Case 7-5 Manager on the Defensive
(Case purpose: Coach a manager with interpersonal style issues.)
STEP 1: REVIEW THE BIG PICTURE
In this case, you run a division of 700 people. One of your managers just knocked on your open door: "May I come in and talk to you about something?"
You are busy but you say, "I'm rather busy, Fred. But if it won't take too long, let's talk now."
Fred enters and you join him at your round conference table. (He was promoted into management 2 months ago and you have high hopes for his fast track in the organization.)
As Fred shares the following unsettling incident about his interactions with an employee, you realize that Fred's career could be stopped short by his apparent difficulties with anger management.
Fred recounts the situation: "This morning, Sarah came into my office with a complaint. She felt that I'd given a plum assignment to George without asking her if she had room in her schedule to take it on. I explained that George was simply more capable and that I needed someone who wouldn't make any mistakes with this client. You know this client: They bring in 20 percent of our revenues! I just couldn't risk Sarah on this one.
"Anyway, Sarah said that George had five projects at the moment and she only had two. She went on to ask me if gender had anything to do with my decision. I have to admit it: I just blew up. I'm trying to run a department that's suffering from the stiffest competition we've seen in years and she comes in complaining about one measly project assignment. I told her that my decision was final and I also directed her never to question my gender bias again.
"Long story short, she left the office saying that the issue was not settled. By the way, Sarah hasn't been in to see you, has she?"
Your concern grows as Fred explains his conversation with Sarah. You respond by saying, "No, Sarah hasn't been in to see me. However, we need to explore your handling of your conversation with Sarah."
Your task in this case is to:
1. Analyze the risks of Fred's behavior with Sarah.
2. Decide if you should speak with Sarah privately.
3. Coach Fred on how to better handle a situation like this.
STEP 2: ANALYZE FACTS AND EMOTIONS (F&Es)
Ask Fred to Clarify
As Fred's manager, you may not be sure of all the factors that went into Fred's decision to give the project to George as opposed to Sarah. His tenure under you, as a new manager, is relatively short: Thus, you haven't witnessed Fred's managerial style over the long run in a variety of situations. Because of this context, you would do well to check as many facts as you can. You would want to ask Fred a series of questions, such as:
- Could you tell me more about the requirements of this particular client?
- What specific project needs differentiate this client from our other clients?
- I want to have my facts straight: Could you review George's and Sarah's tenures with our company and your department?
- What is the nature and scope of the current projects run by George and Sarah?
- Tell me again: Why is George a better candidate than Sarah to run this project?
Assess Fred's Credibility and Contextual Risk
Fred is a relatively new manager, and his handling of the conversation with Sarah leaves much to be desired. The risks could be high in this situation, especially if Sarah decides to challenge Fred's decision as well as his behavior with her. However, challenge or no, Fred's behavior should be unacceptable.
Why would you view this as a high-risk situation? Take into account the following considerations:
- Fred apparently did little to demonstrate to Sarah that he heard, and understood her concerns.
- Fred lost his temper when challenged by his employee. This is not a good sign: What might Fred do in another similar situation or one that requires him to remain calm under greater fire?
- Fred minimized Sarah's concerns by telling her never to bring up the question of gender bias again. His overreaction might only fuel Sarah's suspicions.
- Sarah may discuss the interaction with Fred among her colleagues, thus endangering
this new manager's credibility with others.
You must make time to coach Fred, whether you think you have time or not. If you can only fit a brief discussion in at this time, schedule an additional session in the near future. Fred's answers to your probing questions (see the previous list) will give you important information about how Fred approaches and solves problems. The nature of your coaching session will, of course, depend on how Fred responds to you. However, at least help Fred envision and comprehend why his behavior with Sarah could create unnecessary problems (see "Step 3: Design the Strategy").
