The View from HR

The View from HR: Avoid snap decisions when dealing with workplace problems

September 21, 2013 

Football season is here again and it’s time for bad sports analogies! Human resources managers and other professionals defend so many risks caused by people. Yes, people are the greatest asset, but also the cause of most hard hits at work.

The failure of so many people to follow a productive game plan in both management and employee roles will never change. We can, however, change how we respond. My point is that the greatest risk employers face is not what the other player does, but how the manager responds. The fact is, employers are held to a higher standard by the referees and must behave better.

A current fascination among football commentators is the “read-option.” In essence, the read-option relies on the quarterback to read the movement of a selected defender then decide whether to run the ball or hand it off. It requires quick judgment under pressure. It can mean getting hit just like a running back. No set plan or play, just read and react.

Table the discussion

You do not want to use the read-option while managing people unless you want to end up under a pile of smelly liabilities. Management is not a snap-decision profession or one controlled by the actions of the other guy.

The big causes of risk at work are ignoring the problem and jumping on it with both feet. Instead, judgment and an appropriate amount of reflection before making a decision are usually the best course. Good judgment means the right questions get asked and the right people are consulted. It means being able to acknowledge that the manager might be part of the problem. It also means more than just taking your time, it means taking the right amount of time.

Employers get the yellow flags and penalties because they are in control of the workplace. Managers should accept that burden and use it to their advantage by using it to control the pace of decision making. Depending on the offense, you may find it helpful to table the discussion until later in the day. As challenging as this can be, it is always better to forego the hallway rant and instead set a time in the afternoon to discuss the situation. This allows you to seize on a bad act while it is fresh without letting too much emotion cloud the event.

Resist quick reactions

Employees have similar challenges when harmed by bad behavior from a colleague or manager. Sitting quietly and taking the offense, or defending in anger, will not likely bring about the result you desire. Not only can those choices harm your legal position as innocent victim, they prevent an effective resolution that could make the job so much better.

How do you know when to pass, hand off, kick or run? Experience is the best teacher, but purposefully resisting quick reactions to allow judgment to work is a good place to start. Managing people is not a sport, and employers own both the time clock and the field if they use them effectively. Sure, there are times for read-option plays at work, but not many. Shooting from the hip without a plan and a clear-headed purpose may get you the hockey hat trick: YouTube, Twitter and the courthouse.

Bruce Clarke, J.D., is president and CEO of CAI Inc., a human resource management firm with locations in Raleigh and Greensboro. CAI helps organizations maximize employee engagement while minimizing employer liability. For more information, visit

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