In The Workplace

A department manager went directly to our CEO to ask for forgiveness for his worker who was caught in an act of dishonesty, a grave offense. After being given due process, the worker was found to have violated company policy and a penalty of dismissal was handed down by the Human Resources and a Management Committee (Mancom) composed of other department managers. The CEO consulted the HR Head who advised him about the repercussions of a decision favoring the worker whose wife is suffering from cancer. Also, the Mancom was displeased to find that it spent much time deliberating the case only for the decision to be reversed. I am concerned that the incident will set a bad precedent. What can we do about it? — Danny Dilemma.
There was a mentally-impaired young boy seated on the floor of a supermarket who began to play with some bottles of expensive product he had taken from the shelves. The merchandiser saw him and shouted at him at the top of her voice. Then she raised her voice even further, not realizing that the boy’s elder sister was nearby.
Just then, the sister came up, put her arms around the little boy and whispered in his ear. Right away, he put the bottles back. “You see,” the sister explained, “He doesn’t understand when you talk to him like that. We only have to put love into our message to him.”
Few of us respond to being scolded, pushed, driven or harassed into submission, even if they come from a person in authority. The medium is the message. The message doesn’t matter if it is directed to a person, including those who are on the wrong side of the fence. It’s not just the message, but the delivery matters as well. Communication is more than words. Equally important is how we say those words to people.
How does this affect all concerned — from the CEO, to the members of the Mancom, HR and down to the general populace? It depends on how much or how little management practices and policies have been altered in the past. And you may have wondered how you can go on with the changes, particularly if it’s the CEO who is bent on forgiving the worker.
With more responsibility being delegated down to the line managers, the bottom line for both the present and the future should be treat every employee with respect and dignity. Therefore, to answer your question, here are the things that you can do, if and when the CEO finally decides to forgive the worker:
One, clarify with the CEO what he means by his forgiveness. Does it mean allowing the worker to simply resign as if nothing happened? Or would that mean total forgiveness and the preservation of his job? Does it matter that the worker has a spouse with a serious illness? Would that establish a bad precedent? How would you handle a similar case in the future?
Two, earn respect and continue to build it over time. Managers whose decisions are overturned by the CEO would normally fear losing their credibility. But not necessarily in this case. In fact, managers who stand their ground with the CEO will be much more respected than yes-men. There might be resentment at first, or perhaps fear, but if these managers handle themselves with dignity, being overruled by the boss means nothing.
Three, fight for the validity of the disciplinary policies. A single situation like this is not enough to render the company’s code of conduct useless. Indeed, it’s a touchy subject, but as long as the policies are not changed, you have no recourse but to follow the CEO’s decision, as he may have valid reasons to make that decision. Therefore, always contain your resentment. It’s much easier to handle the situation calmly.
Last, practice fairness, not favoritism. If there’s anything that alienates people, it’s the people managers who practice favoritism. This may be misinterpreted in the case of the manager who was probably influenced by compassion over the plight of the worker whose wife has cancer. And although he had his reasons, perception can sometimes overwhelm reality.
Nevertheless, the decision of the CEO, no matter how unjustified it is, should not deter all similarly-situated managers from pursuing similar action following the company’s rules and regulations. Just make sure that you let it be known to all concerned that it’s performance, not the popularity or unpopularity of a decision, that is being recognized.
There may still be a couple of people who will grumble about the CEO’s decision, but over time, it’s the managers who were fair to everyone will be viewed as having did their jobs.
Ultimately, it is the forgiven worker who must suffer the indignity of facing his colleagues.
ELBONOMICS: Mistakes are forgivable if one has the courage to admit it.
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