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Monday, November 23, 2009

Getting Stuck with a Problem

I am an executive director for a small company, and I report directly to the company president. The office hours for my company are 8 am to 5 pm, and every employee has to badge is and no one is required to badge out. All employees, exempt and non-exempt, enter their arrival and departure times into the company time-tracking system.

There is a director (Mr. X, we'll call him) who is a problematic performer. Among other things, he consistently arrives at the office 10-25 minutes late, and frequently much more than that. By consistent, I mean that his on-time percentage is 12% for the year to date - that means that he's arrived on time >10 days since the first working day of 2009. Traffic is not a problem - I live in the same general area as Mr. X, and I can get to work early or on time every single day under normal traffic conditions (it takes about 20 minutes).

Mr. X also frequently leaves early, particularly during the spring months, when he coaches his daughter's Little League team. On the occasions that he's stayed an hour late or worked through lunch, he's left early some other day that week and requested that he be given "comp" time for the extra hour or two that he worked (not recognizing that his late arrivals mean he's robbed the company of 1+ hours of time each week). Basically, whenever he works more than 40 hours a week, he wants additional compensation. This request is uniformly denied, but he can't seem to figure out that he's not entitled to special privileges, so he just keeps asking. I would note that there are many employees (exempt, of course) who routinely work 15 hour days, come into the office on Saturdays and Sundays and work through holidays. They don't get comp time either.

Because he's a director, in addition to a generous vacation allotment, he gets 80 hours a year of "management time" - which is intended to be used to cover portions of the work day when such an employee needs to be away from the office on personal business (taking a family member to the doctor, getting a car repaired, etc). This time is not intended to supplement vacation time. Of course, Mr. X has never applied this time to his late arrivals, and until he was threatened with termination earlier this year, he wouldn't apply it to the 30-60 mins of his frequent early departures. As of the end of June, Mr. X used up 75% of his management time allotment, because he was leaving early three times a week for 6 weeks.

Please note, I've not been tracking Mr. X's arrival time for my own "pleasure". After an incident this summer, when he "misreported" time - that is to say, lied - on his time sheet, I was asked to look at his entire on-time performance and PTO usage and provide a regular report to the President. That's how I happen to know the details of his badge in time and on-time performance - but all the other managers and directors know the guy show up late because there is a daily management call to catch up on operational and project issues that occurred overnight (we have offices in the middle and far east). The call is scheduled at a time that gives everyone who gets to work on time enough time to get a cup of coffee and go through email and open up the previous night's status reports, and is also comfortable for our overseas managers to participate (there are 8 and 14 hour time differences to deal with). Because Mr. X arrives either just as the call starts or is in progress, he has not had the chance to review any of the incoming emails and reports, so he is playing catch up, and because he's trying to read the emails while the call is on-going he's never on the same line, frequently asking everyone to backtrack, slow down or skip and come back. This slows down the progress of what is supposed to be a quick 15 minute meeting, frequently extending it by 10 minutes or more. Everyone else is prepared and is fully able to participate.

There are other issues with Mr. X's performance as well - he cannot make a decision for himself (which is my chief complaint, because he's a time sink - tying up personnel who need to do their own work). He constantly seeks confirmation of his point of view from other managers, and then he tries to create a wall of deniability in case his decision was not the correct one. He badgers mid-level staff for immediate responses to his inquiries but in turn ignores the requests of lower level staff, his peers and (in the case of my requests) his superiors. At one point, a client had started paperwork to terminate a contract because their interactions with Mr. X were such a problem. Work product that has gone to clients is often full of errors, both substantive and technical. Of course, Mr. X sees no deficiencies in his performance and has a greatly inflated view of his importance and the quality of his work product. But, at the end of the day, his work is just good enough to get by on, but only just.

So - why is this guy still here? I've never gotten a good answer on that. As I noted, he reports directly to the company president, who can't stand him - but for some reason refuses to terminate him. However, there is going to be an organizational restructuring in the very near term, and I fully expect that Mr. X will be transferred to my department - his function dovetails into areas I oversee. This will be interesting, since Mr. X has always seen me as a threat, and for some reason, doesn't understand that I am senior to him in the organization - in terms of authority, responsibility and impact. I let this slide, because - as I said, we're a small company and I've got to work with him on a daily basis, and it's not the culture of the company to pull rank.

These are my question:

1. When the transfer occurs, can I and should I do a full performance assessment with him (he would have already gotten an annual review for the prior year's work)?

2. If so, do I have to start from scratch, building up a file on his performance deficiencies only from the time he was transferred to my department, or can I use my prior observations and interactions.

