Sunday, September 25, 2011

Termination is a Dish Best Prepared and Served Cold

While it might be borderline entertainment to watch Donald Trump in the reality-t.v. show The Apprentice spontaneously combust fire his victims contestants on the spot:



Real-life terminations of employment, when handled in this fashion, ruin reputations of both the organization as well as the respective executive / leadership team:  to say nothing about the devastating impact on both employee and customer recruitment, retention and engagement.

How you treat people as you exit them from your organization is just as important (if not more important) as how you on-board them as new employees and treat them during the tenure with your organization, impacting the level of your employees' and your customers' engagement.

Engaged employees are productive employees, and productive employees give great customer service, which in turn drives customer recruitment / retention.  Check my girlfriend Google, The Thank-You Economy and other sources, like The Society of Human Resources Management, if you're at all skeptical about those key inter-relationships.

Which makes off-the-cuff and spontaneously combustive real-life terminations, such as the phone termination of former NPR Correspondent Juan Williams or the phone termination of Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz frankly puzzling, given the reputation-bruising both organizations received from the resultant negative publicity. 

When Yahoo then put itself on the market for purchase right after Bartz's firing, engagement was clearly not the focus, financial survival was.   Which explains the leadership vacuum on several levels, as exemplified by Bartz's parting email sent to all Yahoo employees:

To all,” Bartz wrote, “I am very sad to tell you that I’ve just been fired over the phone by Yahoo’s Chairman of the Board. It has been my pleasure to work with all of you and I wish you only the best going forward.”

This lack of professionalism telegraphs that both terminations were not planned and occurred as a result of an emotional reaction, rather than a factual response.

Which brings the leadership of the organization into question:  if a termination decision is made and handled in this manner, how is the leadership team handling other business / mission-critical decisions?

And that's what I mean when I say that termination is a dish best prepared and served cold.  When an executive or similar decision-maker comes to me as the HR subject-matter expert totally pissed off and ready to fire the target of their ire on the spot, I gently apply the brakes on the situation, with some simple steps and questions designed to minimize / prevent organizational exposure and protect the reputations of all involved.
  • What policies / procedures has the target violated?
  • Is there any documentation or prior warnings in their file?
  • What danger / exposure exists if the target is not fired on the spot? (One of the few on-the-spot terminations I've performed occurred after weapons were discovered and thankfully confiscated in the employee's workstation.)
  • If there is a lack of facts / evidence on the first 3 points above, is the decision-maker comfortable with the legal and public relations risks?  That is:  is the decision-maker (and the organization's leadership team) comfortable with reading about how the decision-maker potentially mishandled the target's termination in the local newspaper?
  • Is there a plan to minimize company exposure? 
  • Is there a plan at all, e.g. how to communicate the target's departure, managing company security, etc.?
If the answer is no to any of the above points, time must be taken to develop and implement the plan factually and rationally.  

The first step of the plan is for the decision-maker to cool off and shelve their emotions so the facts can drive strategic termination planning and implementation.

If not:  the decision-maker may find themselves in the same boat as Trump's hapless contestants; or their former employees.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Job Descriptions are Money in the Bank for Your Business

I know:  talking about job descriptions is like watching paint dry; and reading job descriptions may well be the cure for insomnia.

However, it's when your business or nonprofit organization lacks job descriptions that the excitement can begin.  And I'm not talking fun excitement.  I'm talking about a body blow to your bottom line.

Submitted for your disgust:  the audit conducted by the New York State Comptroller of the Charlton Fire District, located here in the SmAlbany, NY area, entitled Internal Controls Over Treasurer's Activities:  Mismanagement Allows Theft, which describes in detail the multi-year financial field day (a.k.a. theft) the Fire District's Treasurer (who is married to the Fire Chief, by the way) had with the District's finances, spending and paying herself to the tune of $500,000.

Aside from the complete lack of leadership oversight and commonly accepted financial controls, what caught my eye was how the Treasurer paid herself an additional hourly rate in addition to her Board-approved salary for "work in addition to regular duties."  As the Comptroller's Office noted, this is an unusual arrangement for someone who is already paid a regular salary.

What really set the stage for the theft of wages by the Treasurer to occur was the absence of a written job description prepared by the Fire District Board, as well as the lack of a written list of "work in addition to regular duties" approved by the same Board.  Nothing was documented by the Board.

That wage theft amounted to nearly $325,000.  I don't know any business or nonprofit organization that can justify or absorb a bottom-line hit like that.

So if the cautionary job description tale of the Charlton Fire District isn't enough to scare you straight about the financial importance of having current and compliant job descriptions on file for your business or nonprofit organization, here are a few additional financial parting gifts to seal the job description deal for you:
  • Audit by the Department of Labor:  if DOL pays you an unannounced visit and you don't have current / compliant job descriptions, how will you prove which of your jobs are exempt from overtime and which are nonexempt?  In these tight government budget times, DOL's fines to businesses and other organizations are a key funding stream, not to mention the multi-year back-wage repayment requirements if DOL discovers Wage & Hour violations at your workplace.
  • Worker's Compensation Injury / Liability:  If your employee sustains an injury at work and there is no job description, how will you prove to your Worker's Comp carrier that you've done your diligence in informing your employees about what safe conduct is in your workplace? Can any business or nonprofit organization afford a big increase in your Worker's Comp insurance coverage?
  • Unemployment Insurance and Discrimination Claims:  If you don't have job descriptions, you have no ability to provide acceptable documentary proof of employee performance issues, because you never set the minimum standards of performance via current and compliant job descriptions.  Can your business or nonprofit organization afford an unplanned hike in Unemployment Insurance premiums, or worse:  an unplanned discrimination lawsuit settlement totaling thousands of dollars?
Job descriptions on the surface may be great sleep aids, but in this HR geek's reckoning, compliant and current job descriptions are money in the bank.  And that should help any business leader sleep well at night.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Floods of Irene Bring Out the Best in This Team (Tribe) of Employees

