Air Raid! This Is No Drill! Part Deux

Ring, ring! HR Person: “Hello, HR/Staffing, can I help you?” Employee: “Yeah, I’m a disgruntled and agitated employee with a baseless complaint. I was wondering if you were free this morning for me to come down to your office and become spontaneously unrealistic, emotional and abusive?” HR Person: “Well, let me see… this morning is really tight ? I have a harangue at 10:00 a.m. with obvious origins and a pretty much pro-forma solution matrix, then a screaming match at 10:30 a.m. caused by undue emphasis on as yet realized potential during the offer process of a new employee. I also have a ritualistic verbal ‘boiling in oil’ over a few issues I was ill-advised to become involved with that I will resolve with a “relationship building session.” Then later I have a spontaneous intervention that I am totally unaware of but which nonetheless represents a lot of my cycles.” Employee: “Oh, I understand and I really apologize for the short notice on my part.” HR Person: “Oh, think nothing of it, that’s what we are here for: for you. (Textbook Response #17 in Scheduling Conflict Resolution: Always state the importance of the caller, to be followed up with a statement of appreciation.) I further appreciate your trying to consider my schedule when planning your fits and tantrums. Let’s not give up hope…ah, here we go, I am free at 1:15 today, for 45 minutes, does that work?” Employee: “Well, I was hoping to have my fit before noon so I could go out for lunch with sympathetic and transparently self-serving coworkers and peers seeking to wreak revenge on the company and living vicariously through the sufferings of others. Once back from lunch, I was planning on sulking and complaining about your inept efforts to resolve my situation due to your failure to truly uncover the base cause of my frustration.” HR Person: “I see, certainly, I understand. Well, how does this work? Come by at 11:40. You can storm out after 15 minutes, vent at lunch, then return at 1:00 and really let me have it. By then you’ll be full of even more “snappy insults” provided by your peers at lunch, and then you can enjoy your triumphant return to your workspace with even more tales to tell, real and imagined.” Employee: “Are you sure? I really appreciate your balancing your day to fit this in, I don’t want to be a burden.” HR Person: “No, my pleasure, glad to assist. See you at 11:45 then.” Employee: “Absolutely. (You useless party-planning corporate hack!)” HR Person: “No problem. (You overpaid, underachieving hiring error!)” Wouldn’t it be nice if our managers, employees, candidates, recruiters and vendors always called first, gave us at least 60 minutes warning before pending issues, and a clear and focused synopsis of their problem and an acceptable solution profile? (Sigh, or maybe even offer us the occasional cookie and glass of milk… Hey, when you dream, go wild!) Well too bad, as we discussed in the first installment of this series, we dwell in “Reality Ville” and it just does not happen that way. In the first article I posed a crisis situation with a time limit you should allow yourself to solve the problem. I want to thank those who accepted the challenge and sent their solutions directly to me. I have not yet been able to respond to all of them, but here are some excerpts from those that did come in:

  • Larry Childs: “First, I would let my recruiter know that I would be with him in five minutes…then politely slam the phone down (kidding), and turn my attention to Attila the Manager, ask her for a four-minute explanation of the situation at hand, and see what the ‘real’ issue with my recruiter could be.” (I like Larry’s sense of humor in a crisis, it’s a good thing to have.)
  • Rave Srya: “To the VP, apologize for attending to the phone, but let her know that you just got back from a meeting. Now, have her calm down by asking her to explain the situation ? in her words, directly to you.” (This was second step after getting the overanxious recruiter off phone.)
  • Joel Rosenburg: “The key to it all is refusing to be stampeded, and to be the calm rock in the storm.” (The crux of the matter, clearly and simply defined.)

