The Missing Timeout and Supervisor Training

Feb 18, 2016

Since I was a small child watching with my papaw, I have loved college basketball. After spending seven glorious years and obtaining two degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I LOVE Tar Heel basketball. As a result, for those of you who follow such things, you understand that last night was a very difficult night for me. For those of you who weren’t glued to the TV way too late on a school night, let me set the scene: UNC played Duke in Chapel Hill; the last minute of the game, with Duke up by one point, UNC rebounded the ball from Duke. With more than 20 seconds left on the clock, UNC had the ball and a chance to win. UNC had three timeouts left to take to set up a play. UNC rushed down the court, never took a timeout, took a really bad shot no one can understand, and the game was over…UNC lost again to Duke…at home. Sports fans, it doesn’t get much worse than that.

After the game, Coach Roy Williams was asked the question you likely could have heard simultaneously screamed at televisions across the state: “Why didn’t you take a timeout and set up a last shot?” Roy responded that he had been taught by Dean Smith that you never call a timeout in those situations because it gives the other side a chance to set up their defense. Instead, you push the ball up the floor and shoot before the other side can set up. I thought about that a long time last night and this morning…Was Roy wrong not to call a timeout? Could anyone be wrong following Dean’s advice? I finally decided “Yes, Roy was wrong; but Dean wasn’t wrong”—and here’s how all of this applies to human resources…

Roy was wrong because he missed the fundamental piece of Dean’s plan—and it’s the same piece that companies miss in critical HR decisions: training. Dean’s teams were trained on how to respond in high pressure situations without calling a timeout. They knew who should have the ball and how to call the play. They didn’t need the timeout. Roy’s teams on the other hand, don’t appear to be trained for these circumstances. They didn’t know how to react and the result was poor. Similarly, many companies promote individuals into supervisor roles; publish harassment, accommodation and other policies that tell employees to bring all sorts of complaints and reports to supervisors; and then are shocked when the supervisors react in ways that cause problems for the companies.

Supervisor training on how to spot harassment complaints and requests for accommodation (disability or religious) and then how to respond to employees is critical for them to be successful in these often high stress situations. Companies that direct employees to bring such issues to supervisors without providing them with the training to know what to do are setting themselves up for a loss—whether it be of a talented employee or in a legal situation. Employers should either train their supervisors on these matters or change their policies so that employees are not directed to supervisors with these difficult situations. If employees are not directed to supervisors, supervisors just need to know that they should direct any concerns that come their way to human resources.

I often write about the importance of supervisor training because the lack of training is a common mistake I see good employers make. The idea of supervisor training may seem like a hassle, but it can be done relatively easily. No more than an hour is needed to convey the basic important information supervisors need to know to keep the company and themselves out of trouble. Further human resources professionals or attorneys are available to perform the training or provide materials. I’ve done a fair amount of such training myself. I always find that supervisors not only learn a lot, but they feel more supported and are more willing to call HR when needed than before the training. So it is a win-win for the company.

If you haven’t trained supervisors recently on knowing how to identify and respond to complaints and requests, I recommend that you consider it this spring. You also should take a look at your policies to determine which point employees to front line supervisors for assistance and question whether the supervisor (as opposed to human resources) is the proper first contact with an employee on the issue.

In other words, make sure your supervisors either know what to do with the ball or know they need to call a timeout (or human resources). Then at least something good will come out of my staying up past my bedtime to watch my Heels.

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