I use examples and metaphors a lot when conducting a training or explaining complex matters. They’re helpful illustrations of what to do or not do in any given situation. In the last ten days, my cupeth runneth over with examples of what not to do. These examples highlight poor business and human resources decisions that can take an organization to the brink. Below are just a few.
(Disclaimer: This post is about the goings-on in Washington and is more than a bit critical. But, please don’t confuse these lessons for political lessons. They are organizational lessons that every employer should learn, know, and practice.)
Inconsistent messaging creates distrust. When managers say the sky is blue and the CEO says the sky is orange, employees are confused, skeptical, and grow increasingly concerned about who is telling the truth. This is especially the case when the CEO repeats the statement or repeatedly contradicts managers. Distrust is a bedrock of low employee engagement and low productivity.
Documenting important conversations creates credibility. He said-he said (or the more common he said-she said) is frustrating to anyone conducting an investigation. We don’t know really know who is telling the truth. But, when notes of conversations exist whether in memo, email, or journal form, those notes create credibility. The mere writing down or typing out what was said close in time to the conversation means the notes show what really happened. Employment attorneys love contemporaneous notes because juries believe notes over manager testimony. They’re like silver bullets in litigation.
Poorly handled terminations can haunt you. Using CNN to terminate is a mistake, and last week, I outlined some alternative methods. The news this week illustrates exactly how a bad termination can follow an organization for a good long while, even when the organization doesn’t want it to. An executive may want to change the narrative off of a termination but those affected may still want to know more.
Competitors shouldn’t see or hear an organization’s trade secrets. If the CEO of Coca-Cola shared the secret recipe for Diet Coke with the Chief Marketing Officer of PepsiCo, at least one termination would happen even if the CEO had the “right” to do so. Trade secrets are secrets for a reason, they are the lifeblood of an organization and protect the organization and the individuals in it. When shared intentionally, inadvertently, to curry favor, or to coordinate efforts, the organization suffers.
Boards of directors need courage to get rid of executives. It is hard to cut ties with an executive. It takes courage to work against constituencies that may include the very people who put the executive in the position and/or take action when the bottom line will be affected. Nevertheless, in cases where an organization’s goals cannot be met because of the distraction the executive causes or the nefariousness (i.e. alleged criminal conduct) of the executive, directors must find the courage to do what’s best or feel the wrath of shareholders.
Organizations, employees, customers, and shareholders deserve leadership that values transparency (when appropriate), understands the organization’s goals and focuses on them, and treats employees with dignity. Simply put, individuals in and around an organization deserve better.