HR Allegations

Dear Management Doctor:

Thank you so much for your enlightening seminar. I have an interesting situation that actually unfolded this morning. Do you have any advice on what to do when an employee makes allegations to the HR director without me having any idea that there were any personnel issues occurring? This same situation with the same person happened about three months ago and now it is happening again. I am very interested in your bloodless termination tactics. The HR director told me that this employee may attempt to file a harassment suit. I am a new manager but in all honesty, I'm just beside myself.

In a few minutes, I'm going to go look for your books and look through your website. Thanks again in advance for all the helpful information.

-Beside Myself

Dear Beside Myself,

Thank you for attending my seminar, reading my books, and looking at our website search engine. Unfortunately, I have not addressed your issue in the past. It is an interesting issue so thanks for asking.

Based on the information you sent me, I have the following thoughts:

  1. New Manager
    Congratulations on being a new manager and welcome to the group. This won't be the last time in your career that you face these kind of HR issues so relax a bit, it comes with the territory.
  2. Communication
    It appears that there have been some major communication issues between you and this employee. Try to figure out what you could do to close the gap. I'd also keep good notes on your conversations with the employee and, as appropriate, follow up with formal memos or summary of meetings and agreements. The superior person (you) in communication always needs to close the loop.
  3. Process
    Ideally the employee should discuss their concerns with you prior to going to HR. They evidently didn't feel that you would listen to their concerns or felt they already tried with no results. HR departments should be experts in handling these kinds of issues, but often are not. Ask HR to be specific in how they work. Hopefully they would advise the employee to start by talking with you. Even though I tend to be negative about typical HR departments, they can be useful to you in this situation. It appears that things may have progressed beyond something that you and the employee can work out on your own. Thus, having a third party in the room for any discussions would be useful.
  4. Issues
    It is hard to be specific without knowing the specifics of the so called harassment issues. I could speculate that the employee is not performing to your standards and then reads your working on this issue as harassment. This is where my "bloodless termination" approach may be helpful. For our emailers that are not familiar with this concept, it goes like this:

    It is a three step process and ideally you take all three steps at the same time.

    • Step 1 is to agree on the problem. This is likely the toughest step and may take some time. In your case, it will also likely take a third party or facilitator to help arrive at agreement. HR could possibly serve in this capacity.
    • Step 2 is to agree on the solution to the problem.
    • Step 3 is to agree on the consequences of not meeting the solution or a corrective program. If the problem is not solved, the solution could be termination, a demotion, or progressive discipline.

    All three steps should be documented in writing and signed by both parties.

Try these ideas and then tell me how they worked and share the results.

The Management Doctor

Reader Responses

My first boss always said to surround yourself with staff smarter than you, it turns you into a good manager letting them do what they do best. His advice led to a style of management encouraging staff to push the envelope. Many times we get so comfortable with what we're doing ("it's the way we've always done it"), the world passes us by. A good manager opens doors to staff. The path to a great staff is to tell them when they take initiative and there's success, they will get the credit. When taking the initiative results in a failure, the manager takes the responsibility. This buffer quickly separates staff from those with a passion for their jobs from those who just come to work. You can't be an effective planner without passion.

Of course, sometimes that "failure" has consequences - but the corrective assessment should always be made in private with the planner by understanding the reasons for the action, the anticipated results, a joint assessment of where it went wrong, and corrective (or if needed, disciplinary) measures.

Eric Jay Toll

The difference between being a good manager and a less than good manager may be the leadership ability of the manager. Not all managers are leaders. It is incumbent upon the manager, the manager's manager and HR to ensure that anyone placed into a management role learn leadership skills. Learning and implementing leadership skills can make a big difference in one's management style and capability. Maybe you've said this before!

My two cents worth.


Gregory L. Scoville, AICP
DeFuniak Springs, Florida

Thank you so, so very much for answering “The Other Side” in your Management Doctor email. It is unspeakably frustrating to be under a manager who refuses to manage. While there aren’t any good options for those of us in that situation (since you can’t fire your boss), it is refreshing to see an admittance that employees aren’t always the problem. When I attended your Complete Management Course for Planning Directors, I was appalled at the number of managers in attendance who stated that their titles made them more intelligent, more logical, and all-around “better” than their subordinates. If only all managers were willing to listen to and learn from their employees as “The Other Side” had been, we could get some great work done!

Thank you again for addressing a common issue that, sadly, doesn’t have any real solution.

In response to your answer to “Beside Myself,” I am on the opposite end right now with a new manager.

My past experience includes being a manager (senior planner/division lead/planning manager/whatever title goes with supervising eight people and a division). Several years ago a physical problem led me to leave that job. I eventually landed in this city working in a low level until I could get my skills and my confidence back. When the planning manager left, I supported the associate planner to become the manager because I thought we agreed on so much and I could complete my healing process so I could advance to where I could manage again.

I was wrong.

Efforts at communication are labored. I know I used to be able to communicate clearly with nearly everyone, but with this manager, I think one of us speaks Martian.

Just because a person has a title of manager doesn’t always make that person the better communicator, the most knowledgeable; the most anything. The people I supervised all had expertise in something that I did not. And I wasn’t always correct in my logic, but my decisions stood; stupid or not. But I always listened to the opposing side and considered whether my decision should be changed, amended, or altered somehow to achieve the long-term division goals we all set for ourselves.

At this location, I tried to not go to HR but after many months of being confused and demeaned, I couldn’t help it. It didn’t help me much, but the manager – and I – got communication training. She’s better now, but it’s unfortunately all focused on me and my “deficits” that the neuro-guy doesn’t really think I have as severely as the manager needs to portray it in order to admit a problem exists or to change a modicum of her behavior.

So, please, don’t go blaming the “problem employee” without first looking at the manager’s skills and abilities. The desire to fire seems a bit of a reaction rather than a response.

The Other Side

Dear The Other Side,

Thanks for your comments. Your point is well taken. In fact, in my management consulting, I find that it is often the manager rather than the employee that is the problem. When I teach my management class, I do 30 minute counseling sessions. A high percent of these involve employees who can’t stand their managers.

National studies show that the main reason employees leave and move on is that they can’t stand their manager or the organization. Your HR’s attempt to solve the communication problem is great but in my experience is seldom effective. Unless the manager truly wants to change, the odds of change are slim. You can see that this is the reverse of what I was saying about the “bloodless termination.” If the manager and subordinate do not agree on the problem, change is unlikely. In your example the manager does not appear to agree since she simply sees it as your problem.

The real question is what to do. While bringing in a third party sometimes works, it often does not. In many cases it makes the matter worse and the manager holds the employee's attempt to resolve the issue against them. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to resolve issues with a boss. Once in my career I took a leave of absence and ran against the Chairman of my Board of Supervisors who was a real problem. When I lost the election and got fired, by friends reminded me that – when you shoot at the king you had better hit!

Unless you are ready to move on, I suggest you be as supportive of the boss as possible. Look for whatever you can find that is positive. Look at the boss’ personality and try to relate to that type of personality. Try to find whatever positive you can. And, hope that the person’s bad features will eventually be recognized by others and will be dealt with.

The Management Doctor

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