Workplace Harassment and Bullying at My Old High School

 

NCHS Staff meeting “Welcome Back” skit

You would think high school teachers and administrators, of all people, would know better!  You would also think a relatively large school district would do much better with the anti harassment and anti bullying training for their staff.

In my hometown of Casper, WY, at my high school alma mater, Natrona County High School,  there has been an ongoing controversy over a recent skit that was performed welcoming back school staff and introducing new staff at the beginning of the 2014 school year.

I have provided the recording of the skit here on this post and invite you to watch it.  I remind you, this was performed by high school administrators and teachers for other teachers, administrators, and staff on the school premises and during work hours.

What is so shocking to me about what I saw in the video is the sexual content and bullying.  They joke about masturbation, they “jokingly” called teachers serial killers and sexual offenders, suggested one was drunk, made fun of a new art teacher for being dumb,  mock another teacher’s poor teeth, offer a female teacher a set of testicles, do the “ugly” cheer for one teacher, and finally, physically grope a male administrator.

Publically humiliating new employees in front of their peers is not a good onboarding practice.

It’s shocking to me that these teachers/administrators thought it was OK to perform this skit.  It was something a bunch of high school kids would put together.  These are the ADULTS at the school.

They had obviously put a lot of time into writing and practicing the skit.  While they were writing and practicing, it didn’t occur to them that they were being grossly inappropriate?  What in the world made them think it was acceptable to behave the way they did in the workplace on school property?

It wasn’t a simple accidental comment or a momentary lapse in judgment – heck we’ve all been guilty of that.  Instead, it was a deliberately scripted and practiced performance.  It was deliberate and  mean and people shouldn’t have to put up with these behaviors , especially in the workplace.

These are people we entrust to educate and counsel our high school kids.  They are supposed to be role models.

The two “cheerleaders” in the skit are obviously leaders at the school.  With them being leaders, it shows that the culture in the school is one that is tolerant of bullying and harassment.  According to an earlier article this type of initiation has been going on for some time.  Regardless, it is unacceptable workplace behavior now and should have been in the past.

I commend the school district for immediately addressing the situation and bringing in an outside investigator.  The investigator concluded that “Natrona County High School administrators created an offensive educational environment and used language and actions that amounted to sexual harassment during a skit.”

The principle resigned shortly after the skit was made public.  Although he had nothing to do with the planning and wasn’t present during the skit, he accepted full responsibility.  I find it difficult to believe he didn’t know the content of these welcome back skits as they have been going on for years.  I think he did the right thing by resigning.  He knew he should have put a stop to it long ago. He is also responsible for the culture in the school which was clearly tolerant of coworker bullying and harassment.  No employees were fired over the skit but they were disciplined.

So bottom line, immediate action was taken and discipline was administered to the appropriate people.  Now the district leadership and HR department need to make sure they create a climate that no longer allows this type of behavior.  They also need to re-visit their anti-harassment and anti-bullying training to determine if it is adequate and make it so if it is not.

Their actions, so far, are a good start.

The Importance of The Morning Greeting

My favorite podcast, Manger Tools, recently released an episode titled The Morning Greeting. I liked the episode because it speaks to an important activity I learned many years ago working as a store manager for the Bon Marche (now Macys).

Basically, it is simply the act of saying good morning to each of your direct reports every day and the positive impact it generates.

Mike and Mark go into quite a bit of detail on the mechanics of how to greet direct reports which I found humorous.  I know there are many managers who find it difficult to circulate and greet their employees so I understand their need to go into detail.  It came naturally to me early in my career as I observed  effective managers I worked with and as I developed my own style.

When I was in retail, I would make the point of circulating through my store every morning and greet each of my employees (direct reports, sales and sales support associates) by name.  Sometimes I would cruise by their department, wave and say “Good morning, Joan!” and sometimes I would  stop and chat a bit – either about business or personal stuff or both, depending on what was going on in the store or in their lives.

I would also make a point of circulating through the store as I left for the day, catching the late shift,  and say “Goodnight!” to each employee by name.

Each time I started in a new store, I would immediately begin my greeting activity and quickly learn every employee’s name along the way.  I was told I was the first store manager who did this and/or even knew their names.

I often startled new employees when I would approach and greet them but they quickly learned I was OK and approachable.  While I did much more than just “the daily greet” to my employees, this simple activity was a significant factor in creating a tremendous amount of trust and loyalty among my teams.

In my current job as an HR leader, I have five direct reports but  still make a point of greeting all 16 employees, by name, in my office every morning.  I also do the same when I visit the mine or the Wyoming office.  Similar to when I was a store manager, sometimes its just a quick greeting with a wave or a chat for a few minutes.

