The Answer Is Sometimes Down the Hall

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One of my first published pieces in an HR magazine was on the topic of internal capabilities being right down the hall. Published in World at Work’s WorkSpan in March of 2008 as a First person editorial. I had stated; “when did business forget that the people who know best work within its own four walls?”

Now I want to revisit the topic, but instead of “consulting” on a project, I want to talk about hiring for open positions. The same rules apply. Before looking to the outside to fill positions you should look inside first.

Recently I had my own personal experience with being snubbed for an internal role at Adelphi University where I teach one or two classes a semester in the business school.

As many of you know I have been an adjunct there for several yrs. I love the classroom and more importantly the students. I am refered to as the “HR guy” by administration and some of the faculty. If I could have a do over in life, I would have worked towards a PHD years ago, and I would be teaching full time right now…

In 2012 I was recognized for HR innovation by HR Executive Magazine, when I “Traded Places” with Professor Hyland, a well respected HR professor at the University. She worked her sabbatical in my HR group at Marcum.  I taught one of her classes in the MBA program. You can read the article here.

In 2013 I was awarded the University’s Teaching Excellence award for my innovation in the classroom. I was the first Business School professor to be recognized for this prestigious award in over a decade.

I often help my students navigate the real world of work. Whether it be job search and interview coaching, letters of recommendation, networking to HR folks, or mentoring on a myriad of life/work issues.

And the icing on the cake is I regularly receive some of the highest student ratings year after year in the Business school.

So, one might think when I applied for not one but two different full time roles in the Business school this past year I would at least be considered.

Well not only was I not considered, I never was asked to interview, I never received an email, a phone call, or a courtesy conversation by the Dean or the HR department. Not even a “Dear John” rejection letter . Zero communication…..

Now with all my years leading HR functions across multiple industries, I can say personally that I would never allow this to happen to an internal applicant. Putting aside policy and protocol, you just don’t treat an employee this way, even if they are not the most qualified or the best choice.

You show them decency and respect. You act ethically and humanly by communicating with them. If they fall short in an area they can work on you make sure they get positive feedback and some direction for the future. You turn a disappointment into a positive feedback opportunity. You close the loop.

But I received none of that. So, I did what many would like to do but few would do. I pushed my concern and dismay up the ladder. And here is the biggest learning from the whole experience. The Business School Dean knew nothing about my situation and when confronted tried to pass it off to others on his team. The President of the University also took a flyer on meeting with me and “Punted” the situation to the Acting Provost. She said she was just too busy and thanked me for all I do for the University.  I didnt even bother approaching HR at the university as it plays only an administrative role of posting jobs and work flowing resumes. They probably don’t even know there is an issue. This all happened over an 11-week time frame this winter and early spring. As of the time of my hitting the Publish button, this is still unresolved….

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I am meeting with the Provost shortly (this week) and am sure to receive the proverbial mia culpa without anyone taking responsibility or action. The sad part of this story is I am not the only Adjunct faculty member in the business school to be treated improperly or passed over for open roles this past year. Just the bravest or maybe dumbest to actually say something and try to evoke a response and some feedback.

When I ran Customer Service and E-commerce, along with HR at Leviton a few years ago, we used to get a customer complaint on rare occasions over our product or tech support. We always responded quickly and with keen interest to make the customer feel they were heard and to do our best to resolve the situation. We prided ourselves on this. It was part of our culture and maybe part of the DNA of each of our employees. They understood the value of listening to customers and treating them right. Many organizations view their employees as customers and treat them in a similar matter. Unfortunately in this instance there was no employee centered action.

So, what can we learn from my personal experience?

Let’s start with some basics. Internal candidates should be parsed or filtered from external candidates. If your organization isn’t doing this, stop reading this now and take some action. If you have a different view point please feel free to comment.

We all know our internal employees are known quantities and regardless of whether they are the best choice, you should provide a level of dignity and respect. You should also close the loop with at minimum some type of dialogue.

I have been monitoring Gallup Data on employee engagement for years and it continues to be poor here in the United States. The majority of employees are not engaged or disengaged. Recent Gallup data is 70% not engaged. That is a scary number and one you should take note of. Turnover is still an issue that all organizations continue to struggle with.

If your employees had similar experiences to mine, how do you think they would feel when treated poorly.

We all know the answer.

Now some might say this is sour grapes and maybe in some way it is. But it is also a cautionary tale and one that unfortunately happened to me. One that all of us should learn from.

Unfortunately in the end Organizations prefer to look to the outside as if the folks down the hall are incompetent. That is a sad commentary on our society. We can do something about it if we choose. We can find better ways to treat people…

Anybody with me???

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