When HR is weak on investigating complaints and doling out discipline, you get exactly what McDonald’s is going through now. An ugly lawsuits by the board against the company’s departed CEO. The allegations are that Mr. Steve Easterbrook had three sexual relationships with employees, and that the Board approved his severance package without knowledge of such. Now comes an investigation into the HR Department at the company over reports from employees that their complaints were ignored. They feared retaliation and did not pursue further action from HR.
Among the allegations are that the head of HR (chief people officer in McDonald’s Happy Place) joined in on the drinking and inappropriate comment fest at the company’s 2018 Christmas party. When will we learn? Surely “Mad Men” would have sworn companies off these gala events. There was an investigation by legal counsel with this conclusion: Heavy drinking was inappropriate and to let them know if it happened again. That oughta do it.
Therein lies the problem for what would ripen into a mess. The strongest communication about its values that any organization can give is by the action it takes against employees who violate organizational rules and standards. Let them off lightly, and you not only allow the behaviors to continue, but they will get worse. Do a slow-walk investigation and employees get the message. No big deal. You force them to live with it or leave. Employees working in a poisoned culture are never as engaged, productive, or loyal as those who feel that their companies stand by stated values.
The McDonald’s suit and all that will follow is a lesson for all leaders, and, especially, HR VPs, people officers, talent managers or whatever they are calling them now. The folks who get the complaints. Listen up, follow up, and stand up for sanctions.