Employment Investigations: ‘She Said, He Said.” Are we stuck?!

“A simple “he said, she said” might stop some HR professionals in their tracks, but implementing an Awareness Talk allows you to satisfy the need to address alleged behaviors, protect the accuser and protect the company.”

By Rod Lacey, Sunstone HR

With No Additional Witnesses? There’s Nothing We Can Do Here, Right? If you haven’t faced this yet, you certainly will in any employee relations role. Susan comes to human resources sharing details of Gary’s dastardly action. The accusations are big enough that HR makes this a priority and immediately starts an internal investigation. The one catch in this situation is that there were no witnesses. Let’s assume Gary’s alleged action was significant enough to warrant immediate termination, if validated.

Where there were no witnesses, the next logical step in the investigation would be to interview Gary and present him with an opportunity to share his story. What if, when presented with the accusation, the Gary says “I have no idea what you’re talking about. I didn’t do anything of the sort.

You’re stuck, right? There’s nothing more you can do, is there?


Let’s consider the risk before we simply walk away with a shoulder shrug and assume that we’ll never get to the absolute truth (which may actually be the case).

If Susan is telling the truth, and Gary’s actions were in fact that bad, the company now knows about the alleged activity and has a duty to act to protect Susan. The company also now has a duty to make sure that Susan is not retaliated against, again, assuming that the allegations are valid. The company may also be held accountable for addressing Gary’s inappropriate behavior in a manner that would be enough to prevent it from occurring again.

On the other hand, if Susan made the story up, a false accusation could be extremely damaging to Gary, and no company wants to reinforce the value of a powerful untruth.


Despite the “he said, she said” nature of the ‘complete’ investigation, there is in fact something effective that can be done that respects both parties (Gary and Susan) and protects the company. I call it an AWARENESS TALK.

The Awareness Talk With The Accused

Once you’ve conceded that “she said, he said” represents the complete investigation, the Awareness Talk happens first with Gary (the accused) and might sound something like this: “Gary, we spoke earlier about the allegations we heard about your inappropriate behavior. I also recognize that you are denying that these things occurred. I am not accusing you of these actions, but (since we’re on that topic) let’s at least have an awareness talk about appropriate work behaviors and boundaries.”

The non-confrontational and non-accusatory approach of the Awareness Talk allows you to coach Gary, in detail, and record that this discussion has taken place.

That meeting needs to conclude with a review of a non-retaliation standard, especially if Susan’s name has been shared or is known. This can also be approached in a non-accusatory way like this: “Now Gary, before we finish, I’m sure you’re aware that employees have a right to bring concerns forward without fear of retaliation. I know you pretty well and can’t imagine that you would do anything like this, but just wanted to remind you of this. We’re not going to have any issues with this, are we?”

So, this is what we share with Gary, the accused. What do we share with Susan (the accuser)?

The Awareness Talk With The Accuser

After Susan is told that you were unable to validate the story, you are now in a position to confirm to Susan that “the behavior has been addressed and will not happen again” and that she will “not be retaliated against” in any way.

You should also ask Susan to immediately report any repeat behaviors and any sense of retaliation directly to her manager (or to HR). You can reassure her that these behaviors will not be tolerated in any way.

How does this protect the company? Let’s suppose that Gary was dishonest with HR and his behaviors were reported again in the future. If the company’s actions were scrutinized by an external party, it would be able to show that it actually did a pretty effective job of teaching policy and appropriate behaviors, despite the absence of a validated story-line.

Let’s suppose that Susan was being dishonest and just wanted to get Gary fired. The non-accusatory approach of the Awareness Talk prevents the company from being held liable for repetitional harm that might accompany a false accusation.


If you would prefer to strengthen the nature of the Awareness Talk, I would recommend implementing a tactic that I learned from Jathan Janove, called a ‘Same Day Summary.’ The Same Day Summary is a written document (which could be an email) to the individual that is delivered to the individual to summarize the day’s meeting.

To illustrate how a Same Day Summary works, after HR met with Gary, an email would be sent to Gary on that same day that summarized the nature of the conversation. The tone could continue to be non-accusatory, but would detail the scope of the discussion. “Gary, as you are aware we met today to discuss appropriate behavior in the workplace and more specifically reviewed these six topics . . . Please let me know if this summary does not match your recollection of the meeting or if you have any questions.”


A simple “he said, she said” might stop some HR professionals in their tracks, but implementing an Awareness Talk allows you to satisfy the need to address alleged behaviors, protect the accuser and protect the company.

