The Toronto Star reported today (Dec. 10/2010) that
Integrity Commissioner Christiane Quimet has resigned her role with 4 years
left on her term. Ouimet was nominated for the job by Prime Minister Steven
Harper. Her job was to protect people reporting on misconduct in the federal
government ("whistleblowers") from reprisals. Ouimet actually
resigned in October but the reasons for the resignation were revealed yesterday
by the Auditor General, Sheila Fraser. Fraser performed an evaluation on Ouimet
and concluded that she failed to do her job (protecting public servants from
reprisals) and that she was abusive to her staff.
Ouimet left in the midst of Fraser's investigation; Fraser
was responding to 3 complaints about Ouimet's conduct. Fraser's investigation
continued despite Ouimet's absence and she reported on her findings yesterday.
Among the transgressions Fraser reported:
- 170 complaints from potential whistleblowers
without a single complaint being followed up before closing the file.
- files on the 170 complaints were closed without
any review or serious inquiry.
- a staff turnover rate of over 50% during her 3
years on the job.
- complaints that Ouimet "yelled, swore and
also berated, marginalized and intimidated certain ...employees, and that she
engaged in reprisal actions."
- carrying on a vendetta against employees who
left the commission.
- disclosing personal information about an
employee to a previous employer, senior government officials and a private
sector security consultant. The employee had left the commission 6 months
previous to this and Ouimet believed he had filed a complaint about her.
- preparing and circulating information about the
same employee within the commission. Information included 4 binders comprising
96 documents and more than 375 pages.
- circulating 50 e-mails with information about
the same employee.
- a turnover rate of 41% (18 employees) during one
12 month period.
Ouimet defended her actions to investigators working for
Fraser by characterizing the employees who complained about her as incompetent
or ineffective, but could not be contacted for comment by the Toronto Star
reporter. The results speak for themselves. Unless Ouimet was acting on a
secret mandate to get rid of the commission, her record of staff turnover would
indicate that her leadership skills need improvement. I won't pass comment on
her effectiveness because I don't know if there was pressure exerted on her to
bury complaints from whistleblowers.
Christiane's may be an extreme case but it should serve as
an object lesson to the rest of us of what can go wrong when we give free reign
to our emotions when dealing with our employees. Let's look at her dealings
with her employees, while they were still her employees, first. Yelling,
swearing, berating, marginalizing, and intimidating employees are all behaviours
that are guaranteed to result in increased staff turnover. A certain amount of
staff turnover is to be expected. In some circumstances you may even want to
encourage it. Let's take, for example the employee who through hard work on the
job and increasing his or her skill set becomes attractive to other employers.
You don't have the opportunity to place this employee in the position they have
prepared themselves for so losing them to another employee who can offer what
you can't is inevitable. Your only option is to make certain that employee
feels appreciated by you and your organization and would return given the right
opportunity. Coaches of minor professional sports teams do this all the time,
in fact they take pride in having one of their players promoted to the
"show". There are other circumstances when employees should leave:
retirement, downsizing, etc. You may also want to replace the employee in which
case having them leave will simplify your job.
Managers should seek to retain employees in all other
circumstances. The reason is simple: your organization invested money in the
employees entrusted to your care. Someone (possibly yourself) invested time and
effort to ensure the right person was hired for the job. Money was spent in
training, coaching, and mentoring the employee. Your organization doesn't want
to see this investment squandered by having these valuable assets walk out the
door. This is especially so in organizations who have invested money in
employee retention programs.
Remember that you are dealing with employees, not machines,
computers, or friends. They have a job to do and your job is to make certain
that they are as effective at that job as it is possible to make them. Your
behaviour should mirror this. Remember also that what you perceive as
constructive criticism may be perceived as berating, or even intimidation by
your employee. If your employee complains to you to you, or someone else, that
they feel berated or intimidated, correct that feeling. Once you get past their
feelings you can begin communicating with them about how to improve their
performance. You won't achieve any performance improvements until they are past
those feelings. This is not to say that poor performance or bad behaviour must
be tolerated. It is not to say that a certain amount of intimidation is not
appropriate in some cases. For example, when you have caught the employee
intimidating another employee it is appropriate to describe the negative
consequences of continuing the behaviour and the description might well leave
that person feeling intimidated. Where intimidation is inappropriate is where
you are trying to get the person to perform a task differently, or prioritize
their work differently, or achieve some other form of improvement.
Managers are only human and we can feel frustrated at times.
Nothing can be more frustrating than being disappointed by an employee's performance
or behaviour. The trick is to not let that frustration stand in the way of
improving the performance or behaviour. There is an old trick to use when
dealing with frustration: "count to 10 then....." Even better, don't
deal with the employee until your frustration has abated, then think about what
it is you need to say to them. Envision the result. Your approach should focus
on the goals and objectives you want the employee to achieve, taking for
granted that the employee is desirous of improving their effectiveness. Speak
in a normal tone of voice and choose language that you would feel comfortable
with if the shoe were on the other foot. Check for understanding when you have
finished communicating. Don't say "Do you understand?" or "Do
you hear me?", try "Let's talk a little more about the
actions/remedies/solutions I've just mentioned, how would you implement
them?" instead. Your purpose here is to ensure understanding.
Your Human Resources department may already have implemented
360 performance reviews in which case your employees will have a chance to
evaluate your performance. Your HR group may also provide you with guidance on
how to use this input to improve your own performance. If not, or if there is
no 360 performance review in place, implement your own version. The key to this
process is to make the reviews anonymous so as to get the most objective
feedback possible. Allow anyone who wishes to, to identify themselves. This
will help you come to grips with the specifics of any complaints or suggestions
for improvement. You may want to review the results of the feedback in
aggregate with your team to ensure that any actions you define as a result will
be effective in improving your performance. There are concerns about 360
performance reviews, one of the foremost being that the review comes at the end
of a cycle rather than during it. To rectify this shortcoming, encourage
feedback at all times. Establish a culture that encourages honesty and openness
so that you will be the first to know if there are any problems that you can
correct. Foster this culture by responding to any criticism in a thoughtful
manner. This doesn't mean you must act on every criticism, but provide your
reasons when action would be inappropriate. You should also inform your team
when a criticism or suggestion results in a change.
It is very likely that you will be aware of problems on your
team long before those problems result in a high staff turnover rate. In case
you aren't and you are alerted to an unacceptably high rate by your HR
organization or your boss, here are some tips on reducing turnover:
- Realize that your influence over pay is limited.
Fortunately, so is the positive effect of a pay increase. Employees need
opportunities to grow in order to remain happy. Each member of your team should
have a career path established which encourages growth in the direction they
- Define each employee's path specifically. This
means identifying their next job and a reasonable schedule for
promotion/change. Also define the milestones and objectives that will see them
to that next job.
- Make certain that each of your employees feels
that they are a valued member of the team.
- Provide training opportunities for your
employees. You may not always be able to approve the expense of an external
course (see item 1), but there are other ways of providing the training such as
coaching and mentoring. You may even be able to provide some coaching.
Receiving training will increase the employee's feeling of security which will
improve their morale.
employees of a company are some of its most valuable assets. Treat them
accordingly or you may find yourself keeping company with Christiane.