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Sometimes You Get Sued and Your Best Employees Come To Your Defense...

It's every manager's worst nightmare. You did the right thing with some problematic employees, but then you got investigated/sued.

Getting sued is a scarlet letter.  Without question, it's much better not to get sued, but if you do the right thing and get sued as a result, sometimes you LOOK LIKE A BETTER LEADER THAN OTHERS AROUND YOU.

Such is the case with Missouri Softball Coach Ehren Earleywine, who's had a lot of success at Mizzou but was recently under investigation.  Here's a basic rundown of what transpired with the help Earlywine of reporting from the Kansas City Star:

1. Earleywine had been under investigation by the athletic department, and later the main campus through MU’s Office for Civil Rights & Title IX, for more than four months.

2. Former athletic director Mack Rhoades, who resigned July 13 to accept a similar position at Baylor, launched the investigation after receiving a complaint from several players alleging verbal abuse by Earleywine.

3. Missouri’s compliance department quietly interviewed team members during the season before the team’s Unity Council publicized the investigation May 7 by announcing the Tigers were playing under protest in a show of support to Earleywine.

4. After a first-round exit in the SEC softball tournament, Earleywine asked the players to end the protest, which Mizzou’s players agreed to do before hosting an NCAA regional. The Tigers dominated regional play, but lost to Michigan in the NCAA super regional round.

5. Missouri has concluded its Title IX investigation into Earleywine with no finding that he violated federal non-discrimination statutes.

Earleywine, a Jefferson City, Mo., native, is 453-154 in 10 seasons as Missouri’s coach. The Tigers have appeared in a NCAA regional every season of Earleywine’s tenure, advancing to a super regional eight times and appearing in three consecutive Women’s College World Series from 2009-11.

Here's what Earleywine said when the complaints first became public:

“There’s a couple of kids on the team that probably have things, exchanges between myself and them or different scenarios, that they would have liked to see handled differently,” Earleywine said. “I’m tough on kids. I make them accountable and there’s discipline in our program. I’m a throwback. If that’s demeaning, maybe, but it’s not about them, the person, it’s about their performance as a player.”

“I’m trying to build resiliency and toughness in people, and hoping that they’ll be better people when they graduate from here because they’ve been through some tough stuff,” Earleywine said. “Have I used some inappropriate language? Yes. Is that grounds for firing a coach? I think if you set that precedent, there won’t be a coach left in America. Outside of that, I’m not ashamed of anything that I’ve done.”
 
Here's what managers of people should learn from this:
 
1. There's an art to dealing with employees who won't get with the program. While you should treat everyone with respect, low performers and disrupters have to be addressed.
 
2. Tough decisions are yours and yours alone.  Don't expect anyone to help you.  This includes addressing low performance and attitude as the whole team sees it.  You've got to figure out the best way to deal with it.  Your goals should be to get performance out of the team as a whole, develop individual talent and treat everyone with respect.  But you have to be tough when circumstances and specific individuals call for it.
 
3. If you do what's outlined above - get performance out of the team as a whole, develop individual talent and treat everyone with respect - people will rally behind you if something bad happens - like a lawsuit, investigation, etc.
 
Of course, your employees can't attend a meeting under protest and make it public in a way that matters, right?
 
But your ability to deal with employees who won't get with the program is one of the most important things you can do.  And the reality is this - if you manage teams for more than a decade (especially if you manage a department with more than 10 people and multiple managers) and you haven't been the subject of a lawsuit or investigation of what I'll call nuisance value - you probably haven't been managing for results hard enough.
 
You play to win the game. Treat all with respect, but don't accept disruption or refusal to be part of a team.  Good HR pros will have your back - as well as some advice about ways you can avoid the investigation/lawsuit next time.
 

Comments

Natasha

Great post Kris, thanks for sharing!

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