The Message You Send Through Uneven Enforcement of Company Policy

Another Victim of Social Media?

Applying policy unevenly can have a chilling effect on employee engagementA few days ago, someone had their 15 minutes of fame. It wasn’t planned and no one got hurt – except maybe for her. Company policy got in her way.

If you haven’t heard about it yet, Juli Briskman of Virginia was riding her bicycle down a country roadPresident Trump‘s motorcade came by escorting him from his golf course back to the Whitehouse. In a moment of pent-up frustration Juli raised her left hand and extended her middle finger as the they sped by.

OK. Big deal, right? Probably not the first time, inappropriate as it is. Unfortunately, a quick-witted Whitehouse photographer captured it on camera and posted it on the Internet. It went viral. Tens of thousands have seen it. Briskman saw it and liked it so much she made it her profile picture on Facebook. The picture itself just shows the back of a cyclist with no real identifiable features. Juli Briskman could have gone on with life with no repercussions.


Briskman got concerned that her employer would see it. That would not be good. She was a Marketing Analyst for a government contractor called Akima LLC. So Briskman took the initiative to go to her Human Resources office and inform them that she was the person in that picture that is all over the Internet.

Her boss thanked her for stepping forward and then promptly fired her.

Breaking the Code

See, according to her boss Juli Briskman had violated the Akima LLC Code of Conduct. That code states:

The Akima, LLC Code of Conduct describes the policies of Akima and its subsidiary companies for conducting business in accordance with applicable laws and the highest ethical standards.  Akima expects that a high level of ethical standards and personal integrity will be reflected in all of its business dealings.

Similarly, Akima expects its employees, officers and directors to exercise good judgment and maintain high ethical standards in all activities which affect Akima.  Every Akima employee is held to these standards.

So according to Akima Briskman giving the motorcade the finger was an obscenity and therefore a violation of policy. Akima was concerned about the impact it could have on their core business of contracting with the federal government. So, goodbye.

This is Where it Gets Complicated

Now probably a good number of people right now are saying “good, she deserves it.” At the same time, it opens up a whole bunch of questions worth considering from both a leadership and employee engagement perspective. Here are some of pertinent facts as we know them now:

  • Briskman was off duty and wearing nothing that represented her company.
  • She did not take the picture nor arrange to have it taken
  • Briskman did make it her profile picture on her personal Facebook page (which does not mention her employment)
  • A male co-worker allegedly posted a public message calling someone a pretty obscene name typically assigned to liberals on his Facebook page where he features the company logo in his profile picture. He was reprimanded and deleted the post but not fired.
  • Akima LLC was totally unaware of her involvement until she took the initiative to tell them. It is likely they would have never known.
  • Virginia is an employment at will state, meaning technically an employer can terminate you for any reason at any time.

Questions to Consider

Russian Nesting Dolls are a good example of the questions we deal with on employee engagement and personal livesWith all of that in mind, it raises questions about the reach of organizations into our personal lives. It also raises questions about the message we send when the application of policy appears uneven. Some questions to consider are

  1. Where are the lines where behavior and choices in personal life are of concern to an employer?
  2. What message does it send when an employee shows integrity and suffers consequences as a result?
  3. Why the uneven application of the obscenity policy? Does political alignment play a part? If so, does it show discrimination that someone obviously an extreme conservative is reprimanded but a liberal is terminated?
  4. Is the company’s concern about her behavior potentially affecting their core business a valid one? If it is, could I be terminated for being a Protestant because the company’s biggest client is Catholic?

On the surface they may seem like easy questions to answer. Yet like a Russian Nesting Doll, each time you open one up you discover another inside to be opened.

Similar to Other Recent Stories

It seems the situation is somewhat similar to one that Google dealt with a while back with an outspoken employee. You can read more about that here. The termination, based on what has been reported, appears to be more motivated by discovering an employee has political leanings inconsistent with those of the owner or leaders of the organization; much like the employee at Google. Further possible evidence of that is male employee who was even more profane publicly AND connected it to his company through his profile picture yet was not terminated.

No, the answers are not easy yet they are answers we must seek as we look to keep people engaged in the workplace while also involved in the world around them.

What are your thoughts about this? Are there points I missed? Where are the lines drawn for you? Share your comments here or email me at psimkins(at)

Navigating the world of leadership and employee engagement can be overwhelming. I can help you get from here to there. Contact me for a free Discovery Strategy Session at 321-355-2442.

The Employee Engagement Survey Says….

The Employee Engagement Survey is likely the biggest FAIL in our efforts to bring people back into workforce activity.

