Thursday, July 22, 2010

Good HR Could Have Saved Shirley Sherrod’s Job

You may have seen the news about the USDA employee, Shirley Sherrod, who was asked to resign on Monday. In a nutshell, a video of a presentation she gave was edited to appear that she denied aid to white farmers based on their race. In a matter of hours after the firestorm started on Monday, she was suspended. She was then told to resign and, before the day was out, was told to leave immediately and to return her government car. On Tuesday, they found out that she hadn’t actually done anything wrong…

This is where good HR practices come in. Firing people is a highly emotional business, but it never has to be immediate. When training leaders I always advocate taking the time to thoroughly investigate a situation. After all, what’s the rush?

There’s a simple tool, called a “suspension pending investigation,” that leaders should always use prior to rule violation terminations. The USDA started there. Unfortunately, they rushed past the investigation process on their way to the firing line.

Temporarily removing the person from the organization gives you time to do a thorough investigation. It should include: interviewing the person, their co-workers, the supervisor, and reviewing your policy on the violation. It also provides time to allow cooler heads to prevail.

As of this morning, the USDA has offered Shirley a new position. The verdict is out on whether she will accept; unfortunately the damage has already been done. Firing is a last resort action for employees that can’t or won’t positively contribute to an organization. Before you fire someone, make certain that you get ready, take aim, and then fire.

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