Pause, reset, trust

I had a meeting scheduled with my bosses yesterday to discuss our recruiting efforts. After what happened on Friday with two hand-picked candidates asked us to meet with (and turned out to be kind of awful people), I was bewildered and confused by the process. Their reaction when I tried to discuss it muddied the waters further as well as left me feeling completely disrespected and on the path to demoralized.

Sunday the scheduled meeting was moved into the afternoon and a management meeting scheduled instead – which is just me and the partners, versus the 5 of us, 2 supervisors, 3 seniors.

The situation was unfortunate, because it made me wonder who these men were and what had happened to the cooperative, creative bosses I had earlier in the week. While I am not a shareholder in this firm, I am typically included and consulted with regard to management of the firm. To be shut out and shut down so completely is awful; had they physically reached out and slapped me I would not have been more shocked and surprised.

And as if they had physically assaulted me, it gave me enough pause to stop and really consider my options and alternatives if this is the way things are going to be moving forward.

My ways of processing things is partly analysis of the situation, it’s possible reasonable (and unreasonable) explanations, and figure out what must happen to make restore peace in my fiefdom that is my day job. While I really love the staff and the role itself, if I wanted to work in a compartmentalized corporate conglomerate where I am a mere cog in the big giant wheel I would have chosen another type of firm. If it took 18 months for the partners’ Dr. Jeckyll to transform in Mr. Hyde, experience tells me the time span between future transformations will evolve into a briefer and briefer pattern.

After leaving my prior employee-based position, I swore not to put myself into another position where I am cleaning up the messes resulting from lack of communication and poor decision making. If I am in a role where I am supposed to be managing something to manage firm resources and personnel, I need to either be part of the solution or my job becomes a cancer that takes over my life.

This weekend, I decided we would resolve this issue or I would be turning in my notice. Sounds extreme, I know, but in truth I have a thriving part-time self-employment business and am routinely having to turn away referrals from existing clients because I don’t have time to take on a lot more new work. While making money is really nice – I am a capitalist at heart and do appreciate my opportunities to make lots of bucks – it is not worth sacrificing my self-respect or feeling undervalued and unappreciated. That said, I am not someone with an over-inflated ego; I so nor believe myself indispensable and beyond reproach for my skills and work habits. I am well aware that everyone is replaceable and there are literally dozens of equally to more qualified candidates out there. But whether those other candidates bring the same level of care and compassion to the work, I have no idea. I do think my empathy coupled with practicality, skill set, and willingness to be fair and balanced in dealing with people – maybe it’s less common.

M and I had discussed this extensively over the weekend, and I had a few in-depth conversations with other friends who are in similar lines of work. I needed a gut-check to ensure I was not massively overreacting. But at the end of the conversations, I would probably still be inclined to walk away if this was the new world order at my firm. Love the people, actually really like and respect the partners as well, but I cannot and will not work with my role and priorities being altered without any discussion or notice.

With this all settled for me, I went into the meeting with a clear head and an open mind. I had my hopes – an explanation at the very least – and was not completely disappointed by the outcome.

There was a genuine apology for their brush off. There was opportunity for me to vent my feelings – primarily anger, disappointment, and betrayal. I felt set-up, walking in blind with a couple of candidates they already knew or were at least familiar enough with to invite to meet with us. No debrief? No advance warning? Or was it the candidate set-up with extended hopes and expectations?

Uncomfortable silence around the table when I laid it out for them in black and white, and I was dimly reminded of reprimanding my kids in their youth. Unanimous agreement all around the process had been botched and that the candidates were unlikely to be a good fit with the type of firm they have created and the professional atmosphere they want to foster.

The why of it all still eludes me, other than the concern of adding more female professional staff looms large in their minds. I point out that yours truly is female and a manager, even if I am not an attorney and even if my male bosses dis me from time to time. However, I agree that another female hires would be beneficial. Alas, finding the most qualified female for the jobs we are seeking to fill has been a challenge as well. In addition to that, our willingness and ability to accommodate the time and schedule requests of the lady lawyers we have extended offers to have been rejected. Not our fault.

But before we dug too deeply into the actual recruiting part of our meeting, I wanted to wrap-up the communication aspect of our discussion.

Bosses agreed they botched this introduction and also agreed it might have been partly an unconscious and on purpose choice to test our mettle. Nope, I did not like that, at all, and we were very nearly back to square one.

Of the 4, all have been married and divorced at some point, although all are presently single right now. I am older by more than a decade and have been with M for more than a quarter century and know quite a bit about trust, betraying trust, and what it takes to rebuild once broken. Just in case you’re curious – it was not infidelity on either side, so much as my child victimization and M sharing it with our counselor without my permission or even telling me first. That lack of communication nearly ended our marriage, and it took a long time and therapy to recover and rebuild.

