MonthFebruary 2012

Don’t Major in Minor Stuff

There’s a lot going on this week. The Oscars were Sunday night and Black History Month ends this week while Women’s History Month begins … and today is Leap Day!

I was trying to figure out how to converge all of this into a meaningful blog post when I started seeing a bunch of posts on Facebook and Twitter about Billy Crystal in “black face” at the Oscars this year. This was in reference to his wearing dark make-up and impersonating the late Sammy Davis Jr. in one of the opening skits for the show.

I was really upset and annoyed by this because 1) I love Billy Crystal, 2) I love Sammy Davis Jr, 3) costume make-up is NOT the same as “black face” and 4) there are much more pressing issues facing minorities than this!! Like seriously. People are actively campaigning and lobbying to essentially turn back the clock on our rights in America … and we’re up in arms about Billy Crystal as Sammy Davis, Jr?!?

Chile, please.

I was ranting about this with one of my closest friends when she shared a favorite quote …

Don’t Major in Minor Stuff

As minorities and “protected classes” of people, we often let ourselves get rope-a-doped into this. We focus on minor things like the guy in the cubicle next to us who greets “Whassup, brother” — instead of the major things like the company having no women or people of color on the senior management team. We get mad when we’re seven months pregnant and the boss asks us to create a plan for how work will get done while we’re on maternity leave — instead of being mad that the actual maternity leave is only 4 weeks and completely unpaid. We major in the minors.

Not every issue worth throwing down the gauntlet for. Not every issue is worth the time and attention required to solve or resolve it. Not everything is major.

This isn’t to say there are not real issues in workplaces surrounding stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination. There are. I know because I have faced them and continue to face them. Sometimes they are overt, other times they are more subtle and other times they rumble so far beneath the surface that you can never quite put your finger on it but you know that you know that you know that it is there. I get it …

But there are times when it is just the organization’s culture or the supervisor’s personality or even your own personality that result in these conflicts. We label it as prejudice or discriminatory behavior when it’s really just “bad fit” and we start to see a pervasive patterns where they do not exist.

So how do you know where the line is?

  • As an employee, it is important to understand what discrimination is. It occurs when an employee suffer adverse impact or is denied opportunity based on their being a member of a protected class. Adverse impact is when standards or procedures applied to everyone lead to a substantial difference in employment outcomes unrelated to successful job performance for a protected group. It is important to remember that adverse impact is not automatically unlawful or discriminatory. Some stuff just goes along with the needs of a particular business. You need to stay open to this possibility because sometimes this happens and there is nothing an employer can or should do about it.


  • As an employer/manager/HR person/leader, you need to be sensitive to the potential unintentional discrimination caused by adverse impact in your organizational structure, policies, procedures and practices. Because we all know these things exist! We have a responsibility to identify and confront these issues head on — then work to reverse the issue when possible. This is what truly “seeking diversity” is all about. Otherwise, we end up majoring in minors by focusing on the celebration of various things without having the variety of people there to actually enjoy it.

So on the extra day we have this year and as we transition to a new month where we’ll celebrate more great contributions and reflect on the progress of another group who has faced historical challenges, let’s commit to seek real diversity and understanding all year round — and stop majoring in minor stuff!

Epic Fail – Part 4

I wasn’t always a rockstar in HR. I’ve made quite a few major blunders in my career. I’m going to share the stories of the ones that most impacted me this month in a series. Keep reading …


Kevin was fired for a major quality error. He called to appeal the decision. He felt that he shouldn’t have been terminated because another employee had made the same error a few weeks before and only received a suspension.

I looked into the issue and found out he was right. There were actually 2 others who made the same quality error and only received suspensions. I brought it to my supervisor and recommended we reinstate Kevin. She agreed with me and said she would talk to the shift supervisor and tell him to bring Kevin back.

Kevin called me to follow up on his issue right before I left for the day. I let him know that we’d decided to reinstate him and were just waiting on the final decision on when he would return to work.

However, when I returned the next day, I learned my supervisor and Kevin’s supervisor had decided on a different course of action. We were not going to reinstate Kevin.

But I already told him that we were going to bring him back!?!

That’s what I thought. But I didn’t say that. I didn’t say anything.


I went back to Kevin and let him know about the change. He … went … OFF!! He called me names and threatened to sue us and demanded to speak with my supervisor. I didn’t have a choice but to transfer him to her.

I was cold busted!

I was written up and essentially benched from handling employee dispute issues for a good while. I disappointed my supervisor, who was someone I admired very much. And most of all, I really disappointed myself. My fear of “getting in trouble” actually landed me in more trouble than if I’d just come clean in the first place. And it cost the company money because we ended up having to offer Kevin a severance to avoid a lawsuit in part because of my screw-up.

But I learned a couple things:

It ain’t over til it’s over. When handling any issue that requires multiple approvals, do not announce or promise anything to anyone until everyone has agreed to everything. Most of what happened could have been avoided if I’d just kept my mouth shut. “We’re still looking into it” and “I don’t have an update” are more than acceptable answers. So is “I don’t know.” Use one of those instead of divulging details that aren’t final.

The cover-up is always worse. We all mess up. Sometimes majorly. Trying to conceal the error will never solve the problem — it will only magnify it when the truth comes out. And the truth always comes out! Take a deep breath and confront the failure. Then figure out what you’re going to do to fix the error and make sure it doesn’t happen again.

