Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at

An insubordinate employee tool-kit

When it comes to dealing with troublesome employees, it turns out no manager is immune. From the owner of the smallest entrepreneurial firm to the head of the largest corporation on the planet, almost everyone has found themselves, at one time or another, caught in a sticky personnel situation.

Before news got out earlier today regarding the sacking of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top military official in charge of the Allied war effort in Afghanistan, I sought advice from a local HR professional on what any manager – including myself, many of readers of this column, and yes, even President Obama –should do about an insubordinate employee.

“It depends on the nature of the insubordination,” said my source on the subject, Southwest Washington Human Resources Management Association programs co-chair Matthew Warner. “What they really need to do is meet with the employee and find out what’s causing the disconnect.”

With my mind recalling news of President Obama cancelling a previously-scheduled video conference and flying McChrystal 7,000 miles to his doorstep at the White House, I’m thinking that Warner, who is also an HR manager at Albertina Kerr Centers in Portland, might really be onto something here.

“So what should a manager do next?” I asked him.

“It’s important for them to make sure the employee realizes that this is not how one should conduct oneself in the workplace,” Warner said.

Meanwhile, I wonder if this might have been how President Obama phrased it to McChrystal when he confronted him about being quoted blasting senior members of his administration and calling his Commander-in-Chief “uncomfortable and intimidated.”

In any case, the President stressed in his news conference today that his decision to replace McChrystal with Gen. David Petraeus wasn’t “personal”– a good move for anyone looking to diffuse a difficult employee situation, according to Warner.

I then asked Warner if there was anything a business owner, sales lead or say, a newspaper managing editor should be wary of after meeting with an insubordinate employee.

“I think you should do a quick risk assessment,” he said. “If you are looking at possible retaliation, you need to protect yourself and the company.”

Hear that President Obama? I’m hoping you’re watching not only your own back, but ours too.