Thursday, December 30, 2010

Bonus Blog: Help! I hate my job!

As noted in earlier posts, I occasionally get private messages from folks with questions. The writer wished to remain anonymous:

I am having problems with work. How do I stop my boss from acting one way and expecting something else? Should I even try? How do you know when to get out?

First step: Do nothing.

Yes, take all the stuff that is making you crazy and do absolutely nothing. Acting when crazy = bad (whether you're a manager or driving a car). Suck it up, get to a place where you can think clearly (or, with the car example, pull over), and then mull your options.

In a bad situation at work, whether it's with a bad boss or a haunting in the office, the following are your available choices:

1) Do nothing. If the economy is full of suck and/or your options for employment are limited, sometimes continuing to suck it up is your best option, and you can review your choices later. Alternately, you might look at your choices and realize sucking it up is the least bad alternative.

This is not me advocating you stay in a job where you are unhappy; this is me saying you are the only person who knows what works for you, and its perfectly ok not to make any change at all if it works out that way in your personal calculations.

2) Take action in the workplace. This can start with talking to the offender causing the problem for you. Traditionally if you're going to do that, you need to be non-confrontational, come with problems and solutions, and do your best to put both of you on the same side in the conversation, so it's in the best interest of the person causing you misery to stop causing you misery. This is sometimes impossible, but typically you won't know if it's even an available option unless you try. In the case of your boss saying one thing and meaning another, talking to him/her is likely to reveal that this is not the only part of their lives where they are having this problem, and a particularly open-minded person can help you with solutions that work in other parts of their lives.

Non-opened minded individuals may respond with "What the hell are you talking about, I'm totally not like that," or "How dare you?" or "What? This is the first I've heard of this." Any of the defensive responses should be talked through, up to the moment you worry you may be pissing them off. Then back off, and contemplate other options.

"Take actions in the workplace" is way more than one step; if its more than one person, you need to talk to them all. If it's a ghost moving stuff around your desk and whispering "Get Out" in your ear, you need to talk to HR about working from home. All action taken to change the status quo will cause some kind of waves. Typically, however, it is totally worth trying to fix the situation; you deserve to work in as a comfortable environment as you can make it. It makes you more productive and happier.

In the case of a boss who gives mixed messages, btw, "take action" should span to include new behaviors to protect against the trap of mixed messages. With bosses I have had in the past, I typically wrote down everything we talked about and sent it as an email to them with the message "This is what I got out of our last convo, if this is not what you meant, please respond ASAP and let me know, otherwise this is what I'll assume." Most bosses don't LIKE this, but will understand and accept it. Bosses that give mixed messages and specifically tell you not to document what they told you and email them about it generally raise a red flag in a good, productive working environment. In that case, I'd keep my own running notes of each meeting (date and rough time) and try to have witnesses present whenever deliverables are discussed. It's not a fun way to work and live, but it can be done.

Finally, after you've talked to the perpetrator(s) and modified your behavior to reduce the issue, sometimes the only remaining option is escalation. This is the most dangerous part of breaking the status quo, as going over the head of your boss can sometimes get your head cut off in an organization. Best to dot all T's and cross all I's in terms of trying other things, so that management doesn't see this as a standard behavior and more as a behavior of last resort; never escalate above your boss without doing everything in your power to get what you need at his level or below. Upper management remembers people who go around the chain of command, and they frequently do not like people who do it--they assume that makes you hard (if not impossible) to manage.

My suggestion is, before escalating, visit your local Human Resources rep and talk over what's happening and what you've tried. The HR person is interested in making sure neither you nor your boss sue the company (as that person's primary goal) and therefore is likely to provide a lot of good data on communicating with your boss before escalating any further. He/she may have additional things to try. If they don't (or, if they do and you've tried them and they didn't work), this person can help you follow the appropriate process to escalate above your boss. While you could go over your boss's head rather easily without involving HR, its better to involve them to prove that whole crossing T's, dotting I's thing.