An Awareness Talk coupled with a Same Day Summary gives you double the teaching opportunities and provides even additional documentation, should the company’s practice ever be brought into question.

A seasoned employee relations person recognizes that there are always two sides to every story, and that rarely do all of the facts line-up. Having an Awareness Talk in your bag of tools will be a helpful practice for any HR professional, especially when we’re stuck with very different stories.

For more information on Rod Lacey or Sunstone HR, click here!

Human Resources: Before You Aspire To A ‘Seat At The Table’

Before you aspire to sit at the executive table, please confirm that you like what’s on the menu!”

By Rod Lacey, Sunstone HR

I was involved in an acquisition of an organization in southern Switzerland. Stories from the executives first exploring the purchase described the lakeside city of Lugano, on the border of Italy. Not only did the location sound beautiful (palm trees?!) but they also described these incredible multi-course feasts that lasted for hours!

When it was finally my turn to visit Lugano and meet my HR team there, I was excited to experience first-hand the amazing feasts that had been discussed. There’s no doubt that my first and second night meals lived up to the descriptions! The food was a blend of Switzerland and Italy, and the courses just kept coming . . .

It would have been a foodie’s dream, but it was a nightmare for me. For someone like me, who is lactose intolerant, the never-ending cheeses and cream sauces destroyed my stomach and ultimately ruined my trip to the beautiful city of Lugano.

Before I aspired to a seat at that table, it would have been important to confirm that I liked what was on the menu.


Every human resource conference I’ve attended, and countless webinars and other presentations,

have preached that HR professionals should aspire to a “seat at the table.” Now, I firmly believe that “people” deserve a full-power, equal seat at the table, however that isn’t necessarily the only seat in the organization worth considering. Before you aspire to sit at the executive table, please confirm that you like what’s on the menu!

I’ve had a few different executive “seats at the table” in my career and have thoroughly enjoyed my affiliation with the senior leadership teams and the focus on company strategy. Compensation at that level is of course great and the prestige of the role looks good on a resume. What I didn’t realize as I gained that seat is just how much my menu would change.


An effective executive in any organization is an accomplished delegator. For the HR executive with a “seat” to succeed in this new role requires delegation of most of the duties that earned her that illustrious step in her career.

  • If she found success in talent acquisition and found recruiting most rewarding, she now has to delegate those duties to her team.
  • If payroll and HR databases were a passion, she now needs to have others build those systems and run his reports for her.
  • She, who was once the resident expert on benefits, now becomes reliant on her team to keep her updated on trends and changes.


While still expected to be an expert on everything HR, the ‘people’ executive with a seat at the table will become significantly more reliant on her team for information that she once would have pulled together herself. She will also generally spend more time in meetings than before. In fact, those increased meetings will likely have little to do with ‘human resources’, but rather focus on sales, profits, strategy and operations.

There is a high need and incredible opportunity for the right human resource professional to contribute meaningfully at ‘the table.’ To succeed at this new level requires not just effective delegation but also a new focus on the business itself. The customers you now focus on become the external customers. Your employees will not be forgotten, but your daily focus will be required to shift to a significantly different set of critical, business driving factors.

In essence, you’ve worked your way up the HR ladder, building expertise and gaining incredible experience in hopes of attaining the coveted seat at the table – only to learn that very little of your time will be spent using those finely-tuned HR skills. The hat you wear at that level is significantly different than even the most recent seat you might have occupied, which was still very much HR focused.

Gary Lear, President & CEO of Resource Development Systems, shared “If HR wants to get a seat at the table, then many of those working in HR will need to change their perspectives about their profession.”


There are lots of ‘seats’ in the organization and all arrows seem to point to ‘the seat at the table.’ We hear that goal and expectation from every seminar we attend and most articles we read.

A focus on ‘people’ in an organization has been an incredibly rewarding career choice for me and countless others. I think we recognize that there are many incredible seats in that career path. If you love your current seat or have an opportunity to grow in that track, maybe that’s best for you. Happiness in your role goes a long, long ways.

If your aspirations are higher, the business world needs driven, strategy-minded HR professionals to sit next to the CMO, CIO, CFO and the rest, playing an equal role. However, before you aspire to a seat at that table, please be sure that you will like what’s on the menu.

For more information on Rod Lacey or Sunstone HR, click here!

Can A Kick In The Gut Propel You Forward?

“. . . these low-points provide us with a fairly significant choice – do we double-over and let the kick take us out of the fight, or do we use that kick to propel us forward toward something greater?”

