Staff Relationships

This morning I find myself at the CCMA. Not for the first time in the past few months. With another three separate cases already set down it’s not going to be the last for a while either.

I have been accused several times in my career of being ‘soft’ or easy going on my staff; and to a varying extent it’s true.

I spend far too much time giving people the benefit of the doubt and trying to back them rather than remove them. I believe a few basic things:

Everyone wants to do a good job.

Seriously, there are not many people who go out of their way to do a bad job. Everyone wants to do well and to be successful. I have to believe this or I might as well give up and go home.

Every person is by nature good.

Ok, I’ll take a shot for this, it’s clearly not true. The thing is that if you don’t believe this then you, by implication, believe that everyone is bad. The truth is obviously somewhere in the middle.

If you start with the premise that everyone is good but understand that good people do bad things then you are equipped to see bad behaviour for what it is and to deal with it constructively.

There are no bad employees, only bad leaders.

Trust me, no one in a leadership position wants to hear this. It takes away their ability to lay accountability at the feet of the little man.

Think about this. You have a computer on your desk. It regularly freezes and you lose time, work done and by implication productivity and money.

You have two choices. The first is to have it repaired. Given that it isn’t too old this would probably be your first choice. You would probably also live with the fact that you may need to get the repairman in twice. Your irritation would grow, but a few hundred rand spent in repairing far outweighs the actual cost and inconvenience in replacing it.

Staff who behave badly are no different. Try to fix the problem first and, as a final resort, replace them. Pretty simple on face value, but actually not necessarily so.

In certain instances the computer might crash to the extent that you just dispose of it as quickly as possible and live with it. The potential to lose information and commensurate risk are just too much to bear. As a leader you need to make this judgement call swiftly and decisively.

The problem is that given that all people are by nature good and want to do a good job there is a serious breakdown of logic here.

The thing is that it all comes straight back to the leader.

If someone consistently performs poor work it could be an issue of training, but more often it is one of standard setting and the creation of an enabling environment. A leadership problem.

If someone lacks the necessary skills or emotional maturity to do their job it is a leadership issue. They should not have been placed in the job.

If someone ‘acts up’ constantly or periodically then there is an underlying problem in the organisation. A leadership issue.

Obviously there are people who just accept a substandard output as sufficient or who may lie, cheat or steal. Again, this is a leadership issue.

In fact, it is the issue that brings me to the CCMA today. An employee who’s ethical compass points somewhat to the South. No loss was incurred, no reputational damage to the organisation and no damage to sales or operations.

Clearly I am not going to discuss the details of the matter other than to state that it is an employee with almost 20 years of service who made an ethical transgression in terms of financial reporting.

Some advice that I received was to point out the problem and to warn and council accordingly. Probably seems a fair response to the issue.

The problem that I have (and this caused me significant emotional pain) was that the person transgressed what I believe are all three of the basic precepts in the validation of staff.

Firstly they were prepared to obscure certain financial results in order to appear that they were doing a good job. This is a serious issue both in terms of proper practice as well as in terms of the definition of doing a good job.

If you are going to window dress to raise your stature in an organisation where will you end with this? This moral flexibility places the organisation at risk.

In terms of being a good person they also failed the litmus test. If you do the wrong thing for the right reason you did the wrong thing. Sanctimonious attitude, but one necessary to achieve excellence personally and as an organisation.

So, if you are prepared to do the wrong thing and are also not doing your job properly despite training, standard setting, coaching and significant experience then the correct leadership decision is to remove the risk from the organisation. Period.

This is all very logical and mature. What these discussions never take into account however is the emotional effect on the leader.

These decisions should never result in remorse. If they do you’ve made the wrong decision.

What they should do is to result in some sort of emotional turmoil because without it the leader is acting in a mechanically pre determined manner without any thought to the human aspects of the matter.

So, today I sit waiting for a hearing to commence that is aimed at conciliation safe in the knowledge that I have, and intend to defend, my removal of the income of a breadwinner in a family.

I have no remorse over my actions, but I bear a pain that I am fighting back lest it overwhelm my rational judgement.

CCMA 24 Aug 12 10:00