Difficult Conversations Podcast
Lessons I Learned as an ICU Physician
Episode 168 | March 28, 2022
Difficult Conversations in Human Resources
Chief Human Resources Officer & Bestselling Author
Welcome to Difficult Conversations with Dr. Anthony Orsini. Today, I am honored to have as my guest, Paul Falcone, who is widely considered and expert on communication and human resources. Paul is currently the Chief Human Resources Officer for the Motion Picture and Television Fund and former Head of HR for Nickelodeon. He is a best-selling author of a number of books, including one we’ll be speaking about today called, 101 Tough Conversations to Have With Employees: A Manager’s Guide To Addressing Performance, Conduct, And Discipline Challenges. He’s also the creator of The Paul Falcone Workplace Leadership Series, which includes his latest book that was just released called, Workplace Ethics: Mastering Ethical Leadership and Sustaining a Moral Workplace. Paul’s a regular columnist at SHRM’s HR Magazine and a long-term instructor in UCLA’s Extension School of Business & Management.
We start with Paul sharing his story and we find out the importance of soft skills and building relationships. We learn things that have changed tremendously in medicine and business with having so many options these days, especially with the Gen Y and Gen Z’s. Paul and Dr. Orsini talk about having the important trust factor. . Dr. Orsini points out that medicine and business are so similar because we have to communicate. Paul shares a great HR story and advice to always go with your heart and when in doubt err on the side of compassion.
We Discuss Paul's book, 101 Tough Conversations to Have With Employees. We find out the most difficult conversation Paul has with people being in HR.. You don’t want to miss Paul’s advice about the important conversation in HR and with people before a Christmas party. Paul’s latest book, Workplace Ethics,, was just released and he tells us the theory behind the book, and gives examples of workplace ethics. He also shares advice on what to say to an employee who is being harassed but is afraid to say anything to HR because their boss is going to find out. We end with Paul explaining what COVID has done for HR.
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Paul Falcone (1s):
They talking about the importance of soft skills. And when I was younger, soft skills were a nice to have. It’s an HR. Yeah. That’s really nice HR. Now go back to your little office and we’ll tell you if we need anything. That’s not the case anymore. When you talk about emotional intelligence and high EQ, emotional quotient, leaders, I mean, these people are very good at understanding how to relate to other people and look at where we are right now, post pan, hopefully post-pandemic. But at this stage in the pandemic’s development, we talk about the great resignation. We talked about the gray resignation, where people who are getting on the baby boomers are thinking, Hey, I’ve got 10 more years or five more years, and I don’t want to do this anymore. And the reality becomes the cultural experience that people haven’t worked.
Paul Falcone (44s):
Do you have a favorite boss? Do you have that kind of loyalty to someone? And if the answer is no, there’s not a lot of glue, that’s sticking people to their old jobs these days. That’s the problem that we’re having. So the more you can raise awareness about the importance of these skills and building relationships with people the right way, holding them accountable, but also somehow becoming their favorite boss and mentor. That’s really where the direction of leadership is going. And it kind of has to go that way because there’s no choice.
Announcer (1m 12s):
Welcome to Difficult Conversations Lessons I Learned as an ICU Physician with Dr. Anthony Orsini. Dr. Orsini is a practicing physician and president and CEO of the Orsini Way. As a frequent keynote speaker and author, Dr. Orsini has been training healthcare professionals and business leaders, how to navigate through the most difficult dialogues. Each week you will hear inspiring interviews with experts in their field who tell their story and provide practical advice on how to effectively communicate. Whether you are a doctor faced with giving a patient bad news, a business leader who wants to get the most out of his or her team members, or someone who just wants to learn to communicate better this is the podcast for you.
Dr. Anthony Orsini (1m 57s):
Welcome to another episode of Difficult Conversations Lessons: I learned as an ICU physician. This is Dr. Anthony Orsini, and I’ll be your host again this week. Well, you’ve heard me speak frequently about the importance of good communication in medicine and why it’s absolutely essential to building strong relationships with patients, nurses, team members, and the hospital leadership. For medicine to be successful. Everyone must communicate well with patients and with each other. When it breaks down medical errors increase, patient satisfaction plummets and professional burnout among doctors and nurses increases dramatically. If you listen to this podcast before, you might’ve had the pleasure of hearing amazing leaders in business, talk about why the ability to communicate effectively and with compassion is also absolutely essential for successful leaders.
Dr. Anthony Orsini (2m 50s):
Guests, such as James Orsini, Anthony Viceroy, Claude Silver, Stephen MR Covey, Linda Kaplan Thaler and the list goes on and on. Each one gave us great insight, but the message was clear, If you want to be a good leader you must learn to communicate and build trust. Just like in medicine, good communication is the foundation for success. Well, today I am absolutely honored to have, as my guest, someone who is widely considered the expert on communication in human resources. And I don’t think that’s hyperbole. And if you’re in HR or business, you have likely read at least one of his books.
Dr. Anthony Orsini (3m 31s):
And if you haven’t, go to Amazon, as soon as you’re done with this episode and buy them all. Today, my guest is Paul Falcone. Paul Falcone is currently the chief human resource officer of the Motion Picture and Television Fund in Los Angeles and former head of HR for Nickelodeon. He is a best selling author of a number of Harper Collins leadership and American management association books, including the one we will be speaking mostly about today called 101 Tough Conversations to Have With Employees, a manager’s guide to discussing performance conduct and discipline challenges. In addition, he’s the creator of the Paul Falcone workplace leadership series, which includes his latest book just released on March 1st, called Workplace Ethics, Mastering Ethical Leadership and Sustaining a Moral Workplace.
Dr. Anthony Orsini (4m 25s):
Paul is a regular columnist at Sherm HR magazine and a long-term instructor in UCLA extension school of business and management. Well, thank you, Paul. I really appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule will be with us today.
