Risky Business: Why Calmer Thinking Prevails in Employee Relations
There are a few different profiles when it comes to organizational risk as it pertains to Employee Relations. You have the organizations that slap-happy risky. These are the companies that do whatever they want without regard for consequences. They expect employee claims and suits to come against them, but that doesn’t move them much. Often times, these companies have money – making it even easier for them to settle a dispute and move on somewhat unscathed.
On the other end of the spectrum, you have the risk-averse organizations who would rather die than to be sued by an employee. These companies mean well, but their approach to ER issues are equally as damaging as the slap-happy risky companies. Their penchant for going above and beyond to avoid and/or remedy claims or conflict is admirable – yet not a surefire way for eradicating the possibility of any future ER issues.
Employee claims will happen.
Try as you may, someone in your organization will make a claim on you at some point. The key is to not panic and plan your next step from a place of fear.
I am often perplexed when I see people with zero stomach for having to relay difficult messages or dealing with litigious matters in Employee Relations positions. Why would you do that to someone? Better yet, why would you do that to your organization?
There are places for the meek in every organization. I’m not sure that Employee Relations is the place where I would place really nice, but indecisive people. Conversely, it isn’t the place for bull-headed individuals either. Decisive, critical-thinking, and calm are just some of the necessary attributes that come to mind when I think of the nature of the work in Employee Relations.
Here’s an example:
Recently, I heard from someone who was finishing up an investigation regarding a manager and employee at odds. The final disposition report was written up and submitted to the general counsel at the company. Due to some of the risque findings and the level of the manager, general counsel suggested that the actual findings be kept separate from the final report. He also asked for “tweaking” of some of the wording in the final report.
This tampering with the investigation write-up was not solid advice. One of the two investigators were part of the risk-averse family and panicked. Off he went revising the language of this report from what was intended to something more “frilly” and less harsh.
It was the second investigator that questioned the revisions to the report – only to get concurrence from general counsel that it was both necessary and right to leave the report as-is. Granted the guidance from general counsel was not clear, but if something doesn’t seem right – do we not ask questions or make better suggestions?
Some may argue that it was risky to question the general counsel’s order, but the reality is the employee being affected by her manager’s behavior would file a lawsuit in a heartbeat if somehow all that she claimed is painted in a different light to suit the manager’s stature in the organization. Reacting frantically to what was asked of the investigation team without considering the potential impact to the investigation is a rookie move – not to mention that fudged findings can put you on litigious ground unnecessarily.
Calmer heads in Employee Relations will always prevail.
Managing risk and conducting investigations requires a certain temperament. You need to be able to ask the right questions that will lead you to the answers you seek. We also need to welcome collegial discourse that allows one party to respectfully question a practice that doesn’t seem right without being seen as a troublemaker.
In my experience, the power of managing risk from an employee relations standpoint is in the concerted efforts among all of the team members that touch the process.
If you are in charge of an HR department, please be sure you are putting the right people in ER positions and not just anyone who thinks they can do the job. Please and thank you!
Why Lasting Change Is Hard
Before we had any children, my wife and I lived in the heart of Dallas. One day, on our way back to our house, we were driving down Skillman Avenue when we were caught in a sudden torrential downpour.
The rain was coming down incredibly hard, which wouldn’t have been a problem if the storm drains were equipped to handle that much water. Instead, the road itself filled with water faster than we could have anticipated. Quickly, the water rose up the side of our car. Trying not to panic, we realized that we could not continue and would need to turn around and get to higher ground.
Water rising up the side of your car door is the kind of roadblock you might not expect to encounter, but when you do, it’s formidable. We couldn’t drive through it or even around it. We had to deal with it quickly or face serious consequences.
When we’re trying to implement change in our own lives, it’s important to identify and plan for common roadblocks to lasting change.
The first and, in my opinion, most important roadblock to lasting change is not addressing the real issue.
Let’s say you wake up in the middle of the night with a sore throat. You’re annoyed by feeling sick but your throat really hurts, so you get up and spray a little Chloraseptic in your mouth and drift off to sleep. When you wake up the next day, you still have a sore throat, so you pop in a cough drop and go about your day.
The change you’re making – using a numbing agent – might work if you’ve only got a cold, but if it’s strep throat, you’re not addressing the real problem. Only an antibiotic will cure what ails you, even if Chloraseptic will keep the pain at bay for a while.
Just like how more information is needed to diagnose your sore throat than one feeling, problems you encounter in your life or business require diagnostics, too. Figuring out the real problem – not just your most apparent needs – requires some introspection and a little bit of time.
Here are eight questions to ask when you need to discover the root cause, courtesy of MindTools.com:
- What do you see happening?
- What are the specific symptoms?
- What proof do you have that the problem exists?
- How long has the problem existed?
- What is the impact of the problem?
- What sequence of events leads to the problem?
- What conditions allow the problem to occur?
- What other problems surround the occurrence of the central problem?
Once you have your answers to these key questions, you can’t stop there. Your vantage point is skewed from your own perspective. You’re going to want to ask someone else to evaluate the problem at hand with the same questions and then compare your answers.
If you and all of the partners at your firm have similar answers, you’ll know you’re on the right track. If you wind up with wildly different ideas, I suggest seeking the advice of someone outside your organization. Fresh eyes can make all the difference in understanding a problem.
I often talk about being ‘too close’ to understand. You’ve probably heard the illustration about a group of people standing by an elephant with blindfolds on, trying to describe what they’re experiencing. Depending on what part of the elephant you’re next to, you’re going to have different observations.
But someone outside of that elephant’s cage can clearly identify the elephant.
The first key to making a lasting change is to make sure you’ve addressed the real problem and are looking for authentic change.
Next time, we’ll address the second major roadblock to creating last change.
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