Periodically, we ask three HR pros how they’d handle a difficult situation at work. Today’s problem: How to deal with a VP who might be overstepping his bounds.
HR manager Stu Capper was pretty sure he knew why supervisor Breanne Doyle had asked to speak with him.
“I thought Curtis’s open-door policy was a great idea at first,” said Breanne, “but it’s quickly turning into a nightmare.”
VP Curtis Booker had an open-door policy, and he encouraged staffers to come in and chat with him if they had suggestions about or issues with the workplace.
“What’s the problem?” asked Stu.
“Every time one of my staffers has a problem with me, they run to Curtis,” said Breanne. “Then Curtis takes their side.”
“Well, maybe Curtis is just trying to help out,” suggested Stu.
“Help out?” asked Breanne. “He’s undermining my authority.
“I know every time I discipline or chew out one of my employees, I’ll be hearing about it from Curtis the next day,” she continued. “It’s no way to run an office with the VP telling me how to handle my people.”
“And how do you respond to that?” asked Stu.
“He’s the VP,” said Breanne. “When he tells you to do something, you do it.”
Later that week, two other supervisors came in to Stu’s office with the same complaint.
If you were Stu, what would you say or do next?
What your peers had to say
An HR specialist from Georgia
What she would do: I’d talk with Curtis and say, “This open-door policy is a great idea and I’m glad employees feel comfortable talking to you.
“But the next time an employee comes to you with an issue about a supervisor, you need to send the employee to HR instead of taking action yourself.”
Reason: I’m not intimidated by people’s positions or titles – they put their clothes on the same way I do – so I wouldn’t have a problem being straight with Curtis.
It’s crucial for us to show that we appreciate the policy but that something needs to change for certain situations.
A director of HR from Iowa
What he would do: First, I’d look into how Breanne handles issues with her staff and see if she needs to investigate or coach employees more before she disciplines them.
If Breanne’s doing everything well, then we need to go to Curtis. Another option is bringing Breanne and Curtis together with a facilitator and come to an understanding about accepted protocol for employee complaints.
Reason: We encourage managers to meet with employees to get staffers’ input before making a disciplinary action, and we need to make sure Breanne is doing that before we tell Curtis to stop doing what he’s doing.
An HR manager from Idaho
What Wendy would do: I’d catch up with Curtis and ask him for specific instances of times when staffers have come to him with complaints. I’d then have him explain what he did afterward and why.
Reason: We need to figure out if the supervisors have a legitimate complaint. The best way to do that: Get the VP’s side of the situation.
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