Bronwyn took her usual late-afternoon walk along the office corridor to grab a quick coffee from the dispenser, before heading back to finish an urgent report for the managing director on the potential of the United States market for their business. She liked to see how her team was working, and to be available to ask questions or seek advice.
As the newly appointed marketing and sales manager, Bronwyn was revelling in the chance to position Electro-Science Publications in the international market for science-based CD-Rom publications. Her product development team had fresh ideas for products on topics ranging from space history to geology, and their drive and enthusiasm were refreshing. Then there was Andy. Bronwyn frowned.
Andy, a long-time employee since the days when Electro-Science sold print-based science publications, was loitering at the coffee dispenser when Bronwyn arrived, filling out his footy tipping form as he slowly sipped an espresso.
“Only 45 minutes to go!” he said breezily, before sidling off down the corridor, stopping to have a chat with the occupants of each office as he passed.
It was a routine Bronwyn was getting to know well. She knew Andy would fill in the time in this way until 5pm, when he would suddenly pick up speed, grab his newspaper, and bolt out the door.
It wasn’t as if there was no work to do. The team was under pressure to get the new suite of products ready for an overseas launch, and the deadlines were non-negotiable. As a new manager, Bronwyn had a lot to gain from the success of the launch. She also understood how much the company was depending on it to break into the international publishing market. Andy’s behavior was jeopardising this important goal, which had been in the pipeline for at least a year.
Andy’s time-wasting routines took up most of the day. On arriving at work, usually late, he would spend half an hour to 45 minutes greeting everyone and talking about the footy scores, last night’s TV shows and his car problems.
At 10am, he would announce: “Time for a coffee,” and head off to the coffee shop, usually with a few staff members in tow. The younger ones, Bronwyn noticed, found it hard to resist his jovial manner and array of jokes and stories, and she had seen staff still in the coffee shop with Andy an hour later. The hour either side of lunchtime was a time for Andy to do the rounds of the office again, or play solitaire on his computer.
Andy took lunch from 12 noon to 1pm, even when something urgent had cropped up. Late afternoon was the worst, as he would say loudly, upon being given an assignment: “No point starting that now, there’s only half an hour to go.” Bronwyn noticed how the flow of work was interrupted, and people began to slow down and fool around. Andy was out the door at 5pm sharp.
In meetings, he would glance at the clock, and sometimes prepare to walk out while Bronwyn was mid-sentence, if it was close to his “clocking-off” time.
Bronwyn was worried that the rest of the team would begin to follow suit. She was also aware that the time she took up watching him was diverting her from important tasks and the planning for the US launch.
Andy was 40 years old. He had started with the company fresh out of school, and had impressed everyone with his “can do” attitude. Although he had no formal qualifications, he was eventually brought into the sales department, and rose from junior sales representative to head of sales 15 years later.
Andy had been urged to take night classes, to improve his skills and underpin his sales experience, but somehow there had always been other things to do. Besides, his wife didn’t push him to do it, and he had her catering business to worry about as well. He often went with her to the market at the crack of dawn to buy produce, and most nights helped her with the books. “When would I have time to study?” he reasoned. Just as well he kept advancing at work without it.
The company’s move into electronic publishing caused Andy a few headaches, but he felt he could cope, with a bit of bluster, and passing the hard stuff down the line. Paperwork was never his strong point. He lived for the times when he could get out of the office and meet and greet customers, closing sales and doing deals. It was his lifeblood, and he had developed some close relationships with some of the bigger accounts. Andy often worked long hours, and was proud of his track record, boosting sales by 20% the last financial year.
Andy enjoyed liaising with his fellow departmental managers, Jim, Susan and Paul, who handled accounting, production and marketing respectively. He also was friendly with the managing director, James, who had started the company 25 years ago. James looked on Andy as a son, and they shared a passion for football, often attending matches together.
