When a supplier company of about 300 employees based in the Southwest lost one of its most beloved senior managers, Sarah, due to a career change, the business’s leadership was sad to see her go, but quickly moved into damage-control mode to keep productivity moving forward.
Employees were shifted to other departments to best reallocate their strengths and skill sets, and many of Sarah’s former employees would now report to Derek, a very efficient manager known for his ability to organize, prioritize and deliver on-time results, often under budget.
Unfortunately, Derek is also known for being a hardline taskmaster who demands military-like obedience, precision and punctuality from his staff, drastically different than Sarah, who ran a looser ship and took the attitude of, “as long as the work gets done, you can make your own schedule, within reason.”
Derek is having none of that lackadaisical approach, and has let his new staff – many of whom excel at specific areas of expertise crucial to the company – know that there will be no coddling, and everyone needs to shape up or ship out.
While some employees have resigned themselves – especially - in a difficult economy – to stay put and work under Derek, they’re not happy about it and are grumbling to coworkers in other departments. Other employees now reporting to Derek are looking to leave as soon as possible, recognizing that they simply cannot function under his style of leadership.
The people running the company, feeling as though they have a critical conundrum, need help. Do they instruct the uber-efficient and productive Derek to soften his approach with his new staff, or do they let the employees know that they’re free to leave at any time? To help the company’s leadership smooth over a rougher-than-expected transition, we’ve asked four experts – three from the ad specialty industry and one specializing in employee-management relations: How should this company handle a tough yet valuable manager and the employees who are alienated by him?
SGR’s case studies, which are composites of real industry companies and situations, present common managerial dilemmas and offer concrete solutions from experts.
Managing Director, Lindenwood Associates LLC
The big part about leadership is motivating people to do what they wouldn’t ordinarily do by themselves. A new manager may very well have a different leadership style, but the end result needs to be equal to or better than the “beloved” manager that just left. Management is all about making decisions that ultimately help a group of people perform as required. The new manager needs to determine whether performance will be affected by his new style with this particular staff. That’s his job as a manager. For all we know, his leadership style and management techniques will improve performance.
When I hear that staff might jump ship, it’s usually a time to get everything out on the table. That doesn’t necessarily mean that everybody will be happy with the outcome – but it’s a worthwhile exercise for everyone involved.
Additionally, it needs to be determined how critical the employees are to their particular functions. Can they easily be replaced? What’s the learning curve? Have other employees in the company been cross-trained to move into vacant positions?
Although it’s nice to hear that the employees enjoyed working for Sarah and that they presumably “got the work done,” an argument can be made that Sarah’s team could have performed better. There doesn’t seem to have been a continuous improvement process under Sarah.
We’re not operating in an economic environment where we have the luxury of just doing the same thing day after day without improving. When products or services don’t improve, companies don’t evolve and they go extinct – out of business.
Regarding Derek, he needs to have all the available information about his human resources in order to make decisions. In other words, he needs to know from the people running the company what his staff is thinking. Perhaps performance evaluations need to be conducted. The best way to do this at this particular junction is to frame it as a personal development meeting. (Example: How do you think you’re doing? What could be done better? Where do you see yourself next year, three years from now, etc.?) This way he gives the staff the opportunity to voice their concerns, expectations, etc. Perhaps Derek will help raise the company’s standards for the employees that stay on, or the new people that join his team.
Nat Wasserstein is the managing director of Lindenwood Associates, a crisis management firm in New York that helps owners of small- to medium-size businesses navigate through times of change, redirection and financial distress. He can be reached at (845) 398-9825 or email@example.com.
To download the entire article, Staff Shake-Ups and Chaos (Supplier Global Resource)