Sunday, September 22, 2013

We hired her – she was no good – we fired her…

What is the big fuss about?

Just look at her behaviour over the last month, running around hysterically telling everyone how badly she’s been treated, hurling accusations of all flavours at everyone she’s ever come across – firing shots below the knees to many that were nothing but fair in their dealings with her.
Don’t these last couple of weeks of her ever-increasing whinging and whining prove beyond reasonable doubt the exact  point of her absolute inability to fit within Gammon and justify the somewhat unpleasant but necessary decision made by a couple of wise men to get rid of her quickly and painlessly?

Painlessly maybe for the company, not for me.
At the ripe age of 48, I’m a big girl, in more ways than one. I know how the world operates, the machinations that go on at the top of the AEC far too intimately too, and very sadly, I might add.
I do not believe in fairy tales, miracles nor am I particularly religious.
I grew up in Yugoslavia where corruption was the way of life. I worked and lived in 5 different countries, experienced just about all systems of country governments that there exist.
I ran small and medium size businesses and had a number of adventures of paralegal and legal nature going up to the High Court of New Zealand.
I’m not naïve or a spring chicken by any means or measure.

Yet – I did not see it coming.
I knew it was going to be hard work from day one.
I knew it six months before day one, when I was first interviewed for the job at Gammon and listened to the incomprehensible technical babble of the director I was supposed to be reporting to.
I smelled the rat, I pulled back my application for the job and was adamant not to walk into a trap.
I questioned the HR agent (a long term partner of Gammon) about the details of the job, the org chart, the company’s reasons for establishing the role, the intentions they had with it.
I played the ‘hard to get’ for months and did not agree until all parties made the right noises.
They wanted ME personally and wanted me urgently.

Had I read the employment contract properly? I had.
Had I noticed the ‘terminate with 1 month notice with no particular reason within the first 6 months’ part of it? (not exact quote, I can’t get myself to dig up the contract but many, many people have since paraphrased this part – so it is pretty close to what it meant) – I think I did – but if anything, it was a positive sign for me;
No competent company of any size would go into a lot of cost and trouble to get and then fire someone within first 6 months?
Unless their intentions were unethical from day one. Who knows?

If anyone drew my attention to that paragraph before I signed the contract my thinking would have been in the line of: This is a serious company, with an HR department that on its own is bigger than most average companies operating in NZ, if the HR director personally recommends someone to the board, following due processes of reference checking and compulsory OPQ tests, the company would make sure to get the right person and would not need to rely on the ‘fire within 6 months, let alone 3 (what happened here)’ part of the contract at all;

So, yep – call me naïve – I saw nothing to be concerned in the contract I signed.
Consequently, yes, I should have just accepted my termination based firmly on the same contract and got on with my life.

After all, I did behave badly in the few weeks I was employed at Gammon;
I took my job title literally and seriously (Head of Innovation) and doggedly persisted on doing just that, in spite of many warnings; rattling the SQ of the ‘Gammon way’ is no good for one’s survival chances.
I disregarded the deeply set in hierarchy of the company and went above my direct superior with what I thought were legitimate concerns over activities that put the company in the line of direct risk of losing money and clients (I still think these concerns were very valid – and did it only after the direct superior dismissed all my concerns and on numerous occasions);
I stood up and lectured project directors with 30+ years of experience and made them feel uncomfortable and out of their depth. I thought I was helping their projects run successfully by giving them the technical advice they needed.
I exposed phoney projects and bogus developments. I supported and praised staff that were themselves disliked by their superiors and on a borrowed time, anyway.
I went out to construction sites and talked to people that were supposedly within my team without asking for my own supervisors permission to do so.
I asked for autonomy in my role and believed it when I was told, I had it.
I called corruption where I saw it, again 100% prepared to back anything up with facts and figures.

The biggest mistake I made was, that I trusted the ‘so called whistle-blower policy’ of the company I was introduced to at my induction.
So earnest was the chap (Bryant Lee, if I recall the name correctly) in explaining the process of addressing any concerns regarding the operation of the company that I had taken it (again) at face value. After all, it was accompanied by a booklet called the ‘code of conduct’ with a compass on its front page (to show you the ‘right’ way) and written in very clear English.

I knew I was new to Hong Kong.
I knew HK was not the same as the Middle East, New Zealand, Australia or any parts of Europe that I understand well.
I still thought if I had my story clear, clean and backed up with facts, I was safe to raise concerns that were firstly, making my job impossible to perform and secondly seriously hurting the company.
I was wrong.

Not only did the ‘so called’ process decline an impartial investigation of my concerns, but it was abrupt; they wanted me quiet and gone without a moment of delay.

They had also convinced both of their parent companies that the story was simple and straight forward, just as the title said:

‘We hired her – she was no good – we fired her…’

There must be an invisible code of conduct across these 3 companies for them to accept each other’s’ words based on only one party’s claim. What did they not want heard? What had frightened them?
Why was my side of the story never investigated by anyone? Due to a fear of getting involved and more hands getting dirty?

