Malicious Water Cooler Talk

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I was recently hired in to a new organization as a manager. It is evident that one of my team members was passed over for the role. He has been here for ten years and contributes well in his current role, but I can see why he was passed over. Unfortunately, the rest of the team doesn’t see it that way and I am getting stone-walled. He is also well-liked by a couple of board members, so I am getting squeezed on both sides.

As I look at the staff, there is complacency, some have been coasting for years. The company invested in some new software a year ago and still no one is using it. It’s the software we used at my old company, so I know it works well. That’s why I was hired.

The team’s behavior is passive-aggressive. I get agreement in meetings and excuses on the back end.

  • Just too busy this week.
  • Not sure how the software works.
  • Our old system is better.
  • Easier to do it the old way.

At the end of the day, I will be held accountable if we can’t get this new software integrated into our routine. The water-cooler talk is malicious. I don’t have a single friend in the bunch.

Response:
Someone made a decision to hire you. And my guess is, unless you make some progress, that same someone will also fire you. But, for now, they are in your corner. That is where I am going to hang my hat.

You are the manager of the team, but you also have a manager. Your manager is your coach. Schedule regular meetings and play this straight. You have a job to do and you need solid counsel. But, do NOT go in empty-handed.

You are new, and in the beginning, you should be in high data gathering and diagnosis mode. You have been given an objective, get the new software going and people using it. What’s your plan? How long will it take? Is the software installed and configured? Is there training available or are you on your own with help files and manuals? What are your short term milestones, medium term milestones and long term milestones? This is stuff for you to review with your coach.

You have been given a team. What is your assessment of your team? You have talked to them and worked beside them for a couple of weeks. What are your observations about their capabilities, skill levels, interest and value for the work? This is stuff to review with your coach.

You need some small wins, and they might have nothing to do with the software. You need to get to know your team. What attracted them to the company? How long have they been there? Best part of their job? What gives them juice? What challenges them? Gather data. Your team will tell you how they work best together. When was the last time the team faced a real challenge? How did they approach it? What problems did they have to solve? What decisions did they have to make? I know you feel like this software is your project, but it is really the team’s project. This is more stuff for you to review with your coach.

Then work your plan. My guess is that no one has taken this team to a new place in quite a while. This can be a challenging journey or the team can stiff-arm you until you quit.

2 thoughts on “Malicious Water Cooler Talk

  1. Peter Dent

    I suggest you buy the book “The First 90 Days”. Tom is right on his suggestions but this will add more and looks at a variety of different work situations. The YMCA’s uses this with their new leader on-boarding. They run exemplary processes with people and were a “Best Places to Work” nationally, so take their suggestions seriously .

    Reply
    1. Gordon

      I was in a very similar situation a couple years ago. I was an outsider and had to win the team over in order to change the culture and improve long-standing mediocre performance. I would take Tom’s point a little further: definitely focus on small wins, but make sure they are not related to the software implementation. Flex your leadership skills in a different way that lets them know you have their best interests in mind and that you’re not just about rolling out a piece of software.

      In my case, I was very deliberate about taking my employees out to lunch individually to get to know them and to talk about things other than work. Instead of flashing my resume on the screen, I slowly shared my experience with them to let them know I was qualified even though I was new. After building some trust, I started making my moves. It’s a process, so bring a positive attitude and focus on making little improvements to start turning the tide.

      Reply

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