Pandora’s Box, Part 2: Resolving Post-Hire Issues

So, today is the day. The new hire you placed at your client or within your organization has been with the organization for over two weeks, and the time has come to make “the call” to follow up and see how things are going. You’re always a little nervous before making this call ó not because you aren’t ready, but because you hope this is going to be evidence of either a fee on the way to the bank or another good mark on your record as an HR/staffing representative. Either way, as a professional you also prefer it when your efforts produce quality results: good hires! You prepared both the new hire and the hiring manager weeks ago, as I described in my last article, to ensure that if there were any concerns or issues they would call you. Neither has called you yet, so hopefully all is well. So, look up the number, pick up the phone, and… Stop! You are pretty sure everything is alright. But if it isn’t, how far are you willing to take it?

  • What is your expected role in this process from the candidate’s point of view and your permitted role from that of the hiring manager or client?
  • Will your actions enhance or destroy your relationship with one or both parties?
  • Will you have either the authority or the ability to intervene effectively?
  • Will you make the situation worse than if left you left it unknown?
  • Will you be placed in a position where you may have to act against the interests of either the candidate or the hiring manager/client?
  • Will you be in a position where no action on your part may be equally damaging?

See, the call itself is a no-brainer. It’s the preparation that eats up all the cycles. Then again, it would be safe to say that, based on all the issues and disasters a poorly planned call can create, not planning for your follow-up call is a no-brainer act in and of itself. If either party indicates there is a problem, it’s helpful to think of your approach in general terms as follows:

  • Determination. You should initially determine the “age” of the situation. This lets you know if the problem is new or ancient history, and thus the speed at which action must be taken.
  • Dissemination. You should ascertain who knows about the problem other than the candidate.
  • Damage control. Has there been any negative act or words prior to this call?
  • Dimension. How serious an event, act, or words are we talking about?
  • Direction. This is the advice or guidance you need to give on the new hire’s “next act.”
  • Diffusion. This is your plan of action regarding the hiring manager or client.

“Level 1” Issues A new employee faces many emotion issues during their initial weeks. Often the first and most effective step is to be willing to listen. A significant percentage of issues ó new employee or manager ó will fade based on previous call preparation and ten minutes of saying, “I know, I know. I totally understand and agree.” The new employee’s separation anxiety, with no existing peer support group, can make a small issue seem worse than it really is. It is an unwise course of action for you to either trivialize or overstate the issue if it is a “breaking in” issue. Hiring managers often face remorse over their “buying decision,” believing that failure will reflect on them. They will often panic if the new employee is late for work twice in a row by as little as five minutes. Again, listening and offering simple common sense advice will often suffice: “Hey, the guy is getting settled in a new commute route. He probably hasn’t worked out all the kinks yet.” Your ability to act or overreact will soon become public knowledge (you have been around long enough to know there are no secrets in HR/staffing, haven’t you?). Whether you are an external recruiter protecting a fee or an internal recruiter protecting a reputation, this is mission-critical stuff in your career. If the issue was merely the need to vent, assume the venting and a little good advice was sufficient, but make a note to call back in a week. But, make no promise to call, that is an indicator to a nervous person that there might really be an issue. “Level 2” Issues But what if the phone call begins, “First, you’ve got to promise me you will tell no one else about this…”? That creaking sound you just heard was the sound of Pandora’s lid starting to open ó and nothing good usually comes out of it. The chances of your dealing with this issue correctly are in direct proportion to the amount of time you spent ó before that question is asked ó deciding:

  • Are you working for the candidate, no matter what?
  • Are you working for the client, no matter what?
  • Are you working for yourself as a professional, and feel that neither side owns you?

