A Hell of a Way to Run an HR Railroad

A Hell of a Way to Run an HR Railroad

August 28th, 2009

by Kris Kindelsperger

This railroad catchphrase pertaining to organizational chaos originated in the early 1920’s, but seems an apt one to describe some modern day human resources policies. I have had a number of painful discussions with development professionals over the course of the past several months about their experiences in being separated from their non-profit employer.

Most of them run something like this.

“I was called into the president/CEO/executive director’s office and told that I was being terminated immediately. I was then asked to leave the office/building/campus and return after business hours to meet someone from HR who provided a cardboard box with which to load my personal effects. My e-mail, voice mail, computer access, and other means of communication were immediately cut off and I had to agree not to personally contact any donors/friends/alumni, etc. or risk losing any severance that had been offered.”

Standard HR policy? Perhaps. Sound development strategy? I’m not so sure.

By nature, good development work is about building personal relationships. The most successful development officers have built long term relations, established trust with their donors, and have fostered those relationships with a strong program of stewardship. Assuming an absence of an immediately actionable firing offense by the development officer, I am struck by how senseless and ultimately harmful it is these sever these relationships with such immediacy.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to trust that an ethical and well serving development professional could transition donor relationships in a positive manner, if given, say a couple of weeks? Wouldn’t donors think more highly of the organization if they heard from the development professional that they were “moving on” rather than learning from a third party that their trusted contact at the organization had “left for reasons we cannot discuss?”

There has got to be middle ground where the legalistic needs of HR can be accommodated, but in a way that respects the relational nature of development. Am I wrong here?

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