Demonstrate Authentic Leadership as HR Transparency Grows in Business and at Work


Thanks to the growth of self-publishing and social media, human resources (HR) transactions that were formerly confidential (or at least externally confidential as to the internal workings of an organization) are increasingly becoming part of mainstream public and social media.

Three recent examples stand out for me as an HR practitioner:

  • The Indiana man (Brad) who asked Cracker Barrel why his wife was fired after 11 years of work via Facebook.  Cracker Barrel didn’t respond to the alleged firing but the Internet did and in a big way: #JusticeforBradswife.
  • The UUA Leadership (and Latina / woman of color) job candidate who was told by the hiring manager that she was qualified for the leadership job but “not a fit with the team”  – the team consisted of all white heterosexual men, and they hired another white heterosexual man instead of her. She wrote a blog post about her experience which went viral, which in turn resulted in the subsequent resignation of UUA President Peter Morales. In his resignation, Morales stated:  “It is clear to me that I am not the right person to lead our Association as we work together to create the processes and structures that will address our shortcomings and build the diverse staff we all want.”
  • That Fox News and their popular host Bill O’Reilly have settled to the tune of $13 million with five women who accused the political commentator of sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior, according to a report by the New York Times on Saturday, April 1, 2017. Fox News declined to answer whether or not Mr. O’Reilly had ever been disciplined; and O’Reilly has denied that there is any merit to the allegations against him.

Of the 3 examples:

  • The leadership response on the part of the now former UUA President is spot on. As with all stakeholder communications, engaging in an authentic and respectful leadership response speaks truth to social / public media power. The same advice holds true for employers responding to employee complaints and concerns (past, present and future) on Glassdoor.com – speak truth to social / public media power, and do it expediently, authentically and respectfully.
  • The lack of response on the part of Cracker Barrel does not appear to be the right response. In the vacuum of the facts, as an HR practitioner, there are only a few possible options for why Brad’s wife was terminated and Brad doesn’t know why:
    • Cracker Barrel terminated Brad’s wife after 11 years of service without telling her the reason (big mistake);
    • Brad’s wife was terminated for cause (theft, poor customer service, etc.) and Cracker Barrel is taking the confidential high road by saying nothing (in this reputation-crushing moment, silence equals yes);
    • Brad and his wife are lying (or Brad’s wife is lying to him), and Cracker Barrel doesn’t want pour gasoline on a roaring fire (unlikely, but possible).
  • $13 million in harassment claims settlements and Fox News has never disciplined O’Reilly; and O’Reilly denies any merit to the allegations? Then why pay $13 million after 5 (hopefully) thorough internal investigations to settle nothing?

In all of the cases listed above – the manner in which each respective organization responds authentically (or doesn’t) can either positively or negatively impact employee recruitment and retention. And in my experience – truth and authentic accountability wins every time.

What is your organization’s leadership response as HR becomes more transparent in social / public media in business and at work?

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