These and others, for the most part, hit on the critical element of the “drill,” gaining control of the situation through direct and immediate action. With the absence of information on hand, there was not all that much you could do, yet, to resolve the situation. Here is the school solution (a la SMEAC): Situation I have an outraged Senior Manager who in one hour has gone from “everyday manager” to manic. She is sufficiently agitated to be insisting on the termination of one of my staff, followed by a further threat to go over my head this instant if I do not take action. I have an employee on the phone begging to see me and reminding me of my responsibility as their manager. So, I have one staring me in the face, the other waiting for my response on an open phone line. Nobody has of yet informed me what is the root cause of the problem. Mission First and foremost, for the last two minutes these two individuals have placed me on the defensive in a constant “reactive” and not a “pro-active” mode, my first mission is to put and end to that and a plan to get me the data I need to develop a detailed understanding of the situation and initiate my first step in the solution I will put in place, directly or indirectly. Further, I need data from both sides quickly to insure that whatever “fire” they are so agitated about is not in fact “burning” somewhere in the building while these two are vying for my attention. (Remember, during problem resolution, don’t forget the “unseen consequences.” Think past what is in front of you and try to discover the “where” and “when” of the issue to ensure another issue is not en-route to you at this very minute.) Execution First, to Senior Manager: “I have my recruiter on the phone, please give me one minute.” Second, to my Recruiter: “I will call you into my office for a meeting in 20 minutes. I have no idea what is going on, but when we meet, I will still only have half the data I need to make that determination. So relax.” Third, to Senior Manager: “I need to know what is going on here. I will make determinations after that. I would expect no less from you if I had an issue with one of your staff and we both know the VP would treat us the same way if the situation were suddenly dumped in his lap with no information or warning. I will meet with you now, then my recruiter. I will take another more detailed meeting with you after that and discuss my view based on both of your inputs. We will discuss the next best step to take, together. If there are others I might need to speak with, I would appreciate your efforts to get me their names as soon as possible. So, what is going on…” Fourth, to my recruiter, 20 minutes later: “I have heard one side of the story, I am not going to discuss the Manager’s input until I have heard yours, so let’s save time and hear what is going on…” Fifth, after due consideration of the data both have presented, and conducting follow-up with any others employees or individuals involved contact both as quickly as possible and advise of my next course of action. Administration and Logistics Based on the information I have just heard, I may be required to contact the Corporate HR Representative or my own boss for their level of involvement based on my own common sense or corporate policy. There is a chance I may also need the support of the Corporate Counsel, EEO/AA Action Officer or others in roles within the company designated to insure the company is not placed in legal jeopardy due to the actions of it’s employees. Communication I have already committed to both individuals the time frame for my getting back to them, in addition, I should assign my own “internal schedule” to insure I follow up on all required steps quickly and in a timely matter. The behavior of the senior manager makes it clear that I will not be given a lot of “margin for error” for failing to follow-up. Questions When the dust settles on the immediate issue, I will want to look into:

  1. The fact I was not aware of any issues in this group between the manager and the recruiter, yet, the level and speed of this crisis indicates that there has been a history of at the very least, a mutual lack of respect.
  2. Do I need a crisis procedure so when managers need me “yesterday”, there is a way for them to have me “tracked down.” But, just like a 911 call, there have to be consequences for misuse or abuse of the privilege.
  3. Should I use this issue to have a top down review of my staff and their relations with their current clients managers. If I am unaware of one bad relationship, maybe there are more?
  4. Find the issues that I can relate to my failure in my role, before I go off and develop an understanding of everybody else’s mistakes.

This was not a tough exercise. The only real mistake would be to “stall” the two persons involved while seeking advice and guidance from higher authority. But it gives you an idea as to how, as a manager, you could bring something new to your staff meetings that may not only train, but also energize your meetings and make them more enjoyable for your team members. But remember:

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  • The purpose of the exercise is to encourage fast and creative thinking.
  • There is no value is interrupting and making light of an honest effort.
  • Make “recommendations” at the end of the exercise.
  • Make comments as general remarks, not focused directly at one person.
  • Meet with staff after the meeting to discuss concerns you have developed about their ability to cope with a crisis one-on-one. If it is said in front of the whole team, keep it general. Save specific concerns for specific recruiters after the meeting.
  • Require everyone contribute and everyone make a public presentation of his or her solution. Be demanding if they are trying to “cute” or “kid” their way through it. Many introverts in HR/Staffing are allowed to “hide their way” through their career until a crisis for which they are unprepared arises. Confidence is a function of training and repetition.