Paul Falcone (4m 38s):
Yeah. Are you kidding when Tony Orsini calls everything waits, but no it’s my pleasure to be here. I’m just saying
Dr. Anthony Orsini (4m 44s):
Good for my ego. I’d have my mother hear this episode. Now the greatest thing about this podcast, you know, this is maybe our 65th 70th episode and people that I normally would not have met. I get to meet and learn from and call friends and you and I spoke about a month ago. It’s amazing. I contact people that I think would be great. I’ll be on the show and I through LinkedIn or whatever. And you got right back to me is a lot of people do I go, wow, this is great. So we hit it off last month. I mean, we were talking about just about everything. We had a great time.
Paul Falcone (5m 16s):
We have a lot in common, nice.
Dr. Anthony Orsini (5m 18s):
I should’ve just hit record. It would have been great, so let’s see if we can recapture that. But Paul, I usually start every episode the same because I truly believe in building rapport and getting to know the people. So just spend a little time telling the audience about Paul Falcone share something personal and your professional history. And I like to joke how you got to the pinnacle of your career being on my podcast.
Paul Falcone (5m 40s):
That’s correct. I was going to phrase it that way. How did I get it so quickly? Tony? I grew up in Brooklyn, New York. I went to high school in Manhattan, went to UCLA for four years in the UCLA marching band had a blast. I was a tour guide at universal studios every summer. So I had my summer job waiting for me. Cool. And didn’t know what I was to do. When I went in the business world, went to an employment agency, asked them for help. They hired me. I was there for six years. I became their director of training and all of a sudden I found myself in the search business. But after half, a dozen years, I decided it would make sense for me to go in-house with human resources because that’s really who we were selling to. And I’ve been blessed in my career. I’ve been, as you said, HR for Nickelodeon, I was head of international HR for paramount pictures.
Paul Falcone (6m 22s):
I’ve worked at NBC Universal. You know, when you’re in LA, you touch all the different productions out there, but I was also careful not to only be an entertainment guy. So I’ve worked in healthcare and biotech and I’ve also worked in financial services. And to me, a lot of times, my, experience just informed my writing. It is the reality of what it was. So I’ve worked in nonprofit and I’ve worked in union environments and I’ve worked in international. You kind of get a feel for all of it. And the bottom line is people are basically the same. That’s my aha moment. So you don’t have to buy any other books. There’s your answer, but how you treat them becomes really critical. And the final thing I’d say is what I discovered was no matter where your MBA is from, even if, as an MBA from a top 10 school, they don’t teach about leadership in the trenches and they don’t teach about the communication piece.
Paul Falcone (7m 6s):
And that was the gap. And that’s why not on what my writing is at times very well. I’m up to 15 books at this point, but you know, the reality is that’s really where the need was. And luckily for me, I kind of stumbled upon it.
Dr. Anthony Orsini (7m 19s):
It at least has baffled me at least first and medicine when communication is so important for that history and physical and that relationship between a doctor and patient and then many physicians go on and leadership programs just baffled me how we never train physicians on how to communicate. And in fact, entering medical school, it’s a little better now, but when I entered it was, I’m going to take your MCAT scores. We’re going to multiply it by this number. I’m going to multiply your grade point average by this. And unless you totally bombed the interview, I’m going to take you in. And, and I think what we’ve found in medicine and now, and you’ve found in business, you just can’t take the smartest person in the groom and make them a leader.
Paul Falcone (8m 1s):
Yeah, very true. They talked about the importance of soft skills and when I was younger, soft skills were a nice to have. It’s an HR. Yeah. That’s really nice HR. Now go back to your little office and we’ll tell you if we need anything. It’s not the case anymore. When you talk about emotional intelligence and high EQ, emotional quotient leaders, I mean, these people are very good at understanding how to relate to other people. And you look at where we are right now, post-pan that will hopefully post-pandemic now. But at this stage in the pandemic development, we talk about the great resignation. We talked about the gray resignation, where people who are getting on the baby boomers are thinking, Hey, I’ve got 10 more years or five more years, and I don’t want to do this anymore.
Paul Falcone (8m 42s):
And the reality becomes the cultural experience that people haven’t worked. Do you have a favorite boss? Do you have that kind of loyalty to someone? And if the answer is no, there’s not a lot of glue that’s sticking people to their old jobs. These days that’s the, that we’re having. So the more you can raise awareness about the importance of these skills and building relationships with people the right way, holding them accountable, but also somehow becoming their favorite boss and mentor. That’s really where the direction of leadership is going. And it kind of has to go that way because there’s no choice. If you want to keep your doors open and you want to keep your good people there and still try and attract new talent, there’s a lot of challenges in that. Tony, it’s not easy right now.
Dr. Anthony Orsini (9m 23s):
So I had that written down on this scribble down on a piece of paper for a later question, but let’s just go with the flow here. So one of the things I wanted to ask you is, are things different now than when you started? So we have baby boomers, then we have millennials, generation X. I can’t even keep track of how many different generation X, Y, Z X, Y,
Paul Falcone (9m 42s):
Z. That’s right.
Dr. Anthony Orsini (9m 44s):
But are things different for medicine? It was a common saying when you and I were children, he’s got a lousy bedside manner, but he’s a great doctor. So go see him. Now that doesn’t fly anymore. Is it the same way in business where maybe 30 years ago, people put up with a lot more, maybe they put up with a boss who didn’t, who wasn’t a good communicator and didn’t have any compassion and now it doesn’t fly or is it still the same?
Paul Falcone (10m 9s):
No it’s changed tremendously. People feel like they have a lot more options these days. I mean, there were so many things that came together, right? When you’re talking about the me too movement. And you’re talking about the black lives matter movement. When you look at the gen Y the millennials and the gen Z, is there any else? This is basically the 35 and under crowd, right? Gen Y 35 and under gen Z 25. And under, it’s a tremendously large cohort, but it’s the most studied group in world history. We know everything that they want because study after study, after study and they keep coming back with the same answers, a wise employer is going to sit back and say, some of these things are important for us to adopt or adapt to whatever.
