Is Corporate Watchdog part of your job description? On paper, probably not. But in practice, probably yes. Who else is going to do it? Marketing? IT? Finance? Puh—leese.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to make that part of your job easier.
Get Out and About
You won’t pick up much information sitting in your office—people don’t visit there until situations come to a head. You want to get wind of things before they get to that point. Get out and about. Become a known presence throughout your facilities.
Be a Trusted Sounding Board
You can’t always maintain confidentiality of things told to you. Be up front about that. But do be discreet when you are not legally required to divulge information. Sometimes you can help and sometimes you can’t, but you can attempt to resolve problems, and for sure you can let people know the outcome.
Employees need to trust that they can make their concerns known, identify inappropriate or potentially illegal behavior, be whistleblowers, if you will, with the following conditions:
- They can be assured of no reprisal or retaliation
- They won’t be made to feel foolish for having made a complaint
- Confidentiality will be maintained to the extent possible
- That someone will investigate and take appropriate action
- That they will get a report back
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Be Alert to Nuance
Employees will often try to soften the blow, even to the extent that you won’t understand what they mean if you aren’t sensitive to it. They might not be comfortable saying “He sexually harassed me” but they might say, “He makes me uncomfortable.”
Or maybe someone says, “That lady puts me on edge.” In itself, that might not mean much, But if four others chime in with a sarcastic “Tell me about it,” maybe you should get someone to tell you about it.
The same thinking would apply if you heard some information from four separate sources. There’s likely something to it.
But Don’t Take Everything at Face Value
While it is important to listen carefully for nuance, it’s also important not to read too much into what we hear or read. We saw that side of the coin recently with the Sherrod incident–where a high-level manager apparently had a knee-jerk reaction to something spotted on the internet, and acted against an employee without having the full context of the situation.
That particular case hasn’t gotten expensive yet (unless you call having to get the President to apologize for your behavior expensive), but this kind of action—terminating without thoroughly investigating the situation—can often become expensive in dollars, not just reputation.
It’s especially foolish to give immediate credence to things you find on the Internet.
We’re reminded of the cartoon of the hugely overweight man sitting at his computer, smoking, and typing “Yes, I’m kind of a health nut.”
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Bottom line, on line, it’s hard to tell who is supplying information and how valid the information is. So before you take employment actions based on Internet discoveries, see what you can do about verifying the information.
In tomorrow’s Advisor, three things you can do to boost your ability to identify and deal with problems, and some good news—your job descriptions are up to date and already written.