As a note when talking to HR: HR's primary goal is to protect the company. They can be kind. They can be nice. They can be helpful and friendly and awesome. Some folks reading this may well be in Human Resources. However, their primary purpose is to prevent HR incidents and to avoid financial or other liability to the company. That comes before all other things that an HR person is. It's like asking a police officer to stop being a watchdog for the law. He/she may be off-duty, but they can't watch you commit a small crime and let it go. It's their JOB to enforce the law (or in the case of the HR person, the company rules).

Escalation above your boss is never going to end well. I have no happier way to write that last sentence. Asking someone above your boss to help with your boss's behavior will be seen as a slight by your boss. It's like you automatically added a negative item to their yearly review. Do it if you are getting low on choices--eg: you're going to quit if things don't change. It takes a lot to restore trust/balance in a relationship after this type of escalation.

Likewise, escalating issues with your boss only works (in my experience) about one time in every three, assuming that you have logic, data, etc. on your side. It's hard for your boss's boss to agree to alter the behavior of your boss without setting a bad precedent for everyone else below your boss. One in three times upper management is typically willing to take that chance for various reason--the infraction is so severe, the boss's boss doesn't like your boss, the problem is a hot button for upper management, and a few very special other exceptions. Otherwise, 2 out of 3 times you've pissed off the person who writes your yearly review and calculates your bonus and raises and you get nothing from it. So think very carefully.

3) Finally, you have an option to change venue. This doesn't mean that you quit your job. You could find another position within the company. You could talk to your boss about a move to another manager (or build up political good will with another manager to ask you over to his/her team).

You always have the option to "walk" when you're upset in your position. I recommend thinking carefully before doing it, however. You rarely want to burn bridges behind you--the employer you leave today is the person called by another HR department tomorrow to ask about your employment. Legally they cannot say anything hurtful or bad about you (or they could be sued), but legally they aren't prohibited from saying things like "Yes, she was scheduled for termination when she quit."

If you look at your choices, try everything available, and still hate where you work, leaving is a good option. I typically look at it in the happy/sad test way: If I am sad more than half the time because of work or at work, then I need to find a new place to work. If I'm happy more than half the time because of work or at work, I'm right where I need to be (for now). Simplistic, yes, but happy/sad taps a wealth of subconscious information.

So, you have decided you're leaving. Things to consider: the state of your finances, any big events upcoming (at work or at home), and the state of the job market. In a bad economy with good finances you could quit without having any additional work lined up, but that's a medium risk proposition. Leaving your friends in the lurch during a massive project when the market is good and your finances are not might make you interested in hanging out a bit longer. A baby on the way can also complicate when you want to leave--do you need the insurance (answer is typically yes), and if so, how will you pay for things insurance pays for if you leave?

If you are pissed off or angry, go do something else before contemplating your leaving time frame. While you might not be able to shake either completely when you're contemplating a change, changes made out of negative moods rarely bare a positive influence on your overall resume (or networking). Basically, if you're cranky you are probably not making decisions that are going to benefit you greatly in the long run without a lot of careful thought.

Always try to give at least two weeks notice. I know most people know this, but you'd be surprised at how many people still don't give that. Don't try to poach people where you currently work for your new place--it's actionable (legally) and also quite rude. You would also be not surprised to know how many people try this (both during their leaving period and six months later).

Finally, think carefully about what you're going to say is your reason for leaving. As heartening as would be to say "I'm leaving because my boss is a doodoo head with the reasoning of a three year old," it falls into the "burning bridges behind you" category (and in some cases, when negotiating for unpaid vacation time, bonuses, or raise installments, can be like setting fire to the bridge while you're still standing on it). Unless you are specifically attempting to make things officially better for people (through the use of HR) as you leave, typically cite a more vague reason about other opportunities when asked why you are going.

One other thing on not saying what you actually think: will it actually help? Are you just sabotaging a future reference? Usually by the time that you get to the point of quitting, you've tried all the reasonable methods of communicating your displeasure. Is saying something as you go really going to be effective? If so, by Jove, do it! If not, preserve your reputation and leave sleeping dogs lie. Alternately, split the difference and tell HR quietly about what happened, what you tried to do to resolve it, but then still make your official reason for leaving something vague and not specific to the issue itself.

