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"Don't you ignore me, Mister!"

“Don’t you ignore me, Mister!”

Paula, Paula, Paula…good gravy, could you have possibly stepped on a bigger land mine? In a news cycle that sees Eric Snowden on the run from the U.S. Gov’t for “leaking,” a cartoonish chef’s buffoonery usurps national security in terms of public scrutiny. Until now, my only real awareness of Paula Deen has been the occasional glance at the Express Line magazine rack, shielding my eyes from her unnaturally fluorescent teeth. But boy howdy, she’s a known quantity now.

The Food Network had no real option here; we are, after all, talking about a business model that depends on public opinion. Paula’s folksy Southern charm became a liability the minute she opened her pie-hole, and then she made the mistake of continuing to shovel her way out of the pit. It did get me thinking, however, about this same situation translated into an internal corporate Employee Relations investigation.

This is less a question of opinion than it is a reality check – as HR Business Partners or Employee Relations “experts,” we’ve all been involved in employee complaints/investigations that exposed unseemly behavior. Some of those incidents involve leadership at the senior level of a company, similar to the status of Miss Dean, or the individual is a rain-maker, i.e. “they put bricks in the building.”

Many times, as some of you well know, these situations get a lot of personal attention from levels of management that may not normally be involved. I can recall more than one occasion where an investigation pointed to unacceptable behavior by a senior-level leader, the result of which is a spotlight shining on all those involved ~ these are opportunities to show your mettle as an HR professional, right? Unbiased, objective recommendations based on the facts of your findings.

But what if your recommendations are ignored?

Paula Deen had the opportunity to settle this matter out of court. She had time to prepare for a deposition. She has the resources to hire the best publicists and coaches money can buy…how the hell did this happen? I can tell you this, whatever guidance she did receive (and we know she did) about the seriousness of the matter was either faulty (I doubt it) or ignored (more likely).

If you’ve been in HR for any length of time, chances are you’ve been there ~ you discover the terrible nature of the offense, then watch as your recommendation is marginalized or ignored. Fact is, the top dawgs are often bullet-proof from such matters – a slap on the wrist, formal warning, public apology, etc. ~ but occasionally, someone catches it right on the backside.

If you were Miss Deen’s HRBP, what would your recommendation have been? Assuming it was different than the tact she did choose, there is an even more important question – how do you make her listen?

John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder and OH (Original Hardballer); HR Hardball™ is a blunt, self-aware, and sometimes snarky perspective of Human Resources.