Undertake a Joint Venture

In some private-sector organizations, Mort's case might be fairly simple, albeit heartless. The problem would be Mort's as the outdated cog in the wheel. He could either adapt or find himself on the street. However, in the more compassionate public-sector environment with its highly regulated process for determining who goes and who stays, the problem is jointly owned. If both Mort and Stan decide to let the chips fall where they may, this could easily become a lose-lose situation.

Mort could do nothing and let his bosses, Tom and Stan, deal with the situation. Mort knows the worst-case scenario for him most likely is ending up with a diminished job that he doesn't like but one that still provides a needed paycheck. Tom and Stan, on the other hand, could drop this problem into the human resources director's lap, and let the reduction-in-force process determine Mort's fate. The downside for Tom and Stan, however, is that they end up with a highly paid, unmotivated and underutilized employee.

The problem needs a win-win solution. Some will see a moral obligation on the part of management to go above and beyond what law or regulation requires for an employee who has contributed 28 years of valued service. That may well be, but the truth of the matter is that management doesn't need a moral imperative. There are good business reasons to seek an amicable resolution that goes beyond procedural requirements. I'd recommend the following:

  • Make a clear commitment that the solution should be in the best interests of the bureau and the employee. An uncooperative employee or a recalcitrant manager can derail the best-intentioned efforts.
  • Find someone whom Mort trusts and who can also see the bigger picture to talk with him about his needs and alternatives. That person could be the human resources director, a fellow manager or someone outside the organization.
  • Fully explore all options and put them on the table. The human resources director can help. While Mort cannot afford a reduction in income, leaving the agency may carry some options. Being 50 years old with 28 years of service qualifies him for a discontinued service retirement, which might also be sweetened with a separation incentive. Although the annuity would not meet his current income level, Mort's reputation and contacts with the professional associations could yield a job that Mort really enjoys and one that pays enough to maintain or even exceed his standard of living when combined with his annuity.
  • Be up front about options that are not available to Mort. Since one criterion for a solution is that the needs of the organization are met, Mort cannot expect that a job to his liking will be created within the bureau if there is not a need for such a job.
  • Agree on some time limits. Agreement on a fallback plan that would be implemented if nothing changes after 90 days should keep all parties focused.

John M. Palguta was appointed director of the Office of Policy and Evaluation at the Merit Systems Protection Board in June 1997. Palguta held various positions with the U.S. Civil Service Commission, starting as a personnel management intern in 1970 in the agency's San Francisco region.

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