Your mileage may vary by state, by the way, but in some states quitting in a situation where any reasonable person would quit means that you may still collect unemployment; for example, I left a job in the early 2000's because of health reasons. The company did not dispute my claim for unemployment and the state in which I lived granted it because anyone quitting to preserve health was understandable and appropriate.

So there you go. Way longer than expected, and I'll likely come back to these ideas and touch on them in future posts. To sum up: you can do nothing, take action, or change venue. Hopefully my blog has given you a little more info about the best ways to look at and implement these potential choices.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Part of Management/Managing that Totally Sucks: Lying

So I talk a lot in my blog about manipulation and bribery...things that, unless you are upfront and transparent about are more likely to breed an atmosphere of distrust and a difficulty working.

Let's just be clear: I don't advocate lying. Lies of omission, lies of commission...anything that breaks the trust of the people you need to trust you to do your job (and whom you need to trust) is toxic to the work environment. If it doesn't immediately end badly, it gets exponentially worse before it ends badly.

There is, of course, a more practical approach, too, which was Mark Twain's: "If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything."

Now that we're clear that my normal operating procedure abhors a lie, we're going to talk about lying because, as a manager, this is sometimes part of your job.

Now keep in mind most management texts and advice advocate my approach--don't lie--and therefore don't cover this part of the program. Which is annoying, because as much as we'd like to always be upfront and transparent, we, by the nature of our jobs, cannot be.

As a manager, your responsibilities are to your employees, your peers, your bosses, AND the company; the company is the one who pays you, so it has to make the list, though typically it is at the end of the list in terms of importance. However, you should be keeping in the back of your mind that the health of the company is important to your employees, your peers and your bosses, so while it may not always come first, it has to be a present factor when you're making decisions in your every day job life.

Why am I singling out the company? Generally, when you need to lie, it's related to the company more than anyone else. What I'm talking about is things like firing people, lay offs, sales projections, reorganizations, and support of management. That's not an all inclusive list regarding when you may have to lie, but its a pretty good chunk.

Your bosses may ask you to lie, too, but that is usually a far more gray area; if they are asking you to lie for the company to align with specific goals to which you agreed when you started working, it sucks, but its not too alarming. If, however, they are asking you to lie in a less structured way, start looking for a new gig. People who ask you to lie for them are likely lying to other people, such as yourself. Start documenting EVERYTHING and polish up that resume.

While I'm not going to go into firing, lay offs, et all today, I am going to talk about the kind of lies you will be required to tell (or not tell, as the case may be).

When you are prepping to fire someone, often you have a lot of notice: you've talked to them several times about their behavior, tried to rectify it, etc. However, if you just started to work on a team, or the offense is so egregious that immediate action is required, that extra padding of trying to make things work out (which helps build trust with other team members who want to know that they won't be suddenly fired), is gone.

While you're prepping to get rid of that person, you may still have to take complaints from co-workers about him, who would feel TERRIBLE (or relieved in some cases) to find out that he/she was being fired. By the very nature of their reactions--let alone what damage informationally some people can do by saying "don't tell anyone else" and then spilling a secret--they can betray what is happening before you or your HR team is ready. This is particularly problematic because if that person opts to get legal counsel, any such breaches become serious problems for you personally as well as for the company: screwing up badly here can have fiscal implications for YOU and not just the company.

So you end up having to lie. Are you going to fire him? Answering that with "I can neither confirm nor deny" = "Yes, I am firing him" (assuming your employees/peers/etc. are not complete idiots). Instead you need them to believe you are not firing him/her until he/she has been notified they've been fired. If this means a bald faced lie, "No, not firing him" or "I'm investigating what is happening for now" (which is true, but doesn't answer the question), you are lying either by omission or commission. Whatever lie you choose to use, you need to be ready to answer for it when that guy is FIRED. Note, HR will usually talk to you about what you can and cannot say in this instance, but inevitably, you'll be lying to someone about it until its all over. In the case of a firing, typically at least some of the lying will come to light--especially if the person asking if you're firing "him" is the person being fired him (or her) self.