Paul Falcone (10m 49s):
And many employers out there aren’t doing that. They’re like, it’s a, my way or the highway. This is my company. This is the way I’ve run it. And you can do that. You can make believe that COVID never happened. I would never went back in the office nine to five, eight to five, but you’re going to miss out on opportunities because one of the most important things for these cohorts, these generational cohorts, they do want some form of what I call work-life control. I don’t know if work-life balance is really a term anymore, but they want to be able to control it. They want to be able to enjoy their lives. That’s not a bad thing. Letting people work Fridays from home, where they can try and run out to the post office on their lunch break and still not have to use their Saturday and Sunday for it. Again, may not sit well with you as a business owner.
Paul Falcone (11m 30s):
But the truth of the matter is if you study what they’re looking for and you realize that’s one of the top five, that’s not that big of an ask, especially if you feel like, well, we’re still getting the productivity out of them.
Dr. Anthony Orsini (11m 40s):
Yeah. And a happy employee, really, when it comes right down to it, I guess even more so is going to be more productive, right? I mean, the Google’s of the world figured that out early on Microsoft, where they didn’t have hours. And you know, if you’re creative and you want to work 10 to 12 midnight, you get your job done. It’s done. And the days of you must wear a gray suit to work every day and leave at five o’clock are over.
Paul Falcone (12m 4s):
Yeah, totally. So the expression that I think of is happy cows make more milk. Right. And that’s true. It is your talent asset. It’s what differentiates your company from anyone else’s your people. And I would say Tony earlier in my career, that was like a non-issue you’re lucky to have a job, be quiet, sit down and do your work. It’s not that anymore.
Dr. Anthony Orsini (12m 24s):
Right? Let’s keep going with that. Cause one of the questions I had was, so you’re an HR and I have a niece in HR and I know a lot of good friends that are doing that, you know, in medicine, you always have this legality of HR, right? So you have lawyers, you’re having these tough conversations and I’m always drawing a parallel to medicine. So medicine, when there’s a medical error, we know that the best thing for the patient, the family and the doctor is for the physician to deliver that news about the medical error by him or herself say, they’re sorry. And be honest and trusting. We also know that when the physician walks in the room with risk management, three attorneys and a whole bunch of administrators, it doesn’t go that well.
Dr. Anthony Orsini (13m 9s):
Yet, there’s still some hospitals and there’s still some reason that you have to have that there. How do you balance an HR? We’re going to talk about your book. You had some great conversations about your book. When you have the attorney saying, I need to be there, et cetera. Explain that to me, this is not my world.
Paul Falcone (13m 27s):
Well again, having done HR across different industries, different sizes of companies, I was never a fan of that. And I’ve not really done it that way, because if anything, I could push back on that and say, I really wouldn’t recommend it. People have to have a trust factor there. And that trust factor comes from being person to person. That’s just human, and you see it in the workplace in different places. When I was brand new, my, one of my first jobs and human resources was with city of hope was a wonderful cancer research hospital in Southern California. But at the time I remember we were going through a layoff. We were preparing to lay off a hundred people, whatever it was, but we had an outside consultant come in and the consultant said, I’m here to prepare you HR people to lay off these employees. Okay. And the woman said, I’ll never forget.
Paul Falcone (14m 9s):
Do not say, you’re sorry, whatever you do. Don’t say, you’re sorry. This is not your fault. You are doing your job. It has nothing to do with you. So there’s no reason for you to make yourself vulnerable or expose the company to vulnerability. And I was the young kid in the back and I raised my hand and I said, why wouldn’t you say, you’re sorry, not that they were selected for the layoff. I get that. But when you just, sorry, it’s happening to them. Because if I were being laid off, I would hope someone would cry and hug me. What is it? And she kind of came down on me pretty hard and said, no, you don’t do that. And I like to think, you know, 30 years later, the funny thing for me, Tony is when I was a kid, I was kind of the kid who brought the teacher of the apple. That’s who I was. But I was a little afraid of the business world. I was reading the books on swimming with sharks, whatnot, but what I realized 30 years later through my books and my teaching, everything I’ve changed the business world more than it’s changed.
Paul Falcone (14m 57s):
And I’ve made it safer. I think for people to show healthy vulnerability, to show that they really care. It’s okay to say, you’re sorry that this is happening to someone for Pete’s sake for human beings. And it’s the same thing. If you’re going to lawyer up just to give someone news, what do you think they’re going to do? They’re automatically going to think I’m at a disadvantage here. It’s one of me versus four of you. Well, I have to go get my own lawyer obviously. And that creates a lot of post litigation. It’s just not rocket science. And it misses awareness with more people that you think.
Dr. Anthony Orsini (15m 29s):
The more I learned and the more I study about communication, the more I realized that medicine and business it’s so similar, right? I mean, we have to communicate. It’s the same thing. There’s actually think it’s the latest count was 24 states that have apology laws for physicians to protect them when they reveal a medical error from saying, they’re sorry, because we get that all the time. I’m training young doctors and even some older doctors about just giving someone tragic news, like your husband died. And some of them don’t say, they’re sorry to the wife, when we do these improvisational role-plays and I’ll say, never said you were sorry. Well, an older doc told me never to say, I’m sorry, because that means we made a mistake and you throw your hands up and say, you’re not saying, you’re sorry that you messed up.
Dr. Anthony Orsini (16m 14s):
It’s a human, compassionate thing. When someone gets fired or someone dies, they say, you’re sorry, or I’m sorry, this happened to you. So the parallels are just amazing. So that’s great point.
Paul Falcone (16m 25s):
Yeah, it was cause we were dealing with people and people are people. Now, again, I’m going to humbly say that what I deal with in human resources doesn’t light a match to what you do in medicine. And I don’t pretend it to, but one of the things I learned, sometimes I say it’s important that you have bad bosses in your career because they help you define who you’re not. And one of my early experiences with someone who is trying to quote unquote, teach me how to do employee relations was when she was terminating someone, she would always get nervous. I knew it. And she’d say the same thing at the end of every meeting, she said, oh, by the way, if you’re planning on suing upost-terminations good luck, we’ve got the best outside counsel in Los Angeles.