When Paul left for an overseas posting, and the sales department was merged with the marketing department, Andy wasn’t concerned. He would no doubt get the position of marketing and sales manager. After all, his friendship with James and years of loyalty with the company must be good for something. There were some good young people in the amalgamated department, and Andy was sure that they could make a team to be reckoned with. He planned to take them all out to lunch to an Italian restaurant down the street. The day he learnt that he had been passed over for Bronwyn was the worst of his working life.
All the hard work he had put in over the years seemed a waste of time. And his new role, assistant manager, marketing and sales, put him behind a desk for most of the day. His salary had plateaued, and the long lunches and days on the road were behind him.
On the fast track
Bronwyn was 35 years old, with a Masters in marketing, and experience at one of the top electronic publishers in the country. James saw her as the perfect candidate to position the company as an international player. He was a little concerned as to how Andy would react to her leadership, but felt Bronwyn would be able to cope with any problems. He told her not to bother him with trivial staffing or business issues, but to deal with them as she saw fit.
Bronwyn had noted the close relationship between James and Andy, and was concerned as to how James would react to any disciplinary action she took to curb Andy’s disruptive behavior, despite James words of reassurance that she was in charge of her team.
It would have been easier to deal with Andy, Bronwyn mused, if he hadn’t been so nice. He could talk underwater, and before you knew it, you found yourself trapped in conversation. She could see how he influenced the younger ones.
The last straw came when they were planning the launch. Work was fast and furious. The stakes were high. Then she heard her marketing assistant, Anne, say to one of the team: “I won’t bother with this now. It’s only an hour til knock-off. I’ll kill some time on that Web site Andy showed me. He always walks out the door on time, why shouldn’t I?” At that moment, Andy came down the corridor, whistling and glancing at the clock.
How should Bronwyn deal with Andy’s clockwatching? Should she consider moving him elsewhere? What should she say to the rest of the team, and to the managing director?
This case study was prepared by Jennifer Laing.
Proposed solution #1
Gordon Brockway is the organisational development and training manager for the Agriculture Department in Western Australia. He has been working on human-resource management issues in the public, finance and resource sectors since 1980.
As I read this case study, I found myself pondering this Andy. At first, I was cross with him. As I read on, I developed some empathy for him. “This would be a challenging set of dynamics indeed,” I was thinking. Then, I realised I had been focusing on the wrong issue. Andy is not the issue here.
The long-term issues are the US launch and the performance of the work unit. The short-term issues that need to be resolved to ensure success in the long term are the declining work habits of team members and Andy’s behavior.
Dealing with Andy’s behavior needs to be seen in a different perspective. Action may need to be taken to resolve the consequences; but, it will be much less draining of energy and time when it is examined in light of the greater business imperative.
There are also some things working for Bronwyn:
- Her team has “fresh ideas”.
- Bronwyn’s role in a strategic initiative of the organisation is an opportunity for learning and for her to demonstrate her ability.
- Her boss has delegated to her appropriate authority.
The opportunities Bronwyn has include:
- Demonstrating to her staff that she can lead them through an important achievement, such as the US launch.
- Setting the standards of behavior with the team.
- Showing she can deal with a difficult issue fairly.
Doing nothing is not an option. Work habits are slipping and the goal of the US launch will be missed if action is not taken. My approach would be to have some focused time for Bronwyn and her team. There are many ways a session with these goals can be run and this would need to be designed once a greater insight into the team and the organisation was obtained.
My goals for a session such as this would include:
- Developing clarity in the team about the importance of the US launch and ensuring that the team members know their individual and collective roles in the launch.
- Developing the measures that will be applied to their work in the US launch.
- Communicate the milestones required of the team.
- Develop the team plan to achieve those milestones.
- Discuss and seek agreement on the type of behaviors each team member needs to exhibit to achieve the team goals.
A session such as this will achieve the required focusing provided that Bronwyn takes the appropriate follow-up actions. It will also have an affect on Andy. It may not be enough to shift his behavior to where it is needed; but it will set a base from which Bronwyn can take whatever steps are required.
Bronwyn should brief the managing director on the situation with regard to the work habits that are developing and her plan to resolve the problem. It should be couched in the context of the US launch and the performance of the team. Andy’s behavior needs to be bought to his notice only as a secondary matter.
