Volume 5 - Issue 11
HARNESSING THE HEART - PART 1
…LIVING UP TO THE CHALLENGE OF CONSCIENCE IN DAILY LIFE
This is a revealing real life story from a conscientious human resource manager from North AmericaApproximately five years ago, I was hired by my current employer, an advertising company in downtown Toronto as the Office Manager. My role was to manage the Operations department and Human Resources. A Reception/Admin person reported to me directly. Let’s call her Liz.
HR with a Human Face
The day I signed my offer letter, I was advised by my direct supervisor, the Vice President of Operations, that there has been a long standing "issue" with Liz’s performance as the Receptionist/Administrator and she may need to be "let go" hinting clearly that being the one with the new HR role, I would have to fire her.
I replied that I completely understood if there were issues, however I would not be comfortable letting her go as: (1) I have no work relationship or history or issues with Liz and (2) I don't feel comfortable in "letting someone go" unless all other avenues to resolve the issues had been exhausted and I had given all opportunities to Liz to change things around.
I requested to have three months to work with Liz and if there were still performance issues, I would then put her on a PIP plan. The PIP, or the Performance Improvement Plan, is a type of probationary period. It would detail specific feedback, instructions and goals to be reached in order to come off probation. This was reluctantly agreed to.
The next three months proved to be very grueling as the employee did indeed have memory issues, was not comfortable with computer technology, was slow in her pace, and many areas of her job consequently were not handled well by her. On the other hand, there were other areas of her performance where she was excellent, such as her verbal communication skills, telephone manners, people skills, and so on.
Liz also needed lots of time off work due to aiding a sick parent. In spite of my coaching and training, her performance in her weak areas did not improve much; or rather there would be a honeymoon period of great effort, and then she would rapidly taper off to her status quo of being really good at some things and performing poorly at other tasks.
At the end of the three months, my supervisor, who was of a paranoid nature, did not feel comfortable about my giving the employee the PIP plan as she felt the employee may become resentful of being on probation and may "sabotage" computer files, etc. She decided to go ahead and terminate Liz's employment.
I was not comfortable with this and I expressed my feelings. Her father's illness was not something she could control and I respected the fact that she made it a priority to look after him. I felt an employer should value an employee who showed such sense of love and respect for an ailing parent. It spoke well of her as a human being. Also, I felt that Liz was valuable enough in her own way and that I could help her with some of her tasks and give her further coaching over time. Everyone deserved a second chance and so did she, I argued.
At the last moment, just five minutes before the termination meeting, my boss changed her mind and did not go through with the termination. Liz was extremely popular in the office and whoever fired her would reach new depths of unpopularity, which my supervisor was not willing to risk for herself. For a year or so, things fluctuated from good to bad and back again. Coaching helped as long as re-training was done yearly as Liz had a tendency to forget certain training pieces over time.
Fire or Be Fired
Now our agency was famous for having a "revolving door". The two main principals of the business, the CEO and his wife, my boss, had a tendency of firing people very quickly if they didn't fit into the rigid, fear-filled, automaton-like environment they were trying to maintain. My boss commented to me daily about Liz's alleged incompetence, hoping I would give in and fire her.
About a year and a half into my employment, she and her husband, the CEO, called me into their office and told me that I had a great future there and that if I wanted to get ahead in my career, I needed to fire the "stupid" lady who was holding me back. This was said to me with much more finality than the daily comments I had received during the year. I realized at this point we were at the crossroads.
Faults aside, I knew that Liz was devoted to her job. She traveled almost three hours a day, each way to get to work. There was no one that could match her wit and competence on the phones. Sure, she might not be as fast a worker as others but some things have to be weighed to see what is more important.
Managing people is not like running an automated machine. It is not about cut-and-dried corporate black and white behaviour. It’s about dealing with warm-blooded human beings who have strengths and weaknesses, who have potentials and who have bad times.
We don't throw out an elderly parent or a relative just because they're not as "useful" or if they're having troubles, do we? I don't think anyone should get away doing things in the business world with the kind of behaviour you would not do in one’s personal life. We’ve got to strive towards what Baba refers to as unity in thought, word and deed.
Anyway, the ultimatum by the two principals of the company was weighing on my mind: I had to choose between staying true to myself and the values I cherished - or my aspirations for my rapid rise in the advertising industry.
Moving On and Up
After that meeting, I quit my job because I would not do the wrong thing to get ahead in my career. I had no other job to fall back on, but I felt good and knew something would come up. Sure enough, I was offered a fantastic job a few weeks later running the administration for a ferry company. While at this new job, I sometimes missed the old office as the people (other than the two bosses) had been lovely to work with.
A few months later, I heard that my old boss and the CEO had been "let go" themselves by the parent company. When I heard this news, I thought to myself in passing, it would be nice to work there now without the two bosses. The environment there would now be positive and harmonious.
A day later, there was a message on my cell phone from the new President, who had been a Director when I was there, asking me to return to them. I went back the next month and have been there ever since. Liz is still here and works with me every day. We have our ups and downs. But for the most part, it's great and getting better.
Righteousness Protects The Right
Today, I am glad that when the two former principals gave me the final deadline to choose between firing Liz or getting fired - I stood my ground and walked away from making a choice I would regret forever. I think as a result of that adherence to what I saw as Right Conduct, today I am enjoying my professional life in a healthier and more productive atmosphere.
Knowing consciously the "right thing to do" is much easier than practicing it every day, every minute and in every situation (hence the ups and downs). Doing the right thing every time can be challenging and when we slip, it is not the sort of thing we want to share - along with our fears and doubts of making mistakes. For every 10 good things I've done, I've probably made a few unwise choices too.
I think what's important is knowing that the goal of perfection is everyone's right - yet when we make mistakes - and we will from time to time... - then let’s love ourselves no matter what, forgive ourselves, be patient on ourselves and each other, as we're all on this journey together - towards that goal of perfection and devotion and self-knowledge. It's just that some of us are extra ahead or further behind than others in our self-realization. But it's all fine. It's not a race.
A very dear Sai sister sent this to me at a moment when I did not feel particularly proud of myself. Swami says..."March on with your eyes on the goal. Do not brood over the mistakes committed and failures suffered in the past. Do not follow the whims and fancies of the mind any longer. They will fill the ear with praise or blame and drag you away from the spiritual path. Follow the call of the Divine arising from the hearts of all living beings.”
Dear reader, we are sure, you too might have been through similar situations in your life and been faced with dilemmas which made you take rather tough but morally right decisions, which later filled you with a great sense of satisfaction and inner contentment. Please do share such inspiring anecdotes with us at [email protected]. This will not only help build an amazing collection of ‘triumph of the conscience’ stories but also will embolden others to take to this path with greater determination.
- Heart2Heart Team
Dear Reader, did you find this article helpful? Do you have any experiences that you would like to share with us? Please contact us at [email protected] mentioning your name and country. Thank you for your time.
Vol 5 Issue 11 - NOVEMBER 2007
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