Either Play, Or Not

From the Ask Tom mailbag:

Question:
I’ve been in my new position as a manager for the past three year. Over time, I noticed that one of our supervisors always seems to do his own thing and doesn’t conform to all of the company’s policies. He has been with the company since it started and has a wealth of knowledge about our industry. Yet, he refuses to help train new employees or take on a larger work load. This causes problems with the other supervisors who feel their work load is too heavy. A month ago, I inherited this situation. His former manager never confronted him so he feels like his behavior is normal and that no change is necessary. What can you suggest to help this situation?

Response:
The inattention from his former manager placed you in a tough position, but that’s nothing new. Management is all about the reality of behavior. I know you want him to either shape up or ship out, but the downside is the loss of tribal knowledge, continuity of service to customers, having to recruit and train a replacement.

This issue will not be solved overnight.

Step One. Start with a one on one conversation. As a manager, this is a listening exercise, using questions. The subject areas should begin with history, then job satisfaction, teamwork, team member assessments, productivity and training. The purpose of this conversation is to make the supervisor’s thoughts visible, nothing more. It is likely that what is said by the supervisor more closely conforms to company policy than the behavior you have witnessed.

Step Two. Use the team dynamic to have a supervisor’s meeting to discuss those same subject areas. Again, this exercise is one of asking questions and listening. The purpose of this conversation is to make the team’s thoughts visible. And this is the first of several on-going meetings. The time spent in this meeting should not exceed thirty minutes. Do not try to solve the world’s problems, but make their thoughts visible, thank them and adjourn the meeting.

Step Three. Continue with these meetings on a scheduled basis, perhaps once a week and make progress toward problem solving especially in those areas where you have noticed a breakdown in collaboration. The purpose of these meetings is to have the supervisors define and take responsibility for making progress. Your supervisor in question will either play, or not.

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