Now, the Final Chapter In your meeting with the manager you are told that the recruiter has been routinely assisting her employees post, unofficially, for positions within the other groups of the division and thereby creating greater turnover and making her look bad. Today, she met with an employee who was formally requesting “permission” to post to another job with an offer and transfer date already determined. (Flash Point) The manager feels that this has undermined her with her employees, has made her feel alienated from her peers who have also been participating. Further, she suspects this was deliberate attempt to create a “hostile work environment” for her due to the fact she is the only “female” manger in the division. In your meeting with your recruiter he discloses that he was concerned that a lot of good people would leave the company, due to dissatisfaction with the manager. The current posting policy requires prior approval of your current manager before posting, and many employees feared retribution for being “disloyal” if they posted and did not get a job outside the group. He felt he was preventing all his hard work recruiting for the company from coming to nothing due to an unpopular and demanding manager. He feels that the only alternative was to lose the people to other companies and he felt his loyalty to the company superceded his loyalty to one division. He feels that in all fairness, he had mentioned to you his concern about a growing moral problem within the group due to this manager and was unaware of any action on your part to investigate the situation. He did not come to you formally about “assisting” internal postings to protect you from getting in the middle. He hopes that his loyalty, even if misguided, will not be ignored. He is further amazed that nobody else in the company was aware of the morale issue since any employee he complained to, joined right in with him. Now What, HR/Staffing Professional? There will not be a published Part III to this exercise. Work out the problem with your peers or friends. There is no “school solution” that will always be 100% correct with no potential “fallout.” After all, solutions are in essence compromises and a compromise is really nothing more than situations were nobody gets what they really wanted. But keep the following in mind in developing your next solution:

  • The manager has disclosed that your recruiter was supporting an effort outside of policy that was hurting the operation of the business unit he supported.
  • The manager in question may have solid grounds to file a sexual harassment/hostile work environment complaint.
  • In effect, as an officer of the company, you have been made aware of an employees concern to that effect and may have to react, legally.
  • Your recruiter claims that he did make you aware of a morale issue and it’s cause.
  • Your recruiter attempts to make a logical case that as a recruiter; he held his first loyalty for the company and feels he was instrumental in saving hard to replace human assets by providing them with an alternative to staying within the team but not lost to the division. But is it a good case corporate level? Is this a good argument, or an emotional excuse?

Good luck and remember, most situations suffer a greater risk of escalation due to inaction rather than wrong action. Most errors can be corrected, but inaction represents a lost opportunity. How do you correct “nothing?” At Pearl Harbor, junior and intermediate managers were getting “input” that in retrospect clearly indicated a pending attack. It would be unfair to blame those managers for not realizing that Pearl Harbor was about to be attacked by the Imperial Navy. But the indicators should have been sufficient to indicate a level of response other than “kicking the decision upstairs.” There is not always going to be an alarm going off to warn you of a pending crisis and the need to respond to the question, “Now what HR/Staffing professional?” There is the old story of a man who fell into a vat of molasses. He started yelling “Fire! Fire! Fire!” His fellow workers called for help and came to his aid. As the ambulance rushed him to the hospital an EMT asked, “Why did you yell fire?” He responded, “Who would come if I yelled molasses?” Action is always better than no action in an immediate crisis. Don’t worry there is always time to find fault later. Have a great day recruiting!

Ken Gaffey ( is currently an employee of CPS Personal Services ( and has been involved in the Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration project since its inception. Prior to this National Security project Ken was an independent human resources and staffing consultant with an extensive career of diversified human resources and staffing experience in the high-tech, financial services, manufacturing, and pharmaceutical industries. His past clients include Hewlett Packard, First Data Corporation, Fidelity Investments, Fleet Bank, Rational Software, Ericsson, Astra Pharmaceutical, G&D Engineering, and other national and international industry leaders. In addition to contributing articles and book reviews to publications like ERE,, AIRS, HR Today, and the International Recruiters Newsletter, Ken is a speaker at national and international conferences, training seminars, and other staffing industry events. Ken is a Boston native and has lived in the greater Boston area most of his life. Ken attended the University of South Carolina and was an officer in the United States Marine Corps.


3 Comments on “Air Raid! This Is No Drill! Part Deux

  1. The problem that Ken gave to work on actually happened to me last year when I was a VP of Recruiting for a mid sized ISP. Fortunately, the only missing part was that the female manager didn’t feel there was any gender discrimination.

    After the initial crisis was averted, I explained to the recruiter that when he approached the gray areas of corporate guide lines that its a good idea to consider all of his options before making a decision on which path to take. He had actually helped three of this manager’s team members escape to other divisions before the manager realized who was assisting her “disgruntled” employees.

    We discussed the possibility that he could have sat down with the manager in question and discussed her career ‘wish list”, potentially discovering that she wasn’t the “devil incarnate” but just in the wrong job. This is exactly what we did later, and she became an extremely valuable and effective employee in her new role.

    In fact, this led to a complete assessment of our technical management team, conducted by my staff, where the implemented changes dramatically improved the focus and performance of the company as a whole. Sometimes a crisis handled as Ken has suggested, can lead to positive results.

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