most Important Responsibility

What is a manager’s most important responsibility?  It’s quite simple, actually.

The most important responsibility of any manager is to hire the best people they can.

Think about it.

What happens to everybody’s workload when a manager makes a good hire?  We love it!!

A good hire makes everybody more productive by allowing them to continue their work while being competent enough to do their own. A good hire is somebody who others enjoy working with creating a positive work environment which increases morale and production. It’s motivating when the new hire fits in well  and effectively contributes.

What happens to everybody’s workload when a manager makes a bad hire?  We hate it!!

A bad hire creates more work for everybody as they compensate for the poor performer.  A bad hire can also create a poisoned work environment leading to poor morale and reducing overall production.   A bad hire can make good employees flee the organization if nothing appropriate is done to remedy the situation.  We’ve all made bad, if not horrible, hiring decisions in our career.  I certainly have and have paid the price.

As an HR leader, it’s vital that we train and coach managers on how to effectively recruit, interview, hire, develop, and retain great employees.

So many managers “shoot from the hip” when it comes to these critical steps.  Sure they get it right sometimes and justify their methods by focusing on when they did well.  If they were honest with themselves, however, they would say they got it wrong more than they got it right.

With the huge impact a good or bad hire can have on an organization a manager’s most important responsibility is to hire the best people they can.

Another Bad Leadership Decision by the Miami Dolphins

pounceyAs you may or may not know, I am a long suffering Miami Dolphins fan.  I became a Dolphin fan as a youngster in the early 1970s when the team dominated the NFL and have been loyal to them ever since. 

Last year, the Dolphins suffered through a well publicized harassment scandal involving offensive linemen Richie Incognito, Mike Pouncey, John Jerry, and Jonathan Martin.  I wrote about the scandal in several posts here at HHHR because it was a serious HR topic and it involved my favorite professional sports team – two of my worlds colliding! 

I was hoping that this year I wouldn’t need to write about the Dolphins or their harassment issues.

Unfortunately, I was wrong and here I am again. 

Coach Philbin prefers a “Leadership Council” instead of captains for his team.  Last year the team voted on who they wanted on the Leadership Council.  Turned out that two of the five members of the Council were prominently involved in  last year’s harassment scandal – Richie Incognito and Mike Pouncey.  Obviously, a huge mistake that had significant implications for the 2013 Dolphins organization. 

This year, coach Philbin continued the Leadership Council but had coaches select the members instead.  The Council now consists of one or two of the most senior members of each position group and numbers 15 players. 

Believe it or not, the coaches selected Mike Pouncey. 

When I heard this, I was floored.  What were they thinking?

Sure, I get that he is the most senior member of the OL and that he is one of the best centers in the NFL but his actions and his behavior last year (and this year) are toxic to the team.  He does not deserve to be on the Leadership Council.

Let’s review his actions and behavior from the past twelve months:

  • Prominently cited in the Ted Well’s Dolphins harassment report as an instigator in the harassment. 
  • Subpoenaed to testify in the former Patriot Aaron Hernandez murder trial (Hernandez and Pouncey are friends and former college teammates).
  • Was photographed publically wearing a “Free Hernandez” hat in support of his “friend” and refused to apologize for it.
  • Is currently being sued for his alleged involvement in a nightclub fight a couple months ago.

The guy can’t seem to stay out of trouble and has a recent history of making very poor choices. 

I don’t understand the thinking process that went into the decision to reward him with a spot on the Leadership Council.  The message it sends to the rest of the team is not a good one.  The message it sends to Pouncey is that he is actually being rewarded for his previous bad behavior. 

I believe that he will continue his bad behavior and will continue to get himself into trouble, causing problems for the team.  In fact, he will be empowered to continue.  He has never really had to face any real consequences for his behavior. 

I assume the thinking is that he will learn from the other 14 members of the Council and that there will be more voices where one will not have the opportunity influence and overshadow the others, like last year. 

Based on what happened last year and the trouble that Pouncy continues to get himself into, he does not deserve to be rewarded with a spot on the council.  If the Dolphins are trying to clean up their image – an image that was seriously damaged by the scandal last year – they should not have even considered putting him on the Council. 

I’ve seen it happen many times.  The highly talented and skilled troublemaking employee is shielded from discipline and often even rewarded because they are “too valuable” to the organization.  Never once have I seen this situation end up a positive one. 

I don’t think this end well for the Dolphins.

I hope I’m wrong.  Sadly, I’m pretty sure I’m right.