If you’ve seen The Shining you certainly remember the scene when Jack Nicholson’s character, now thoroughly possessed by the Overlook Hotel’s diabolical spirits, hefts an axe and chases his wife through the snowbound resort. Cornering her in a bathroom, he splinters the door and bellows, “Heeere’s Johnny!”
Scary stuff, for sure. For me, though, I can’t bear to watch their young son–affectionately, “Doc”–tooling around the sprawling hotel on his big-wheel tricycle. Stanley Kubrick’s cinematography in that scene is perfect: The orange glow in the hallways signals danger worse than you would find in a dark, dank, cobwebbed mausoleum. Eventually, Doc turns a corner to find two spectral little girls, which cost me much more sleep than the sight of Jack Nicholson with an axe.
So, what does this have to do with HR? Well, if you don’t have a solid grasp on your organization’s personnel records, it may have a lot to do with you. Imagine you’re Doc, tooling around the halls in your own business. You think your personnel files are stuffed to the gills with all the solid, relevant documentation you need to record your employees’ work histories and defend against any employment suits. But are they really? Over my career, I’ve found any organization is liable to have spooks and haunts wandering the premises–and if you ever happen to find them, they can scare you to death.
One that I often see are what I call “supervisor files.” Rather than send everything on their subordinates to HR, supervisors may keep their own files bulging with copies shared with HR, notes that never found their way to HR, leave authorizations that were never accounted for, and countless other jottings, scraps, and bric-a-brac that no one ever knew about. I’ve even found performance reviews that HR never saw and applicant flow logs. Only rarely have I been pleased with the contents of these satellite files, and the discrepancies between these files and the official personnel file always make your work more difficult.
The lesson here is to get control over your personnel records. Make sure that managers understand that each and every–and I mean each and every–employment document makes it to HR for inclusion in the personnel file. For instance, if managers are granting leave and don’t inform you, how can you trust your leave accrual data? If they don’t send you commendations or reprimands, how can you possibly give solid advice on disciplinary issues? Even worse, how is the organization going to manage its people well if HR is cut out of the process?
So do some management by walking around. Talk to the folks in your various departments. Do they keep separate files like this? If so, put a stop to it and get these things where they belong. Are they issuing reprimands without your input? If so, make sure they are trained or bringing your contributions to bear in these situations.
Most of all, though, don’t be Doc. Don’t ride around unaware of the horrors hiding just around the corner. Find them, and get control of them.
Now, I guess everything turned out, well … OK for Doc and his mother. But they had to lure a possessed man into a hedgerow labyrinth during a brutal Rocky Mountain winter and leave him frozen like an icicle just to survive his attack. Come to think of it, that’s not an unreasonable metaphor for litigation.
And no one enjoys that.