As an HR consultant and educator within the HR profession, I interact with several thousand HR professionals every year. And, a common problem that I hear is that supervisors and managers are…well..not supervising or managing. They’re managing project and process stuff–but they’re not handling the people and performance issues, nor are they documenting them. In HR, we know the importance of documentation. Without things being written down–it’s like it never happened, especially in the eyes of the EEOC or the DOL. Nevertheless, the challenge is getting supervisors and managers to understand the absolute importance of managing people and performance–and documenting the heck out the critical conversations and documenting consequences if performance or behavior doesn’t improve. The trouble is, many managers would rather just do the project and process stuff. Why? It’s easier to park oneself in front of a computer screen and work on a spreadsheet than to sit down with an employee and talk with her about her poor work performance. And, some managers use the excuse of being “too busy” and “being in the field” or “having to go see this customer”, etc. so they “don’t have time” to really manage employees. Wow. So, what’s the job of a manager again? Oh, right–TO MANAGE PEOPLE!!! Yikes.
So, how do we help our supervisors and managers improve their skills in managing people and performance and documentation? The first step is first closing the knowledge gap about employment laws in the U.S. and how they tie up with organizational policies. Then, providing them with specific “how to” training on how to coach a poor performer and how to document the critical conversations. For starters, many supervisors and managers have a pretty skewed perception of what their actual duties and responsibilities are in managing employees. And, most are completely clueless about the employment laws and their daily obligations in managing people according to organizational policies, which hopefully mirror all the laws. I often see in the more industrial environments such as the oil and gas sector and manufacturing that managers are very “hands off” when it comes to managing employees. Many leaders are technically very competent at their jobs–but stink at giving clear direction, delegating, managing conflict, and managing and documenting employee performance or behavioral issues. Many leaders who work for companies in these sectors have been promoted up through the ranks and have been “managing for years.” Yet, they’ve never been trained in how to lead others. And, they really don’t understand how much risk they are inviting into an organization today by not demonstrating good performance management.
There is too much focus with leaders on driving results and working toward accomplishing key metrics–but not enough focus on managing risk as it relates to managing employees. An example of this is a manager who is so focused on productivity and cost reduction that he cuts back “to the bone” and employees are frustrated that they don’t have what they need to do the job. When an employee does come forward to address the issue, the manager may then label that employee as a “troublemaker.” Over time, interactions between the two may deteriorate and the manager may then want to fire the “troublemaker” without proper documentation. Well, here’s a classic case of a manager being too much focused on bottom results (key metrics) and isn’t paying any attention at all to the potential risks. 1) the risk of losing an employee who actually gives a hoot about the company, 2) firing a good employee without documentation will more than likely generate an EEOC charge…which, could result in a variety of costs being incurred by the company.
Managers often think it’s just HR causing them grief about “documentation”, when the reality is that without it, an organization will have a devil of a time defending itself against an EEOC charge of harassment or discrimination, retaliation, etc. The employment laws are more complicated today, we’re much more culturally and generationally diverse, we have had an increase in the foreign born in the U.S. workforce of more than 115% since 1990–and more employees are asserting their rights under Title VII and other anti-discrimination laws. So, when a manager is dealing with a poor-performing employee or one who has a behavioral problem (often referred to as “having an attitude”), without good documentation, the situation could easily escalate into an EEOC charge or potentially even costly litigation. Why? Because when an employee goes to speak with an EEOC intake officer, the employee will state the complaint as the following: “My manager is a racist…”, “My manager doesn’t like me because I’m Hispanic, Asian, Black, over 40, Pregnant”…(just fill in the blank of the protected characteristic.) Without clear communication and documentation of performance gaps and behavioral problems, it leaves the intake officer to go, “Hmmmm…” and immediately begin thinking that there must be a discriminatory issue at the root. So, an investigation gets opened and the organization must now respond to an EEOC charge.
So, here are my tips for how to get your managers to start documenting people and performance problems:
1. Conduct some lunch & learn sessions or 30-minute “table top learning” activities, such as adding 30 minutes onto a routine staff meeting, and get clarity around roles and responsibilities. Get clear with your management team about what they own–and what HR owns. Be specific that their job is not just to manage project and process stuff in the business–but also the people and performance management issues. They need to know that their job includes managing conflict with employees and not letting performance or behavior issues “go” to the point that HR must get involved.
2. During table-top learning sessions, you can take your management team through the various organizational policies and explain how these policies align with the law. Here is a bit of verbiage to illustrate this: “Our anti-harassment discrimination policy is in place because we are an employer with greater than 15 employees and we must be compliant with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which protects people from discrimination based on race, color, gender, religion, and national origin.” So, when they make snide remarks about HR forcing them to be “politically correct”, you need to help them understand that you’re not there to be the “PC Police” but to manage organizational risk. If leaders engage their mouths before their brains and say things that are inappropriate or offensive, they themselves can create a hostile environment in which HR must then investigate. And, if they are not addressing issues with employees such as inappropriate behavior that could be in violation of the law, the leaders are essentially not enforcing policies that minimize risk to the business. Leaders need to “get” that under Title VII, employers in the U.S. have an obligation to bring a halt to any discriminating or harassing behavior and must take an appropriate remedy to keep it from happening again. If not, then the organization sets itself up for an EEOC charge and exposure to unnecessary risk of monetary penalties or costly litigation.
3. After a series of some great table-top learning activities about policies, then it’s time to educate the leaders on exactly how to document specific performance issues and behavioral issues. Every organization should have a set of templates for leaders to use vs. having to “wing it” when doing a write up. I don’t like using that term “write up” as it sounds so very punitive; however, most HR professionals reading this will get my meaning here. Provide examples of well-written documentation for coaching sessions, then a few first written warning letters that address some performance issues, and then provide some samples of how to address behavioral issues.
4. Provide some samples of termination letters. Additionally, explain to your leaders how to handle a termination. So many leaders really don’t understand that termination is the final step in the process–not the first one in managing employee performance. They need to get that their role is to help save the poor performer or the employee with the behavioral issue. Not just move to “I want to fire him right now!” Managers need to understand that they must be documenting along the way BEFORE they get to the termination table. A good paper trail significantly minimizes the risk that an employee will raise allegations of discrimination or retaliation.
Until next time…
President & CEO
Results Performance Consulting, Inc.