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EMPLOYEES ARE LIKE GEYSERS

12/17/2009 - “I need the hills of Wyoming, in the land of the buffalo . . .” – Ian Tyson

Several months ago, I had the great good fortune of being invited to speak to the semi-annual management conference of Ambulatory Surgical Centers of America (ASCOA), a long time client and friend of our firm. The conference took place in northeastern Wyoming, in a rustic old cattle town named Jackson. Jackson sits in a lovely mountain valley called Jackson Hole, looking up at some of the most spectacular mountains in the world, the magnificent Grand Tetons. One searches for words to adequately describe these mountains and valleys -- “stunningly beautiful” gets us headed in the right direction but, like all words, cannot nearly describe the force of nature in its purest and most pristine form. It is simply breathtaking. Even in mid May, we felt the temperatures linger into in the 20’s at nighttime with snow, in some places, as high as 6 feet.

When the conference ended after several days, Linda and I decided to drive about 60 miles to the northeast, past the occasional black bear and the great herds of buffalo and elk, to Yellowstone National Park and, of course, when you go to Yellowstone, your first stop is always “Old Faithful.” We made a couple of turns, located the lodge and the parking area and began to make our way over the boardwalk to watch Old Faithful erupt, when Linda succinctly remarked, “I sure hope we don’t have to wait a whole hour for this thing to go off!” Actually, she was more forceful than that . . . but I digress . . . . And then, with impeccable timing, just as we reached the observation area, we heard someone shout, “There she goes!” and, sure enough, there she went, high into the air, steam and water, hot vapor and spray. You can check out the official Old Faithful WebCam here -- http://www.nps.gov/archive/yell/OldFaithfulcam.htm.

I am reliably told that Yellowstone National Park is one of the “hot spots” on the planet, a spot where volcanic lava is particularly close the Earth’s surface, where you find a multitude of geysers and other volcanic activity. Old Faithful is but one of many geysers in this hot spot. It is not the largest one nor the most spectacular, but it is the most famous, primarily because of the regularity of its eruptions. Some geysers are predictable and go off fairly regularly, like Old Faithful. Some are much larger and more violent and go off sporadically. Some geysers foam and fizzle and some just sit there and bubble.

As I reflect on volcanic activity in those nether moments just prior to dropping off to sleep at night, it occurs to me that some employees are like geysers. They are going to go off in front of us in some way at some time, we just don’t know how or when or how forcefully. Some employees are as predictable as Old Faithful and go off regularly. You can count on this employee being in your office on Wednesday afternoon at 3:30, raising the roof about something that doesn’t suit him. Or her. Other employees lay dormant for a long period of time, but you just have the idea that there’s something going on, and then one day – there she goes, maybe taking a couple of others with her. Or him. Some employees foam and fizzle, where they’re always irritated about something, some days more than others, and they go around the workplace with a perpetual scowl of discontent. And some employees just sit there and bubble, like the great mudpots of Yellowstone. They don’t ever get too upset, but they’re never completely happy, either. They just bubble away most of the time and send up a mud balloon every now and then. Geyser Employees are good, in a way, because a geyser acts as a kind of steam valve and, once the steam has blown off, the Geyser Employee is calm again, at least for some period of time. Not all employees blow up like a geyser. Some are like the great bodies of pristine water in Yellowstone – warm, clear, content and glad to be here. Would that all employees were this way, but when it comes time for a Geyser Employee to unload, it’s critical to have a steam valve policy in place. Here are 3 important policies that will help handle Geyser Employees when they blow up, fizzle or bubble.

THE OPEN DOOR

One of our foremost goals is to ensure that you have a way to express your complaints, problems, opinions, suggestions, or comments. Our Problem Solving Procedure has that aim in mind, and we encourage you to utilize it as your normal way of solving problems. However, you have the right to talk about work related problems or complaints with any supervisor or any other member of management with whom you feel comfortable. This is our Open Door Policy and we want you to feel free to use it.

Seay Management Comments

Management used to think that the Chain of Command was the most important principle and that employees must follow the Chain of Command in resolving complaints. Today, however, we feel that the most important principle is “solving the problem,” and that it’s better to talk to someone outside the Chain of Command than to let the problem build up and get worse. Like the Second Law of Thermodynamics, Sandy’s Second Law of Management says, “Employee problems left alone tend to get worse, not better.” In addition, the Sexual Harassment regulations virtually prescribe that employees have alternate channels to report sexual harassment complaints.

