Ah, to be blessed with an employee as talented as John Galliano. The problem is the more creative and (in)famous an employee is, the larger his head becomes and the more difficult it is for a company to reign in the beast.
What to do with an uncontrollable employee who is as much or more in the limelight as the company itself. The first rule of thumb is that the COMPANY is more important in the scheme of things than the employee (unless they are one and the same. See Martha Stewart). Certainly a Company can turn a blind eye to little things if those things do not really reflect poorly on the Company. After all you can’t go around canning every employee who gets a speeding ticket.
Nevertheless, there are very visible employees who act out in public and when such actions reflect poorly on the Company, emphatic, decisive action must be taken. The public for the most part applauded the actions of Christian Dior. John Galliano, its head designer, was canned on February 28th for making racist and anti-Semitic remarks caught on video. But prior to that, on February 25th, he had been suspended (pending the results of an inquiry into the matter) for assaulting a couple in a Paris bar, using similar anti-Semitic and racial slurs.
Now, here’s the rub. Did it take a venomous and outrageous video to get Dior to take its final action or was Dior at that point already. Perhaps the Company had already chosen the guillotine for Galliano. And if so, good for them. But the small time lapse brings up the real issue which should count as a lesson for most companies.
Most corporate executives when faced with a crisis like the Galliano affair want to accomplish two things: 1. Look like they are doing the right thing and 2. Salvage the talent in order not to harm the company. It’s the old slap on the wrist routine with fingers crossed that no one is really watching. In the case of Dior only a few days elapsed from the time of the first reported incident to the announcement of his firing. Assuming Dior had no prior information that executives chose to ignore, let’s give the nod to Dior, for realizing that there are thousands of talented designers out in the world waiting to be discovered and for decisive action that reflected very positively on this venerable house.
Contrast this with the affaire Charlie Sheen. On March 7th it was announced by CBS and Warner Bros. Television that Sheen had been fired from the hit TV show Two and a Half Men. It is not necessary to catalog the antics of Sheen over the last months to the present. Suffice it to say that the drunken rampages, coked up babble and other extraordinary behavior reflects a troubled, delusional mind and reflects poorly on both CBS and Warner. But what reflects even more poorly on them is their handling of the crisis. Inaction and vacillation seemed to have guided them until they were backed against a wall. The most telling comment to be made on behalf of the companies was that he was a good employee, was never late, knew his lines etc.
Having your cake and eating it too, is not always possible. A more respectable and man-up approach would have been to at least put Sheen on indefinite suspension from the onset until he got the help he needs. This would have shown more concern for the actor as an individual and would have shown that doing the right thing was more important than squeezing out as many episodes as possible before the implosion. Look where it got CBS and Warner. Egg on its face as well as a suit.
But that’s human nature. No one wants to self immolate. Companies almost always want to salvage what they can. But the moral of the story is that when you do take the right course of action, you almost always live to see another day. Perhaps bruised but with more dignity and respect. Just make sure your employment contracts allow you to make subjective judgments about the injury to your reputation that an employee is creating. An employee’s job description should always contain the obligation not to undermine, and even to bring honor to, your institution. Christian Dior – what would you have done?