In case you missed the rest of the Epic Fail series, read and relive the ruin with Part 1 , Part 2 and Part 3

Epic Fail – Part 3

I wasn’t always a rockstar in HR. I’ve made quite a few major blunders in my career. I’m going to share the stories of the ones that most impacted me this month in a series. Keep reading …


All Alfonso dreamed about was making me look bad so I would be fired and he could take my job.

And he was the first direct report I ever had.

I never wanted him, for the record! The behavioral testing said he was highly competitive and did not possess the will-do attitude toward administrative tasks. The amount of paper pushed was huge so I thought it was going to be a problem. I also didn’t think working on a team with someone who tested “highly competitive” was in the best interest of anyone involved. I wanted to keep interviewing; the rest of the group thought we’d found the best candidate. My boss and boss’s boss were 2 of the other 3 so I caved.


Alfonso made my life miserable. His work product was less than satisfactory. He did not follow instructions. He gossiped about me to the client and my coworkers, causing them to question my work ethic and management skills. He convinced them that I was territorial and unwilling to share my knowledge with him because I feared being replaced — and that I was the reason he was failing. Every attempt I made to coach or counsel him blew up in my face and somehow only seemed to confirm what he was saying about me. They bought into his lies.

I was devastated. And I didn’t know what to do because I didn’t know how to manage someone on a professional level. With our production employees, it was easy. But Alfonso took a level of finesse that I didn’t have.

I gave up. I let him run amok. My working relationships and our relationship with the client suffered tremendously.

Eventually, Alfonso was exposed. I let him put together the Quarterly presentation for our client — to help his “development” of course — which was it’s own epic fail! It took him forever to compile the data and what he had was wrong because he hadn’t been keeping up with the reporting. The client had questions about how we were going to staff and train for the summer forecast that he couldn’t answer because he hadn’t followed the plan I’d given him to learn the machines and training program. It sucked to watch his demise at the expense of our reputation, but I didn’t know what else to do and nothing else I tried had worked.

About a week after that meeting, Alfonso quit. He didn’t even give notice. He just walked in the door, dropped his letter and keys on the desk and walked back out. Three months later, we lost the account to a competitor. And I left the company to pursue my MBA with hopes of going into traditional HR Management.

Here’s what I learned:

  • Trust your hiring tools. We put screening and selection methods in place for a reason. Never ignore the red flags or talk yourself into hiring a candidate who is lacking in a significant category.
  • Performance must be measurable. Nothing is more critical than for a manager to be able to quantify the work of their subordinates. You have to know what they do, how they do and why they do it so you can coach, counsel and correct them as needed. Managers who cannot successfully do this will always fight an uphill battle and find themselves chasing their tail on development and discipline.
  • Business is personal. Anyone who says otherwise is lying. Keep your circle of trust small. Guard your reputation. Like a trained attack dog.
  • Give up but don’t give in. There are times when you’ll try everything you know but nothing can change the person or the situation and you just have to let the fallout happen. But never at the expense of your honor or principles. Maintain your integrity even when no one else does. Wear it like a badge.

I never heard from or saw Alfonso again. I googled him out of curiousity in preparing this post. He’s working in construction now. The HR profession is better off.

As much as I’d like to say I would thank him if I saw him … I can’t.

Don’t Be a Fast-hole

Today is Ash Wednesday, which starts the Lent season for Christians around the world. Although fasting during this time is typically associated with the Catholics, many other denominations give up on certain things as well. I am not Catholic but I’ve fasted during Lent for almost 10 years now. In the past, I’ve given up sweets, Pepsi, coffee — last year, I gave up Facebook. That was tough! It all depends on what I think will allow me to recenter my spiritual self.

I don’t advertise it though. I’m not looking for sympathy or accolades. I share it with friends to help keep me accountable. But I don’t walk around with a button for 40 days that says “Kiss me! I’m Fasting.” Especially at work because I choose to be sensitive to other people.

However, without fail, each year, somehow the subject comes up. I was chatting about this with a couple blogger friends the other day. And I was reminded of an incident a few years ago with a “Fast-hole.” All workplaces have at least one. That person who just has to ask and monitor and comment about what everyone is doing surrounding their religion’s fasting times.

I’d given up sweets for Lent that year. It was a struggle because I love all things sugar. But I was doing well! I was in the lunchroom one day, waiting for my food to heat up and sipping some iced tea when the Fast-hole walked in.


What are you drinking?

Iced tea

Sweet tea?


Aren’t you supposed to be off sweets?

This isn’t sweets

It’s sweet tea

It’s not sweets

It sounds to me like you are making excuses

It sounds to me like you should mind your business

Well, fine with me. You’re the one who has to explain that in the after life

Well, good thing you don’t hold the keys to the Kingdom


I was really annoyed. And offended. And uncomfortable. After I heard that similar encounters had happened with other people, I pulled her aside and told her that it was really inappropriate and she should stop. She was totally unapologetic about it but she didn’t make any other comments to anyone after that.

Many religions have periods of fasting during the year. Be respectful and considerate during these times. If you are a manager, make sure the employees in your influence and supervision are respectful and considerate as well. You may even need to make a religious accomodation if the person asks.

But please don’t be a Fast-hole! Keep your comments about people’s religious practices to yourself.

And if you guessed that I am giving up expletives this year, you might be right …


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