In The Workplace

I’m a 35-year-old department manager at a small enterprise with around 200 workers. I have a problem employee inherited from another manager who resigned late last year. Monique is in her 40s and prides herself as knowledgeable, getting things done in the way things have always been handled. I tried to introduce some changes but my proposals fell on deaf ears. According to my fellow managers, Monique is reliable, loyal and hard-working, except that I don’t see it when she works for me. I’ve talked to her many times to find out why we’re having issues, but nothing happened after several attempts. Do you have any idea how to resolve this issue? — Moon River.

Two young men went into a carnival. They were drawn to a booth with five plastic balls bobbing on top of a water jet. Customers won prizes for shooting any of the balls off the water jet. One of the men had already spent a substantial sum in a vain attempt to pick off even one ball.

Finally, his friend pushed him aside and picked up the rifle. “Watch how I do it,” he said. He took a single shot. All five balls disappeared. As they walked away from the booth with their prizes, his friend marveled at him and asked, “How did you do that?”

“I shot the man working the water pump,” his companion replied.

Of course, you should never do any shooting at the office. But the exaggerations in the story only emphasize the need to deal directly with the source. I know what you’ve done. You’ve spoken to Monique about your concerns. Nothing happened. She may not accept your input, but I suspect she’s hurting because of being bypassed for promotion.

Is it possible that she was expecting to be promoted as the department manager, instead of the company hiring an outsider like you? I’m sure it might have crossed your mind, except that it was not apparent in your story. So, no matter what the cause is, Monique has to toe the line as you’re the one responsible for the success or failure of your department.

Every step of the way, listen to her ideas and concerns, but don’t immediately jump to conclusions that she’s wrong and the old policies and procedures must be changed. Listen with an open mind and give her every chance to explain why the old rules must be sustained.

One, consult all parties involved and seek the CEO’s approval. If you think drastic changes are needed without delay, then seek the consensus of all department managers who may be adversely affected by your new idea. Justify your actions, complete with facts and figures to support your position. Taking this approach gives you a good chance of approval from the CEO or your direct boss. If this happens, Monique may not be in a position to defy the new directive.

Two, discover the career interests of your direct reports. This must include Monique. Not doing so is the equivalent of a ship sailing without a compass. If you know the career objectives of your subordinates, it will be easy for you to understand the motives behind many issues. Of course, knowing about the workers’ interests and how you respond are two different things. The next step, therefore, is to provide opportunities for workers to meet their goals, and not just Monique.

Three, hand out challenging work assignments. This includes projects outside of the workers’ job description. However, make sure that you don’t create 3D (dirty, difficult, dangerous) jobs just to give workers the chance to prove their worth, especially if the jobs force them to go beyond the call of duty. Whatever special projects you may create, determine if they are still within the employee’s career interests.There is also a chance their preferences may have changed.

Last, monitor the results and adjust accordingly. You shouldn’t act briefly and go back to your comfort zone. You need to check Monique’s attitude and performance. Once in a while, offer assistance. Embrace every opportunity to talk to your workers, individually or through department meetings.

Nobody enjoys working with negative people like Monique. But that doesn’t mean you play favorites with the positive people in your department. You just need to show that you’re a determined manager who is interested in making life better for everyone. This means taking the time to promote positive interactions with everyone, regardless of rank and career interests.

A friendly smile and occasional small talk will go a long way towards building comfortable working relationships. Avoid sensitive topics like religion, politics, race, or even gender orientation as they’re unnecessary irritants in the workplace.

Know a little bit about everyone and give them a fair share of information about your personal life. Who knows? You may even discover common interests. That’s the key to an exciting, long-term work relationship, which is often ignored by busy people managers.


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