Dr. Anthony Orsini (16m 58s):
Oh my God.
Paul Falcone (16m 59s):
And it’s like the first time I heard it, I was almost like, it took my breath away. By the 15th time, I’ve heard it. I was like, okay, this is the spiel that she uses. And she somehow felt like I have to show some really strong, aggressive tendencies here, you know, to protect the company. The truth of the matter is when people are getting fired, they’re very vulnerable. Is some people who’ve never been through it before. It takes your breath away. You’re frightened. You’re scared. Your mind is going in a million directions when they’re vulnerable like that. That’s not the time to hit them when they’re down. As you might suspect, these people walked away. They felt humiliated and stripped of their dignity at a time when they were very vulnerable. And we had a lot of post termination activity because they went straight to a lawyer and they said, I can’t believe this company treated me this way.
Paul Falcone (17m 42s):
They’re angry. And the lawsuit becomes a tool of workplace revenge. So you have to be really careful about these things, but always go with your heart. And always when in doubt, err, on the side of compassion, it’s not going to hurt. It’s a healthy thing to do.
Dr. Anthony Orsini (17m 57s):
Exactly. We had one of my earliest guests is also very good friend of mine. Dr. Larry Barton is one of the premier experts in the world on workplace violence. And Larry and his book talks about the matter in which you fire somebody is a lot to do with predicting which employee is going to come back and shoot the place up. You know? I mean, those are extreme, but I love what you just said. Just treating everybody with compassion, right. Or as my book would say, it’s all in the delivery. So speaking of it’s all in the delivery, let’s take a step back. I heard the saying many years ago and it’s turning out to be true for me, writers write? Once they get the bug, then they can’t stop. Or are you an example of that?
Dr. Anthony Orsini (18m 38s):
How did you get your first book? And now how many of you have 15 now? How did you decide to do your first book? And when was that?
Paul Falcone (18m 43s):
So quick story having the master’s degree from UCLA, it was in literature. So I always thought I was going to go the professor route and I didn’t, but there’s still that part of me, you know, the idea of being published in my mind was like the top of the food chain. I remember the first time I walked into Barnes and noble on fifth avenue, it was the first time I’d been in that bookstore. And I was like, wow, one day. Yeah, it was one of those moments. And the reality was when I had gone to the recruiting firm, which was my first job. And I was there for about six years. What I thought was I can try and find someone to publish with that would like to know how employers should be negotiating with you with contingency search firms. Very simple, you know, cause there’s a lot of elements to negotiate. And I got my first article published and I will never forget the day it was in 1992.
Paul Falcone (19m 27s):
Well, I started writing for the American management association. They had a magazine called HR focus, magazine doesn’t exist anymore. But at the time Tony, I was writing with them. I’d probably done a dozen articles, but I knew they had a publishing division and the person I’d become friends with on the magazine side, I said, can I do a pitch for a book? And they said, sure. And now here’s your story. It was in, I think January of 2014 is where we have the north Ridge by. I live 15 miles from Northridge. Our house got crunched and we didn’t get mail for about a week. We had the shovel and the kitchen and shoveling everything out. The first mail run that we got had so much mail in it. Cause it was a full week of mail. And there was my acceptance letter from the American management association saying we’re publishing your book.
Paul Falcone (20m 10s):
Wow. Unbelievable. And that was it. I was starstruck ever since I still can’t believe I’ve been able to do what I’ve been able to do. It’s quite a blessing. And I’m very humbled by the whole thing.
Dr. Anthony Orsini (20m 19s):
Yeah. My book took three years of putting it down, taking it up and then once you get that high of my book is out there and people are actually buying it. Now I’m already starting to think about my next book, et cetera, but you have 15. Right. But the one that really caught my attention, the one I want to talk about first, we’re going to talk about another one is 101 Difficult Conversations and love the book because the book is really that right. A hundred, one Difficult Conversations, but it’s so practical. And I think it answers questions to the HR professional or the leader that people are afraid to ask, like what to do with the guy with bad breath. So tell us more about that book and how that came about. And it’s such a practical guide.
Dr. Anthony Orsini (21m 0s):
I think it’s almost like a manual.
Paul Falcone (21m 2s):
And you can look at it that way. So real quick, your book rocks, I’ve read your book cover to cover. I was like, wow. It was fascinating to me. So I’m going to throw a little dumb. I know it was great. It’s sitting right on my bookshelf. The idea though for me, was what I realized was this stuff I said, it’s not trained that we’re not teaching this stuff. It’s missing awareness out there. And I tended to have a good ability to talk to people about Tough Conversations, whether I was laying them off, terminating them for cause still maintain that sense of listen. Thanks for everything you’ve done. It does. What happened yesterday did violate the terms of your final written warning. So we have to move in another direction. We have to separate your employment, but that isn’t a personal decision.
Paul Falcone (21m 44s):
That’s just where the record lies. And I want you to know, I thank you for everything you’ve done for the last four years. I mean, personally, I’m going to miss working with you. I also want to tell you if you need help with your resume, if I can help you with anything, just let me know. Okay. It doesn’t end today. I’m here. We’re friends call me anytime when you do that, kind of people can heal. They can move. I’ve listen. They don’t like the answer. It’s not what they were hoping for, but they didn’t do it deliberately. Typically. And to your point earlier, Tony, with your prior guests, my rule in my writing is always, if you’re going to terminate someone or lay someone to lay someone off, do it early in the day and early in the week, don’t do it late in the day, late in the week. Cause it’s usually when it happens, it happens on Friday afternoon to 5:00 PM so that everyone’s walking out the door, don’t even notice they let the guy go and they hope that he just goes away quietly.
Paul Falcone (22m 32s):
But a lot of workplace violence tends to happen on Monday morning. And that happens because they’re angry. They’re frustrated. They have no one to turn to on Saturday and Sunday and it just boils up. And when it’s going to show itself, as the next time these people are going to be back in the office, which is Monday morning. So the reality is do it Tuesday morning at nine, okay. Don’t do it Friday at five. That’s a mistake that people make and people have to know that there’s someone there to answer their questions or someone there to help them through with any emergencies that they, they didn’t think of. Otherwise, if they are a little bit off in the way their mind works, it could work against a company in terms of violence in the workplace, you have to be really cautious.