By Rod Lacey, Sunstone HR

Before the title of this article gets you caught-up in the laws of physics, let me clarify that I’m referring to a ‘professional’ kick-in-the-gut. You know the time when you’ve had that unfortunate event at work that hit you so hard that it hurt. Maybe it was a layoff. Maybe it was an unwanted transfer, demotion or role change. It may have even been that dreaded meeting where your manager brought you in and did his best to sound compassionate as he fired you. Whatever it was, that’s the kick-in-the-gut I’m referring to. Deserved or undeserved is not the issue. Fair or unfair also doesn’t matter in this equation. That. Just. Happened.

Most of us have, or will have one of these devastating meetings, and it sucks. Simply stated these are the low-points in our careers. However, these low-points provide us with a fairly significant choice – do we double-over and let the kick take us out of the fight, or do we use that kick to propel us forward toward something greater?

Let’s focus on the moments, days, weeks and months following the kick-in-the-gut and identify how we can use this kick in our favor. It is ultimately a choice we make, and the most exciting thing is that it is fully within our control.

Let me share a quick first-hand experience that illustrates how this works. This will be illustrated by two individuals selected for a layoff, whom we will nickname Rick and Deborah.

With my background in human resources I’ve had the tough ‘layoff’ discussion on far too many occasions. If you’ve been on the receiving end of this meeting at any point in your career, I’m sorry. Please let me assure you that it is not something that a good manager looks forward to.

When Rick was notified of his layoff, there was the standard reaction – shock, frustration, anger and ultimately a hasty exit from the facility. Rick struggled with the decision to the point that he wrote multiple negative online company reviews and wrote lengthy letters to company leadership in an attempt to tarnish the reputations of his now-former coworkers. Attempts from the company to positively communicate and assist him in finding a next opportunity were met with nothing but rage. Every struggle Rick faced as he sought his next opportunity was blamed on his prior company, which only added to his anger.

When kicked-in-the-gut, Rick was knocked down and embraced the pain and frustration,

allowing the cancerous nature of the frustration to consume him. Rick ultimately had choices to make after the kick to the gut, and chose the path of negativity and revenge. These choices unquestionably impacted his attitude, burned a bridge with his former employer and ultimately slowed his professional recovery.

Mandy Hale once said “A bad attitude can literally block love, blessings, and destiny from finding you. Don’t be the reason you don’t succeed.”

Let’s contrast Rick’s choices with how Deborah handled an almost identical situation. Deborah was called-in and given the same layoff notification. Deborah was of course shocked, but quickly moved to a position of support, asking what she could do to support her successor. Because of Deborah’s positive approach, she was allowed to stay on as an active employee for three weeks after the layoff notice (which I do not recommend as a practice) to assist in transition. During that three-week transition, only positive statements were made, even to those who approached Deborah and asked about how she felt about the decision to eliminate her position. Deborah seemed to embrace an attitude of “Life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it.” (Charles R. Swindoll)

Deborah took the same kick as Rick, but instead decided to let the kick propel her forward. Instead of posting negative company reviews, Deborah started to receive positive recommendations on social media. She had coworkers and her network immediately step-up and start to refer her to new opportunities. Deborah’s positive attitude and fortitude created an even stronger fan base anxious to help.

Wade Boggs once said “A positive attitude causes a chain reaction of positive thoughts, events and outcomes. It is a catalyst and it sparks extraordinary results.

On the other hand, Rick’s actions earned him an unfortunate “do not rehire” mark permanently attached to his employee file. Albert Einstein observed, “Weak people revenge. Strong people forgive. Intelligent people ignore.

How did Deborah really feel? She was hurt by the decision and had anxiety about her future, but when I spoke to her, she held her head high and expressed excitement about what the future might hold. She didn’t know why she was selected for a layoff, but her only mention of revenge against the company was actually a positive one. Believe it or not, Deborah’s ‘revenge’ path would ultimately be a win-win for both her and the company. Deborah planned on making the company question this decision – not through negativity or bad company reviews online, but by her future achievements. “The best revenge is massive success,” said Frank Sinatra.

The choices we make, especially after facing a challenge, can have a significant impact on our recovery. When the kick-in-the-gut comes, recognize that you have TOTAL CONTROL over whether you let that knock you down, or propel you forward. I will always lean towards the latter!

For more information on Rod Lacey or Sunstone HR, click here!

The Effective Leader – Accountability Flows Uphill

By Rod Lacey, Sunstone HR

When things go wrong in an organization, people see very quickly what the leader is made of. Leaders are generally given the benefit of the doubt when things are going well and the assumption is that the leader created those successes.

