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Do You Work in the Gray Zone?

Do You Work in the Gray Zone?

Sharlyn Lauby | HR Bartender

One of the absolutely fabulous readers here at HR Bartender sent me this question. It was a question asked of her during a job interview and she wanted to know how I would have answered it.

Jan and John are working together on a project. HR is planning to suspend Jan. Do you tell John that Jan is going to be suspended knowing that they have a project that they are working on? I then was asked the same question but a bit differently. What if you were investigating the matter and you were not sure if Jan will be suspended? Do you tell John?

This is one of those situations where I end up having more questions than answers.

For example, what roles do Jan and John have in the organization? The positions they hold could answer the question. Let’s say Jan is a director and John is a manager – the answer is probably no, you wouldn’t tell John. On the other hand, if John is a vice president and Jan is a director…then maybe you do.

Who’s running the committee? If Jan is chairing the committee and her suspension means John will be chairing it, then John would probably appreciate the heads up. Or if John is already chairing the committee and about to lose a key player…he again might appreciate the notice. But if John’s not in charge nor will he be…then it might be considered inappropriate to let him know.

What’s the nature of the project? If this committee is selecting the paint colors for the employee cafeteria, then Jan’s departure is probably not mission-critical. But if they’re working on a multi-million dollar proposal that will deliver the company their first profit in the past two years, then telling John would be considered a “need to know” matter.

When’s the project due? Losing a team member at the start or end of a project might not have the same impact as a departure during the middle of a project.

Depending upon the players involved and the scope of the project, there could be even more dynamics involved that I haven’t mentioned. If I were an interviewer asking this question, I’d be looking less for a right or wrong answer and more of a “this is how I would logically reason my way to an answer.”

This is exactly why being a manager and leader is so tough. Every once in awhile, we get a clear cut question that has only one right answer. Most of the time we operate, and do our best to thrive, in the gray zone.

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