Layoffs and reorgs are similar beasts, but on a much larger scale. Imagine your entire team losing their shit for months at a time. Now imagine you know all their jobs are safe. BUT YOU CANNOT TELL THEM. Its unfair to the folks whose jobs are not safe, its a requirement from management, and HR is not 100% sure its true (even if they are 99% sure), and so they want to delay making any promises that can be acted on in a court of law. You spend months, weeks, etc. telling them to "hang in there" and "you're sure it will all work out ok," but answering "Do you know if we're losing anyone" with "I don't know, they haven't told me," because you cannot communicate to them that their jobs are ok. It is a seriously suck situation.

It becomes worse if you do know you're losing headcount. Suddenly you want to give them advice about whether or not to buy that new car or move to the more expensive apartment...but you cannot. Legally, you can't tell them their job is going away for a variety of excellent HR reasons that make you feel like a terrible person/snake/inanimate object made of goo inside. You will have to lie to them (though you may certainly hedge those lies by telling them that "that model of car isn't fully tested" or "that apartment seems way too small" or whatever else you can think of to dissuade them without giving up the fact they may not have a job).

Sales projections are slightly easier to lie about (unless you are talking to the person actually making those projections, and then good luck). Normally people care about them as an indicator of the health of the company--whether or not they should start looking elsewhere. Typically, unless there are upcoming layoffs, you don't really want people looking elsewhere. This series of lies walks the fine line between doing what is right for that individual and doing what is right for your team and the company. Most companies insist you always talk about sales projections as being positive (even if they suck rocks). This usually involves lying, because no company has positive sales projections forever. Your employees, again, are unlikely to be idiots, so they will know this. So your lies need to cover the sales projections in a positive manner, but you probably don't want to be saying that "everything is sunny" all the time, or you will lose a ton of credibility.

Finally, upper management may be changing the direction for the company; often this includes reorganization and/or lay offs, but sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes it means your team is going to end up doing stuff they didn't sign up for--ever been in a company that decided that "every employee is a salesperson"? You end up going to classes, and people quit in droves...because if they wanted to be a sales person, they would have become one, rather than say, a systems engineer.

To keep face with your bosses, to keep the company in the best light possible so people don't flee like rats from a sinking ship, you have to be positive about the new direction even (and especially), when you may hate it yourself. Here the lies may be considerably less believable, but you're still going to have to lie, and you'll be accountable for those lies as long as those members of your team remain on board.

Most of these lies force you to pit the good of the company against the good of the people with whom you work. I don't know about you, but I usually think of myself as working for the people I see every day, rather than for the company that employs me, which makes it even harder. My boss and HR are individuals I often weigh against the individuals on my team or who are my peers. This is really the only way I can remain sane; that + knowing my legal rights (note: the web is an awesome place, but a night class on current HR stuff is invaluable every couple of years).

So basically, you will have to lie. Pretty much you do it all the time, to a certain degree; if you are out at a restaurant and a buddy asks if the shirt looks ok, and it totally doesn't, but there's squat he can do about it for four hours, the answer is "You look fine." This is a lie. But its a small one, compared to the secrets you may have to keep and or lie about as a manager.

A future installment will talk about how to make peace with yourself and your people in the hairy world of lying, but for now, I've certainly said enough. Probably too much.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Never Volunteer. Well. Sort of.

This may seem counter to my overall message of help and bribery, but it fits in just fine. Before I explain how, however, I would like to give you the story my father gave me on the topic of volunteering that illustrated why not volunteering is a really, really good thing:

Dad and a bunch of other young men whose heads have been freshly shaved get off the bus for the first time at the Marine base for their very first day of boot camp. Carrying their supplies, they line up outside the bus and are confronted by a drill sergeant.

The drill sergeant says "I need 2 volunteers!"