Had the fact that ‘This Gammon HR Director’ responsible for hiring ‘this loose cannon’ become a discomfort?
Chasing her across to globe until she signed up, paying for relocation costs for her family of 4 on behalf of the company, as well as for professional assistance with finding schools for the teenage children (two) and providing a supporting letter (attached here) to a long term apartment leasing company ONE week before signing off a termination letter; were none of these facts dodgy even if one accounts for the highly ‘special’ HK business environment?

Jardines said it was all fine and dandy. Balfour Beatty confirmed it too.
My own HR lawyer said, it’s all contractually sound;
Some well-wishers that had gone through similar ordeals (with the same company) advised me, to forget it and move on.

Let’s strip away all emotions and everything else that are unnecessarily distracting in this story and consider only 5 claims:

1/ they hired me to a specific position following a prolonged search across the globe ‘determined to get’ the right person (the HR director was personally involved with the hiring, he should have got it right, especially after I turned down the job and said clearly, why – after all he clearly stated that there were other 3-4 clearly as capable candidates on offer);
2/ their CEO praised me, my performance and the skills I brought to the company publicly on two different occasions (4th July and 8th August) within just the 1st 10-11 weeks  at Gammon;
3/ their HR director provided a letter to a Real Estate company guaranteeing them my employment on the 12th of August; (4 days following the public praise of the CEO in front of 100-or-so Gammon managers)
4/ they fired me on the 19th of August. (12 weeks into my job)
5/ if I was so bad that this was necessary to be done in such haste (which may be true)
a/ should the HR director not be fired too, having so badly misjudged this applicant (me) and spending so much company money on getting her here?
b/ should the CEO’s understanding of what was going on in his own company had been questioned after publicly  gushing so positively about her, 11 days before he personally showed her the door?

Does anybody else see something fishy behind these unanswered questions?
What happened between the 12th and the 19th of August that made the company act so fast?
Did she steal? Lie? Act unprofessionally? Immorally?

How could I move on, knowing that this would be my assumption of someone else pushed aside so swiftly?

How could I ‘blankly accept’ the ‘official’ PR packaging of the case ‘of mismatched chemistry’ and not see instead what the title of this post says.
How could I accept that I’ve been ‘no good’ when I know, I have.
How could I accept that Gammon’s behaviour was also ‘rubber stamped’ by its parent companies?
How could I move on and look at the myriad of highly respected clients this company claims to have, knowing that they would all likely join Jardines and BB in seeing this as ‘a storm in a tea-cup’ where a disgruntled employee had fallen on her own sword? (i.e. – see the title again);
How could I move on and walk into another of their own shops, subsidiaries, consultancies (say Parsons Brinckerhoff) and still believe that the problem was with me, my lack of cultural understanding, reckless behaviour, idealistic thinking and not just something ‘plainly wrong’ with the way Gammon behaved;

I can’t move on yet.
I have to spread this net wider and ask, (personally if I have to) all the others that give Gammon the perception of a ‘good’ company if they really think that what happened to me was ‘right’;
No need to go into the nitty-gritty, just look at the 5 points described above.
No need either to get all high-and-mighty and ethical about what ‘right’ means in this context.
Even if you disregard the ‘pathetic little whinging’ me, can a company be called ‘good’ (in a business sense) when its HR department is so frivolous and reckless?

As much as BB and Jardines like to wash their hands from this case – they are Gammon’s parents after all.
As such, they are responsible for Gammon’s actions  - including when they lend them their own highly manicured ‘values’ to strengthen Gammon’s standing in the international community.

After all, would I have accepted the job offer in spite of the clearly voiced misgivings, had I not been made aware of the illustrious reputation of at least one of their parent companies in HK?
Or of the pedigree of their long standing clients and associates?
Maybe I would not have.

In which case they themselves (the parent companies and clients) could have been spared of this muddying of their names by this ‘misled ex-employee’ of Gammon.
So, I still say that, no matter how much they’ll try to ‘paint me as a lost soul’  there is guilt by association, something that goes back to the basic idea that words ‘integrity’ and ‘doing it right’ should mean the same, no matter what language they are uttered in.

When I look around HK’s streets I see a lot of ‘good’ and ‘integrity’.
I experience people doing the ‘right thing’ all the time.
This makes it even harder to move on.

What Gammon did to me was wrong.
No matter how loudly or silently they argue to the contrary.
No matter how much BB and Jardines are backing them, awarding them their full support for the way Gammon handled the case.

I can’t move on. I may yet in the future, I hope so;
There is one more thing I do want to get a firm confirmation on and that is to check out if Gammon’s clients, partners, subcontractors and other associates will also rubber stamp Gammon’s ‘rightness’ too.
(as it is likely to be the case but I will give them the benefit of the doubt for the moment)

That’s what I’ll do over the next week or so.
Call me whatever you like, I can’t move on until the perception of integrity or lack of it is more fairly distributed between Gammon and me.
In whatever language that is spoken locally.
As well, I’ll keep scheming about the parallel and stable AEC system we all deserve.