Q: Our CEO is very particular about punctuality. We do have some people who arrive late (usually not more than 10 minutes each day). As HR, we are always sandwiched between opposing forces: employees who feel that "We are just a few minutes late, and more important, it's the results that count." On the other hand, our CEO always asks our HR professionals to remind people about being punctual. Now we have been charged with reminding department heads to ensure they have a grip on the matter and to monitor staff attendance from time to time. What items should I write to them about specifically?
A: Asking employees to report to work consistently at an assigned time is neither onerous nor unusual. Even so, your employees regularly show up when it suits them, managers allow it to happen, and your CEO is involved in day-to-day attendance and thinks the best way to do solve the problem is to have HR issue an "enforcement" memo. Employee tardiness appears to be only a minor symptom, not the most pressing concern that needs to be addressed. Address the real problem effectively and the symptom will disappear. Fight the urge to put yet another quick fix in place. Memos won’t help. You need to discover why your organizational culture allows this symptom to exist. First, step back and take a good look at your organization’s results.It is generally easy to spot other symptoms of the bigger problem, often accepted as inevitable "in this industry." They include less-than-stellar employee morale, high turnover, staff infighting and poor production quality and customer service. Take note of these and prepare a basic report that contains relevant facts to share with your CEO and others. Second, work with your CEO and senior managers to address the root causes of these symptoms. Hard questions need to be asked and honestly answered. Find out specifically about the beliefs, practices and policies that lead employees and managers to accept tardiness; why your managers and CEO aren’t better aligned on this issue; why memos on attendance are allowable substitutes for effective dialogue between employee and manager; etc. Third, develop a thoughtful, practical plan to fix the underlying problems. Typically, the first problem you must fix is the alignment of your management team. Each manager needs to share a common understanding and commitment to the basic tenets of your business approach. You will probably need to take action in other areas — improving interpersonal communications, training managers on how to effectively deal with employee concerns, fostering continuing employee development, providing employees with an understanding of why coming to work on time is important, improving employee orientation, and related items. This will take a lot of effort to accomplish. If possible, bring in an outside consultant experienced with these issues to facilitate the process. Although you can do this yourself, an experienced hand often produces faster and better results with less collateral damage.