While their behavior is small-ball in comparison, it is serious enough that I did figure out my options and whether resignation was a viable one. I do not threaten ever, and I did not give them a “my way or the highway” ultimatum speech. What I did say – I am a professional in my own right and in my own field, and I am always straightforward and honest with them about my thoughts, ideas, opinions. This is their firm; they can run it however they see fit. However, if my role in it is as they have described and up to this incident acted like it was what they wanted, the game playing and mettle-testing must cease. Immediately. Tell me it is none of my business. Decide to alter my job description and explain to me that they are implementing changes to my duties and role. But do not treat me like an unknown quantity they cannot or will not trust enough to use her best judgement. Because despite what they thought they were doing or what they intended, this is the ultimate outcome of their misstep.

They are smart men; they got the message loud and clear. There is no double-secret probation, no hoops they must jump through to make it up to me. But my expectation of being treated like a professional was crystal clear.

After a rough day with all that yesterday, it was good to have some space from them and focus on my self-employment workload today.

Life is long and relationships of all stripes complicate everything. But we will sort it out, work it out. Our first big fight; time will tell how it shapes our future.

Parenting fails

Today I had the most surreal human resources experience of my entire career.

Backstory is simple – an associate at the firm has been having escalating interpersonal issues with other staff members and increasingly clients. Despite numerous conversations, significant amounts of coaching, disciplinary write-ups, and actual one-on-one mentoring with me, her professional behavior continued to deteriorate. After a 2 week paid vacation at the partners’ request, she returned on Monday and within hours of being back in the office she was again having angry confrontations and displays of temper with other staffers, most of whom are higher up on the organization chart. A direct conflict with me on Monday brought out the sterner, I-am-your-superior tone and demeanor, which completely sailed over her head and she trudged on in trying to argue with me, over professional courtesy and somehow made me feel as if I could be more productive being the yard supervisor at the nearest school yard. I finally warned her that I was about to fire her ass for insubordination, and she tried to argue with me about that. Shutting her up came down to squaring off with her, practically nose-to-nose, and suggesting she keep talking if she wanted to really see what I am capable of doing to her professional career. Wisely she turned and stomped off.

I gave up. I emailed the partners a brief report on the day’s events and stated my opinion we could either have rebellion with the rest of the staff (myself included) or we could terminate our employment relationship. I was to be back in the office Wednesday and we could discuss it further at that time. Get out the forks – I was so done.

This morning I was getting texts before 8 a.m. about her having temper tantrums and ransacking offices and desktops for files she wanted to review for the case she had been assigned. Not asking for the files, merely marching into offices, demanding them, and then starting to look through piles on desks when the other person did not jump quickly enough. Shortly thereafter my boss was on the phone with me asking if I could calculate a final paycheck, PTO payout, and the insurance COBRA information for her benefits. If at all possible, could I also come in and be present for the conversation? Things were falling into such disarray so quickly I agreed.

I got to the office around 1 p.m. and our meeting was scheduled for 1:30. At 1:15 she returned from lunch … with her parents in tow. She knew or at least strongly suspected what was coming and insisted her parents be present for the final conversation. The partners held firm and said her parents be confined to the reception area and she refused the meeting without them present. I asked the receptionist to please adjourn to the copy/work room, because I thought we were going to have to fire her right there in the lobby, but the managing partner related and  we moved into the conference room, parents included, where he and her supervising partner explained the firm was terminating the employment relationship, and I explained the terms of her final paycheck and severance (paid through May 31), her insurance benefits, and requested any/all final expenses by the end of the week. The investigator we use was also in to the office specifically to escort her to her desk to remove her personal items and escort her from the building. Her email and all electronic access had already been disabled.

Her parents did interrupt several times during the meeting, trying to plead their daughter’s case – she’s so brilliant, she’s so talented, she’s special and unique and is entitled to allowances for her delicate temperament. Yep, they actually used those specific words, although the quote may be inaccurate. The partners present were kind and firm about it – this was a conversation between an employer and an employee, of which they were neither, and it was only courtesy and expediency that they were allowed to be present.

She lashed out, but we remained calm in light of her outbursts. She insisted that her parents must accompany her to her desk, and we refused. Finally she went with our investigator, I stayed at the reception desk, and the partners went to their offices to get back to work. She wanted to talk to other staff members working in their cubes and offices, which our investigator did not allow, and it was a very tense 45 minutes before she and her folks finally left.

