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Dave Durand | author
May 01, 2010
Filed under Ethics
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Experience meets expectations on the job

Dave Durand says ethics must be firmly woven into companies’ human resources efforts. Employers should create accurate expectations about jobs at the interview stage otherwise, when an employee’s work experience doesn’t match his expectations, he will look for answers. His findings will either lead to greater loyalty — or just the opposite . . .

Dave Durand

Dave Durand

If ethics aren’t firmly woven into your human resources efforts, then please stop everything and get started on making that a reality. I recently consulted with an organization on a dicey situation that almost led to an executive-level manager being fired. While I cannot discuss that particular situation in detail, it inspired me to share my thoughts on a subject I call “experience meeting expectations” on the job.

Employers are wise to create an accurate expectation about jobs right at the interview stage. Most of us have experienced cognitive dissonance — the uncomfortable feeling which comes from holding two conflicting thoughts in the mind at the same time — which can easily lead to frustration. When an employee’s work experience doesn’t match his expectations, he will look for answers. His findings (or lack thereof) will either lead to greater loyalty — or just the opposite.

On one hand, there are many honest reasons that an employee’s experience might not match his expectations. He may have lost focus and not listened very well during the interview. Perhaps, because of a personal bias, he heard things differently than the interviewer meant to present them. It could also be that changes took place between the time of his interview and his start date, causing shifts in responsibilities.

On the other hand, an attempt to recruit a highly qualified candidate might lead to embellishments by the recruiter. When it comes to building trust in an interview, overreaching promises about compensation, advancement and other perks are huge no-no’s. Whatever the reason, any misalignment in the employee’s mind must be corrected. In most cases, reasonable people find rational understanding. In other cases, however, it’s the beginning of employee disloyalty that can corrupt the entire culture of an organization.

This scenario has an obvious reverse side. There’s no shortage of stories about résumé embellishment, let alone blatant lies from job seekers. Once again, if experience does not match expectations, problems are sure to arise. Employers are looking for the same thing as employees: trust. Trust is a built-in “shock absorber,” which allows both parties to see each other in the best light. It’s the “I know the problem occurred, but he’s a good guy so let’s get past it” phenomenon.

In the scenario I mentioned in the opening paragraph, the executive had a colorful past on a personal level. He didn’t hide it from his prospective employer. In fact, the person who hired him openly accepted his past and even acknowledged from the start that he was willing to grow with the executive. He did, however, set boundaries. The employer expected to see the executive make a firm commitment to improvement on a personal level. He established lines that could not be crossed, but he also provided flexibility in other areas that some might find unacceptable.

That leads to an interesting ethical debate: Is it OK for one employee to behave in a way that would be unacceptable for another? In this case, the executive in question kept his job because during the interview he openly disclosed his personal issues and discussed the possibility of backsliding with the employer. The employer accepted the risks as long as they did not cross a certain line that might cause irreparable damage to the company. He also started the executive out with responsibilities that practically eliminated any risk to the company. So when the executive did backslide, no real damage was done and he was given some slack. He remained committed to getting help, and he did not hide his infraction.

But is that the right way to go about it? What happens to morale when the “brothers of the prodigal son” find out his fellow employee committed this violation? Will he rebel and cry “no fair”? Would he be wrong to do so? The executive in this situation was being drawn-and quartered by different people. Some were saying, “This behavior is unacceptable, so he should be fired.” They made a strong argument saying, “If we allow this behavior for him, then they would need to allow it for everyone.”

As I reflected upon this experience, I remembered a policy of one of my early mentors. He told me that in order to treat everyone fairly, he needed to treat everyone differently. I will never forget that. Is it practical? Does it water down values and standards? At the end of the day, it’s an utterly Catholic approach. The complexities of situations lead to complex solutions. This is why leadership will always be more of an art than a science.

One thing is for sure. Leaders need wisdom. James 1:5 tells us that “if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and he will be given it.” Astute advice, indeed.

Dave Durand is the best-selling author of “Perpetual Motivation” and “Win the World Without Losing Your Soul.” He is a business executive and trainer of well over 100,000 individuals in sales, marketing and business management.

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