Two hands go up. My father is neither of those two men.

"You two, report to the barracks to clean the toilets! Everyone else, drop your stuff off and head to the mess hall. And Gentlemen, let this be your first lesson: never volunteer."

The moral of the story is that you should never volunteer when you do not know what you are getting into.

This, in general, is a good lesson: don't leap into something without knowing what you're leaping into. I'm sure there are some Mammoths (not especially known for their leaping, but let me have this metaphor!) that wished they'd thought it through before moseying through the tar pits.

It is not always possible to know what's around the next corner, but when you do know, then volunteering might be an option; as I note in my early blog posts, bribing people in advance is a really good idea. Volunteering can be a method of doing a good turn for someone or some project either in thanks or to bank up good will...who knows when you'll need it?

When volunteering, know and enforce your boundaries. Which is to say, volunteering to give a brown bag to five people about X process is very different than when upper management thinks that's swell and wants you to do it at the quarterly meeting for 20 minutes with full PPT presentation.

When you are volunteering, you are agreeing to do a service for a charity or someone else in a charitable way. Many people who are involved with volunteer work capitalize on the fact that we do not like to disappoint or upset people, and put themselves more in a customer seat than in the seat of someone who is--at least in this case--getting something for nothing. Since customers give us money, we work our butts off to make them happy. But charities and folks receiving charitable energy/money/etc. do not have to receive the same quality level of service; its always good if you can put in your best effort, but if you're doing someone a favor, at the end of the day, you're still the one doing the favor--you get to decide the parameters of what you are willing to do, and subtle or not-so-subtle pressure by them should not change that...whether you're giving money or time to build homes for families in need or running that document to the fourth floor for your boss down the hall.

Now, if I could just tattoo that last paragraph on my forehead (backwards), I could work on one of my own weaknesses, which is, as you have guessed, maintaining boundaries around volunteer work. I am a sucker for someone in need.

On that note, Happy Holidays to you and yours!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

You Can’t Just Nag People. It’s Rude. Also, Everyone Has Expectations, They Just Don't Always Tell You.

But it is technically your job to nag people, if you are a manager (or a lead, etc.). Just sayin'.

I’m not advocating a paranoid world in which people are completely unreliable and projects never get done due to stupidity or maliciousness (although I'm certain the world seems that way sometimes). I’m just asking to take a look at the fact that because the word “manager” is somewhere involved with you, your job is to make sure stuff gets done, and you will likely be held accountable for that expectation that others have of you.

While people make mistakes and forget things or prioritize them lower than other things, or spill coffee all over themselves ten seconds after saying yes to you and what they promised flees their mind as the searing pain tears through their clothing, its not a really good idea to let people feel like they’re in need of a constant nag. You’re no one’s mother (ok, you might be, and you might be at the office, but you know what I mean). But you are interested in getting things done in a specified time frame in order to meet your own obligations and goals.

To that end, let people know you’re going to nag about items that require such time frames. When you know you need something, do not be afraid to ask for data back by specific dates and times. Always explain why, try to be as transparent as possible about your requests, and reiterate that you understand that it is a request. If it’s a pressing request and they cannot agree to the time frame, that’s ok, too. You can either escalate to get the time you need from that person or tell the person who requires the data that they’ll have to wait (more on escalating—preferably without making people upset—in future blog posts). Then be sure to follow up with your information source after securing a time when you can check back.

What about requests that you have to fulfill that come in with no time frames? So, for example, you need an answer about a question you received this afternoon. There may be no time expectation expressed by the person who asked you, but using you judgment you would try not to assume there isn’t one. Because, for every request you will ever receive, there is always a time expectation, even if one isn’t expressed. Assuming there’s no hurry, or assuming that answering immediately is required can both be problematic. Answering too soon may mean your answer may not contain the full expected data set, and answering too late can be, well, too late.

When you receive requests, always try to get an idea of the importance of the request and the time frame. People will, without fail, inadvertently distort both. However, with both, you can make an educated guess about how fast you need to get an item completed. In turn, after taking the task, you can have a better idea of how much time to negotiate with others over before getting the data you require to return to the original requestor.

