Earlier this week, I had the privilege of judging various middle school mock trials that the Connecticut Consortium for Law and Citizenship Education sponsors. Students "try" a case with lots of items you’d see in a regular trial — opening statements, direct and cross examination of witnesses and closing arguments. I’ve done this for almost a decade now and have always enjoyed seeing the energy (and nerves) that these students bring.
One important aspect that they bring to the case is simplicity. Sure, not every issue is thought out, but the students (mostly) were able to focus on a few items that they thought would make a difference in the case.
In the mock trial case, a student was accused of vandalizing a cemetary. Although there were lots of extraneous issues (did the cemetary have posted hours, etc.), the students focused on something simple: Where was the student at the time of the incident? Once they were able to focus on the alibi, deciding the case became much easier.
The mock trials reinforced an observation I’ve had over the years: adults tend to make issues more complicated than they need to be. We tend to analyze and overanalyze the issues, looking at the pros and cons of everything. Cost/benefit analysis are performed and ultimately, decisions are second-guessed and micromanaged.
This is particularly true in human resources. Sure, there is an alphabet soup of employment laws to worry about, which I’m not minimizing, but not every decision implicates an all-hands-on-deck approach either.
How can a human resources representative avoid this pitfall? By keeping things simple, just like students do in middle school. Break an issue down to easiest components and, if necessary, ask a few basic questions.
If you’re considering a firing, for example, are there contract issues at stake? Is the person in a protected class? Is the decision well-documented? Will the decision seem "fair" to an outsider?Asking these basic questions may not solve all the issues related to the employment decision, but it may answer most of them.
For a memo regarding an employee’s performance, again, keep things simple. Point out how the employee’s performance is not up to par and what the employee needs to do to improve. Then suggest steps to get there. Consider using bullet points to get the major issues across.
I won’t belittle this issue by suggesting that you learned all you need to know to make these decisions in kindergarten, but by the same token, not every HR issue needs to be turned into a full-blown legal crisis either. Keep it simple, be straightforward in your approach, and most of the time, you’ll be on the right track.