Dr. Anthony Orsini (23m 12s):
Wow. What a pearl that is. I don’t think I’ve heard that before, but that makes a lot of sense. You fire them on Friday and now they have all weekend just to sit by themselves and stew. But there’s other things in a book that I found really interesting that we talked about the bad breath. There’s other conversations that you’ve had. What do you think is the most difficult conversation that you as an HR person has to have? Is it the separation or is there a particular type of separation or particular talk that you think is the most difficult?
Paul Falcone (23m 38s):
Typically it’s the layoff when it’s no one’s fault and they just eliminated the position and you’re telling someone that is absolutely shocking cause they didn’t see it coming. I mean, it’s actually harder to do that than it is to terminate someone for cause because typically in a termination for, cause they’ve been disciplined before, they’ve gone through the first written in the second written warning and the final written warning. And then there’s this clean incident that violates the terms of the final written warning. They know it’s coming. And when you talk with them, it’s still kind of difficult, but there’s an element of right. There’s an element of, they knew it was coming in layoffs. It’s not that way. And layoffs are really difficult because you could be the superstar employee who everybody loves. But the truth of the matter is that position has been wiped out.
Paul Falcone (24m 20s):
It no longer exists. The company has to eliminate the position. That’s step one. And step two is whoever the human being is attached to that position no longer has a job there. And so you try and make us, you know, I want them to understand it’s not personal. You didn’t do anything wrong. You didn’t disappoint anyone. But when we looked at this structurally, this particular position was going to need to be eliminated for financial reasons. And unfortunately we’re going to have to make today your last day, but we’ve got a separation package here that I think is going to help in a lot of ways. And I want to help you kind of focus on your future. So I’d like to talk with you about that.
Dr. Anthony Orsini (24m 54s):
And that’s beautiful and it’s really the same in medicine. It’s just, we’ll say to someone who has got cancer, et cetera, this is a terrible thing to happen. You don’t deserve this and it’s not your fault. And I’m so sorry that this happened to you again, say you’re sorry, it’s not terrible, Paul. There was one conversation that has come up. You have children. Yes. Yes. Okay. So I have three adult children and we talk about when they all got jobs or the first two of them, the other one’s going to law school. There’s something in your book about the Christmas party. And I think one of the problems with leaders right now is that they would rather not have the Difficult Conversation.
Dr. Anthony Orsini (25m 34s):
And then afterwards they wished they had. So tell us about when I was reading the conversation that you were suggesting to have with your people before the big party. I found it fascinating because it was the way you worded it. It was beautiful. It was compassionate, but it was also a great reminder. And I used to tell my kids all the time you got the Christmas party coming up, dads are always like this, right? You know, well, I’m always making a, by the way, do you know how many people get fired after a Christmas party? And they’re good kids. I didn’t expect them to do anything but that conversation that you suggested, people don’t do it.
Dr. Anthony Orsini (26m 17s):
But tell us about that particular conversation and how you go about that. And I think it’s so important. It’s preemptive,
Paul Falcone (26m 24s):
It’s preemptive and you know, the song teach your children well. It’s this idea of we’ve lost the ability as a society, Tony, to sit around the campfire and have the elders pass along wisdom to the newer generation. We’ve gotten too busy. It’s too much social media. There’s too much. This there’s so much that really good leaders are able to communicate well and put themselves in positions where they have an opportunity to do that. One of the questions, for example, that I’ll typically ask a manager is how often do you meet with your employee and what your team like weekly team meetings? What do you do? And if they say, no, we don’t do that. We don’t need to do that. We work each other side by side. There’s my first red flag that there’s problems on this team. So I think when it comes to the Christmas party, just like any other issue, you just have to get their heads in the right place.
Paul Falcone (27m 8s):
And to do that and have a discussion and say, Hey everybody, listen, we’re going to have a nice time tonight. I hear they’ve got a band. We’re going to have blah-blah-blah to eat what you guys have a fabulous time. But I just want to share something with you. Be careful about something. There’s a difference in how companies treat performance issues versus conduct issues. And a lot of people think if they ever mess up, they’re going to get all, get a verbal warning and I’ll get a written warning. Not if it’s conduct. Conduct can go zero to termination for a first-time offense. With performance you’re right. You’re going to go through steps. You’ll have a couple of cracks at the bat, but with conduct and you guys know that if you steal, if there’s the, you know, theft, forgery, embezzlement, it’s a one and done, right?
Paul Falcone (27m 49s):
It’s a third rail issue. It’s like you touch the third rail and turn into bacon. You can’t do certain things at a party. And I’m just telling you, because I’m a little older than you guys. I’ve seen some things where people have lost their jobs over their behavior at a Christmas party. I guess they’ve had way too much to drink. They became very disinhibited. And the bottom line was, I can’t even tell you all these stories. What I’m telling you is this be moderate in what you’re doing. Have a wonderful time and most important. Keep an eye on those around you. Okay? Just from a selfless leadership perspective, just make sure that everyone is okay. If you’re seeing anyone kind of getting out of hand, please come let me know. I don’t drink. So I’m going to be in the right state of mind, state of mind, but watch out for everyone else.
Paul Falcone (28m 32s):
Have each other’s backs have a great time, but this is not the place to lose it to go bananas and wild that’s not what this was meant to be. And no one wants to be in a situation where they’re getting terminated because they had too much fun at a holiday party, or they can’t even remember they were at the holiday party. What did I do exactly? That’s not where you want to be. So you can have a five minute conversation with just raise that awareness. That importance of the reminder, Tony is what’s missing out there and it is proactive. It’s preemptive and it avoids all the drama. I don’t do drama. I don’t like trauma. So I get ahead of these things before they turn into anything that’s going to explode.