EMPLOYEE PROBLEM SOLVING PROCEDURE

When problems arise at work, we want to have a way to resolve them and so we have established a Problem Solving Procedure to be used by all of us. If you follow the steps in this procedure, no one will criticize you or penalize you in any way. The sole purpose of our Problem Solving Procedure is to help you work out any complaint or problem that you might have. We regard the use of this problem solving procedure as an opportunity to correct any problem you have with job related practices and policies and we appreciate your help in accomplishing this goal. The Problem Solving Procedure has the following purposes:

1. To resolve employee problems in a just and equitable manner.

2. To provide a formal mechanism with time limits to ensure prompt handling of employee complaints.

3. To alert management to causes of employee dissatisfaction and to provide an opportunity to explain and/or to eliminate the causes of dissatisfaction.

4. To resolve employee problems without reprisal against the employee using this procedure, and

5. To create an atmosphere conducive to a high level of employee morale.

Here’s how the procedure works:

1. Your first step is to discuss the problem with your immediate supervisor. Every effort should be made to resolve the problem at this level to the satisfaction of both parties. The complaint should be discussed with your supervisor within two (2) consecutive workdays.

2. If your supervisor’s answer is not satisfactory to you, you have the right to submit your complaint to the President. He or his designated representative will review all of the facts and circumstances and, in most cases, give you an answer within five (5) consecutive working days. In some cases, due to the nature of the investigation or for other reasons, the review may take longer than 5 days and, if this occurs, you will be so notified. The decision of the President is final.

Remember, the only purpose of our Problem Solving Procedure is to give us an opportunity to resolve any problems or complaints of any kind. Our door is always open and when problems arise, we would like to have an opportunity to correct them if we can.

Seay Management Comments

The Problem Solving Procedure is like a good insurance policy – you hope you won’t have a storm, but you’re glad you have the policy, just in case. Even if employees don’t use the policy very much, there is comfort in knowing that it’s there. The idea is to have a formal problem solving mechanism that has different levels of appeal and time frames. The above policy has two levels but you can add one or two more, if your organization is larger. The Human Resources Director should not be in the appeals process, but should be a facilitator of the policy.

EMPLOYEE HOTLINE

If you have a complaint and would like to talk to someone outside the company, we have an Employee Hotline for your use. You can use this Employee Hotline to report your complaint anonymously or you may want to just talk over your problem with a person who can help. If so, you may call our Human Resources Consultant, Raleigh (Sandy) Seay. You may reach him at 407-722-7675 or sandy@seay.us. Sandy will listen to your complaint and offer you advice on the best way to resolve it.

Seay Management Comments

Owing to the impact of all of the employment regulations, particularly sexual harassment, this policy is becoming more and more popular with employees and employers. An Employee Hotline is another “steam valve” for employees and can help resolve problems before they turn into something worse. Sometimes, employees will talk with a third party more openly than with management, depending on the problem involved. Better for an employee to call and talk to someone who can help, than to have the employee call another person, who might not have the best interests of either the employee or the employer at heart. Many employers use Seay Management for this purpose and if you would like to talk about this service, please contact Sandy at sandy@seay.us, or your assigned Seay Management consultant.

IN CONCLUSION

A key part of management’s responsibility is monitoring employee morale and resolving employee problems when they arise. In addition to the policies mentioned above, an Employee Opinion Survey is an excellent tool for this purpose, and the DISC profile is a powerful team building exercise, in addition to being a major problem solving tool. Seay Management will be glad to talk with you about any of these important services.

A Few Year End Thoughts . . . Over the past few months, I’ve heard many of my friends remark that, owing to the “current economic climate,” they’re pretty happy to see 2009 come to an end. This could be true – Sophocles tells us that “Time is the arbiter of all things.” No doubt, the past 12-18 months have been tough for many businesses but Time, in addition to being an arbiter, is also swift, and the early glow of the 2010 sunrise now hovers expectantly, just over the eastern horizon. “There is nothing swifter than Time,” we are told by Ovid. At Seay Management, we have great confidence in a very bright future and our wish for you in this coming year is that you will be happy, and merry and prosperous.



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