From ready to be fired to respected team: How a new manager turned them around
The training went well and the relationships I built were invaluable. In a private conversation with the manager, I learned the secrets to the priceless members of her team.
When the manager, we’ll call her Sara, was hired, she was informed that the previous manager was terminated from her position and the hidden message in the interview was, “This is rescue operation. If you cannot turn the team around, they will all be fired, and we’ll start over.”
Sara learned that the team had been mentally and emotionally abused by their previous manager. Knowing this, her first request of the president of the company was to convene a meeting of the entire team where Sara was introduced. At this meeting each team member was asked to bring a little fact sheet about themselves. On the fact sheet, they outlined what they did and their assigned duties. They were also asked to list their strengths and what the saw themselves doing in the future.
The severity of the emotional abuse was evident when Sara set up one-on-one meetings to discuss the information on the fact sheet. The first member of the team began trembling as she stood in Sara’s doorway, ready to enter her office after being asked to come in for this get-to-know you meeting. As a new and enthusiastic manager, Sara was disheartened by the woman’s obvious fear of entering her office.
She had a similar experience with each member of the team. All were timid in conversation and apprehensive of actions that may be taken against them.
Though the team worked hard, the previous manager gave the team members no appreciation or recognition and when something went wrong, she refused to take responsibility but blamed the team. Bottom line, the team members had been overworked and undervalued.
After the one-on-ones, Sara knew her work was cut out for her.
Discretionary Effort Principles
These are the Discretionary Effort Leadership principles from Level Two, Social Acceptance that Sara intuitively and adeptly implemented:
- Champion the individual. This was a natural strength Sara possessed and was easy for her to make each team member feel wanted, worthy and welcome. Her exact words were, “I put people first.”
- Extend psychologically safety. Sara worked hard to use language, tone of voice, and a demeanor that would make the team member feel safe to express opinions and surface the truth as she perceived situations.
- Play to their strengths. Knowing that each team member had strengths and desires, Sara set about developing the staff. She observed some of the team members were stagnant in their roles just because they were good at what they were doing. It was discovered that one was very interested in computers and coding so Sara encouraged her to continue learning Access and now she is building Access databases for the entire company. Another team member was a terrific organizer and Sara put her in project management courses with excellent results.
- Include them in the decision-making process. “When we have a decision to make,” shared Sara, “I insist my team works like a democracy and accepts the fact that the majority rules. I work to come to a consensus for major decisions and want everyone to feel their voice is heard and their opinion matters.” Sara added that they all knew that if a tie-breaker was needed, she was the deciding vote. The team members are the ones in the trenches, doing the work so Sara values their opinions. As the team contributes to the decision-making process, they know they are helping move the company forward.
- Ask them to identify desired outcomes. Sara never allows walking into her office with just complaints. When a team member requests a meeting to discuss a situation or problem, Sara insists on hearing a desired outcome, the reasons for desired outcome and at least two solutions to reach the desired outcome. Once the desired outcome and solutions are on the table, the two of them go to work on resolutions.
Do Sara’s Strategies Work?
A few months after being hired, the human resource director was shocked when the team gave Sara an edible arrangement with balloons and cards to thank her for her leadership, stating that in the 19 years she had been at this company, no team had done this for their manager.
When Christmas came, the team asked Sara what she would like for Christmas. Sara made it clear that she had everything she needed and insisted that instead of a gift they donate to rescue facility for animals or buy a gift for a child in need. She did tell them she valued words and would like to know how she had impacted their lives since she became their manager.
At the Christmas party, Sara was emotionally touched when the team presented her with an engraved journal. Each team member had written her a personal letter telling her how she had made a difference in their lives.
Some of the thoughts expressed were:
“I’ve never worked for anyone who I knew I could depend on.”
“I can trust you to have my back.”
“I know you will go to bat for me.”
“You always champion me in my role.”
The team went from people just pushing pencils to high achievers and Sara knew that was the best gift she could ever receive at Christmas.