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March 31, 2008

Problem-Solving in Tijuana: The Clean Way to Off an Employee


“They’re sending me to Tijuana,” said Softball Suzie. “There’s some sort of problem there, and they need me to take care of it.”


This made no sense. Softball Suzie is a recruiter of IT guys. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Softball Suzie. I’ve known her since college. But she probably wouldn’t be the first person I would think of if I needed to fix any problem, much less one that’s brewing in Tijuana.


If I need someone to convince prospective employees that my company offers amazing pay, great benefits, advancement opportunities and eight weeks’ vacation, Softball Suzie is my gal. She could probably even convince me that all this is true, even though I make it my personal mission to be sure it’s not.


But problem solving? In Tijuana? I don’t think so.


“Who is going with you?” I asked.


“No one,” she said. “I have to go alone.”


Her husband, a big burly guy who would come in handy in Tijuana, nods confirmation. He’s not allowed to go.


“But I’ve been getting advice,” she says. “People told me I should carry lots of cash so I can bribe the police in case they pull me over.”


Holy crap. I’m starting to think I’ll never see Softball Suzie again. Well, we’ll always have sophomore softball class. I still can’t believe that counted on my GPA.


You don’t suppose, do you, that this is a plot by Softball Suzie’s employer to get rid of her? Indeed, one wonders if this sort of thing is practiced more frequently than we realize.


After all, those of us in the business world talk to people all the time who inform us they are heading off to strange and exotic locales. Since we don’t always know these people all that well, sometimes the conversation in which we learn of their impending trip is the last one we ever have with them.


So. How do we know these people ever return?


“I’ll see you in a couple weeks, D.F. I’m heading off to Pyongyang to check out a lead on a new business opportunity. I guess they want to market plain corn kernels as snack food. Sounds interesting. I’ll tell you all about it when I get back!”


Yeah. Like you’re ever going to hear from that guy again.


“Pencil me in for next month, D.F. I have to make a trip to Kashmir to train some new distributors. Not sure why they’re sending me because I work in accounting, but it should be interesting! Apparently I’m supposed to break the ice culturally by inviting them all out for cheeseburgers. That’s what they tell me, anyway!”


Eh, good luck with that.


I guess sending an employee to some chaotic global hot spot is cleaner than firing him. You don’t have to get his keys. You don’t have to deal with COBRA. You don’t have to explain to his friends in the office why you canned him. Just put him on the plane and think about how you could use his office. Broom closet? Home to the new office pool table? The possibilities are endless.


I do hold out some hope for Softball Suzie. Tijuana isn’t far from San Diego, and if you can get through the mobs of people descending on your car trying to sell you fruit, you just might get back across the border in time to catch your flight home.


Of course, she still has to solve that “problem.” But maybe she could just tell corporate headquarters that the people who were causing the problem had to make a mysterious trip to Bangkok, and no one has heard from them since.


Chances are, they’ll believe it.

© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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