My company recently announced the hiring of a new vice-president. The announcement mentioned that this new hire had previously worked at a company where a good friend of mine was employed. When I called my friend to ask whether he knew this person, his review was extremely negative.
My friend characterized this new hire as “a bully” and “extremely toxic – he’ll poison everything he touches,” and alluded to the fact that the manager was found to have misrepresented himself , claiming to have credentials that he did not have.
Now he’s working for my company. I won’t report directly to this person, but I know people who will. I like my job and I like my company, so I feel that I should say something to our human resources department to make sure that they’re aware of this person’s history, and do what they can to prevent disruption. Do you have any advice?
THE FIRST ANSWER
Executive coach, Toronto
Your superhero reaction of “I’ve got to do something!” is admirable. It shows courage, loyalty to your organization, and empathy for those around you. But before you put on your cape, I encourage you to slow down and reflect on the facts, and to play out the scenario after you sound the alarm.
Your friend really didn’t like this guy; that is obvious. And maybe he was a horrible person at his last job. But what if it was the last job – the people, the demands – that brought out the worst in him? What if his behaviour was a reaction to stress in his personal life? Maybe he was being pressured to act a certain way. Or perhaps he’s trying to turn over a new leaf. And you say, “Yes, but what if he’s just pure evil?” My point is, you don’t know.
Given this uncertainty, can you justify accusing HR of missing something in their hiring process? Consider that you’d also be sabotaging this person’s reputation before he sets foot in the door, and risk appearing as a gossip or tattletale. Say you do stick your neck out: What exactly do you picture happening to “prevent disruption?”
Another option is to trust that your colleagues are savvy enough to form their own opinions, strong enough to stand up for being treated respectfully, and resourceful enough to do something about it if they are not. They may not need you to swoop in to save the day, but they are lucky to have you as an ally if your support is needed.
THE SECOND ANSWER
President and CEO, Spectrum Organizational Development Inc., Toronto
Nobody wants to work for a nasty boss. Bullying has become a hot topic everywhere you turn these days, from schoolyards through to the recent implementation of Ontario’s anti-harassment in the workplace law. It is in every organization’s best interest to prevent this type of behaviour at all costs.
While this person may have had a controversial stint at the other company, this may be a chance for him to “relaunch” himself with a clean slate, so it’s best to give him the proverbial first 90 days to see how he fits into your corporate culture. While there are bullies in many organizations, your friend is a single point of reference, and may not be a completely accurate judge of character.
With respect to the misrepresentation, this is a far more concerning matter. The “bully” approach is a soft-skills issue that can be addressed and coached; outright lying is another matter altogether. It is best to trust your HR department to have completed the necessary background and reference checks; it’s very likely that this person has cleaned up his CV this time around.
Be patient. One of two things will happen: Your organization may bring out the best in the new hire, or his past and ineffective behaviour will catch up with him.
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