There’s an interesting change in mindset of the organization when things are going poorly. The organization often doesn’t immediately fault the leader, but looks to the leader to proclaim what the source of the problem might be.

How a leader responds when results are poor is a great test of her character. A good leader will remember that accountability flows uphill, while credit flows downhill.

Judge Smails, from the classic golf movie Caddyshack shared a witty poem about this leadership attitude:

“It’s easy to grin

When your ship comes in

And you’ve got the stock market beat.

But the man worthwhile,

Is the man who can smile,

When his shorts are too tight in the seat.”


Here’s a few stories that illustrate this concept rather well.


My sophomore year of high school I wrestled in the lightest weight class on my varsity team. Although the matches were one-on-one, when we wrestled against another school, there was also a team score. As the light-weight, my score was set early and the pressure was off as the team scores added-up. Those in the heavier weights, in a close match, didn’t just have the pressure of their own one-on-one results, but also the team’s results.

On a tightly contested match against our cross-town rival, one of our heavier wrestlers got himself into a tough position and ended-up losing a match that he should have won. Even though other wrestlers had lost, much of the team’s ultimate loss to our rivals seemed to rest on his shoulders. His loss sealed our fate, where the one match that followed mattered little toward the team result.

In the local paper interview following that devastating loss, our coach, Dick Fleischman, told everyone “That was my fault we lost that match. (The wrestler) did exactly what I told him to do.” Mr. Fleischman taught me an incredible lesson about accountability that night. When the world would have made it easy to point a finger at any of the wrestlers that lost, or a poor decision that got a wrestler in trouble, Mr. Fleischman took full accountability for his team’s result.


One day a HR Director showed up at work and noticed that all of the trees in front of the corporate office had been aggressively trimmed. In fact, these large trees looked awful! Where the HR Director was responsible for the facilities, he reached out to the Facilities Manager to learn more about how this happened. To his surprise, he learned that a well-intending, but inexperienced facilities employee had decided to trim the trees himself, to save the company money.

A furious CEO stormed into the HR Director’s office, having heard that the tree destruction was the work of one of our employees. He insisted on knowing the name of the employee who trimmed the trees because he was going to ‘have his head.’ The HR Director replied “I trimmed the trees.”

The CEO, now furious, pushed again for information and the HR Director again accepted the accountability for the failure, not naming the facilities employee. The HR Director went further to explain that this happened under his watch and was therefore his responsibility, and that if termination was in order, it should be him.

A bold move? Yes. A crazily bold illustration of accountability. Yes, as well.


A Vice President restructured his department and empowered his new department leadership to make all staffing decisions. The VP was involved in discussions, but only to provide insights, not to influence the direction of the team.

The team reached what many might have deemed to be an aggressive department change, which included laying-off two longer-term managers, but the VP embraced the decision as his own. After all, he had empowered the team to make this decision.

When the CEO and others ultimately disagreed with the decision, the VP explained the rationale (over-and-over) without ever disclosing that the ultimate details were not his decision. Whether he would have made the same or a different decision is irrelevant, because the VP understood that accountability flows uphill.


A good leader understands that she should ‘give credit where credit is due.’ When results are good, congratulations may flow, and a weak leader may be tempted to take the some of the credit for the successes. After all, she is expected to take accountability for the challenges, right?!

Faydra D. Fields once said “People who lack integrity will refuse to give credit where credit is due and will steal your credit and pretend to be you.”

The insecure manager may not hesitate to take credit for work that might not be his own. Sometimes fear of being replaced, or having his team ‘eclipse’ him in popularity. The manager truly interested in the organization and his team will give credit for successes to those who actually carried the load.

The impact of sharing credit with the team is captured by Brian Tracy’s quote “The more credit you give away, the more will come back to you. The more you help others, the more they will want to help you.”


The first human resource award I ever won was very early in my career, while I still worked for Idaho State University. The university had an extremely slow and cumbersome search process to fill vacant positions, and I built a simple technological fix that both quantified results and cut the time required to fill positions by over 30%. My boss took the idea to a national conference of the College and University Personnel Association (CUPA), where it won an award!

I excitedly awaited the return of my boss from this conference, with my plaque, but to my dismay, guess whose name was on the trophy? My boss’ name was on the trophy. He didn’t ask for it to be engraved that way, but my work was a reflection of his department and his leadership. The recognition committee didn’t ask for contributor names – they just awarded the department leader.

