Today I am going to relate to you a tale. This is fictional tale regardless of how familiar it may feel or how much it may remind you of recent events.
We are going to look at the events that involved three men John, Arnold and Barry who all work for Trinity Tailors. John is the HR Manager. Barry lives in as poorer area and Arnold lives in a more affluent part of the country.
The company recently announced a new company wide dress policy, which stated that red must be worn on a Monday. From that announcement date all staff abided with the policy, even though HR did not translate the policy into a formal procedure that stated the WHAT and HOW of the policy
Neither Barry nor Arnold are rule followers, they both do their own thing, They dot’t think that the company is serious because they have made many past infractions that went unnoticed They thought What’s one more? They didn’t think that the company policy applied to them because they were low down on the totem pole and they never got caught
One Monday, Barry wore a blue shirt to work. When the HR Manager spotted Barry he became incensed. How dare Barry flaunt a clearly stated policy? The HR manager severely berated Barry in front of the entire company. Barry felt embarrassed since some of his colleagues laughed loudly at him and teased him long after the event. While Barry agreed that he did the wrong thing he felt that the HR Manager could have treated with him in a more humane manner.
The company was split on the issue since most people didn’t appreciative the manner in which the HR Manager treated with Barry. Some employees thought that the HR Manager acted as a bully and could have acheived the same result without demeaning Barry.
Those who agreed with the HR Manager, said that some people need to be shamed to do the right thing. What was certain was that persons both for and against the HR Manager actions agreed that shame was used as a disciplinary tool.
A month passed and the policy about wearing red on a Monday still prevailed without being translated to procedure. The staff including Barry continued to comply.
One Monday Arnold was working from home. He was hosting a Zoom call attended by a client and his work colleagues. Midway through the call, his colleagues noticed that Arnold was wearing a purple shirt. This was brought immediately to the attention of the HR Manager, the company policy was breached.
The HR Manager took the complaint, called Arnold and had a long discussion with him.
Staff waited to see what would happen next. They waited for Barry to be reprimanded yert nothing happened. Staff slowly accepted that nothing was going to happen.
By Wednesday, the rumblings started at the bottom of the organization and swelled to the top. People were disappointed, they were mad and they were uncomfortable. Why were the two same offfenses differently treated?
Debates were being held. Did Arnold break policy? Did he not wear a purple shirt on wear red Mondays? Was the HR Manager going soft or did they just witness blatant discrimination?
As the noise grew so did the mistrust for the HR Manager. Things got so bad that the Manager issued a statement that read as below
I am aware that there is growing discontent about the policy of wearing red shirts on Mondays. Please note that the CEO has not given HR specific instructions about how this translates into procedure. Further more Arnold was having a Zoom meeting at his private residence, albeit with clients and colleagues. Because of the great respect that I have for the privacy of one’s residence I could not impose the wear Red Monday policy. Please note that wording of the policy states that red must be worn on a Monday and purple is red and blue mixed. Regards The HR Manager
That statement caused even more havoc. Team members began to question the HR Manager’s credibility. They shouted that the Manager was not to be trusted since he used a technical loophole to explain why Arnold received no reprimand. Some explained that the HR Manager was correct while others claimed the Manger was a trickster. Comparisons were made about the bullying of poor Barry and the defense of Arnold. Staff noted that while the HR Manager denigrated Barry he allowed Arnold to have his dignity intact.
The debate raged on as staff took sides. They took to social media and accused the HR Manager of discrimination, unfair treatment. favoritism and having different rules for different people.
Eventually the CEO was compelled to put his voice in to the fray. His statement was short and to the point. He said, “Company policy is company policy and is to be applied the same across the organization”.
The HR Manager was not happy with the CEO’s statement. He felt exposed for he knew that with every passing minute he looked less and less credible.
Once again he went on the offence. He sent an all staff email that said that the CEO had thrown him under the bus and that he was not being supported.
The last I heard of it the CEO and the HR Manager held a meeting to trash things out.
What do you think of that story?
The main issues for me are
- Inconsistent application of policy
- Differential treatment of staff members
- Loss of trust and credibility
- Public airing of issues among senior staffers.
The dynamic between Barry, Arnold and the HR Manager play out in organizations many times. While this is a fictional tale we can learn a lot from this.
We all have unconscious bias. Our unconscious bias is at work when we prejudge persons based on our assumptions. Leaders we are asked to rise above our bias. We need to ask ourselves.
What is the evidence to support my conclusions? Whose voice am I speaking in?
Most times the voices that loudly shout our assumptions are often not our voices. Our assumptions usually reflect what we never questioned, the things that we grew up hearing or saying or the things that we learned from people whom we trust. Unless we question where these thoughts came from we may never find our own voice as leaders. Once we understand our bias we will act differently.
Companies need to think deeply about policy and the far reaching impact of these. Policy is a broad statement that needs to be translated into procedure so that all employees understand What it means and equally important How to ensure that the policy is not breached.
Whether policy or procedure, leaders need to apply these in similar fashion across the board. Policies and procedures need to be consistently applied. Breaches also need to be dealt with in the same manner.
If the HR Manager was consistent he would have reprimanded Barry and he would not have the issued that statement defending Arnold’s shirt. When leaders do not apply policies equally they suffer a loss of credibility and trust in their leadership is diminished
Employees who identified with Barry, as well as those who identified with Arnold took sides on the issue. This led to overall disharmony within the ranks of the organization. Consistent application of policy allows greater harmony amongst staff as team members believe that they are being treated the same.
The HR Manager did not understand precedent. When he publicly shamed Barry he signaled to the rest of the organization that this was how he would deal with breaches of the Wear Red Monday policy. Granted the HR Manager may have learned after deep reflection that the way that he treated Barry was less than desirable and adjusted his approach. However, his written statement indicated that he gave Arnold a full pass. His lack of action cast serious doubts on his decision-making capabilities as well as his ability to see clearly the issues on hand.
Leaders with each action and decision we set precedent and the expectation is that we will operate similarly whenever a similar situation raises its head. We need to pause and think. What is the message that I am sending with this action? Is this fundamentally different from what I did last time? How can I do it differently while ensuring that I treat the issue the same?
Leaders need to be consistent because staff are always looking and comparing. This calls for leaders to be transparent in the application of policies across the organization.
The HR Manager aired his disagreement with the CEO for all to see. How can a leader who is disrespectful to his superiors expect to be respected by his subordinates? Through his action, the HR Manager is showing persons in the organization how to treat him and how to treat other leaders. This I consider unacceptable.
The HR Manager’s behavior also aised questions about the leadership of the organization and brought the HR Manager and the CEO under scrutiny. Leaders need to provide a united front if they want to promote harmony within the organization. When leaders seem to have a united front, harmony is promoted. When leaders squabble, staff squabble.
Going forward all is not lost for the HR Manager. The HR Manager needs to get to a place of humility and seek feedback from his peers and others whom he trusts. This is one way in which he can get another perspective on his behavior and the way that he treated with both Arnold and Barry.
One the HR Manager understands how he offended persons he can then make amends for his part in the dissent. Ideally the manager should apologize to Barry but everyone knows that this will not happen.
The HR Manager needs to work with the other leaders to translate the policy into procudeure. Staff need to be informed of the proceudere and how breaches will be treated with. After this all leaders need to consistenly apply the plicy and deal with breaches in similar fashion.
Here ends my tale.
Tell me what situations have you seen at play out in your organization? How were these resolved if at all?
If you have any topics that you want discussed or any questions answered then visit my website http://www.maxineattong.com and send them to me
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