Dr. Anthony Orsini (29m 9s):
And it really is. It’s all in the delivery. The way you just phrase that wasn’t very aggressive. It was, Hey guys, I want you to have a good time. I’m here to help you. And I’m just giving you some fatherly advice or et cetera, big brother advice, as opposed to a leader who just says, okay, I’m going to have a meeting. You guys better behave today because if you do anything wrong, I’m going to fire you. And then you’re like, whoa,
Paul Falcone (29m 32s):
It’s all in the delivery.
Dr. Anthony Orsini (29m 33s):
But yeah, I think that’s what I loved about your book. No, I’ve had some really great bosses. And I’ve said this before in other episodes, you know, my first boss at NYU as a neonatologist and the ones don’t lie, I was training and I’ve had other good boss, but there’s bosses that I had 25 years ago. If you said something bad about them, I’d slap you. I defend them forever. And they were, in fact, one of my mentors was probably the toughest guy you ever met in your life. And he was very demanding. But to this day I would lay down in front of him. And then the worst bosses are just like, I’m not really comfortable having that conversations. I’m just going to avoid it. And the best boss is just, he would just show up in my office, sit down and say, how are you just want to know how you’re doing?
Dr. Anthony Orsini (30m 17s):
Don’t be afraid to have the conversation, right?
Paul Falcone (30m 19s):
Just that human touches, that human element in my lectures. One of the things I always talk about Tony is very simply tell me about your favorite boss. And I ask people and they’ll raise their hand. And they’ll say someone who just trusted me and someone always made me feel good about myself or it’s someone who challenged me to do things I didn’t even think I could do. And the question is, are you being that right now to anyone or to the people on your team? And if you’re not, it’s okay, there’s no judgment here, but how can you turn into that? Because the simple fact of thinking about how can I pay it forward? How can I be someone’s favorite boss, pulls everything together in the universe. When they talk about employee engagement, employee satisfaction, team alignment, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
Paul Falcone (30m 60s):
It can all be filtered through that one, one very simple person. If you’re doing that, can you check every box? So keep it simple. I like back of the envelope types of solutions. If you can’t explain it on the back of an envelope, probably too complicated. But when it comes to dealing with people, the path of least resistance is avoidance. Most managers will sweep it under the rug. They don’t want to address it and it’s fine, but it just keeps percolating. And then there’d be explodes because some proverbial straw was broken on the camel’s back. Then they run into my office and they want the guy fired. And I’m like, well, hang on a second. Let’s look at the personnel file. There is no progressive discipline. The last five years you’ve given him performance. Are you saying he’s exceeds expectations. I can’t fire the guy and you can’t be mad at me at that because you didn’t do your job.
Paul Falcone (31m 45s):
So let’s sit down and let’s talk about how we move the record in a different direction, because the record that exists right now, it’s not just a summary offense. What you’re just telling this is not egregious misconduct to the point where you’re going to give him a one-time you’re terminated. Boom. That’s not what this is. So we’ve got to work together. I’ve got to be your partner and I’ll help you through it, but we’re not ready to do that. And that’s real. That happens in every HR person’s world, because they felt like, well, now I’m the bad guy because I’m telling them no, but actually it was the manager who didn’t handle it responsibly. The accountability has to lie with that manager for that.
Dr. Anthony Orsini (32m 18s):
Exactly. And perception is worse than reality. So there’s so many problems. And you know, with the water cooler discussions, did you hear that Paul or Tony was doing this and doing this? And if maybe if my boss came to me or if I, the door was open, he’d say what she would say. That’s not the case at all. As Simon Sinek says the why that we’re doing it because of this. So it’s all about open communication. So Paul, let’s talk about your latest book, Workplace Ethics, boy. That’s fascinating. Tell me about that. You seem so excited when you and I spoke about this book. Tell us about it
Paul Falcone (32m 54s):
Real quick. If I can, this just arrived on my doorstep this morning. So it was just this morning. I opened the box from the publisher. And when you see a book for the first time, it’s such an exciting feeling and I’m looking at it. I’m like this rocks. This looks really cool. So yeah, the Workplace Ethics, it’s funny, it’s a continuum, Tony, right? And you’re talking about holding people accountable with Tough Conversations. I’ve also written about how to motivate, develop coach your employees, right? And that sense of employee motivation. Okay, that’s fine. But ethics is a little different when people hear ethics, I think they think, oh, that’s going to be boring or it’s theory. And this is no, this is not theory. This is real. And this is in everyone’s workplace.
Paul Falcone (33m 34s):
And so the reality becomes is how do you pick these key issues to raise awareness? So what are the things right away is the difference between how employers treat performance versus conduct. Most managers don’t know that they think everything has to be treated the same way. So if I see someone who is acting very inappropriately in a staff meeting, and I say to that manager, don’t mind my asking, but why would you put up with, and the person says, oh, Paul, you live in your HR ivory tower over there. You don’t know what it’s like working with this guy. But if I have to start with a documented verbal warning and then give him a written warning and then give them a final written warning, they’ll be held to pay. It’ll be like civil war. It’s easier just to not pay attention to it. And I say, yeah, but what I just saw in that meeting is a final written warning that says, if he ever does that again, he’ll be immediately terminated for cause.
Paul Falcone (34m 20s):
And they look at me and they say, wait, you can do that. And I’m like, yeah, you can do that. Those are the kinds of things. So I, that, I guess they’re not teaching it in business school. There’s something that you learn being in a people leadership role for three decades where you can pull these kernels of really good information. That again, once you bring it to managers, they feel like they’re building muscle. And that’s what I want them to feel like. I want them to feel like I’m a stronger leader because I’m getting very good information and data and blah, blah, blah. And it applies to all environments. So that’s the theory behind the Workplace Ethics book.
Dr. Anthony Orsini (34m 53s):
It’s another example of a Workplace Ethics, suggestion, and a challenge. If you don’t mind.
