Friday, October 11, 2013

The Extra Manager at Today's Meeting

We are reading 1 Samuel in our Bible Studies class through an interdenominational scripture class published by SEEK. Tonight, we discussed chapter 23, in which David twice seeks the counsel of the Lord. One of the personalizing questions posed in the SEEK study materials is "When was the last occasion that you went before the Lord with a decision that needed to be made? Did you have a sense that God did lead and guide you?" (For me, that would be, ah, like, every day, given the life complications that I routinely run up against.)

The question immediately brought to mind the first meeting I had had this morning. Without revealing confidential information, I can share that two senior managers and I, their supervisor, had been called by our Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) office to a pre-mediation discussion with our organization's attorney and Human Resource director about an age discrimination complaint that had been filed by an employee from one of our branch offices who had been fired for absenteeism and poor performance by his first-line supervisor, Shirley. Prior to this meeting, I had, as usual with such meetings, asked God for guidance. (I don't like to play with people's lives without that kind of assistance.)

Once assembled, we introduced ourselves and our roles since our organization is quite large and not everyone knew everyone. The role of most of the members of the assembled group was clear. Roger was Shirley's supervisor, and I was Roger's supervisor. However, why Marvin had been called in was a puzzle to everyone, including to the EEO specialist who had set up the meeting and sent out the meeting invitations. Marvin, like Roger, was a senior manager, but he was not in Shirley's chain of command. We all agreed that it looked like an accident that Marvin was there, but he might as well stay because he had ridden there with Roger and me and would be stranded until we were ready to leave, anyway.

It appeared that Shirley had done an adequate enough job of counseling the employee and had some documentation to back up the firing. Curiously, the employee had only asked for reinstatement for six months as a redress for discrimination. I moved the discussion away from whether or not we could give a non-discriminatory reason for the firing (we could) and whether or not we could back that up with documentation (we could) to why the employee would only ask for a 6-month reinstatement. Well, it turned out that this was the amount of time he needs to be in the organization in order to qualify for retirement -- and, having started with us pretty late in life, he is already of retirement age. Based on this information, I ventured that we not look at this complaint as one in which we could justify whether we had done things right (all the correct documentation, following the rule book) but rather as one in which we could justify whether we had done the right thing (the humane approach to a person's life). Doing the right thing rather than always doing things right, a leadership concept introduced by Warren Bennis in his book, On Becoming a Leader, is an approach that I vigorously advocate for all the supervisors within my division.

Now, the problem with doing the right thing -- retaining the employee long enough for him to be able to retire (Where else, at an advanced age, would he be able to start the whole process all over again so that he would enough time to earn a pension?) -- is that continuing to work for his current first-line supervisor would be very problematic and probably impossible for a number of reasons that I cannot share. Hmm...Just as it started to seem that there would be no choice except to support the first-line supervisor's decision to cut the cord in advance of retirement and the lawyer and HR officer began moving in that direction, I looked at Marvin and got a "scathingly brilliant idea" as Hayley Mills in the lead role of Mary in the movie, The Trouble with Angels, was wont to say. Marvin is the senior manager of our Internet products, one for which the employee could work from his current branch office location on a flexi-place, short-term basis. Marvin acknowledged that he could probably find six months of work on a special project for the employee and stated that he would be willing to take him on. Voila! A chance to the right thing!

"Now I think we all know why you were called to this meeting!" I told Marvin.

Oh, yes, to answer the question from tonight's Bible Study class, I did indeed get a sense that God did lead and guide me today!

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