What Would You Do ? (Part 2)

A little while ago a friend of mine called me and asked me the following question:

“A past business associate of mine is out looking for a job and has put me down as a reference. While I know times are hard and I do want to be supportive of him, he was not in my opinion a very good employee. On one hand I don’t want to give him a bad recommendation and potentially ruin his chance at a position, but on the other hand I do not want to give a report or recommendation that is not the truth. What should I do?”

This is a situation for our current times. With so much continued upheaval in the job market, I am sure that we all know multiple numbers of people who either are, or have been looking for new positions. I am also reasonably certain that although we many know multiple people who are searching for a new job, we might not be as willing or prepared to vouch for or recommend some of them as we may be for others.

So that brings up the question: What would you do if someone put you down as a reference, and you did not feel comfortable in providing a positive recommendation?

Do you respond to the person by saying that you would not feel comfortable being a reference for them? This would inevitably lead to having to explain why you would not want to provide the reference input. It might lead to hard feelings and someone who in the future might feel they have reason or position to cause you professional issues in the future. Who can truly say they know where they will be working, or who they will be reporting to in the future?

Do you accept and provide a less than glowing reference and potential derail an employment opportunity?

Do you accept and provide a less than fully truthful positive reference?

It’s at times like this that I remember what my dad has told me in the past: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

My recommendation to my friend was that if he did not want to directly respond “no” to the request, (which would probably be the proper response) then he should not to respond at all to either the request to be a reference or the request for reference input by whomever his name had been provided to. Let his inaccessibility and silence be his comment. Normally both the reference requestor and the reference input requesting entity should get the message.

People who have something positive to say about someone are normally accessible. Those who don’t have something good to say normally aren’t accessible.

I would say this course of action is the professional equivalent of the “pocket veto”. A pocket veto is a legislative maneuver in United States federal lawmaking that allows the President to indirectly veto a bill. If the president does not want to go on the record as being against a bill, he can hold it with no response until congress adjourns. His “no response” in effect kills the bill without having to take the active measure of vetoing it.

Given the situation that my friend outlined, this was my suggestion. What would you do?

What Would You Do?

The other day a friend of mine told me that he had been given notice that he was being laid off from his company. He worked in a medium/small sized technology equipment company. As we all know the economy has not been such that any of us can take our current employment for granted. We all know that it can in fact come to an end either when we do or don’t expect it.


We had lunch and started the planning process on where he might look for a position and how he should present himself. I put him in contact with some of the networking groups that I had been associated with in the past as well as gave his resume a fairly aggressive review. For a sales guy, he did not seem to have enough “sales” activities on it. I made some changes and I also put him on to a person who was something of a resume “guru” to help him restructure it going forward.


He then started to tell me the story of how he got laid off. He was not caught off guard. He was probably far from surprised. But it also provided the grist for the ethical question that his manager faced, and that I am posing here.


Secrets are hard to keep in any company, let alone a smaller one. As decisions of this type get made they have a tendency to filter down at least in deed, if not in fact. If management knows they are going to be making a change, they start planning for it. As the plans become apparent, so does the precipitating action. This is the situation that my friend faced.


He did the right thing. He called his manager. He asked the question. Should he be prepared for an employment event? This was a man that he had known and been friends with for more than 20 years. His manager and friend told him “no”.


3 days later his manager called him in and notified him of the company’s decision to make a change and of his severance.


When he asked “Why didn’t you tell me when I asked 3 days ago?” his manager responded by saying that he had been instructed by management not to tell him until the official notification date, “… and besides, what difference does 3 days make?”


This brings up the question: What would you do if you were in the manager’s position?


Would you too rigorously obey the corporate directive? Would you disobey the directive and provide the direct and honest information to a friend and colleague of 20 years? Would you try to find some middle ground where you don’t directly disobey the corporate directive, but do obliquely confirm that the notification is going to happen?


I can not, and do not speak for my friend. If I were in his position I would believe that a 20 year relationship may have been irreparably damaged. I don’t count myself as lucky as to say that I have so many friends that I could take the losing of one in such circumstances lightly.