As a result, I am on friendly terms with everybody in the office and know and understand a lot of what is going on at many different levels.  This allows me to do my job, as the HR leader in my company, more effectively and provide greater value to my company.  More importantly, knowing my co-coworkers as I do helps me enjoy my job more.

I would challenge all HR leaders and managers, even Mike and Mark who said it isn’t realistic or practical to greet 30 people every morning, to take the time to greet all their direct reports and steps even if there are 30+ of them.  I did it in a 60,000 square foot store with nearly 30+ people working during any given shift.  The time you take to do this is nothing compared to the value you derive.

It is a simple and powerful management activity.

Understanding Your Personality Profile With DiSC

It is important for HR leaders  to understand their personality profile as well as the profiles of those they work with.  The first step, is of course, discovering your personality profile.

I like the DiSC personality/behavior profile tool because it breaks down to four basic personality dimensions, Dominance (or Drive), Influence (or Inducement), Steadiness (or Submission), and Conscientiousness (or Caution or Compliance).

Everybody exhibits all four of the dimensions in their personalities but in different degrees. The DiSC tool measures which of the four dimensions are strongest and which are weakest and gives people insight into understanding their personalities, strengths and weaknesses and how to communicate and develop professional relationships with others.

The test measures your score on each of the DiSC dimensions based on responses to questions.  The dimensions are best understood through a matrix where on the y axis, the D and I dimensions measure extroverted aspects of a person’s personality and the S and C measure the introverted aspects.  On the x axis, the D and S dimensions measure task focus aspects and the I and C dimensions measure the social focus aspects.

DiSC Matrix by Rich Boberg

DiSC Matrix by Rich Boberg

People will typically score very high in one or two of the four dimensions which gives them a very good idea of which personality tendency is dominant.

Dominance/Drive:  People who score and exhibit High D tendencies are very decisive and quick in dealing with challenges and problems while those who are Low D are more hesitant to make a decision and need more information.

Influence/Inducement: People who score and exhibit High I tendencies are comfortable influencing people through active communication and can be emotional while those who are Low I prefer influencing people with facts and data and keep the emotional element out.

Steadiness/Submission: People who score and exhibit High S tendencies do not like sudden change and are comfortable with security and are calm and patient and deliberate in making decisions while those who are Low S are impatient and are comfortable with change and variety and can be impulsive.

Conscientiousness/Caution/Compliance:  People who score and exhibit High C tendencies like structure and sticking to the rules and procedures and take pride in their accuracy and cautious when making decisions while Low C’s like to challenge and/or “break” rules, are independent,  and are not terribly interested in accuracy and details.

In addition to the four personality dimensions, DiSC identifies 15 patterns based on where an individual scores on each of the four dimensions. So for example if you score high in the Influence and Dominance and low in Steadiness and Conscientiousness, you most likely exhibit the Inspirational pattern.

  1. Achiever
  2. Agent
  3. Appraiser
  4. Counselor
  5. Creative
  6. Developer
  7. Inspirational
  8. Investigator
  9. Objective Thinker
  10. Perfectionist
  11. Persuader
  12. Practitioner
  13. Promoter
  14. Result oriented
  15. Specialist

In the next few weeks I will be sharing and breaking down my DiSC profile as a starting point in analyzing all the other patterns in future posts.

A Story About Motivating Star Performers (and How I Goofed)

This story goes back to when I was a General Manager for a large department store chain, The Bon Marche (now Macys).

It was the Christmas season, the most important time in retail, and my number one producing Department Sales Manager (DSM) requested a day off that fell on the same day as a very important sales event.  It was for her six year old son’s birthday.

Being a hard driving and competitive store manager who had to obliterate his sales goals, I denied her request and told her she had to work. We had big numbers to make, by god!  She dutifully worked that day but her energy and enthusiasm was noticeably less than normal – a condition that continued on for several months afterwards.

Looking back, I realized what a hypocrite I was.

I had always preached “family first” but denied her the day with her son on his birthday.  She always worked hard and effectively every day and was my top performer is sales, credit, and customer service month in and month out.  But my short sighted quest to make my sales numbers on one single big sale day ended up costing me so much more.

Her morale was dashed and she became disengaged – my number one producing DSM – and I know it cost me more in sales numbers over the long run than what it may have cost me had I let her have the day off.  She remained noticeably disengaged and unenthusiastic about her work for several months after.  Her performance numbers slipped, affecting the total store’s numbers.

Not only that, my credibility was damaged with her and the rest of my store team.  I learned a hard lesson about how not to treat a star performer. I certainly should have allowed her to have that one day off and she would have come back an even a stronger and more engaged DSM because I would have shown confidence and trust in her team and her preparation.