Credit flows inadvertently uphill on occasion, deserved or not. This is one of the biggest reasons that a good leader can afford to give as much credit as possible to contributors at all levels. I’ve been on stage and in other forums where my name has been listed in a ‘thank you’ from corporate leadership, where my team actually did most of the work. (If someone hands me a microphone, I’ll give credit where it is due, but that isn’t always a guarantee.)


When results are good, the leader is generally the first one to receive credit. When results are poor, the world looks for the leader to point a finger. The good leader can hold people accountable in private, but recognizes that accountability lies with her.

Remembering the two, simple, directional arrows is a great way to remember what flows up versus down. Share credit downward as often as you can, and remember that accountability flows upward. For what it’s worth, some of the most amazing leaders I’ve worked with have exemplified exactly this understanding of credit and accountability.

To learn more about Rod Lacey or SunstoneHR, please click here.

Don’t Let Your Compassion Start a Zombie Outbreak at Your Company

By Rod Lacey, Sunstone HR

Yes, you heard me right, too much compassion in an organization can create a zombie outbreak. Curious?! Please let me explain.

Let’s assume that Roger has been identified for termination, due to work performance. You could also swap-out ‘work performance’ for a simple layoff and the story remains basically the same.

As you sit with the CEO and COO to review how to orchestrate Roger’s departure, the COO identifies that he lives near Roger, and that he knows Roger and his family are going through some hard times. He doesn’t ask to reverse the decision (because it’s a good business decision), but does ask if there is some sort of compassion that could be showed to Roger.

What is decided is that Roger should receive what I refer to as a ‘work-out’ period. Roger will be told that he’s being let go, but given 45 days to remain employed and look for work. The compassionate manager felt that it would be easier for Roger to gain employment if there weren’t any gaps on his resume. They also considered how the extended dates would positively impact Roger’s benefits and hopefully ease him breaking the news to his spouse.


You know this type of manager! There are ultra-compassionate managers who simply can’t make these hard decisions, and when they must, they try to create as much padding as possible to soften the messaging.


Allowing an employee to continue working, after he has been notified of his termination, creates a period of time where I call him ‘the walking dead.’

Whether it’s the popular TV show on AMC, or the line from The Green Mile “Dead Man Walking” – we know what that means. We have someone of short-term, or no value walking our halls.

What can you expect from the walking dead in your building? After your compassion, only a small percentage will give their role full effort and energy. If the reason for termination was performance, that means you’re getting even less of the sub-par performance than ever before. How would this be a win for the employer?


Here are just a few of the risks associated with giving notice, then allowing the walking dead to roam your halls:

  • Roger could get another job and start to recruit your employees to follow him.
  • Roger could suffer a work-related injury that won’t go away as fast as his termination date.
  • Roger and his entire family could undergo surgeries that would run-up the company’s medical cost.
  • If Roger understands Medical Flexible Spending Accounts, he would likely spend all of the account, even if it’s early in the year and the account isn’t fully funded.
  • Roger could harass coworkers, creating a hostile work environment that could expose the employer.

What does Roger have to lose? Why would he be expected to remain committed to the organization?

I believe it’s clear that I am not an advocate for work-out periods because each of the above “risks” have happened to organizations I’ve been with.

In one situation, an individual that was terminated and allowed to pack his desk, and quietly left the building within 30 minutes of termination. In that brief, but unsupervised 30 minutes, he advised an active, high performing employee that she should get an attorney. Even a 30 minute work-out period failed!


Now before we commit to be fully heartless or cruel, let’s discuss a couple of different approaches

that simply work better.

First, if performance is the issue, please address it. Allowing an under-performing employee to remain employed makes little sense (if we’re to the point of termination), so simply let him go. Don’t delay, and don’t allow the walking dead to roam the halls for weeks.

Second, if you feel a need to be compassionate, don’t pay for 30-45 days of non-productive work that creates significant risk. If you insist on compensation, pay the individual something AFTER he’s left the building. If you’re just going to create risk with a work-out period, don’t do it! Offer the employee a lump-sum or schedule of payments, but probably in exchange for signing a waiver and release.


In my career I have had countless requests for work-out periods and have pushed-back on them all, but allowed several. I can honestly say that a couple of them turned-out okay. The vast majority, however, were a dismal failure. Most of those managers learned the hard way that their compassion came back to bite them, or the company.

When considering terminating an employee, work-out periods may seem compassionate, but they actually significantly increase the risks the employer may face related to that termination decision. If the decision is to terminate, get the employee out the door and avoid the zombie outbreak!

For more information on Rod Lacey or Sunstone HR, click here!