Paul Falcone (34m 59s):
No, no, I don’t. Okay. So one of the things is we call it the preemptive strike or pre taliation. So pre taliation, you know, the word retaliation employees are pretty sophisticated consumers these days. And if they don’t figure it out themselves, they’ll call a lawyer and say, can you help me? And the lawyer will say, well, I can’t do anything until they terminate you. They have to do something. But have you ever thought your boss is really riding you hard right now? You know, your HR person is. Yeah. Okay. Why don’t you go talk to that person, but why don’t you tell them that you’re really not happy with how the boss is treating you and throwing some words, like, I don’t know, retaliation, harassment, discrimination, bullying, make sure those are part of your vocabulary.
Paul Falcone (35m 41s):
When you speak to the HR person. Now flash forward, Tony, I’m sitting in human resources in my ivory tower. If a manager comes to me and says, Paul, I’ve got a problem with an employee’s performance, could you help me? Yeah, of course that sets me off in one direction. Let me help this manager because there’s a problem, problematic employee that may need to be coached or disciplined or whatever. If that manager never comes to HR, because that manager doesn’t take things out of the family and only wants to do things on their own. Then the employee comes to me. First says, Paul, I’ve got a problem with my boss. Let me give you some examples of harassment, intimidation, discrimination. Okay, well, what do I know? I’m sitting in my ivory tower that sets me off in a different direction because now I’ve got to do an investigation.
Paul Falcone (36m 25s):
Tony, this is what the real sad part is. So I’ve got the complaint about the vice-president from the manager. I can’t talk to the vice-president yet. I got to go one step ahead, one step over the vice-president. I need someone who’s objective. So I’m either going into the senior vice president or the president of the division or whatever. And I say, we’ve got this complaint about your VP. The complaint was made by the manager. I’d like you to partner with me so we can talk to the VP. So send them in. So income’s the, vice-president sees the HR guy with his boss. What’s the first thing he’s thinking, oh, I might get fired right now. And that’s what I like Tony he’s like tenderizing the meat, right. It kind of gets them in the right zone. And then the division president says, you know, more, there was a complaint made about you and it use terms like harassment, discrimination and retaliation.
Paul Falcone (37m 11s):
Paul is sharing it with me. Paul, can you tell them more about it? And I say, yeah, mark and mark says wait wait, Who’s making the complaint. And I say, well, the complaint is being made by John DOE. John DOE, are you? I was just going to fire him. I was going to write him up. He’s the worst employee. Boom, just stepped on the landmine. Didn’t even see it coming. Because if you’re not partnering with HR, when there’s a problem going on, that can be used against you. As a leader, you’ve got to fit. You gotta be smart. They’re sophisticated consumers. They know how to twist the record. And if they don’t figure it out on their own, the lawyer will tell them to do that. So these are the kinds of things. It’s like, there’s an ethical awareness. There’s a fairness element, an equity element to what’s going on in the workplace these days.
Paul Falcone (37m 55s):
And you can’t go it alone. Leadership is a team sport and you better know who your partners are. And when there are problems, you make sure number one, your boss knows. And number two, if you have HR that your HR team knows and this way they can’t split the baby, because the employees then will complain about you to the boss, right? The division president complained about you to human resources. If these people are getting blindsided, they’re going to believe what they hear. You need to tell your narrative. You need to be a smart leader. It’s unfortunate, but it’s a real message that’s necessary in today’s day and age.
Dr. Anthony Orsini (38m 28s):
What do you say to the employee who is actually being harassed? You know, has a legitimate complaint, but says, if I go to HR, then my boss is going to find out. Then things are going to get worse. And cause there’s a lot of them out there, right? They’re just afraid to say anything. What do you say to them?
Paul Falcone (38m 41s):
First of all, if someone comes to me and says I’m being harassed and discriminated against, I have to take action. Because if someone’s a Paul, can I talk to you off the record? The answer is, it depends. As long as it’s not harassment, discrimination, potential violence in the workplace, or number three, any kind of conflict of interest with the organization, then you can talk to me. But if it’s one of those three things, I’ve got an obligation to disclose it. I cannot keep it confidential. So that’s another mistake Tony, that people make, oh sure. Come talk to me off the record. Not knowing what people are going to tell them. So the reality becomes when someone comes to me and says, I have these problems, I first of all, tell them, I want to hear everything you have to say, and I’m going to take notes, but I also want to walk you through when we’re done, how I’m going to handle this.
Paul Falcone (39m 22s):
I don’t want them walking on eggshells. Has my boss been told this? I tell it when I’m going to tell your boss and you’ll know about it. And when I talked to your boss about this with his boss or her boss present, one of the things they’re going to need to know is they cannot do anything that could appear to be retaliatory for your having come to me in good faith. So if you sense that you need to come bullet line back to me and we’ll pick it up from there. So I’ve got to give him that sense of there’s a protection that goes on the look I can protect from big our capital, our retaliation. They ain’t going to fire you a discipline. You after you’ve come to me, I’m not that stupid. I can’t protect from little r. Retaliation. Yeah. They might not want to go to lunch with you, or they might walk by you in the hallway and not say good morning, cause they’re ticked.
Paul Falcone (40m 7s):
All right, little art goes away after a while, but I will give you the big protection that’s needed so that you don’t have to fear coming forward with those issues. It’s really important. HR is really on both sides of the equation. W we fix both. That’s really what I exist for that that’s the integrity of my office. So you hope that people will come to me for help when they need it. But to your point, some people are just so afraid of retaliation. They’ll go along with things. And statistics will show that when people are in abusive relationships at work, they tend to stay longer. They don’t pull it out of there. They stay longer. And why, I don’t know, I’ll guess I’ll never understand that, but you could look that up on whatever in your research. It really is a fairly common theme out there.
Dr. Anthony Orsini (40m 48s):
That is really interesting. Paul, we’re running at a time, but I do want to ask you, because one of the reasons I started this podcast was to really keep drawing parallels between medicine and business, et cetera. First time it occurred to me that what I teach is also pertinent to HR and business was when I was asked more than once by a large company, to give advice to their HR professionals who during COVID. And that’s what I want to ask you about. As we finish during COVID, some of these HR people were the ones responsible, you know, everybody’s home, everybody’s in lockdown and they were left with the responsibility to tell Johnny that Jim who sat next to them in the cubicle for the last 10 years, you know, his past or et cetera, how has COVID changed all this?
