For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story of school bus driver Kendra Lindon and her former employer First Student Canada, you can read about it here. In a nutshell, she broke a company rule by picking up kids in her personal vehicle, but her excuse was that there was dangerously cold weather (-26 C wind chill) and her bus wouldn’t start, so she didn’t want to leave kids standing at the bus stop. Sounds reasonable, right?
Problem is, somebody saw her and decided to rat her out to First Student, who then decided to fire her. Sounds unreasonable, right? Especially given the fact that the person who narc’d her out was concerned that she apparently doesn’t have enough seat belts in her SUV for all the kids she was keeping warm. The fact that school busses don’t have ANY seat belts was apparently missed by both the rat and First Student.
The whole argument about her being a good samaritan and First Student being assholes (an asshole?) has been discussed ad nauseam in the local media and on Facebook, Twitter, etc. so I’m not going to go any further into it.
What I’d like to talk about is corporate communications.
This post is less about the woman who got fired than it is about an apparently dysfunctional company that seems to promote a culture in which people are unwilling or unable to think for themselves. Typically, this happens in situations where people are afraid of the consequences of speaking their mind. That’s when people start to pass the buck in order to cover their own ass. It looks like that’s what has happened here, but we can’t know for sure because nobody from First Student is talking.
Here’s a quote from the National Post article I linked to above:
“Mike Stiles, assistant location and safety manager for First Student, said he couldn’t comment on a personnel matter and directed inquiries to head office in Cincinnati, Ohio. Nobody from head office returned a call.”
Of course they didn’t. How can you properly manage a company or comment on anything in Calgary when you’re in Ohio? It probably doesn’t matter anyway, because in all likelihood the corporate statement would have been a stock answer that everybody knows is bullshit. A thoughtless sentence or two pulled from the corporate manual, with emphasis on spinning the story to make First Student look like they give a shit about what’s happening in some god-forsaken, frozen outpost 3000 kilometres away. After all, isn’t it always freezing cold in Canada?
My question is “why couldn’t anybody directly involved in the situation answer the inevitable questions from the press?” First Student in Calgary has mis-handled this entire situation right from square one, seemingly because nobody has the stones to stand in front of the people asking questions and say something…anything. Even “We’re in the middle of investigating the complaint and will comment once that investigation is complete” would have been acceptable…except it wouldn’t because they’d already fired Kendra Lindon.
You have no balls, Mike Stiles. Working for a company that won’t allow employees some flexibility to deviate from the rule book when necessity dictates that they do so is an unhealthy workplace. If you get fired for speaking up, you’re better off without the job anyway. If they discipline you, give them the finger and quit. Good God man…have some pride in yourself. You’re embarrassing.
It’s not just First Student that has this Madmen-era ethos about what can and can’t be said about “the company”, and who can and can’t say it. We see it all the time in big companies. I understand that every employee can’t just go spouting off, but if an employee is the designated local spokesman then you should let them speak. Avoiding the situation and/or spinning it in an attempt to make the company appear clean every. single. time. just makes you look like a bunch of dicks…right Big Oil?
I’m tired of having my intelligence insulted by corporations with their idiotic and often borderline fictional public statements. I’d think a lot more of you if you admit you’re at fault once in a while, and simply apologize. Everybody makes mistakes. Just say sorry and move on. We all learned that in kindergarten, so why doesn’t it apply when we’re grown-ups?
First Student is getting their ass handed to them in the PR department over this matter. That’s shameful. Let’s say – for the sake of discussion – that firing the employee was 100% justified. It doesn’t matter anymore, because Kendra Lindon beat them to the punch with the press and social media, and got everybody believing her side of the story while First Student fumbled around trying to save face (or whatever the hell it is they’re trying to accomplish).
All because nobody in Calgary could or would make a statement. Nobody in Calgary saw how firing a driver immediately and without investigation under unique and extreme circumstances could backfire. They apparently didn’t see how Kendra was going to be perceived (rightly so IMO) as being a compassionate and independent thinker, while they stumbled around avoiding the situation. I’m cringing for you First Student Canada.
In conclusion, it’s disappointing to see Southland (First Student’s main competitor) not react to this. Somebody there should have phoned Kendra Lindon and hired her as soon as this became public. Then they should have phoned all the local media outlets and updated their social media channels and boasted about the fact that they are a better company who recognize good thinking when they see it. Throughout all this, I haven’t heard a single word from Southland. My guess is that they don’t want to rock the boat and get involved in a situation that doesn’t directly involve them.
If either First Student or Southland wants to hire a guy who isn’t afraid of telling the truth and/or rocking the boat, give me a call. That’s a rhetorical invitation, of course. No company wants a guy like me speaking for them. They want people who can lie, and they want people who scare easily.
Here’s how I’d fix this if I was the local spokesperson for First Canada: I’d say “You know…we obviously messed up when we fired Kendra. We’re very sorry about that, and we’re very sorry that we caused her any distress for doing what anybody would have done. She was right. We were wrong. We’ve re-instated her effective immediately, and removed this incident from her record. She’ll be receiving her full pay for the days she was away from work, and I’ve invited her to join me for a catered lunch meeting in which we’ll review what happened, why it happened, and how we can prevent it from happening again. I’m also interested in getting her input on any other rules and procedures we should consider re-visiting, because we’re interested in improving our company whenever possible. Kendra has 10 years of experience, she’s clearly intelligent, and I think we should be taking advantage of that. Again, First Student is sorry for the way this all played out. It’s embarrassing, but we’ve learned our lesson and we’re forging ahead. Thank you.”