Several months later, I told my star DSM that I used this story in a presentation I gave a at a store manager meeting. She was a bit embarrassed but I could tell it meant a lot to her that I was willing to publicly share my mistake with my peers.  It helped repair our relationship and restore trust.  About a year later she returned from a DSM training week in Seattle and told me that the Director of Stores (my bosses boss) shared my story about her and the mistake I made to her entire DSM class.  She loved the fact the story had such an impact and was being used to help train the managers in the company about engagement.

In my time as a department store General Manager, I found that the Pareto Principle applied in many aspects of my job including my management team. Twenty percent of my management team produced eighty percent of my store’s performance results.  My star performer above was in that twenty percent and by showing insensitivity and a lack of trust in her, I damaged a certain level of her ability to produce the eighty percent of the performance results that she normally achieved.

I should have allowed my Star to have the one day off to celebrate her son’t sixth birthday.  I should have trusted her preparation and her team to make her goals for the day without her being there.  I seriously goofed.  And it cost me.

Just Because You Say You Have an “Open Door Policy” Does Not Mean You Have an “Open Door Policy”

A while back I was working with a manager who was frustrated that her direct reports and their direct reports were coming to me with their workplace concerns and problems.  She called for a meeting with me and her boss to discuss and they both questioned why her people were contacting me instead of her.

After all, she said, she told her team she has an “open door policy”.

My response?  Just because you say you have an open door policy does not mean you actually have an open door policy.

It takes consistent effort, hard work and time to have an effective open door policy.  You have to spend time every single day getting to know your people and allow them to get to know you.  You have to build their trust and earn their respect and the best way to do this is to develop a professional relationship with the individuals of your team.

It is something I am very good at and why I won so many store performance awards when I worked at The Bon Marche’/Macys.  I wasn’t going to apologize for my ability to gain the trust of the employees I mentioned above and lower my level of performance.  The manager would need to up her game – something I would help with, of course.

When I was a store manager, I knew every one of my employee’s names and made an effort to acknowledge them every day or two.  At one point, I had 100+ employees working for me but I still made the effort.  I tried to spend the time out on the floor and talk to them about their job and a little about what’s going on personally.

I do the same in my current job as Sr. Dir of HR – I circulate through the office and try to spend time talking to each employee a couple times a week. When I’m at the mine site, I work the office and the plant and  drive around, stop and talk to the crew members who are working at various locations throughout the property.  It’s important to note that I actively listen to them when communicating.  You would be surprised about what you will find out! Employees want to be heard and they will tell you exactly what they are thinking once they understand that you can be trusted.

An open door policy is hard work.

But its hard work that will make so many other elements of your job easier.

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.

The Fight to Survive – Competition is Good in the HR Certification Space

It seems that almost every certified HR leader has an opinion about SHRM’s abandoning their support of HRCI’s certifications and rolling out their own.  The vast majority of what I’ve read or heard is critical of SHRM and supportive of HRCI.

Frankly, I think SHRM’s entry into the space is a good thing.  A very good thing.  I am a believer in free market competition and I think having two HR certification competitors battle it out will only make it better for the profession in the end.

Case in point, HRCI has already responded by increasing their marketing.  I see them advertising everywhere in all the prominent HR magazines and websites.  Maybe they advertised this heavily before, but I doubt it.  Monopolies don’t need to advertise and market.

I received a letter from HRCI on August 1 reminding me of the value of their certificates and promised that I will be hearing back from them soon about how they are “shaping the future of HR certification and providing me with new opportunities to connect with other HR professionals within our community.”  I was impressed.  The letter sends the signal that they are clearly working hard to maintain their status as the Certificate of Choice!

I even received a tweet from Rebecca Hastings, the HRCI HR Content Manager, asking me if I had read this article at the HRCI website.  She was responding to my post here where I said I was OK with two certifications.

This is all very good.  They are being very smart by getting out there when they are still the only game in town to aggressively promote and market their products.

Let’s be honest about the value of our certification.  Its really only important to those of us in HR.   The executives in our companies don’t really know anything about HRCI and their certifications.  For example, my boss was very supportive when I told him I earned my SPHR but he didn’t really know or understand what it meant.  I had to give him a print out from their website describing the SPHR certification to help explain it to him and “prove” that it was a significant accomplishment.

The other executives in my organization also don’t really know and understand what it is.  In fact, I get the impression they think it’s “cute” that HR has a certification.  But, in their minds, it doesn’t rise to the level of a CPA (Certified Public Accountant), PE (Professional Engineer), or a PG (Professional Geologist).

With the two organizations fighting for prominence, I’m hoping there is a lot of press outside of the HR media platforms.  If so, our company executives will see this and take notice and realize that there are important professional certifications in the HR profession.  Rather than think the competition is hurting our profession, I think most of our executives will understand and appreciate it.

