Kathy, an admin manager with a large manufacturing organisation, was at her wit’s end. In the main she loved her job, but just recently she’d ‘inherited’ two staff from another department and they were making her life unnecessarily difficult.
The two women in question – both in their early 50’s – had been told six months previously that their jobs were under threat of redundancy. However, at the eleventh hour, the HR department – out of loyalty to the two women who’d worked with the company for more than 15 years – had found new positions for them.
At first the duo had been relieved to know that they would still be getting their monthly pay packet – but the stress of the previous six months’ uncertainty was beginning to take its toll. Unsurprisingly, both women had been unnerved by their experience and they’d separately – and secretly – vowed to themselves that they’d never “give their all” to their employer again.
While their stance may have been understandable, for Kathy, it was untenable. New to her own job, she was keen to prove herself – but with these two “unengaged” women, Kathy knew that she had a major problem on her hands. Determined not to let the situation beat her, Kathy had given me a call to ask for help.
First, I knew that Kathy needed to understand how her two staff felt, so I asked her to imagine being in their shoes. After I’d taken her – in her imagination – through the experience that the two women had been through, I asked her how she thought she’d feel in their situation.
“I guess I’d feel as though the company didn’t really value me. I’d be shocked to think that I could so easily be removed from a job I’d enjoyed for a number of years and I’d be really worried about how I was both going to make ends meet and get another job.”
Already, Kathy’s voice was beginning to soften as she began to see the situation through their eyes. “And I guess,” I added, “it would be a bit like going through the grieving process. At first, there’d be disbelief, followed by anger, then sadness. The next stage in the process would be a kind of numbness – followed by a letting go and choosing to get on with life.”
Kathy had nodded at this, saying, “Yes, I can see that if I’d been in their situation, I’d have felt both hurt and angry. And while I might have been relieved in the short term to know that I’d still got a job which would take care of my financial worries, I probably would have soon got pretty resentful at having to leave what had been a comfortable situation!”
She’d raised an eyebrow and then smiled in understanding when I’d gone on to explain that the two women had probably been projecting their resentment onto her and the new team.
“In reality, their lack of engagement has little to do with you and a lot to do with them. But as their manager – and now that you understand why they’re behaving as they are – it’s still up to you to rekindle their enthusiasm.”
Noting Kathy’s perplexed look, I continued, “And the best way to do this is to spend time with each of them separately so that you can get to know them. Find out what interests them and get them to tell you about their personal goals. And if they don’t have any goals, help them to create some. Behave as though you were their coach – and remind them of the bigger picture. Challenge, motivate and inspire them – and above all, make THEM important.”
Kathy knew then that if trust were to be rebuilt, then it was up to her to take the first step.
When Kathy and I next touched base, she reported that things had changed dramatically. “It took a little while,” she conceded, “but I stuck with it. It was much easier knowing why they were behaving the way they were. Because I was able to stop taking their negativity so personally, it was so much easier to see behind their resentment. As you suggested, I spent time with each of them and once they’d put together some personal goals, things really started to improve. Frankly, I was amazed. I suppose, in order to be motivated, everyone needs to be aware of their ‘personal reason why’!”