Kiss Me Kate

Of course I’m not serious, no one should ever think of spanking underperformers. But wait, someone did.

What were they thinking? Don’t they have any common sense? Unfortunately there are many folks out there who have uncommon sense – they do stuff most of us couldn’t even imagine. And it is their behavior that can keep an organizational leader up at night.

Later, I’ll give you my eight (8) tips for how you can sleep better at night.

The Spanking Case. You may have heard about this case from a few years ago. Alarm One is a California-based home security system company and one of its younger, under-supervised sales managers got out of hand. He instituted sales motivation sessions that went way too far.

As Chesley Quaide reported to our insurance group this week, “Motivation techniques used during the meetings included typical positive reinforcement, such as providing successful employees with bonuses. However, negative reinforcement techniques were also sometimes utilized at the meetings which included: forcing employees to sing in front of the group, pies in the face, feeding each other baby food, wearing diapers, and, of course, spankings. Employees who failed to meet goals or arrived to work late were bent over and spanked by co-workers on their buttocks with the company’s yard sign or the yard sign of an alarm company competitor. While the spankings occurred, other employees would yell (terrible) comments, specifically to the female employees.”

As ABC news reported at the time, a jury awarded Janet Orlando, 53, $1.7 million for harassment. She was one of the sales supervisors who were frequently spanked and ridiculed. Other female workers were also awarded money and several supervisors, including a woman, were also fined. (In an interesting technical ruling, the California Appeals Court later overturned the Harassment ruling mostly because of how the jury was instructed and because both men and women were spanked.)

What Can Leaders Do? While this kind of behavior is certainly rare, other similar things do happen. We have a customer right now who is in the middle of a situation of lesser drama, but still disturbing.

Fortunately, there are eight things leaders can do to protect good employees and their organizations.

  1. When in doubt, don’t hire. As Jim Collins taught us in Good to Great, “when in doubt, don’t.” This means if you see or hear anything during applicant interviews that makes you doubt the person would be a good fit for your company, don’t hire them. This includes making sure your hiring process is very thorough.
  2. Model good behavior. In some of these cases reasonable doubt is raised about whether senior leaders actually modeled appropriate behavior for junior leaders. This includes being absentee or invisible.
  3. Train supervisors. Many fast growing, small and mid-sized companies just don’t take the time to train their supervisors. So what happens? The new supervisors improvise based on their life experiences. You should make sure new supervisors learn how to effectively and legally supervise others.
  4. Supervise supervisors. If you leave untrained supervisors unsupervised, what do you think will happen? Answer – anything and everything. While it is true if you hire the right person you are more likely to have less crazy things, you are still likely to have stuff happen. Your supervisors should have regular telephone and face-to-face interaction and guidance.
  5. Make sure you have a Harassment Policy. Laws related to harassment policies and postings vary by state, but even if it’s not required it is wise for companies to have a policy so employees know what kind of culture you want.
  6. Train all employees in person about harassment. The laws generally only require employers to make employees aware of their policies. For example, employees could just read the policy and sign an acknowledgement form. However, we advise companies to do some form of in-person training annually because you might learn more about what is happening during the training and can address the behavior then.
  7. Take all complaints seriously, investigate. This is one of the biggest mistakes leaders make – they don’t fully investigate complaints. This baffles me because this is the best way for a company to reduce its liability. The law says that a company is usually only liable for the poor behavior of its people when it neglects to take action once it learns about it.
  8. Discipline people who misbehave. If the investigation determines that your employee(s) misbehaved you must take disciplinary action based on your policy. If you don’t, you could be liable for damages if the damaged employee makes a legal claim.

As an organizational leader, the truth is you can’t be completely sure what your people are doing every day (in our case we have about 650 team members working today.) But if you follow these eight steps at least you’re more likely to have a better night’s sleep.

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