3 . Regarding his abuse of time, since there is no requirement to badge out at the end of the day, can I require Mr. X to do so, in light of his habit of early departure? I should note that he parks away from the employee parking lot and does not use the employee entrance (he's the only one who does this), presumably so no one can see him enter and leave. He also refuses to shut down his computer and sign out of the company's IM program - so no one knows when he's out of the office. He is the only person who does this - when I was doing an investigation of the timesheet incident, I had to pull the server logs to see if I could ascertain departure times by when he logged off of the network.

In the past, when I've had to discuss the Mr. X problems with the company president, he (the president) has jokingly said that he'll make Mr. X report to me - and I've not-so-jokingly said that I'd fire the guy immediately.

What can I do?

Whew! I'm going to get on my soap box first and then answer your questions. It's my blog, so if I choose to do be all soap-boxish, I can.

Knock off the hour monitoring. Really. The 80 hours "management" time sounds awesome except when you realize that it's utterly ridiculous to require exempt employees to track when they take an hour off for a doctor's appointment. You should be managing your exempt employees on performance only. If they can get everything done in 25 hours a week, yippee for them. If they can do it while sitting on their living couch, wearing a bathrobe with Oprah playing in the background, then super-de-duper. Most people, of course, can't. (And if you have an exempt employee who can get it all done in 25 hours per week, dump some more work on that employee!)

You'll note that this guy has problems far beyond he's 20 minutes late to work every day. Duh. Because his problem isn't that he's late to work, his problem is that he's a terrible employee.

The problem with his late arrivals and early departures are that it affects the rest of the team. He's not prepared for the morning call. He can't be reached when he's coaching Little League. I know plenty of people who could coach Little League and have their work be completely unaffected.

And now to your specific problems.

First, I would sit down with the company president and say, "What is keeping you from firing Mr. X?"

If the answer is, "he's awfully annoying, but his work is stellar. He manages our biggest client who just loves him," well then you suck it up and understand that what you've got is a non-conventional worker. You work with Mr. X to come to an understanding of what he needs to soar and support him in that. Perhaps he gets a blackberry so he can check his e-mail in the morning while he's waiting for the school bus to pick up his daughters, which is why he's late every day.

If, more likely, the answer is, "he'll sue us!" Ask for what? Honestly. Discrimination against lazy people? He's has daughters in little league, so I'm guessing he might be over 40, which puts him in a protective class. However, even so, you can still fire someone in a protective class. You just can't fire them because they are in the protective class.

If you are afraid of lawsuits I see two options:

Option 1: Offer Mr. X a reasonable severance package. (3-6 months because he sounds fairly high level.) In exchange he signs a General Release, which means he agrees not to sue the company. You need to hire a labor & employment lawyer to help you with this. YOU CANNOT JUST WRITE UP A PIECE OF PAPER YOURSELF. Sorry, I should have used bold instead of all caps, but what is done is done.

If he doesn't sign, he's terminated anyway, but no cash. Wrongful termination lawsuits aren't usually the jackpot kind and attorneys won't take a case they don't think they can win. If your attorney feels like it's a low risk, it's a low risk.

Option 2: Get the company president to begin a termination procedure now. He sits down with Mr. X and says, "Your performance is not up to par." He then details the problems and presents Mr. X with a plan, no longer than 90 days.

This plan can include things like showing up for work on time and not leaving early, because those behaviors are contributing to problems with performance, not because I think you should be monitoring an exempt employee's hours.

Now, if your boss says he isn't firing Mr. X because "Mr. X has a family support" and "how could we be so cruel?" I'd point out that Mr. X is making a choice to behave in a way that could negatively affect his family and that there are many people out there who have the responsibility to support a family who would love Mr. X's job.

Now, if your boss won't buck up and fire the guy (or put him on the plan so that Mr. X can fix his problems), and the guy lands on your doorstep, then you begin with the performance plan. You can certainly start off with reference to his past behavior. In fact, you must start out that way.

You should sit down and go through all his expectations, what he needs to do to meet those, quantifiable plans to meet them and the clear understanding that he has a short time period to meet those or he'll be out on his ear. (You'll need the company president's support for that, so make sure he's willing to fire if Mr. X fails, because if not you'll have to come up with an alternative consequence.)

Good luck. You'll need it.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Some Advice on Quitting

Thinking of quitting or have an employee who is thinking of quitting? How you handle it can have a big impact on your future. Hop over to US New's On Careers and read about Employees should quit and how bosses should accept the news.

Monday, November 16, 2009

And what do you want me to do about this?

