Defining expectations clearly, part I

The board president pulled the manager aside and said she needed to discuss a problem with one of his employees with him. The employee had been observed being a bit short with other members of the board at a recent function, she said. Perhaps the employee just didn’t know how to work with board members, or understand that they had to be treated with courtesy and respect. After all, the employee worked for the board, not the other way around.

The manager said he understood and that certainly it wasn’t appropriate for an employee to be disrespectful of a board member. However, without knowing the circumstances, he said, it would be difficult for him to address the problem. Would the president mind sharing who had voiced the complaint and what the situation was, he asked?

Oh, no, said the board president. The board member in question would be mortified if she even knew the incident were being discussed, said the board president. The offended board member was just not the kind of person to cause trouble for herself or anyone else. Still, the behavior wasn’t acceptable, and that’s why the president was bringing it up.

The manager said he understood and would keep an eye on it. Meanwhile, he asked another board member in confidence if she had observed similar behavior. She hadn’t, and wondered aloud if the offended party weren’t actually the board president herself.

angry faceThe mystery went unsolved. The manager kept an eye on things. He did notice that sometimes the employee could be abrupt with him, but only because she was self-confident—and usually right. The manager felt that this self-confidence was an asset to the company, and he certainly didn’t want to put the employee on eggshells based on a vague, solitary incident described to him by the board president.

A year went by, and the board president spoke to the manager again. She said she was at the end of her rope with the employee—that the employee was dismissive and not responsive to board members’ concerns during meetings. This time (at the request of the other board member to whom the manager had spoken in confidence), the board president provided specifics from a recent meeting. She said perhaps she had not been clear or firm enough with her concerns about the employee the first time. The manager, understanding that now something had to be done, and that he had specific examples to share with the employee, said he’d handle the problem quickly.

It turns out that later that same day, the employee and board president were involved in a joint project in which they were working side-by-side. The manager, not having had a chance to speak with the employee, went home to a family obligation, leaving the two of them alone. Later that evening, he received a voice mail from the board president, saying—much to the manager’s surprise—that the employee had been simply delightful, and that the president now didn’t know what to think or do about the situation.

The manager just shook his head, wishing the board president would stop being so fickle and reactionary in regards to the employee.

What should the manager do in this case? We’ll address what went wrong, and what can still go right, in my next blog post.

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