The last answer was the correct one, but even in the role of professional you still must not make unconditional agreements. Whenever I have been asked to offer the “silence of the confessional,” I have always responded, “I cannot make a promise concerning information of which I am not yet aware. But I do promise that I will only speak of this information in an effort to resolve the problem fairly for all parties. It would be wrong for me to act against the best interests of either you or the hiring manager.” If a hiring manager comes to me with a concern about a new hire and wants me to act in secret ó conspiring in an act I think inappropriate, premature, or simply illegal ó I also have a similar response: “My primary goal is to ensure you have the best possible people working for you. There are methods and tools we use to advise, encourage, and motivate employees to actively participate in correcting work-related issues; I will actively help you in any of those. But I cannot in good conscious act in concert against an unsuspecting person.” Taking sides not only hinders your effectiveness in supporting the current issue, but it sets a precedent for issues to come. If you are seen as management’s tool, then other new hires, existing employees, and potential candidates will get the word about you and, whatever value there was in it, this decision will have depleted your ability to intervene in and have real impact on all issues in the future. If management decides the same about you as pertains to employees, they will be less likely to consider you a resource and therefore less likely to include you in their confidences. Yet again, your ability to influence problems between hiring managers and new hires is diminished. If you suspect more than mere hand-holding is required, then you need to:

  • Collect information (the six “Ds” from above)
  • Encourage and counsel on the best course of action so that both parties can self-resolve the conflict with your assistance
  • Promise to be available for follow-up support

If the new employee or manager is reluctant to act:

  • Get permission to call the other side.
  • Define the role and limits you intend to attempt.
  • Promise a follow-up call within a specified time period.
  • Ensure you are not talking without knowledge of your “permissions” from the other side.
  • Ask the other side for their input before you make solution suggestions.
  • Don’t be afraid to tell one party or the other your concerns about their stand. Arbitrators are fair and open, but never blind or naive.

Nothing makes people happier than success in problem resolution. If you are successful, they forget whose side you were on ó especially if neither party thinks you were on the opposing side. Your career can survive in neutrality; it will not survive being identified as an ally of one party or the other. “Company Man/Woman” or “Social Worker” are not labels you should seek in your efforts to build internal or external client respect. The most effective impact you can have is engaging in multiple contacts with both parties, slowly elevating the message that each party needs to be aware, to gain perspective from the other party’s point of view, and to agree to discuss the issue. “Level 3” Issues The final level of impact is when you suspect that either party is preparing either to act against the spirit of the employment contract or to engage in a form of illegal action. In that event, your role is clear: You must either go the next level of management or contact the authorities. The situation will dictate the course of action. You are an employee, but you are also a citizen. Sometimes it might not be about HR/staffing and our little world. We also work and live in the real world. Workplace violence is often the result an escalating worker dispute where an abundance of willingness to do nothing prevailed and players chartered their own course unhindered by good counseling or effective intervention. Your goal to protect a hire, fee, or reputation is a good one and nothing of which to be ashamed. But there is a price for all decisions; make sure the price you pay for your action or inaction is one you will be willing to pay. Never overreact, never assume that the worst-case scenario is so remote as to not be worth contemplating. Don’t let your actions be guided by the one event on the table at the moment. Consider the long-term effect it may have on your ability to function effectively as a third-party arbitrator, either internal or external. Using the post-hire follow-up call to protect fees is a short-sighted and disastrous business approach. If you “shore up” bad hires past the guarantee date, the trend will emerge regardless of your fee-protecting efforts. If you use the call to protect your reputation as an internal recruiter by “babysitting” new hires, you also run the risk of delaying their corporate “toilet training” ó and before you know it you have a daycare center with your last 25 hires crying for their milk and cookies. The manager will note those hires who seem never to have been weaned from their HR/staffing connection. Always intervene with a plan to not make the situation worse than it already is and with an exit strategy of not being needed the next time. Opening Pandora’s box only went wrong in mythology; the rest of us have a chance to use Pandora’s experience to figure out how to do it right. Have a great day recruiting.

Ken Gaffey (kengaffey@comcast.net) is currently an employee of CPS Personal Services (www.cps.ca.gov) and has been involved in the Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration project since its inception. Prior to this National Security project Ken was an independent human resources and staffing consultant with an extensive career of diversified human resources and staffing experience in the high-tech, financial services, manufacturing, and pharmaceutical industries. His past clients include Hewlett Packard, First Data Corporation, Fidelity Investments, Fleet Bank, Rational Software, Ericsson, Astra Pharmaceutical, G&D Engineering, and other national and international industry leaders. In addition to contributing articles and book reviews to publications like ERE, Monster.com, AIRS, HR Today, and the International Recruiters Newsletter, Ken is a speaker at national and international conferences, training seminars, and other staffing industry events. Ken is a Boston native and has lived in the greater Boston area most of his life. Ken attended the University of South Carolina and was an officer in the United States Marine Corps.

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