I am an HR manager. I have employees who come to me with complaints about their supervisors and these supervisors are also my confidants as managers on the management team I am on. Do I keep their complaints to myself or share with the manager that I think will fix the issue with no problem?

Employees whine. Managers whine. Evil HR Lady whines incessantly because she has a bad cold and cannot breathe properly. (No, it is not Swine Flu, or any flu. It is a cold, but if you want to feel sorry for me and make me dinner, please do. I really, really really dislike squash and mayonnaise. And don't tell me that the reason I don't like squash is because I've never tried YOUR recipe for squash delight, I won't like it. I will, politely accept it, thank you, and then try to force my family to eat it while declaring, "Squash is good for you!" Then we'll all have spaghetti.)

Anyway, a little digression. You need to figure out what your job is. I'll help. Your job is to help the business.

Think about that for a minute.

Your job is to help the business. You need to do what will help the business.

First, erase from your mind the idea that you are a therapist who is here to "help" people. You help people because it's good for the business. You have an EAP (I hope) to provide help with people's psyches. (Again, why? Because it's good for the business.) When someone comes to you with a complaint about their manager, feel free to say, "And what would you like me to do with that bit of information?"

Sometimes it is just venting. If it's not a real problem, fine, you're done. They've vented and feel better and you can move on to other things.

If it's a real problem, then you need to decide where the problem lies--with the complainer or the complainee. And then you need to figure out how it's best for the business to fix it. If that means going to the manager, go to the manager. If that means working the employee, work with the employee. If that means developing a company wide memo on how picking your nose and examining the finds during meetings is inappropriate, go for it.

You aren't required to keep confidences like a lawyer is. You do, however, want people to trust you so that you can help. That's why I find the "and what do you want me to do about this?" question so helpful. (Said sincerely, not snottily, of course.)

The solutions vary based on the problem. Some solutions are to coach the complainer on how to approach the complainee. Another time, it's best to pull the manager aside and tell him/her what is going on. Sometimes, you do nothing but listen. Sometimes you launch a formal investigation. Things that are illegal cannot be ignored. Things that are annoying can be.

If you truly think the manager will "fix the problem," let the complainer know, and then go ahead and tell. I don't like blindsiding people. (Now, if it's something that can be fixed without telling someone who the complainer is, you can do it that way.)

You need to be absolutely trustworthy. This is why you tell people what you are going to do with their information. You don't need to be everybody's friend. You also need to figure out what you can and cannot fix. Things that you cannot fix, you can leave alone.

Fixes do not always involve other people. Often the best fixes come from coaching the complainer to deal with their own problems.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Evil HR Lady Gets a Little Mean

I got this e-mail this morning:
Could u plz help me to writing my career development goals.

That was all it said. I copied and pasted so I didn't accidentally correct grammar or spelling. (And yes, I'm guaranteed to make grammar mistakes since I'm picking on someone else right now. 'Tis Muphry's Law.)

First of all, the answer is no. Although, if I was, the first thing I would do is say "u" and "plz" are not real words. So, your first goal should be to write out full words. Secondly, I believe you are asking a question, so it should end in a question mark. I do suspect that English is not this person's first language (and heaven knows I know how difficult it is to learn a new language), so I'll give the "to writing" a pass.

The real problem here is that I can't write someone else's career development goals. I can maybe answer a specific question about how to write one, or a few things that should be included in a development plan, but I can't do it for you.

And this is a good thing. Because you need to develop your own plan. You need to really have two development plans: One for your job that deals with your relationship to the company and another for you alone that addresses your long term goals that don't necessarily involve your current employer.

I realize few people actually do that, but think of where you'd be if you did. It's always a huge advantage to know where you want to go. So, stop trying to pass your goal setting off to some random person on the internet and figure it out yourself.

And please, leave the "text speak" for your teenagers. We like proper grammar around here.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Asking For Severance

In January I will have been with the same company for 25 years. It is privately owned and has no HR department. About five years ago I spoke with the owner about where he thought the company was going and he assured me things were fine and to 'trust' him. I know he personally is financially secure and I have no problem with that, but the $600 a year profit sharing isn't going to get me very far as a retirement fund. I was given a very good raise a few years ago and make a good salary now. But, with the company running on a skeleton crew it is stressful. There is another person at the company that is capable of doing my job that I am sure is getting paid way less than I am and does not participate in our health insurance program. I sometimes get the feeling the owner resents paying my salary along with his half of my health insurance. To tell the truth the atmosphere is very stressful.

I know this seems really odd, but I was wondering if you thought approaching the owner about letting me go with some sort of a severance package would be really out of line? I have been looking the want ads, but with the economy and the unemployment so high I really have to question whether someone would hire me (someone with a good paying job) over an unemployed person? I think the company would save money by letting me go and I do appreciate the loyalty but would like to move on.

