Secrets of a Brighter Workplace


Tips on how to understand, recruit and keep the best people for your business


How would you tackle these HR dilemmas in my New Year’s quiz?

Your starter for ten


The life of an HR manager is not an easy one. Not a day goes by without some sort of people-based dilemma needing your response.

From the crying interviewee to the disappointing manager. From the new employee who’s not pulling their weight to the irate applicant who didn’t get the job.

How would you deal with these dilemmas? And what does that say about the sort of HR manager you are?

Take my lighthearted New Year’s quiz to find out.

 1. A candidate starts to cry during a job interview. Do you?

a. Tell them to pull themselves together – and make a mental note not to hire this wimp.

b. Turn a blind eye to the weeping and carry on asking your interview questions.

c. Halt the interview, offer them a tissue and ask if they’re ok.

Crying in interviews is more common than you might think. Sometimes it’s simply because nerves get the better of us.

Or it may be unrelated to the interview. Something might be going on for the candidate in their personal life that has momentarily overwhelmed them.

The best approach is to stop the interview for a few minutes to allow them to get their emotions under control. Offer them a tissue and a glass of water and give them the chance to get some fresh air. Show sympathy but don’t pry into why they’re upset – it may be a private matter.

And once the interview is back underway, don’t be overly generous to them in your questioning, how you probe their answers or how you score. That’s not being fair to other candidates.

 2. During a period of restructuring, one of your most well-respected senior managers performs extremely badly in a development centre. Do you?

a. Fire them immediately. They’ve clearly been making it up all along.

b. Give them the benefit of the doubt. They’ve got years of good service under their belt. You can’t judge them on basis of one poor show.

c. Spend some time exploring this manager’s strengths and weaknesses with the development centre assessors.

Sometimes people are very good at hiding their flaws. For instance, they might be skilled at managing up but a nightmare to actually work for. These things can be revealed at a development centre. Or it might be that under pressure this is what people really see.

But it doesn’t mean they no longer have a place in your organisation. By looking at what happened at the development centre with the assessors you’ll get a better sense of the individual’s strengths and weaknesses. Enabling you to have an in-depth conversation with them about what needs to change. 

3. You tell a candidate they’ve not got the job and they have a right royal hissy fit about it. Do you?

a. Tell them to grow up. They’ll meet with a lot of failure in their lives, it’s time to grow a pair.

b. Tell them you’re really sorry. That it wasn’t them that was the problem, it was more to do with the organisation.

c. Let them have their rant, then calmly and professionally explain reasons behind your decision.

It is my firmly-held belief that everyone has the right to feedback – to help them understand where they went wrong and how to do better next time.

That doesn’t mean negative feedback is easy to take. Or easy to give. Often people get upset. But your role is to focus on the evidence of the interview and/or assessments you have before you. Explain where they scored well and where they fell down. Keep it professional.

Expect them to push back  – they may claim they do have experience in x, y, and z. But you need to explain that you can only base your decision on the evidence they provided on the day.

4. You’ve recently hired a brilliant new customer service representative but they don’t seem to be pulling their weight in the team. Do you?

a. Fire them while they’re still in their probationary period.

b. Ignore it – it takes time for people to find their feet.

c. Take steps to get to the bottom of the problem.

We often hire new people because the team is desperate for an extra pair of hands, but then find the new person’s twiddling their thumbs. Sometimes a well-established team can be unsettled by a new person and will need help to accept them into the clique.

So ask yourself, did you take the time to get the new employee up to speed or help them integrate into the team? Have you been clear about the role? Do other people in the team understand what this new person’s role is? Have you done enough to help the team bond now that its membership has changed?

5. You move one of your best performing managers into another area and suddenly they’re failing to lead. Do you?

a. Give them a warning – two months to improve their performance or they’re out the door.

b. Move them back to their area of expertise, quick-smart.

c. Talk to them, raising your concerns and to understand what it is that’s affecting their performance.

Leadership styles vary. Different leaders have different styles and different environments demand different styles. For instance, a fast-paced environment often requires a command and control leadership style.

Your manager may have honed their style over a long time. Now they’re faced with a new position, a new team, and it throws them right off. Equally their new team might be struggling having a new leader with a different style to their former boss. All of which can upset performance.

You need to explore with the individual whether they’re aware of their preferred leadership style and whether they believe it’s an appropriate one for the new environment they find themselves in. Are they willing and able to adapt? Seeking feedback from across the organisation will help them to take a good honest look at themselves – with their manager’s support, of course.

How did you get on?

Mostly As: Gosh, you’re hard-nosed aren’t you?! I’m surprised you’ve still got anybody working for you! You seem to have a very knee-jerk response to these dilemmas. It can’t be good for your blood pressure. I recommend a read of this blog to help you take a more considered approach to tricky situations.

Mostly Bs: Oh dear. You’re a bit of a softie, aren’t you? You must get walked over by everyone. A little bit of assertiveness training wouldn’t go amiss. I recommend too that you read this blog to help you develop a way to handle those difficult conversations you’ve been avoiding.

Mostly Cs: Ah, the perfect HR manager. Have a gold star. You handle things with calm and professionalism – and you know that sweeping things under the carpet or losing your rag won’t achieve your aims. Have a successful and well-people-managed 2017!

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