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Use peer-Review process to assess subjective qualities—And justify discipline

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers

In some jobs, getting along with others is essential—maybe just as important as sales volume or other objective measures of success. Whether dealing with clients or co-workers, an abrasive, rude and arrogant employee can spell big trouble. The problem, of course, is measuring something as subjective as likeability or abrasiveness.

One possible way: Use a peer-review process to gather relevant information and a consensus on how well employees get along with others. Just be sure not to select peer reviewers because they like—or dislike—the employee. Instead, try to get information from as many co-workers as possible. Chances are, if the employee really does have an interpersonal problem, it will quickly become apparent.

Recent case: Dianne Reilly worked as a pharmaceutical sales representative for more than 27 years until she was fired for poor sales and ineffective interpersonal relationships. At the time she lost her job, she was 49 years old and the oldest female sales rep. She sued for age and sex discrimination.

Although Reilly’s sales had fallen, they weren’t the rock-bottom worst in the company. In court, that meant her former employer needed to do more than just show that her sales were down. So the company also presented as evidence peer reviews solicited by Reilly’s supervisor that said she was rude and aggressive. Another recounted that on one occasion, Reilly had worn kneepads to a medical office, knelt down and said her next move would be to beg and pray the doctor would prescribe more of the drug she was selling. Yet another peer said that Reilly was welcome in just 25% of medical offices due to her behavior.

Those peer reviews were decisive. The court dismissed the case, citing overwhelming evidence that Reilly’s employer believed she was ineffective and that her sales were subpar. (Reilly v. Novartis Pharmaceuticals, No. 6:07-CV-230, MD FL, 2008)

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