Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Thinking through alignment and disagreement 4: identifying and addressing fundamental process break-downs and dismissal situations

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on November 23, 2013

This is my fourth posting to a series in which I discuss the roles that disagreement and coming together in alignment can play in a business and how both can offer significant and even essential value – when expressed and considered in the right contexts and ways (see Business Strategy and Operations – 3, postings 450 and loosely following for Parts 1-3.)

Towards the end of Part 3, I outlined a vision of employee behavior and accountability that I repeat here as a starting point for this posting’s discussion:

• Every employee and from lowest ranking starting position-holders through the most senior executives at a business should be responsible for what they do and for what they might fail to do that they should be doing, in performing their jobs. Ultimately, business effectiveness can only develop out of a culture of responsibility and of taking ownership level responsibility and on the part of everyone at the business.
• But simply assigning blame, and certainly as an immediate alternative to problem identification and resolution does not work and certainly where everyone involved in creating a problem was acting in good faith and trying to do their jobs correctly and effectively.

This might hold for employees and managers who actively seek to do the right thing and who take responsibility for what they do and its consequences. But not every employee, manager or even senior executive or business owner follows this approach or even sees value in it.

Even when an employee or manager sees positive value and even pride in taking responsibility, their decisions and actions do not always align with their manager’s ideas or approaches, or with the needs of the business; sometimes an employee or manager with real potential needs training, or they might need help in resolving a work/life conflict. To take that last point out of the abstract, consider an employee who too consistently arrives late for work – but does so only because they face a conflict between their regular work schedule requirements and their young child’s school schedule, and making sure they are not left unattended and that they get where they need to go on time. A possible win/win solution for this particular situation might be flextime scheduling, and I add that this type of resolution can actually improve worker productivity and certainly when your employees are no longer distracted by family concerns. But once again, employee or manager problems might actually be due to problem employees or managers, and reflect underlying challenges that cannot be fixed.

My focus here is not on readily correctible employee problems. It is on more problematical employees and managers and on resolving the challenges of fundamentally unacceptable behavior and uncorrectable work performance failures. I have at least touched upon this set of issues in other postings, and in that regard cite one of my early, 2010 postings: Knowing When to Terminate and Knowing How. And I begin with the basics and with some special case situations, building from there.

• Timing can be everything. If a new hire proves to have been a mistaken hire early on, and while they are still in their probationary period, baring overt discrimination on the part of the employer they can usually be dismissed without need to show or specify cause. Once the probationary period is over, that changes, and both for union and nonunion positions and for the employees who hold them.
• Illegal behavior on the part of an employee and at whatever level or position on the table of organization should be seen as grounds for immediate dismissal, and I add grounds for reporting to the proper authorities. To put this personally and in terms of my own experience, I have no problems working with an employee who makes mistakes and who seeks to do better. But I will not work with an employee to try to get them to steal less from the business. Theft is fundamentally unacceptable and grounds for immediate dismissal.
• Similarly, if an employee or manager is caught sexually or otherwise harassing a fellow employee, that is grounds for immediate dismissal – and in most cases for filing legal action against them too. (It can be difficult if not impossible to successfully file charges based on harassment claims if the party who has been harassed against refuses to go along in support of that action – hence the “in most cases” there.)
• Most of the time when an employee really has to be let go, however, it is not because they have been caught breaking the law. It is because they cannot do their job and cannot be trained to be able to do it, at least with any realistic level of effort and learning curve time allowed.
• Or it is because they have personality or interpersonal issues with other employees or with customers or other stakeholders that can at best be considered toxic to the business, and that cannot be corrected through any reasonable effort, but that are not in and of themselves illegal. Two employees who simply cannot get along can be put on notice that they need to act civilly towards each other while at work and to stop being disruptive, or they can be separated so they work on different teams and do not have to deal with each other. But problem employees who simply cannot get along with or work with others might have to be let go for the disruption that they bring and regardless of their hands-on skills.

I wrote in my above cited posting on knowing when and how to terminate about the need to know what is really happening and why. And I also noted in that, the importance of documenting everything and particularly if an employee or manager is to be dismissed for cause. This is an important legal due diligence requirement, so a problem employee who is let go cannot turn around and sue you for unlawful dismissal as their parting gift to your business.

• Bring in legal counsel if appropriate for the specific case, and at the very least follow a consistent set of process guidelines that have been approved by legal counsel.
• Take statements from others at the business as appropriate, and document this employee’s performance as part of their formal personnel file records.
• Follow any timing or notification requirements that might be required (as for example when a problem employee is a member of a union and you need to follow union procedures agreed to in prior established business/union negotiations.
• And above all, learn what you can from this debacle so you can be less likely to have to repeat this exact same experience, at least for the exact same type of problem hire or problem workplace situation.

We live and work in an increasingly global context so we increasingly find ourselves working in a multicultural context – and with all of the potential that this brings for differences in understanding and differences in basic assumptions made. I am going to continue this series with a next posting in which I will focus on culture and how it shapes our expectations, and our basic assumptions as to what alignment and disagreement even mean let along how they are to be addressed in a workplace. Meanwhile, you can find this posting at Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and related material at Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory.

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