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What to do when the underachiever at work is the CEO’s son: Ask HR


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Johnny C. Taylor Jr., a human resources expert, is tackling your questions as part of a series for USA TODAY. Taylor is president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, the world’s largest HR professional society.

The questions are submitted by readers, and Taylor’s answers below have been edited for length and clarity.

Have a question? Do you have an HR or work-related question you’d like me to answer? Submit it here.

Question: I manage a younger report that has been with the company for a year now. He repeatedly botches projects, turns in assignments late, and generally does not follow directions despite clear instructions and check-ins. Often, this person leaves myself and my co-workers scrambling to meet deadlines. We would terminate this employee except for one factor: he’s the son of the CEO. How should I handle this delicate situation? – Anonymous

Johnny C. Taylor Jr.: This is a great question! And a delicate situation, indeed. It’s why many organizations have policies pertaining to nepotism.

People getting hired based on who they know, rather than how they’re competent, affects workplaces like a poison. Efficiency falls and stress rises as other employees find themselves picking up the slack. And when employees see a privileged colleague repeatedly skirt accountability, that double standard can demolish trust and morale.

While it sounds like your report’s credentials weren’t considered when they were hired, your organization’s performance standards should still be consistently applied no matter who they’re related to.

You mentioned your direct report fails to follow directions after check-ins. In these, have you openly aired your concerns? If not, your first step should be relaying honest, professional feedback about his performance. For example, you might describe the facts of a project: The assignment, your expectation, the result, and how it compared to the expectation. If you need help providing feedback, check with your manager (assuming it’s not the CEO) or HR on how to formulate a performance management plan.

Coaching, of course, will take time and effort. But it could be a great opportunity for you as a people manager to showcase your ability to develop and manage talent. If the CEO’s son reports to you, that could mean your CEO trusts you; so, if you succeed, it could lead to greater responsibilities in the future.

That said, the conversation with your direct report could be a gamechanger. For example, what if you learn they never wanted this job? Or, if there’s a department or role they would rather be in? In either case, you could do your part to help them transition out – and bring a new hire in.

Granted, it is possible things don’t improve. If so, meet with the CEO to notify him or her that this person isn’t taking the job seriously. Be specific: Rely on records of your efforts and interactions. Be creative: Bring solutions that improve accountability or curtail responsibilities.

Yes, it is a delicate situation. But it has a silver lining: The opportunity to learn and grow as a person and people manager. 

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Question: I’m a senior in college and graduation day is coming up in May. Many of my friends already found jobs, but I can’t find anything. I majored in economics, so I’ve been interviewing with banks and consulting firms. Nothing’s led to anything and I’m starting to freak out. What do I do? – Anonymous

Taylor: I know job-searching, given all the hours spent and applications sent, can be stressful. However, it’s nothing to “freak out” about because there are many things you can do to find a job faster.

The first is this: Don’t give up (or even pause) your job search.

That might sound like a fortune cookie cliché. But I mean it in a specific way. Amidst the coronavirus pandemic, the job seekers who put their search on hold could see opportunities snatched up by the candidates who kept going.

Second, go wide.

You mentioned interviewing with banks and consulting firms. But that’s a narrow net to cast. As an economics major, your skillset equips you for similar roles in different industries, government, or academia. That versatility is a great advantage in our time of economic uncertainty. Certain sectors are taking a beating. But others are growing – and hiring.

Third, tap your resources.

For example, your university likely has career advisers, so make an appointment with one. Share what you’re looking for and see where it goes. Maybe they’ll connect you with a job bank, an alumni network, or an internship that could be your steppingstone to a full-time job.

You also shouldn’t overlook your own networks, so ask around. Your family, friends, and neighbors could introduce you to someone very helpful. Don’t overthink it. Grab a cup of coffee (even if it’s a virtual meetup until we overcome the COVID-19 crisis) and pick their brain. They could have tips – or even an opportunity! 

Fourth, do your homework.

You’d be surprised how many candidates come to an interview and immediately show they know next to nothing about the organization. So, in addition to knowing the requirements of the role, be sure to research the company’s history, mission, culture, and strategy. That way, you’ll be prepared to confidently state why they should hire you.

Lastly, sharpen your interviewing skills.

I know you didn’t say interviewing was a challenge but even the best interviewers can get better. It might feel funny at first. But rehearsing in front of the mirror, or with a friend, will help condition both your mind and body for the real thing.

Best of luck!

Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/columnist/2020/04/14/what-do-when-underachiever-work-ceos-son-ask-hr/2985344001/



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