And, doing it all patiently, calmly and consistently will make some people actually ENJOY you nagging them. Really. It has happened to me, and all of those who reported as such are certifiably sane (or so they tell me).

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Escalation: The No-Man’s Land full of Assumptive Landmines

Generally when someone hears that you are planning to escalate an issue, they assume that someone is in trouble. In many cases, they assume they, themselves are being put on the spot. This generates a lot of unpleasantness, to say the least.

In future blog posts I’ll talk about communicating up to management, but escalations are a tad different. They should be used as an informational medium, and not a tool for punishing people. I’m not above punishing people—oftentimes a mature team will do it for you—but you should never punish publicly or without cause. Whenever you do "punish" you should do so without relish and with all your facts in a row. Because of their association with punishment, escalations must therefore also be handled carefully.

Step 1: Don’t get mad or frustrated. Very easy to say, somewhat hard to do. Think about it this way: a person may not be able to help you because its physically impossible, they have higher priorities, they are a dingbat, they are recovering from deep grief, the alignment of the stars, etc. Never assume someone is deliberately annoying you. In the grand scheme of things, you (probably) don’t spend a ton of time plotting the unhappiness of your co-workers…you should therefore leave the benefit-of-the-doubt that they are not plotting against you. If you are spending time plotting the downfall of your co-workers, you might either a) look into another job, b) get a hobby and/or c) develop a hearty evil laugh.

Step 2: Before you escalate, ask what you can do that might help you get what you need to get done…basically, follow the tenets of altruism and bribery as listed in previous blog entries. You can always trade work for work. A lot of the time you may receive a “no” because they perceive themselves helping you as to preventing them from reaching their goals. But, if you find a way to help them reach their goals (get their stuff done), then they are likely to reconsider helping you (and you therefore wouldn’t need to escalate). A good example that comes to mind is that you need to borrow a technical expert from another team, and they are struggling with an issue your tech expert could help with. Trade hours between the two, and everyone is happy.

Step 3: Once you’ve both realized that you can’t move further without an escalation, tell them that you need to escalate. The words you choose will frame your future relationship of trust—or lack thereof—with this person. So choose carefully. You don’t want to say “Since you can’t help me, I’m going to your boss.” What you want to say is something like “It’s ok if you cannot help me in this endeavor. I am going to talk to both our bosses, let them know I’m blocked, and see if either can get us unblocked.” You don’t have to say these exact words. You should obviously use your own. But talking about talking to your own boss and this person’s takes the sting out of the escalation, and including them with words like “us,” make them less likely to see what you’re doing with cynicism or malicious intent. A lot of people DO assume malicious intent, especially where there isn’t any, so this step really helps manage that concern. Of course, if you are being malicious, do what you will (you will anyway).

Step 4: Talk to your boss, then their boss. In that order.

Step 5: After talking to their boss, write down what was said and send it out to everyone—your boss, their boss, and them.

Step 6: Report back where you are to the person who requested it. Either you’ll have permission to use that person’s time now or in the future, or you can show that you tried, are blocked, and leave the requestor with other options.

I have often said, and will probably bore you with it again: I will not bend time and space for people. If I could do that, I would totally be on an island somewhere right now (see previous posts on this topic) AND I'd be diving the Great Barrier Reef AND I'd be blogging about all of it at the same time..."MaiTai tasty, Great White Shark huge and, thankfully, distant."

My job is to introduce reality to the situation where I work (aside: Firefox doesn't know the correct spelling of MaiTai, and neither do I, sorry). People are not always going to be happy about reality, but reality will actually produce them results in the log run, and well, as a manager (and a human, I like to think), we're in it for the long run (to totally mix my metaphors).

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Bonus Blog: No Ifs, just Ands and Buts

This one is in response to a comment from my father (who is apparently trying to stump me):

Here is a unique one...