We are all very busy right now, and that hour is something none of us can get back. But I am so glad she is no longer our problem. Her parents tried to talk to me about the situation, explain or plead her case further in hopes of some reprieve, and I had to be very firm in repeating myself that I could not, would not discuss this with them. It was a very awkward wait for her to finish gathering her stuff. What do you talk about with parental units who insist upon accompanying their child to her firing/exit conference? If you’re me you smile vacuously, repeat that you cannot discuss this matter with them, and pray she hurries up and gets out of your life.

This young woman is very bright, possibly even brilliant. But the symbiotic relationship with her parents does her no favors. That said, it was not my place to counsel or discuss their responsibility in their daughter’s irresponsible and erratic behaviors. But dang, in my head I could not help comparing my own pretty normal kids with these people and their fucked-up parenting style.

I have young adult children. I know quite a few fully functional, independent 20-somethings. I am not someone who makes broad-brush generalizations about entire generations, but this was helicopter parenting on steroids.

Knowing my former associate as well as I do now, I know she is particularly high strung and overly sensitive and suspect she will struggle to some greater or lesser degree in most firms. Because ours is a pretty chill and supportive firm as far as lawyers go, and I have worked with several through the years. The fact that the most gentle of constructive critique unnerved her so completely speaks volumes. Her parents and their overprotective enabling do her zero favors.

The office was a quiet, sober place after the drama concluded. The managing partner emailed everyone that she was no longer associated with the firm and thanked the staff for their patience through resolution of this unfortunate situation and expressed hope to hire another couple of associates over the course of the upcoming several weeks. I think I heard a collective sigh of relief before I left to return to my other work.

Frankly I’m relieved as well. Only now after ties have been completely cut do I recognize how much a drain on my time and energy she has been.

Hair transplants

It’s not even noon yet and I am completely over work and staffing related matters. I told my law firm bosses I would sacrifice my business afternoon to dress in office-appropriate attire to fire my mentee. This is her second day back after a 2 week vacation and I’ve already gotten at least a dozen texts from staff about her as well as phone calls from the bosses. We are all so done. Forget tearing my hair out. As the morning progressed it voluntarily jumped off my head with every message and email notification ping.

I absolutely do not get it. Her behavior has grown more and more extreme, demanding, and intensely disruptive to everyone around her. We have talked to her, tried to work with her, taken the kind-and-gentle approach, taken the gloves off and sent her home for 2 weeks. We changed her office entry code so she could not gain access to our building or offices after hours and her network passwords so she could not access the server or her email. It felt as if we had no choice but to take such steps to prevent her for coming in and trying to work when we felt she needed the break (and we from her) to pull herself and her head together.

Yesterday she returned and was good, fine, professional … for about 3 hours. By the close of business yesterday, after several one-on-one conversations and nearly losing my temper with her confrontation, I was over it and prepared to terminate her then and there and plead for forgiveness from the partners later. I didn’t, but I promised the staff that we would have some resolution when I returned on Wednesday, my next scheduled office day.

Which has been moved up to today so I can be present to supervise her termination and removal from the office. It’s not a pretty or pleasant situation, and I take no joy in what must now happen.

As we come to this point, I simply do not understand it. Being me and the way I am, my default position is that when mistakes or something offensive happens, I somehow caused it. To be the exact opposite, in that nothing is every your fault, someone else is always responsible for the friction, is completely bewildering and beyond my realm of understanding. And I pride myself on at least trying to understand another’s point of view even if I believe them to be completely wrong.

It has been a very long time since I completely gave up trying to help someone. However, my caveat is always that the person must be willing to help themselves. Yeah, sometimes jobs suck and supervisors and coworkers are complete tools who take great pride in persecuting everyone around them, but that situation does not exist here. Where I thought her quite brilliant and merely lacking in social skills I actually fear her brilliance has driven her to a place of severe mental disfunction. I do feel great sympathy for her, but my compassion does not extend to the point of tolerating her impulsive outbursts and bullying, abusive behavior toward others a moment longer.

Maybe the employment opportunities for attorneys is better than I believe, but our discreet advertisements for potential candidates has delivered well over 200 resumes thus far. I’m screening as quickly as I can and probably 50% of what we have received fall within the realm of well to over qualified. With her recent temperament displays, I find it impossible to imagine her landing another position and being able to keep it for any extended length of time. You have to be supremely talented and a rainmaker for such behaviors to be tolerated in most firms.

It’s probably just as well I am planning on a rare evening gym practice. Plus I have an appointment with TM this afternoon, which should be beneficial.