I saw my friend and Entrepreneur Mentor at church today.  He had called me the Tuesday night after the 500-year flood of the Mohawk River retreated back to its banks from its historic trek to Erie Boulevard in downtown Schenectady and the building where his company of 20+ years is located.  He was facing possible relocation to drier temporary quarters (and potential suspension of business operations), as he did not yet know how extensive the damage was to the building where his company leased space.  He was concerned about his employees, and he called me for a reality check.



Dear Mentor had good news to report today as well as best-practice tidings of how his Employee Team rallied to support him and the business that supported all of their families. 

When it became clear that Hurricane / Tropical Storm Irene was going to cause epic flooding in downtown Schenectady, Dear Mentor called all of his employees after the storm subsided to ask their assistance in moving company-critical assets to safer ground before the Mohawk River reached and exceeded its flood stage.  It was Sunday, and it had not been a great day off at home for anyone, thanks to the effects of Irene.

Every member of Dear Mentor's Employee Team showed up that Sunday to help move the business assets, and they brought reinforcements:  some of them brought their adult children and friends to help as well.  They all worked until midnight that Sunday.  At midnight, his team wished him luck.  At that juncture, no one knew if Dear Mentor's business would be there after the flood.

After the State of Emergency was lifted in downtown Schenectady, Dear Mentor and his team were allowed back into their building to assess the damage.   The good news was that they didn't have to move the business out of the building; the challenging news was that the business space was full of mud and without power.

The next day, the Employee Team again demonstrated their resiliency and engagement under the adversity presented by mud and a lack of electricity:  they voluntarily brought their personal generators and power washers from their respective homes, and they got to work.  Dear Mentor was not only grateful for their generosity, but inspired by the joyful collaboration.  "It's not very often I get to witness these men enjoy the opportunity to let their inner boys come out and play as they used the power washers to get the mud out of the building," Dear Mentor remarked, his eyes sparkling through noticeable fatigue. 

As Dear Mentor shared his story, I knew it was his leadership and commitment that created the space for his Employee Team to rally and give of themselves to preserve their shared livelihood:  this in turn allowed the entire Employee Team to demonstrate the leadership stuff they are truly made of when faced with extreme adversity. 

You can't get nuggets like this from an employee engagement survey.

More importantly (and thankfully), it was not a familial vibe:  Dear Mentor is not their dad, but their Chief.  Dear Mentor and his Employee Team are an interdependent tribe of business warriors, and they demonstrated their commitment, prowess, flexibility, personal investment and generosity in one of the worst situations a CEO (or a tribal leader) can face. 

Now that's a tribe where I'd be honored to be counted as one of their warriors.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Can't Fill That Job? What is "The Help" Saying About You?

In the 1960's setting of the best-selling book and movie The Help, the reputation management channels were limited, but effective:
  • In-person social networks that existed within the two distinct groups in the story:  the white (mostly) segregationist employers and the African-American domestic employees;
  • Hard-copy newsletters;
  • The telephone;
  • And of course, the book, the-story-within-the-story, The Help.
Now as this movie trailer intimates (without giving too much away), the white segregationist Hilly clearly was not an employer-of-choice in Jackson, Mississippi:




As of September 2011, there are exponentially many more available reputation management channels available to talented candidates:  LinkedIn, Twitter and Google are merely the tip of the reputation management channel iceberg. 

And just as you as the CEO / Hiring Authority are using LinkedIn and other reputation management channels to perform research checks on just how talented / savvy your candidates are (or are not), they are performing the same reputation checks on:

  • You as the CEO; 
  • Your leadership team; 
  • How you treat your customers; 
  • How you conduct yourselves from a values standpoint;
  • What the press says about you, good and bad;
  • What your organization's long-range value proposition is;
  • And most importantly, how you treat your employees.

Savvy candidates, among other methods, can do a simple search on LinkedIn to find your current employees in their own networks, virtual or in-person.  And they're performing reference checks on you. How do you and your organization hold up?  Do you know?

A sure sign to me as a recruiter that an organization is in trouble in any of the above areas is how many applications I receive from the current employees of an organization.  I can also confirm my concern by the rate of churn -- employee departures and new hires within a short period of time -- at a particular organization, also thanks to LinkedIn.  Is that the reputation you want to convey?

Hiring is beginning to pick up in certain markets, and SmAlbany is one of them.  The competition for talented candidates is beginning to splinter the good fishing of the candidate barrel that this last recession had created.

Having a hard time finding talented candidates to fill your positions?  Are you listening to the chatter about you and your organization currently buzzing along the multiple reputation management channels?  Are you coming across as Hilly, or as Skeeter?