In The Workplace

Mark, a long-time employee who has been a hard worker, has taken to refusing to do the difficult part of his job, which he passes on to younger colleagues, who are revolting at this treatment. He has become bossy even though he and his colleagues are assigned the same tasks. How do we resolve this issue? — Yellow Ribbon.

If you were the boss of that department, you would have no choice but to act immediately. But what exactly are the issues? Listen to the complaints of Mark’s younger colleagues and find out how to make things easy for everyone. You don’t have to ask for the complaints in writing. What’s important is your understanding of what’s going on. Do try to act in a way that gives off the impression that you’re taking their complaints seriously.

It takes a lot of active listening to determine the context and nature of the issue. It happened not too long ago, and Mark was not known for being “bossy” and adopting the attitude that he must be spared from the hard part of the job. What made him change? Because we can’t speculate, we need to understand the situation from his point of view.

If you don’t listen to Mark and favor the younger colleagues, then you’re not being objective. Therefore, set a meeting right away with Mark and try to understand everything. Then, take it from there.

If you’re a regular follower of this column, you may have already figured out that I’m always in favor of a win-win solution. These are not easy to find, but make finding one a priority to avoid disaster. Explore the following options and weigh all possibilities and anticipate possible consequences.

One, identify all issues raised by the complainants. You must zero in on the main issue or issues and judge for yourself whether they’re worth taking up with Mark. If you understand the issues well, you can decide whether those issues are minor or not. At the same time, never belittle any issues, because you may have no idea how important even little things can be to some workers.

Two, analyze and review the “difficult part” of the job. Find out how you can make it easy for everyone. Ask Mark and colleagues to study the workflow and propose a less burdensome way of doing things. You may need an internal kaizen facilitator or external problem-solving expert to succeed in this.

Arrange for all key department workers and their managers to attend a kaizen workshop so that finding solutions becomes a company-wide approach, rather than a limited exercise in resolving the issues Mark has with his colleagues.

Three, adopt a “sandwich” strategy with Mark. Start off by bringing up some neutral issues, followed by statements about what you like about him and his accomplishments. As soon as you have Mark’s attention, slowly explain what you’ve heard about his relationship with other workers.

Don’t accuse him of anything but explain what you understood of the issue from other workers.

Four, encourage Mark to resolve the issue with his colleagues. This is to emphasize the point that you don’t want the issue to be resolved by you making a decision, because you don’t want to be accused of favoring one over the other. In the same vein, go back to Mark’s colleagues and advise them to reconcile with him, at all costs.

Five, monitor any improvement in the relationship. Give all parties the chance to resolve their differences among themselves. If nothing happens, arrange a meeting. Challenge all parties to come up with a mutually acceptable solution.

Last, make a decision if necessary. The options may include transferring Mark to another work unit or geographical area. If this is your only option, allow Mark to choose his new work assignment and make it easy for him to transition to his new job.

More often than not, organizations are always confronted with poor policies and procedures that have created undue conflict. American management guru W. Edwards Deming (1900-1993) said it best: “A bad system will beat a good person every time.”

This happens when people act in conflict with one another without looking at the root cause of the conflict. If you, Mark and his colleagues can’t turn a bad system into something good, or make a difficult system easy, then everyone will always be focusing on how they stand relative to others instead of the disadvantages of the system.

Workers and managers are happiest and most productive when they enjoy performing tasks because things have been made easy for them. It’s not an issue of laziness but common sense, borne out of a desire to make everyone productive. Why require people to work in difficult circumstances when you can simplify their jobs?


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