Decide if you Should Speak with Sarah Privately
This decision depends on your organizational culture, your managerial style, and the extent to which you trust Fred to handle the damage control without you. Your decision also depends on Sarah's behavior on the job and how you think she might react. There is no clear-cut answer; however, the answer should result from your conversation with Fred, and you should include Fred in the decision.You do not want to usurp Fred's authority yet - unless there is a real reason to do so.
STEP 3: DESIGN THE STRATEGY
Your coaching session(s) with Fred should, at the least, cover the following:
- State the risks that Fred's behavior might incur for him, you, and the company.
- Explain how Fred's perceptions, reactions, and responses might differ from yours. Perhaps share a couple of anecdotal stories with Fred to illuminate the potential consequences of such managerial behavior.
- Ask Fred to walk you through a hypothetical conversation with Sarah to illustrate how he would better handle the situation. You cannot do the talking here: Let Fred talk so that you can identify the flawed points in his reactions and problem solving.
- Walk Fred through how you might have handled the conversation with Sarah and why. Fred must begin to see that there are alternate, and more suitable, emotional reactions.
- Ask Fred to walk you through a second conversation with Sarah: because you will require him to talk with Sarah again and attempt to clarify the situation (without anger). Again, listen, and coach Fred on any points that could be improved.
- If you feel that Fred is not ready for a private discussion with Sarah, state that you and Fred will meet with Sarah as soon as possible.
- Ask Fred questions such as: What really bothers you about all this? Do my ideas make sense to you? What might you add to the approach we've just discussed?
The solution does not just provide a talking points guide which is enumerated, it describes an analysis of the situation & recommendations of further action which will be helpful in discussion of the case study in a classroom setting. Use the word version; it's better.
Defining the Objective of Coaching
Supervisors & upper management who lead & manage departments, divisions & particular working units of any organization are bound to encounter interpersonal conflict between members of the groups they manage. Organizations being social networks, conflicts between individuals are a natural occurrence however much avoided. With this in mind, managers & leaders are equipped with skills to mediate 6 manage conflict between individuals. Mediation of conflict is a necessary management skill. Understanding how to bridge differences & get to a compromise means creating a workplace that encourage positive interpersonal relations where communication is all about working together to achieve set goals. At times though, personal agenda & human emotions derail this & conflict sets bigger challenges when it is between a manager and an employee especially if the department they belong to is under great pressure to perform. Such is the case of Fred, the up & coming manager who was faced with his first interpersonal conflict with a subordinate. Accused of being discriminative towards a female employee by assigning a particular project to another, he blew up. It also did not help that said employee hinted at him being gender biased. His reasons for giving said project to the other employee was due to this particular employee's performance & his ability in handling certain projects in an effective and comprehensive manner. The client being one of the primary clients of their firm, Fred wanted to have whom he sees as his 'best account manager', George to handle their new project. Sarah, the account manager who questioned this decision was only managing 2 projects while George already had 5 to oversee. It is easy to see why Sarah questioned Fred's decision and why, due to the importance of the project, gave it for George to handle.
Fred is seen as a promising new manager and the way he managed the confrontation initiated by Sarah might have a negative effect on the team he leads, which is now under pressure and on him. It seems, initially that there is a sense of professional jealousy here, at least, coming from Sarah. It would have been acceptable had she approached Fred in a manner that did not appear to 'aggressively question his choices', he is her manager after all. If she added the allegation of his gender bias ...
The solution provides a comprehensive guide in terms of the right strategies to employ and perspectives to guide in terms of solving the simulated interpersonal issues between employees as described in the post. The Solution first off conciesly explains the importance and roles of coaching in effective management. The solution provides an analytical narrative in terms of Coaching 'Fred' by providing 'talking points', areas of consideration to take up with Fred in terms of providing a solution to the conflict he had with Sarah. The solution goes on to explain possible coaching design strategies and provides further recommendations to solve the problem if the results from initial dialouge with Fred/Sarah provide o different results to cover all possible outcomes. Attached is a word version of the solution.