Bronwyn must make it clear that she intends to manage it herself. She should ask the MD if he has any concerns up front and allow him to set any boundaries before she starts the process. Getting these permissions now will make it easier to manage upwards if she has to take unpopular actions later.
Bronwyn should have a one-to-one chat with Andy, explaining to him in detail the team session she has planned. She should give him the opportunity to come to the session or not depending on the extent to which he is prepared to contribute. It should be clear to Andy that one of the outcomes of the session will be a shift in the team’s behavior. He should be let know that aspects of his behavior are disrupting the team.
Bronwyn could invite Andy to discuss his intentions with his work and, during the discussion, make the point that, while he may carry negative feelings about being passed over, there is a job to be done and he has a responsibility to do that.
She could offer him a couple of days away from the office to consider his options on the basis that if he decided to stay, he would contribute at the level that was required of him.
Proposed solution #2
Damien Christian is customer relationship executive with a large training provider. He has previously worked in the telecommunications and call-centre industries with several major Australian companies.
There are two issues here. One is the problem of Andy’s time-wasting and his influence on other staff. The other is a wider corporate issue as to why a formerly committed staff member should become a drain on company resources. The company must put its hand up and accept that, in part, this is a problem of its own making. It overlooked Andy for a promotion he, rightly or wrongly, believed was his, and compounded the error by then placing him in a position unsuited to his skills.
By putting Andy behind a desk, the company ignored his strongest attribute: his ability to communicate. From the study, it is apparent that Andy is a people person and possibly a gifted salesman. It is also obvious that he is not a natural administrator.
Although the case study does not detail how the amalgamation and Andy’s “passing over” were handled, the results speak for themselves. Andy changed from a successful and dedicated worker into a nine-to-five drone. His motivation has gone and he feels that his former dedication has gone unrewarded.
Which brings us to Bronwyn’s dilemma. The bottom line is that she has a department to run and deadlines to meet. Regardless of how nice a guy Andy is, she must ensure that the job for which she has responsibility is not being ignored.
The solution is to find Andy a position he would enjoy; to get him back “out there” meeting people and using his charm to bring the clients in. Any such move would need to be handled carefully so that Andy did not believe he was being “eased out” and to ensure no further erosion of his work ethic. Properly managed, such a move might even re-ignite his enthusiasm.
Bronwyn’s problem is compounded if such a move is not implemented or if the delay between the amalgamation and the move has created resentment in either party.
One possible solution is to talk to Andy. By explaining to him the effect his behavior is having on the team and its work, Bronwyn might be able to get him to accept a degree of responsibility for his actions. It may even be possible that Andy does not recognise that he is doing anything wrong and may think he is just being friendly. He may even think he is doing a good job within the restrictions of his new position.
At the same time, Bronwyn needs to make it clear to her entire team exactly what is expected of them. She needs to remind them that the US launch is fast approaching and staff will be expected to give a little extra. In this way, she can reinforce the work ethic without focusing on any one person.
The “whole team” approach also gives Bronwyn a chance to discuss the situation with the managing director without it becoming personal. She can put it to him under the guise of a commentary on the US move. She can even a draft a memo or similar document for him to sign. This would allow the MD to buy-in without increasing his workload and without playing personality politics.
Bronwyn also needs to create guidelines for Andy in the long term. At the risk of seeming dictatorial, she must ensure he pulls his weight. Such guidelines can include sign-in/out sheets, regulation of corridor prowling and monitoring of coffee breaks. Bronwyn should try to prevent this becoming a blame situation, but she also has to face the reality that a solution is needed.
Another valuable tool is the introduction of performance indicators through which Andy (and everyone else) can be evaluated. These can include setting key targets for the team to meet and they allow for a formal process to determine whether people are working with reasonable levels of effectiveness.
However, it must be noted that many of Andy’s habits, such as corridor prowling, can be a valuable use of time. Indeed, some of Andys time-wasting techniques can lead to effective communication between team members and can be as beneficial as his sitting behind a computer all day.
The key word here is “balance”.