Dr. Anthony Orsini (41m 38s):
That has to be not only telling some of the died, but how many layoffs, et cetera, like what is COVID really done to HR.
Paul Falcone (41m 45s):
And now where I work motion, Picture and Television Fund is a lot of things, Tony, but it’s primarily a residential care facility for the elderly. And we have skilled nursing. And it’s basically for entertainment industry, people who, you know, are they’re retiring and they’re coming to us. But you know, retirement homes were ground zero for COVID and it was really difficult. We lost two of our employees. We lost nine of our residents out of about 250 residents, about 500 employees. It was really difficult and trying to be there for everyone. And the other corporate groups, the way our campus is laid out, the corporate office is in one building. Everything else is basically hospital or residential care. Everyone worked remotely, but we didn’t. I was so proud of the team. They said, no, we want to be here because when employees need us, we want them to come here.
Paul Falcone (42m 27s):
We don’t want them to call us over the phone. So our department was onsite for the last two years. We never changed that, which I think is a great thing. But yeah, it really did fall on us to meet with the families, to tell the families, we’re planting the trees and we’re creating a new garden for the two employees that we lost. We had a number of employees who back in the original, early 2000 were on ventilators. They had almost died. Didn’t come back to work for four or five months. It took a lot out. A lot of people have had a very difficult time. This is, is this traumatic and is trauma. When you think of having an employee assistance program to help people through traumatic events at work, a lot of things really did fall to the human resources department because that is who we are.
Paul Falcone (43m 8s):
We’re the people department, but we also have a social worker team and they were intricately involved in working with the families and how hard it is on social workers to be able to help families through those times. It was exhausting. It was heartbreaking. I wouldn’t change it for anything. I’m so proud of the fact that we got through this together. We will never forget one another because when you go through hell like that, there’s a bond that’s created and I wouldn’t change anything about it. So just feel very fortunate to be part of that team.
Dr. Anthony Orsini (43m 39s):
That’s well said, and it’s really so important. And you know, but the HR person, who’s very well-trained to separate someone from employment or have these Difficult Conversations wasn’t trained as a, your best friend died. And I’m sure there were some HR people that, you know, of course they bonded, but that’s taxing on your emotions. And I’m sure they went home and cried. And I do believe COVID, you know, brought many people together. There’s a better appreciation for healthcare than we used to have. There’s a better, I think, still an appreciation for life and the fragility of life that we didn’t even think about before the may. We took for granted.
Dr. Anthony Orsini (44m 20s):
And that’s amazing that they stayed there and said, I’m bunkering in. And if you need I’m here and boy, what a great thing for your people to do that. That’s amazing. So, Paul, this has been great. We’re going to put all your books up on the show notes, but the 101 Difficult Conversations that I’m going to get the ethics one right away, 101 is so easy to read, actually in full disclosure. I only read half of it. The other half I did audio. It was great. And I really listen to it on the beach and it reads so easily, but it drives home that it’s all in the delivery. You can have these difficult conversations and you can do it well. And as you said so eloquently, it’s all about being compassionate and being, and doing what your mother taught you to do when you were six years old
Paul Falcone (45m 7s):
In second grade,
Dr. Anthony Orsini (45m 9s):
Treat others as you want to be treated. And somehow as a society, we’ve missed that, but hopefully sort of this podcast and the work that you’re doing and everyone else is doing, we’re really sending that message home, not to avoid these conversations, to embrace them and be proud that you’re a good at it. And then go home at the end of the day, feeling, wow, I might’ve had to do something that I didn’t want to do, but I did it in the most compassionate manner. And that employee left saying, you know, no hard feelings. And I understand an exact, maybe a little sad, but I’m not really mad at Paul.
Paul Falcone (45m 39s):
Dr. Anthony Orsini (45m 41s):
So thank you, Paul. I appreciate you being on today. I was really honored when you answered my LinkedIn message and I hope you don’t mind me saying, but so many of these guests have now in my mind, at least I call friends and I feel like you and I are friends, and hopefully we’ll be able to keep in touch. This is going to be great.
Paul Falcone (45m 59s):
I look forward to it, Tony. It was an honor to be here. Thank you for inviting me.
Dr. Anthony Orsini (46m 2s):
You’re welcome. If you enjoy this podcast, please go ahead and hit subscribe. If you want to get in touch with me, get in touch with me through the Orsini Way.com. This podcast is available on all podcast platforms. We’re going to put all of Paul’s contact information on the show notes. Tell them for the people that are just listening. What’s the best way to get in touch with you.
Paul Falcone (46m 21s):
So it’s Paul Falcone, which is like Falcon, with an E, but in Italian is Falcone, which means Falcon. So just remember the bird reach out to me on LinkedIn. It’s Paul Falcone one. I have a website, Paul Falcone, hr.com, and I would love to stay in touch with anyone who would like to be. So thanks, Tony.
Dr. Anthony Orsini (46m 40s):
Orsini is a dying means. Little bear. So you are now this episode was brought to you by the falcon and the bear.
Paul Falcone (46m 46s):
Dr. Anthony Orsini (46m 48s):
Thank you, Paul. Have a great day.
Announcer (46m 51s):
If you enjoyed this podcast, please hit the subscribe button and leave a comment and review. ToYour contact Dr. Orsini and his team, or to suggest guests for a future podcast, visit us at The Orsini Way.com. The comments and opinions of the interviewer and guests on this podcast are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of their present and past employers or institutions.
Dr. Anthony Orsini
For More Information:
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It’s All In The Delivery: Improving Healthcare Starting With A Single Conversation by Dr. Anthony Orsini
The Orsini Way-Podcast-Episode 105: Difficult Conversations and Workplace Violence with Larry Barton