Unprecedented, once in a lifetime, and the new normal are words and phrases surveyed Twitter users recently told Dictionary.com they never wanted to hear or read again. Why? I suspect it is because we have repeatedly used them in response to the past 5 months. We are living through events that seemed only possible in the plot of a movie or fiction novel, but few of us thought it would ever become reality. This brings me to one of my observations on human nature:
Even though we don’t want to believe it, it doesn’t mean it’s not true.
Several years ago, the regional manager of a retail client was contacted by a new employee who told him, “I am pretty sure you have employees stealing from you.” The regional manager did not trust this thinking to himself, “This is a very new employee, what can he possibly know?” dismissing the comment and questioning the employee’s end goal. As a result, the new employee quit.
The owner was looking at the daily receipts coming in from this one location. He had suspicions about employee theft and addressed his concerns with the regional manager who said he would look into it, speaking with the store manager and assistant store manager who didn’t believe there was a problem, dismissing it as slow weeks. The owner decides to install a hidden camera above the cash register and not inform the management team. A few weeks later the owner shared his findings with the regional manager that more than one employee was repeatedly stealing and clearly there was a big hole in their security processes. Of course, the employees were terminated.
At this point, we were contacted and in speaking with the regional manager, I asked if there were any clues from other employees about what was going on and the regional manager responded, “Well I had this one employee tell me that people were stealing, but I didn’t believe him because he was new.”
A few months later, the assistant manager of that same location was caught embezzling. This time, it was the owner who didn’t want to believe a long-term employee who was considered family would be capable of this. The assistant manager had been working for the company for 15+ years. The regional manager eventually convinced the owner it was true. It wasn’t until after the assistant manager was terminated that they both discovered the extent of the theft, going back many years.
See It to Believe It
In a more recent situation, the CEO of a technology firm was presented with information that a key executive was viewed as a bully by his employees and peers. There was a 70% annual turnover rate in his department and the HR Manager shared documentation on his difficulty maintaining positive workplace relationships. The CEO didn’t believe it. When presented with the fact many employees had resigned stating in their exit interviews it was due to the behavior of the key executive, she struggled with the thought of replacing someone she viewed as a high performer. We suggested she gather data with direct observation.
Fast forward a few months later, the CEO was working directly with the key executive on a high visibility client project. While initially the working relationship was positive, several instances of demeaning and rude behavior was observed in emails, in exchanges with employees and even in conference calls with the client. She realized his behavior was a problem. Meanwhile, she was dealing with the resignation of another key executive who confided in his exit interview his frustrations with her because she didn’t believe the extent of the issue. At this point, while she was ready to terminate this bully, the situation had eroded to the point that trust is broken within the management team.
When Transparency Backfires
I will share a personal story on the difficulty of believing. I am a member of an international nonprofit association with chapters all over the world and recently became a board officer of the local chapter. In reviewing the budget, I noticed that there were quite a few line items that didn’t make sense to me including a $200 monthly charge for a phone line for just one employee. This chapter has been struggling with finances for several years. When I asked about the phone line and other several other items including video conferencing access for committees, the response I received from the board president was “you are harping” and causing trouble with a warning to drop it or risk being replaced. From my perspective, I was not trying to say someone had something wrong and should be punished, but instead just to point out the need to review the budget and justify expenses. It saddened me that trying to bring some transparency to the situation was met with this response.
It can be surprising to find you are not believed, being dismissed can be frustrating and being threatened even subtly is stressful which you might be nodding your head at right now if you have ever experienced this. My intent was to help resolve the financial issues much like the new employee who wanted to stop the theft.
As HR professionals we advocate for the value in listening and investigating which is always better than saying no and burying your head in the sand. Hopefully other members of the association will consider doing this, otherwise it might become “please don’t show me the facts because it is painful to think we haven’t been managing the finances correctly.” You don’t want to think that your employees are stealing from you. Or your exec in charge of selling services isn’t following the values of your firm and is running off talented employees. Be willing to look in the mirror even if it is scary. A truth that I don’t want to be true is still true.