Sep 1, 2002

Investigating Workplace Harassment

By Amy Oppenheimer and Craig Pratt

SHRM, 2002
216 pages
List Price: $29.95
ISBN: 1-58644-030-6

The responsibility for investigating charges of workplace harassment often falls to HR. In Investigating Workplace Harassment, attorney Amy Oppenheimer and Craig Pratt, SPHR, say such investigations are among HR’s greatest on-the-job challenges. Emotions run high, the potential liability for the company is great and the morale of the entire organization is at stake.

Investigating Workplace Harassment helps readers chart these dangerous waters by describing the laws relating to harassment and by providing tips for planning and conducting an investigation, gathering documentation, interviewing workers, weighing evidence, writing an investigative report and taking remedial actions. The book also includes sample policies, witness statements and reports. Each chapter concludes with a self-check that allows readers to assess how well they understand the outlined concepts.

For a harassment investigation to be perceived as fair by all, it must be both confidential and neutral. The confidentiality of the investigation should be clearly spelled out in the company’s policies. Neutrality can be achieved by using a two-person team to investigate the charges, say Oppenheimer and Pratt. “The team benefits by using two sets of eyes and ears. One investigator can ask questions while the other investigator observes closely, possibly noticing clues that would have eluded someone working alone.”

The composition of the team should be balanced. Teams investigating sexual harassment should include both men and women; racial harassment charges should be investigated by a team including a Caucasian and a minority group member. “Balancing team members this way may engender more trust from the parties because both sides will see that their perspective is represented,” Oppenheimer and Pratt write.

Throughout the process, documentation is critical. The written record should include primary source comments by the accused and the accuser. Notes should focus on objective facts, rather than impressions.

Typically, the investigation includes interviews with:

  • The person filing the complaint.

  • The person against whom the complaint was filed.

  • Any witnesses to the event or other incidents or relationships pertinent to the complaint.

  • Supervisors who were responsible for knowing and enforcing organizational anti-harassment policies.

After conducting interviews, investigators should document their findings and outline any appropriate remedial measures.

The authors note that, in addition to getting to the truth behind the accusations, an investigation may also reveal flaws in the organization’s anti-harassment training and policies.

This book can be purchased through the SHRMStore. Members receive a discount off the list price. Visit the SHRMStore and search for item number 61.14001.

How to Become a Great Boss

By Jeffrey J. Fox

Hyperion, 2002
192 pages
List Price: $16.95
ISBN: 0-7868-6823-6

Forget those fancy theories about improving corporate performance. It all boils down to excellence in supervision, writes Jeffrey Fox, founder of the Avon, Conn.-based Fox & Co. marketing firm. “Great bosses position the organization to succeed, not with policies, but with posture and presence,” Fox says in How to Become a Great Boss.

Fox interviewed dozens of business leaders, focusing on the kind of bosses that inspired them on their rise to the top. The result is what he calls “The Great Boss Simple Success Formula.” Great bosses, he writes:

  • Hire only top-notch talent.
  • Weed out people who don’t fit in with the organization or with their job.
  • Tell their workers what needs to be done—and why.
  • Leave the job up to the people they have chosen to do it.
  • Train their workers.
  • Listen to their workers.
  • Remove any barriers fettering their workers.
  • Track the progress of their workers.
  • Publicly and privately acknowledge workers who do a good job.

An effective leader views assembling a high-performing staff as a top priority, Fox writes. That’s why the best bosses hire with care. “The more important the job, the slower the hire,” Fox writes. “Don’t hire because you have a deadline.”

To keep hiring managers from “succumbing to the need to fill a critical vacancy,” many firms adopt what Fox calls the one-over-one/veto approach. Direct supervisors have the authority to make a hiring recommendation. But that supervisor’s boss retains the right to veto any employment decision.

Fox observes that the contributions of effective corporate leaders continue to be felt long after they have left their organizations. “Great bosses beget great bosses,” he writes. They achieve this by choosing the right people, effectively delegating responsibility and inspiring those they lead with energy, insight and initiative.


By Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan
Crown Business, 2002
288 pages
List Price: $27.50
ISBN: 0-609-61057-0

Why do the best corporate strategies often go unrealized? The gap between an organization’s plan and its actual performance is often attributed to bad strategy. But, in their book Execution, Larry Bossidy, chairman of Honeywell International, and consultant and author Ram Charan, contend that the problem is often less strategic and more operational.

Bossidy and Charan say many organizations simply don’t know how to work toward a new goal, even when they have been given adequate resources to do so. “Either the organizations aren’t capable of making them happen, or the leaders of the business misjudge the challenges their companies face in the business environment or both,” they write.

Through case studies and checklists, Bossidy and Charan suggest ways organizations can improve the way they execute corporate strategies. They say organizations such as General Electric, Wal-Mart and Colgate-Palmolive have been able to reach and even exceed goals by successfully integrating three core processes:

  • People. “If you don’t get the people process right, you will never fulfill the potential of your business,” Bossidy and Charan write. Bossidy insists that the job of selecting and appraising people, particularly top executives, should never be delegated. Bossidy says that, at Honeywell, he personally makes calls to check references for key hires and approves important promotions and transfers.

  • Strategy. A great strategy comes together only after vigorous debate among key executives. The strategy should be in sync with the realities of the marketplace, the economy and the competition. Bossidy and Charan say an effective strategy should both reflect the company’s organizational capabilities and describe how the company can expand its capabilities to meet challenges.

  • Operations. A good operating plan breaks down long-term goals into short-term targets. These should reflect not what happened last year, but what realistically can be achieved in the future.

First Among Equals

By Patrick J. McKenna and David H. Maister
Free Press, 2002
290 pages
List Price: $26
ISBN: 0-7432-2551-1

The rise of knowledge-based workers has created a management dilemma: How do you supervise individuals whose jobs demand they demonstrate qualities of creativity and autonomy—and who also hate to be managed? It’s not easy, say Patrick McKenna and David Maister in First Among Equals. Because of the complexities of overseeing knowledge workers, many go unsupervised. That’s a recipe for disaster, the writers say. “Because managing professionals is complex, it requires more attention to management, not less.”

McKenna, a partner at Edge International in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and Maister, a writer and consultant, say those supervising other professionals take on four key responsibilities:

  • Clarifying, understanding and communicating their role as group leaders.
  • Coaching and guiding team members.
  • Managing colleagues as a group.
  • Building for the future while monitoring their group’s success.

The first important step is building relationships with other members of the group. Often, leaders achieve this by assuming the role of a coach. Not all workers need—or want—coaching. A manager must identify the right kind of workers to coach, then try to win their approval.

To do this, the authors suggest the following steps:

  • Establish rapport. Ask the worker how things are going. The goal, say McKenna and Maister, is to “identify an opportunity to help someone expand on his or her skills, knowledge and abilities.”

  • Make sure the individual is receptive to being coached. “Let the person know you are available to provide guidance and feedback,” the authors suggest. “This allows the individual to be prepared to listen or gives this individual an opportunity to postpone the discussion if the timing is bad.”

  • Ask questions to clarify concerns and offer your help.

  • Offer advice as appropriate.

  • Help identify possible courses of action. Together, the manager and employee should agree on a next step.

McKenna and Maister acknowledge that managing other professionals requires managerial skill, diplomacy and a lot of patience. However, they conclude, “By accepting the responsibility to affect the performance of those around you, you have a chance to make a difference and to leave a legacy.”

Compiled by Mike Frost, a freelance writer based in Alexandria, Va.

Inclusion of a book does not imply endorsement by SHRM or HR Magazine.


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