Dissatisfied survey with red circle and pencil on textured paperIf you want evidence of this, simply look at the survey numbers. According to the 2016 Gallup Employee Engagement Report, the most any particular industry has risen in employee engagement in four years is only four points. Note that those numbers were pretty low to begin with. So we haven’t exactly made leaps and bounds.

Same Song, Different Title

The Annual Employee Engagement Survey is really just a new name for an old system. For years it was called the Annual Employee Satisfaction Survey. It was typically only done at large enterprise organizations. Siemens, Lockheed Martin, and countless others would produce a survey every December. They would then spend so much time compiling the feedback; guaranteeing that the results were dated and no longer valid. At that point they do it all over again.

What’s the old adage about insanity?

Isn’t it doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?

The outcome is that the newly named survey gets the same results as it did before.

Think about it. Have you ever really had a company announce a positive initiative based on last month’s employee survey? If you did, it was likely a small company.

Here are some reasons Annual Employee Engagement Surveys don’t work:

  1. The word ANNUAL

    Determining where your employee engagement stands cannot be successful if only done once a year. It’s hard to be agile when your measurement of progress and direction is so infrequent. What if you conducted a survey quarterly instead of annually? How about monthly?

  2. They ask the wrong questions

    Typical questions asked on the survey are things like “Are you happy in your work?”, “How do you rate your supervisor?”, “What’s the one thing you would change about your job?”, “Do you think you have a future here?”

    The first question is irrelevant because happiness is not your job. An employee can be unhappy and still be engaged. It’s better when they are happy AND engaged, but that’s their choice and not a factor you can affect.

    The second question is usually given using a scale of some sort. What makes it useless is that one person’s 7 is another person’s nine or five. Unless very well defined criteria is given, scales aren’t very useful.

    The third question is limiting on the one hand and ambiguous on the other. It allows for too many different answers; making it hard to get a consensus and also most answers can’t be implemented. Better to ask about specific initiatives that are already in the works or in place.

    The fourth question is not really applicable anymore, particularly with Millennials in the workplace. In general, they can’t imagine a long-term future anywhere, good or bad. With few exceptions, the days of long-term, single-company employment are over. Why ask about it?

  3. They ask the wrong people

    Most surveys are voluntary; heaven help you if it isn’t. Most of the people who voluntarily take engagement surveys are the ones who are already engaged. The disengaged – the ones you hope to actually learn something about – are not very open to taking a survey, because they don’t believe anything positive will come out of it. Think about ways to directly reach the disengaged – I guarantee you it won’t be through a survey. It requires a personal touch.

  4. They are not trusted

    We are going to use the results of this survey to improve the work environment.
        “Yeah, sure!”

    You will be totally anonymous on this survey. No one will know what results you submitted.

    A whopping 80% of employees, according to one study, do not believe there will actually be a positive outcome to an employee engagement survey.In addition, they don’t believe they will actually remain anonymous and believe they may face repercussions from their responses. Usually, they are right on both counts.

    As a trainer, I have asked hundreds of groups to complete course evaluation surveys for me. I read every one of them, usually immediately after the class. I can look through them and identify exactly who completed it based on responses and my memory of their attitude and behavior.

    If trust does not exist to begin with, the survey will not improve it; in fact, it will break it down even farther.

  5. No real commitment from executive level management

    The upper management is willing to put out a survey but not willing to dedicate themselves to taking action. They would rather wait and see what the responses are. From that point they either say “that’s nice” or “what should we do now?” That leads to the last reason.

  6. There is no action plan

    When there is no commitment there is no plan. For a survey to be effective, you must have a pre-determined plan of how to analyze the responses and act upon the results. Too many times we spend a lot of time and money creating the survey but very little for making it productive for our organization. What good is it to know about a problem if we have no idea what we are going to do about it? It’s money thrown to the wind.

Step up and Boldly Lead

Most organizations are implementing or allowing some sort of social media now. Microsoft Office 365 has a social media feature in it. Many organizations are using SharePoint. It’s possible to create private social media pages for your company or initiative.  What if you used that medium for reaching your employees in a more real-time manner?

How about a question of the week? Ask about their opinion on a very specific project or service for employees; no more than 2-3 questions. It’s quick and easy, it’s engaging, and it’s actionable.

Throw the surveys out. Step up and Boldly Lead. Gauge your employee engagement by being more engaging.

[tweetthis]Gauge your employee engagement by being more engaging.[/tweetthis]

How have you see surveys work (or not work) in the past? What’s the funniest or dumbest question you have ever seen on a survey? Share your thoughts here or email me at