I can not and do not speak for the manager. I have been in his position. In today’s business world we all have varying levels of concern regarding or employments and our future employments. Do we truly fear for our own positions at such a level as to alter our behaviors to such an extent? I will say that having been there, that open, direct and honest responses and communication in these situations has always, always been the best approach. If a decision has been made, I would respond as such. If it is still pending, then that should be communicated as well.


Yes, this approach has gotten me in a little trouble in the past, but it has always proved to be the proper course when dealing with these types of employment situations. The company knows what it is going to do with respect to the employee in question. It has probably known for some time. It is the trouble I would prefer to have when confronted by an employee who asks “Am I on the list for the coming lay-off?” instead of having to respond to “Why didn’t you tell me when I asked?”


To me a direct question deserves a direct response, even if it is a response that is not desired, or even feared. If you really don’t want to know, then don’t ask. If you do want to know, accept the response, good or bad, in the same way as the question was posed.


That’s just me. What would you do?

Stop Multi-Tasking

Despite the number of stories that are on the news at night telling us that the economy is starting to slowly improve, and that the economists are starting to see the beginnings of job growth, it seems we are all plagued by the same mantra at the office: We need to do more. It still seems that staffing levels are precariously low, and that the demands for more production and productivity are still as high as ever, if not higher. This has given rise to the new office buzz word, Multi-Tasking.

Please don’t get me wrong. I am not supporting the idea that everyone should be doing only one thing at a time, all the time, but it seems we have gone to the limit and beyond when it gets to the point when we are asking (or are being asked) to attend multiple calls or meetings at the same time and we accept.

How many of you have been in the middle of what you believe is a very important conference call and the crucial question has been posed, and you wait for the subject matter expert to respond, and you wait, and you wait and you wait. And finally someone realizes that they are the one everyone is waiting for, and they come on the line and say….

“I’m sorry, would you please repeat the question?”

They were doing something else. They could have been on another call. They could have someone else in their office. They could have been playing solitaire on their computer. It doesn’t matter.

They weren’t paying attention to the conference call that they had agreed to attend.

When I have mentioned this phenomenon to friends they are quick to defend the offender (in some cases themselves) with the statement that due to the number of meetings that they are requested / directed / ordered to attend that they must behave this way. I counter with the simple question:

Would you behave, or conduct business in this way if the meeting were in person, or was with a customer, or with your boss?

Invariably the answer is no, of course not. But it seems that it is acceptable for everyone else.

Two things concern me here. The first is in regard to the behaviors that we are fostering in business. It seems that it has almost become some sort method to feel indispensable by noting the number of calls, meetings and conferences that we have simultaneously. It seems that some feel compelled by the requirements of their job / boss to do this, but with others, I am not so sure.

The point here is that I think we need to change the statement from “We need to do more”, to “We need to do New”. By this I mean as we are requested to take on and perform new tasks, we must be willing to examine our own work load, and get rid of older tasks that may no longer be as useful as they once were, or may not be as useful as the new tasks we have been asked to take on. We each have a limited availability and we need to decide how we can best apply that limited availability.

We need to learn that sometimes we must say “no” when it comes to the ever increasing number of requests for our time. I have previously writing an article on the Value of “No”, and I think it is starting to apply more than ever.

My second concern is that we now seem to be trying to do our jobs without paying our full attention to any one thing that we are doing. Perhaps this is the reason that it seems that the number of people on any one conference call keeps growing. Is it possible that 30 people on a call paying attention half the time are as good as 15 people on a call paying full attention? I don’t think so.

We all have many projects or topics that we are working on at any one time. That is the reality of the world. My view is that when we try to work on two (or more) at the same time, just as when we try to be on two phone calls, or attend two meetings at the same time, we do not do justice to either of them, and we end up with an inferior output from them as a result.

We need to be fully engaged in whatever we are working on, whether it is a meeting, a call or a project, while we are working on it. If there is another demand, then we need to stop and get fully engaged on the new topic. If we try and stay engaged on one topic, while trying to engage on a new topic, we should expect to continue to hear, or sometimes to ask:

“I’m sorry, would you please repeat that?”