Let's Just Touch Base With Human Resources

By Paul Farhi and Mark Leibovich
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, March 22, 2006

If your boss reassigned you to a new job that you didn't like, you could:

(a) Try to talk him or her out of it;

(b) Grumble and go along with it; or

(c) Find alternative employment.

Alfonso Soriano believes he's come up with a fourth option: Tell the boss to forget it and stay right where you are.

Normally, that kind of 'tude would turn an employee into an ex-employee pretty fast. But Soriano isn't like most employees. The Washington Nationals' star player -- a four-time all-star who earns $10 million a year -- believes he can refuse the team's demand that he play left field instead of second base, his preferred position.

Soriano is so adamant that he stayed in the dugout when the Nationals played a spring training game Monday, leaving left field temporarily empty. As of last night, the two sides were talking it out.

Short of laying down a trail of $1,000 bills from the dugout to left field, what's an enlightened boss to do?

Human Resources on Line 2:

"This is a great opportunity for the Nationals to revisit whether they're doing everything they can from a human resources standpoint," says Kathy Albarado, the founder of Helios HR, a Reston-based firm that specializes in "retention and employee engagement."

Albarado has many questions for the Nationals. Like: "How did we get to this point?" "Were the National expectations properly communicated to the player up front?" And she wonders how other "high-performing employees" on the Nationals might be affected if they see such "sub-performing behavior" being tolerated.

Indeed, John Challenger, chief executive of the human resources consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, says the Nationals should consider a tough-love approach.

"Companies should want employees who are going to talk back, express an opinion and speak the truth," he says. "But when that opinion is expressed, you want good soldiers. When they're not, they can damage the entire organization."

He sees Soriano as an individual with a high "productivity quotient" (PQ) but a low "emotional quotient" (EQ) -- which sound like baseball stats but actually have something to do with management theory. Says Challenger, "A lot of companies are held hostage by people who have low EQ, but high PQ."

Fine, but the Nationals need someone to produce HRs, RBIs and SBs. And they need him now -- Opening Day is just 12 days away.

Challenger acknowledges that the Nationals don't have a lot of maneuvering room. "A big company has other positions to move people to, but when you've only got nine spots, your options are kind of limited," he says.

Perhaps everyone could try therapy.

"Let's say Soriano were in therapy with me," says Michael Maccoby, a Washington psychoanalyst and executive coach (we note here that Soriano is not in therapy with Maccoby -- or anyone, for all we know), "and Soriano admitted to me that 'I once played outfield and I flubbed fly balls, but I know second base. It's a space I can work with.' "

Then Maccoby says he might counsel Soriano to share his feelings with Nationals management or perhaps the public at large.

Better yet, Maccoby posits, if Soriano and Manager Frank Robinson were in couples counseling (which Maccoby also does in his practice -- although again, we note not with Soriano and Robinson), he would advise them to discuss the reasons for their behavior and come to a conclusion that doesn't harm anyone's "sense of dignity."

Now there's an idea out of left field.

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