WIWDD #5: Penelope

Posted by jlubans on November 03, 2020

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Caption: Nothing to celebrate
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This the fifth installment in my "What I Would Do Differently" series.
Penelope was a clerical worker in a three-person unit in my division. Besides Penelope, there was Joan, the unit manager, and Naomi, Penelope’s immediate supervisor along with numerous part time staff.
She was a proud person and reluctant to be directed. Her face revealed strength, suffering and dignity.
She had some physical disabilities but they did not interfere with her work.
But, she also possessed a sharp tongue and used it on occasion toward clients and her coworkers.
Naomi, as I recall, had some of the “mean girl” temperament. The more Penelope resisted Naomi’s guidance; the more Naomi persisted.
Joan, the unit head, deferred to Naomi.
Ultimately, Naomi and Joan came to me wanting to fire Penelope because of repeated insubordination. They had the documentation.
I met with Penelope to hear her side of things; but in the end I approved the termination.
Penelope went to labor court.
I believe the judge was going to reinstate her, but when she refused to sign a court document, he upheld the termination; her pride defeated her
A few days later Joan and Naomi came to my office with a bottle of champagne to “celebrate” the “victory”.
I believe this was orchestrated by Naomi. Before we had opened the bottle, my boss tapped on the door and called me out. He told me, in a few terse words, we should not be doing any celebrating, right or wrong.
What would I do differently?
Since the unit head was deferring to Naomi, I would have met with Penelope early on and explained to her what was happening and what had to happen to avoid termination.
Would this have made any difference? Probably not but it would have been fair.
Also, I would have tried to better understand Naomi’s motives. Was the discipline a pretense to get rid of a “problem employee” or a sincere attempt to help Penelope?
Finally, I’d not allow even a hint of celebration about this firing. It was an organizational failure.
Instead of celebrating, I’d ask Joan and Naomi to join me in a review of the outcome and how we could have done better. What went well and what did not?

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Copyright all text by John Lubans 2020
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