What’s Your Version of “Veterans Day”?
I witnessed a make-or-break moment recently.
As I sat across the table from Jim, a manager poked his head into Jim’s office and asked, “Hey, can I ask you a question real quick?”
With a smile on his face and a quick motion of his hand signaling the employee into the office, Jim said, “Of course.”
After a brief introduction between me and the manager, the manager got down to business. “Jim, I’ve got an employee. He’s a veteran…”
By the inflection in his voice, the direct eye contact with Jim, the way he tilted his head to the side and raised his eyebrows as he said those last three words, there appeared to be a mutual understanding of the importance of that statement. My ears perked up even more.
“Jim, he is asking if he gets Veterans Day off. Can he?”
I could tell by Jim’s demeanor that he was taken off guard and felt pressure at the moment. As someone who is always studying leader/employee interactions, I sat quietly, watched, and waited to hear what Jim would say.
Jim responded, “When is Veterans Day this year?”
The manager didn’t hesitate, although seemingly surprised that Jim didn’t already know, he responded very matter of fact, “It’s Thursday.”, he said.
After a deep breath, Jim asked for a little time so he could check with HR for approval on a final decision. The manager was satisfied at the moment and went on his way.
I sat there thinking, this is a decision that could have long-lasting effects — positive or negative — on so much more than just one employee. I hoped that the right decision would be made.
Immediately after the manager left, Jim shared with me how their organization makes a concerted effort to hire veterans. He shared that if two candidates are equally qualified, the company will choose the veteran. And I love that! Good on the company for choosing the veteran, although, that decision requires no sacrifice from the company since they appear to have equally qualified candidates.
In this situation, all employees know that the company says they value veterans and that they prioritize them in the hiring process when all other qualifications are equal. But this question may arise when a veteran employee has a need, “The company cares about veterans enough to hire them when it makes sense for them, but what about when the company might lose a little…do they value veterans enough to give a little?”
I wondered what type of disconnect a “no” decision might cause between the employees, leaders, and the organization…and what repercussions could come of it.
I’m not oblivious to this fact: just like every other day of the year, if someone does not come to work, the rest of the team has to pick up the extra work or delay results until the employee returns. The effects of that for one day could be insignificant or potentially sizable from a financial and human resources perspective. And as a manager and the decision-maker, you must understand and minimize the risk accordingly.
At the moment that Jim hesitated to give an answer to the manager’s question, the employee’s mindset seized my thinking.
For years I worked with front-line employees while simultaneously participating in executive management decisions. The disconnect between decision-makers and other employees was often so obvious to me because I had a front-row seat to both sides of the organization. As managers, we have to take care of the business. As leaders, we have to make decisions in a way that benefits both the company and the employees. That’s not always easy, and often it’s extremely difficult. But there are some small sacrifices that can pay off big time in reduced employee turnover, improved candidate pool, and team culture that gives back way more than is received.
A natural reaction for decision-makers might be to refer to the organization’s policy. And that’s a good first step. However, we must never forget that humans make policies and policies can be flawed.
In all reality, what we have here is an opportunity for the organization that could be really great or really bad from a human perspective.
A “YES” decision could lead employees to:
- Deeper trust in the organization to say what they mean and mean what they say
- Feel more valued because they understand the organization’s concern for both their personal and professional well-being
A “NO” decision could lead employees to:
It’s important that when you’re making decisions, that you’re seeing all sides of the situation. It’s only then, with a full view, that you can make the best decision for the entire organization. Sometimes that might mean you have to answer no and sometimes it might mean you get to answer yes. At least with all the information, you can develop a defensible decision.
What’s Your Version of “Veterans Day”
Although this situation happened days ago, you may not be struggling with the same challenge this week. However, there are many other decisions leaders face every day that result in you strengthening or weakening your team. And if you’re only seeing one side of the equation, it might equal your team’s demise.
Next time you’re faced with a decision regarding employees, be sure you make time to understand their mindset fully and correctly. Ask yourself:
-What’s most important to them in the short term and long term?
-Do they understand how their wants/needs play into the entire organization?
-How will my decision — either way — affect their emotions, thoughts, and actions going forward?
-What am I willing to lose in order to gain?
It’s by revealing those answers that you might discover a win-win solution never before explored.
Not only on Veterans Day, but especially on Veteran’s Day, we recognize that military veterans have put their lives on the line to give you and me the opportunity to live in the United States where we get to enjoy our freedom every day. We thank you, veterans, for the sacrifice you’ve made in dedicating your lives to our country. In the words of John F. Kennedy, “We must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
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