Here are the four reasons I think it’s a good thing to have competing certifications.

  1. Improved quality.  As the two are competing for prominence, the quality of their products – the certificates – will improve out of necessity.  Maybe HRCI will finally provide a decent website!
  2. Greater visibility.  Both organizations will aggressively advertise and promote their products.  A lot more will be written about both.  This will hopefully leak out into the main stream media and be noticed by the non HR executives in our organizations.
  3. Increased transparency.  Both organizations will need to build or retain the confidence of their stakeholders.  In order to emerge as the prominent certificate provider, both organizations will need to become more transparent in how they conduct their activities to build and retain their brand presence.  SHRM will need to make an extra effort with their transparency in light of how they rolled out their announcement.
  4. Improved credibility.  When this all shakes out in the next several years, one certification will emerge as the winner.  It will have fought the battle, taken on the criticisms, and made the changes and adjustments needed to win.  It will have advanced the certification and profession along far more than it would have had their not been the battle.

I’m going to watch this all with a great deal of interest.  I am not taking sides.  I love my SPHR.  I worked hard for it and am proud to sport those letters whenever I can.  On the other hand, I also love the fact that SHRM is going to shake things up and challenge the status quo.

I will maintain my SPHR and I will go through the process of earning my SHRM–SCP early in 2015.  I will also proudly sport both sets of initials after my name.  I will fully support both because I think both are important and that the upcoming battle between the two organizations will ultimately benefit the HR profession.

What my Five Year Old Son Taught me About Networking

I’m naturally a shy person who used to have a very difficult time in social and public situations.  I still occasionally struggle with it but am much better due to practice, hard work, and putting myself in situations where I have to be more outgoing and sociable.

I know it’s a critical requirement to be successful as an HR leader and in business so I have made a concerted effort throughout my career to be more outgoing and make myself a better networker.

The single best lesson I ever learned about networking was from my son fifteen years ago, when he was five years old.

My family would occasionally visit McDonalds for dinner and the kids would run off to the playland while my wife and I placed our food order.  By the time we sat down in playland to eat, every single kid there knew my son’s name and was playing with him.  Often, some would ask if they could sleep over at our house!

At first we assumed these were kids he knew from school or hockey so we asked him how he knew them.  He simply shrugged and stated that he had just met them there.  Mind you, it was usually only ten minutes from the time we entered McDonalds to the time we sat down to eat.

This went on consistently for a few months until I decided to follow him into playland and observe his behavior while my wife ordered our burgers. What kind of magic did he do to get all these kids to be friends in less than 15 minutes?  It turned out to be ridiculously simple.

He would run into playland with total enthusiasm and run up to each kid there with a big smile and introduce himself by saying “Hi!  My name is Bill! Wanna play with me?”   Of course, almost every kid met his enthusiastic introduction with equal enthusiasm and agreed to play with him.  Of course, he would occasionally meet a kid who would  ignore him but he would simply move on to the next without missing a beat.

Within five minutes he had introduced himself to everybody in playland and was loudly playing tag and crawling through the tubes and jumping in the plastic balls.

Wow, I thought. How easy is that!

In summary, here’s what I learned from my five year old:

  1. Be sincerely enthusiastic about being where you are and meeting new people.
  2. Take the initiative to approach people and introduce yourself.
  3. Ask the people you approach for their name/profession/reason for attending the networking event (you should not ask them if they want to play!).
  4. Make a point to include your new ‘friends’ in discussions with others.
  5. Don’t worry about being rejected.  Quickly move on to another person and introduce yourself.
  6. Remain enthusiastic and positive throughout and have fun making new friends.

What it Takes to Have a Dream Company

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Creating the Best Workplace on Earth, they discuss the six attributes that make an organization a ‘Dream Company’.

I think it can be safely said that we’ve all heard about these attributes at one time or another and it never hurts to go over them again.

1. Let people be themselves.

2. Unleash the flow of information.

3. Magnify people’s strengths.

4. Stand for more than shareholder value.

5. Show how the daily work makes sense.

6. Have rules people can believe in.

These are all excellent attributes that will make any organization more effective and profitable.  But it is difficult to achieve because several of the attributes conflict with common practice and some can be expensive to implement.  There is risk involved with change and many in leadership are, understandably, unwilling and uncomfortable to take on that risk.

It takes a very strong and confident leader to lead an organization to fully embrace and practice these six attributes because there will be resistance all along from all levels.  But in the end and if the leader stays the course, the organization will benefit because as the article beautifully states in its concluding remarks:

People want to do good work—to feel they matter in an organization that makes a difference. They want to work in a place that magnifies their strengths, not their weaknesses. For that, they need some autonomy and structure, and the organization must be coherent, honest, and open.

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.