If you see any hope in this how would you approach the owner?

First let's address the asking for severance portion. Yes, I've seen this done. I've seen people ask for severance and be given it and I've seen people told no. It is usually successful when your manager really wants you to be gone. Then you're just offering to make it simple for him to get rid of you.

I'm not sure this is the case with you. I don't think you're a bad employee, just that you are overpaid. Let's assume, for a moment, that you are overpaid. One of your big concerns is that the miniscule profit sharing program isn't helping your retirement. Well, I've got bad news for you: If you are already over paid any new job you find isn't going to come with fabulous profit sharing. You'll end up with LESS money then before and still won't have anything for retirement.

Even though you've worked here for 25 years, you can't expect them to take care of your retirement. You need to change your lifestyle to save money, regardless of profit sharing dollars.

I also suspect you're not ready to hit the job market quite yet. Why? You mention "looking through the want ads." I'm pretty sure that's an indication that you don't realize how the job market has changed in the 25 years since you last job hunted. Want ads are generally a waste of time. Online job boards are better, but still not super. (Although, for full disclosure, I will say that I got my last job through, so it does work, but it is one of many methods.) If you want a new job, you need to network.

This may be difficult because you've been in the same company for so long. It's time to start contacting former co-workers, current friends and family and let them know you are looking for a change. You need to figure out what companies you want to work for and then figure out how to get hired. Want ads are not the way to go.

The economy is terrible, so don't count on getting even a huge chunk of severance and then walking into a new job the next week. Even a large severance payout may not be enough to see you through to a new job, which may well pay less than your current one.

I realize I'm being as comforting as a bunch of frozen porcupines, but this is reality.

Unless the writing on the wall is that your boss wants you to leave, and that he's actively documenting reasons to fire you, I think you'd be foolish to ask for severance at this point. He may take you up on it, give you 6 weeks pay and send you out the door, and then what will you do?

If he has a history of giving out large severance payments, that's a different story, but I doubt he does. Most small business don't, and I doubt he's ever addressed something like this before.

Severance sounds fabulous. It's money for sitting on your behind. Yeah! Except that money eventually runs out. Plus, you'd have to pay for COBRA or get other health insurance, which will run you a lot more than what you're paying now.

Find a new job, then quit. Unless you're going to be fired. Then ask for severance. Just be direct. "Bob, I know you are unhappy with my performance. I'm willing to leave in exchange for 6 months severance. I'll sign a general release as well. Let me know what you think." And then you negotiate from there. If he wasn't planning to fire you, though, this tells him flat out that you're unhappy and may make your life worse.

Keep in mind that you're an at will employee and he's not required to give you any severance.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Too Much Information?

Is it bad to write about my difficulties finding a job in my blog,if I'm going to include the URL in Resume?

This is an excellent question. I think that if you are specifically going to include a blog URL on your resume you need to consider that blog part of your resume.

For the record, my blog is on my resume at the moment, but I'm not actively looking for a new job. I may change my mind when I am looking for a new job. Of course, any recruiter would be remiss if they didn't google my name, and if you do so, I'm usually in the top 3 hits for "Suzanne Lucas." (There is a Suzanne Lucas who does Rolfing, which sounds like Ralphing, which is a term we used to use for an unpleasant illness related event. I'm not her.)

So, included on the resume or not, my blog is part of my resume. Most likely, so is yours. I know most people think they can be anonymous on the internet. But you must assume that you are not. You must be willing to stand behind everything you write--even if it's in a chat room, Facebook, or a product review at Amazon. You represent YOU.

So, do you write about your troubles job hunting? In my never to be humble opinion (when interviewers ask me what my flaw is, I can say "pride" and point to this blog as evidence), it all depends on how you do it. If you talk about general struggles related to a bad economy, fine. If you start talking about stupid &*$&! who interviewed you and didn't realize you were the best &*$(!$#(( person for the job, then you're in big trouble.

There is a middle ground, of course. Finding it is difficult. Keep in mind that, while unlikely, any potential employer may be reading your blog. If you write, "I have a big interview with AcmeCorp tomorrow," your potential manager's ears are going to perk right up.

Before you write, think "Would I say this in a job interview?" If the answer is no, then leave it off the blog. If the answer is yes, go ahead. One other thing to keep in mind is that if you detail your troubles and you write about each one of your 15 job interviews with no offers you might lower your chances of success. People can't help but think, "Gee, 15 other companies didn't hire him. Must be something wrong."