Our Brand is Crisis … prevention and management

March 06, 2017 0 COMMENTS

Alleged communications with Russian officials, an Attorney General recusal, and claims of impermissible wiretapping. Guess you could say it’s been an active past few days in the world of U.S. politics. Heck, it’s been a flurry of activity for a while now, and more is certainly to come, starting with the revised executive order regarding immigration that was announced today. Crisis Averted

Interestingly, and perhaps appropriately, I happened to watch a movie called Our Brand is Crisis two days ago while flying home from a business trip. The 2015 movie, which is based on a 2005 documentary of the same name, is a fictionalized account of the involvement of American political campaign strategists during the 2002 Bolivian presidential election. As a form of entertainment, the movie has its flaws but does have a great performance by Sandra Bullock (and though I have heard the documentary is much better, I haven’t personally seen it yet). I won’t get into much in the way of specifics except to say that in the movie, Bullock’s campaign manager and her team decide that their “brand is crisis”namely, that their strategy is to declare and sell crisis (economic, cultural, and social) by whatever means necessary to promote their candidate.

Now, I think we can agree that selling crisis is a political maneuver that all campaigns and politicians, regardless of party affiliation, have used over the course of our nation’s history. Almost every candidate runs on a platform that he or she has the best plans to solve the voter’s problems, and this was no different with President Trump, who often cited the United States’ economic and immigration issues as reasons for a change from the Washington establishment. In today’s politically charged climate, however, selling crisis as a means to gather support or opposition is a virtual daily news cycle.

Opponents of the Trump administration claim that Trump went beyond the pale in promoting crisis and has not offered effective solutions and that the President’s allegations of impermissible wiretapping are simply a means to deflect from the administration’s issues by creating a new contention out of whole cloth. Supporters of the Trump administration claim that many in the media, and other individuals on the left, are improperly attacking the administration’s credibility and ability by stirring up unsubstantiated crisis, including claims of improper communications with Russian officials. Regardless of what side you agree with, the fact is that wherever you turn, crisis is front-page news.

What this means for employers

Obviously, from an employment and HR perspective, the approach is radically different. While politics may involve the selling of crisis to drum up support or opposition, running or managing a business necessitates procedures meant to prevent crisis, and to manage crisis effectively when it does rear its ugly head.

This doesn’t mean just from an employment perspective and the potential problems that could be raised due to employer-employee issues. This also includes nonemployment-related crisesthose that effect the business’ reputation, customer relations, and bottom line. In such cases, you not only have to recognize that such crises could eventually seep into employment-related issues and employee morale, but understand and think out of the box as to how you can use your employees in a positive manner within your organizational structure as a means to respond to this crisis, including reducing any potential negative impact. This means shifting the thinking of employees as a burden from a legal compliance point of view to understanding that employees at all levels can affirmatively be part of crisis prevention and be a visible and positive liaison to your customers and the world in diffusing the effects of a crisis that does unfold.

Regardless of the source of the crisis, effective internal communications are keys to crisis avoidance and management. Creation of appropriate policies and procedures, while of course integral, has no positive affect if the organization doesn’t carry out effective communication of those policies, appropriately follow those policies, and prepare ahead of time through scenario planning and messaging.

Be proactive and anticipatory. Provide training and test protocols. Define risk and react appropriately. Give employees the tools and means necessary to report issues so that you are aware before it escalates further. By taking these steps, you will not only limit the possibility of crisis within the workplace, but more importantly be able to manage that crisis if it comes up unexpectedly.

Top 5 HR resolutions for not getting sued in 2017

December 19, 2016 0 COMMENTS

As 2016 draws to a close, each of us will likely take time to reflect on what we hope to achieve in the coming year. In my case, this reflection usually involves resolving to be happier and more productive and reduce my carb intake. I would be remiss as an HR lawyer, however, if I did not bid 2016 adieu by leaving you with a few nuggets of wisdom to help you navigate your way through the new year. So, ladies and gentlemen, I give you my Top 5 HR resolutions for not getting sued in 2017.  2017 To do list year on white poster with pencil

Resolution #5: Train your employees and managers

It’s great to have an up-to-date employee handbook that puts your workforce on notice of your company’s policies and procedures, but training your management and non-management personnel is also essential. Managers must be trained on effective leadership and communication techniques, interviewing, reference-checking, and discipline, as well as equal employment opportunity, anti-harassment, and anti-retaliation policies. In addition, managers must be trained on how to address employee absences and inquiries under the Family and Medical Leave Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, and workers’ compensation laws. Last but not least, managers should be trained on the importance of contacting and involving HR when making decisions that could legally bind the organization.

Like managers, employees must also be trained on the company’s policies and procedures, including how to make complaints of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. Simply having your employees acknowledge receipt of the policies in the handbook is not enough.

Resolution #4: Complete accurate performance evaluations

Sometimes, an inaccurate performance evaluation is worse than not evaluating an employee’s performance at all. Employees want and need feedback on their job performance, and the evaluation process should be timely and accurate. Evaluations should be used to identify deficiencies in employee performance or conduct, and to set goals and expectations for the future. Unfortunately, in an effort to be nice or avoid conflict, many managers will inflate an employee’s performance rating, but not all employees are superstars who consistently exceed expectations.  Although it may make a manager’s life easier in the short term to just give a lackluster or struggling employee a pass on his or her evaluation, it will be extremely difficult later on to defend a decision to discipline or terminate that employee for performance-based reasons when the evaluations reflect a stellar performance record.

Resolution #3: Address work conflicts promptly

Nearly all employment law claims stem from interpersonal conflict between employees, especially conflicts (perceived or actual) between an employee and a new manager. Whatever you do, don’t turn a blind eye toward such conflicts. Failure to act often leads to discontent, lack of trust, and a lack of loyalty. To keep problems from spiraling out of control, you should identify and address employee conflicts in a timely manner and follow-up with the individuals involved to ensure that the situation has been satisfactorily resolved.

Resolution #2: Apply policies and procedures consistently

Consistent application of your organization’s employment policies and procedures provides your first and best line of defense to employment law claims. Inconsistency breeds complaints of favoritism and may also provide circumstantial evidence of discrimination or retaliation. Before you write someone up for returning late from lunch, make sure you are treating the employee the same as you would other employees under your supervision who committed the same or similar infraction.

Resolution #1: Document, document, document

Come on, you knew the number one spot was going to be reserved for documentation, didn’t you? Documentation is to HR as location is to real estate investment. It’s everything. If something happens at work (e.g., discipline, conduct issues, interpersonal conflict, leave requests) that you think could somehow become important in explaining the actions of management or to challenge the accuracy of an employee’s complaint (or yet to-be-filed EEOC charge or employment lawsuit), there needs to be documentation about it somewhere to back up your story. I don’t care if you prepare a full-length investigative summary, write a memo to the file, send an e-mail to yourself, or jot it down on a cocktail napkin and throw it in your desk drawer–JUST DOCUMENT IT.

Well, there you have it, folks. Five HR resolutions to help keep you out of the doghouse (and the courthouse) in 2017. Unlike my resolution to cut carbs, I hope you will actually keep these resolutions next year.

Happy New Year to all!