Your favorite worker has just saved your behind, now you discover he/she has been bad-mouthing the company on FaceBook and the company president wants ACTION!!!

What do you do?

I'm not really sure how unique this one actually is. People are often both fabulous and seriously damaged in some ways.

People are full of "ands." What I mean is, they can be lazy and productive; maybe being lazy helps them find the best way to be productive, for the amount of productive they want to accomplish (as opposed to the amount of productive they might accomplish if they were less lazy). People can be racist and compassionate. They can be reasonable and irrational.

People are typically not "buts" (at least spelled that way); while a person would probably like to be aggressive but friendly, traditionally "but" negates the word in front of it when we process it in the back of our skull. So even if the statement is true--I, for example, am a control freak but I want everyone to like me--there's a good chance you'll wander off thinking I'm an attention whore more than thinking I need to micromanage stuff. "But" cuts out part of the thought. "And" is inclusive, and lets us know that people can have good traits and bad ones.

As a co-worker or manager, the fact that they have good traits and bad ones is intrinsic and important knowledge. As long as the good activities outweigh the bad ones--for various values of weight and your mileage will vary--they are worth keeping and putting up with. If the bad outweighs the good, and if you can't correct the behavior, you'll spend a lot less time with them and someone may fire them.

And that is a key point: behavior. People are not their behavior. When working with someone, be clear on the difference between the person and the behavior. You cannot change a person; they are who they are and honestly, would you really want to change who you are for work unless you REALLY love your job? But behavior can change. Behavior is a lot easier to change.

In the case my father sites, the person in question is very good at their job, and has done their manager an excellent service AND they've seriously pissed off upper management.

So you talk to upper management. You also talk to Human Resources. Typically, most firms where you work will have an employee handbook or website spelling out what is and is not allowed respective to the company. It will also include the practice by which you redress failures to respect those company rules and regulations.

Most of the time, a person's overall value is weighed against the transgression, and the handbooks/websites/HR policy is written to allow for a first offense without being fired as the immediate result of a transgression. In most states (and you should really check with a local lawyer or your company's HR person), if the handbook indicates a warning is required before firing for most or all behaviors that are forbidden, even if the president of the company is so mad he/she is spitting teeth, your employee will not be fired. You may be heavily recommended to have them clean the bathrooms with their own toothbrush (or some other type of correction), but they'll keep their job.

If this is not their first transgression, however, you have to do some thinking. Can this person be trained out of the bad behavior? How hard will that be to do? Have you already approached them on this (or a similar) topic? What is the value of their work compared to the transgression and the potential of it re-occurring?

In the example given, that person did do some great work. He/she, however, has bad mouthed the company in public on Facebook. A first time offender is a relatively easy answer: whatever HR has prescribed is what you can do; if that prescription involves firing, you can certainly stand up for that person and, if you believe their behavior can be corrected, agree to take that on (and any future bad behavior in this area from them). This will usually preserve that person's job, but involve follow up steps; anything from restricting website access at work to random checks of their pages.

An offender where this is not the first time this behavior has happened (or behavior equally as bad) is messier. In this case, a conversation with the offender is required prior to talking to upper management. You need to discern from the conversation if a) they know what they did was wrong b) they have a plan in place to prevent it from happening again and c) if this is a second or third or close to another "bad" type of offense, what makes this time different than any other. With this information you can decide if this person is worth risking your reputation to preserve in their role. By asking they not be fired, you are in effect, telling upper management you can and will manage the behavior. If you do not or can not, then your reputation will be damaged the next time something happens with this employee. So think carefully.

I am a huge fan in believing in your team. I have a later blog post planned about defending your team, even if you want to kill one member (or all of them). Know that, in defending a teammate, you are making or breaking yourself (a little or a a lot) with the fortunes of the person being defended.

So, in the end, only you can prevent forest fir can really assess if the behavior can be changed, if it will be changed, and if you are willing to stick your neck out for someone under those circumstances. As noted, I'll have more to say about the fact that you should stick your neck out for your team--it makes the team more cohesive and builds trust--and it can backfire spectacularly.