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Did you hear about Nicole Lilliman? She's the single mother of 4 who was recently fired and then re-hired by Tim Hortons for giving a Timbit to a toddler. I can't help but think of all the negotiating going on behind the scenes and of the many difficult conversations that were taking place as the story unfolded and will likely continue in the weeks ahead.

The facts seem to be: On a Monday, Ms Lilliman, an employee of a Tim Hortons in London, Ont, gave a Timbit to a toddler without charging the child's mother for the treat. She was fired on Wednesday and re-hired on Thursday although she will be working in a different store. The managers who made the decision to fire Ms Lilliman are now in hot water and may be facing some difficult conversations of their own.

The Tim Hortons location where Ms Lilliman worked has a policy forbidding employees from giving away food. Ms Lilliman gave a customer's child a Timbit. For her managers, it was clear: store policy had been violated. For the media, the idea of firing someone for giving away something worth less than $0.20 was ludicrous; to heck with store policy.

While the story is almost laughable, fired over a Timbit, ha, ha, perhaps things aren't as straightforward as they appear.  Were, for example, the managers afraid of what would happen to them if they didn't follow store policy? Did they feel ill equipped to question those in authority? Had Ms Lilliman broken the rules before?

The more I thought about the story, the more I started to sympathise with the managers. They did what they thought was the "right" thing and enforced store policy. I strongly suspect they didn't understand all the issues that come into play when you're firing someone. Perhaps they didn't know who within the organization could help them or how to start that conversation. I also suspect they know the store rules very well.

I think we've all run across front line employees who seem to follow "the rules" even in the face of common sense. They don't feel safe taking a chance. How about your team? How would your employees react in a similar situation where a rule is broken, but in a seemingly harmless manner? What would you have done if you were Ms Lilliman's manager? Would your team have the confidence to know when it may be best to break the rules?

These situations can lead to all sorts of conflict and challenges for those involved. If, like the Tim Hortons' managers you don't have the right skill set, it's all too easy to do the wrong thing.  If you or your team needs support to develop the skills and techniques to handle these sorts of situations with confidence, contact us. We can help.

Article written by Helen Latimer 

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