Open Door – “You Shoulda Picked Ned”

The “Open Door” stories are all composites. Real situations I have faced in one form or another, but written with respect to those who have shared parts of their lives with me at work. And if you’ve worked in HR very long, you have dozens like these.

When we have a promotional announcement to make at the factory, I usually plan to be in my office shortly after the email release. I know someone will come by with questions, comments, or concerns. This time was no exception.

“Did I read that right? Really? You didn’t give Ned the job?”  Larry was standing in the doorway with a printed copy of the email announcing the new operations lead. Not only was Larry Ned’s best friend, but he was his brother-in-law. I’ve never worked in a plant where there wasn’t a high degree of familial connections.

“Have a seat Lar, I’m sure you read it right. What do you need to know?” We had awarded the job to an employee from one of our other facilities. She had led her team through exactly the change in process that we were about to undertake, and had done so in a way that everyone involved praised her performance.

“Ned has been here since you broke ground, you know that. Ain’t nobody who knows the people and the processes here like Ned. No one is gonna like this I tell you. You shoulda picked Ned.”

I waited to see if Larry had anything else he wanted to say. To see if he was blowing off steam or felt he deserved an explanation. It was the latter.

“Larry,” I began, “I can’t share the details of this decision, obviously. And I assure you Ned got strong consideration. He also was made aware of this decision and totally understands it.”

“But I can tell you he’s hurt,” Larry responded. “You may have lost him and his – what do you call it again – engagement”.

I was already confident that Ned was bought on to the decision, and he had already spent some time with the new leader on the phone, helping her to understand what the key issues at our facility were. He might even be more engaged than ever. I tried to get Larry to re-think his position.

“Do you remember Tom Turner?” I asked. T-squared, as most people called him, lost his job when he got promoted into a role he simply could not perform in. I had done everything I could to convince the manager at the time that this was a mistake, but he only acknowledged that 18 months later when we had to let Tom go.

Larry looked up at me, knowing exactly where I was headed.

“You can’t tell me that Ned is another T-squared. He is so much better than that a-hole”.

“T-squared did not lose his job for being an a-hole,” I said. Though I know it was a contributing factor. “But he had never done what we needed done, and we can’t afford to be a training ground. I am not willing to send another employee out the door because we set him up for failure.”

“That wouldn’t happen with Ned, you know. If you’d have given him the job, you would see.”

“Maybe so, I responded. But I assure you that he will be a big reason why we pull off this big process change next year. And we will all be very proud of what the entire team will have accomplished.”

Larry knew there wasn’t anything more to say. He got up, thanked me for my time, and left.

And Ned continued to be the awesome, engaged employee he always was.Maybe even a little grateful that he didn’t have to lead the conversion project, but still was a key player in making it happen.

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