You’ve worked hard to make your section a place people want to work. Everyone has read your leadership philosophy and you’ve had a productive coaching session with everyone. The changes you’ve madehave been well received by everyone in your section. Everyone except Jill.
It seems like Jill has been with the company for a hundred years. She doesn’t like change and you’re pretty sure she doesn’t like you. Everyone knows Jill. Many other supervisors are afraid of her because she knows where all the skeletons are.
You’ve spoken to Jill and tried to understand her resistance to change, but she always responds with short answers that say nothing. Even though you’d like to ignore her, you know that isn’t the right approach. Ignoring the problem will damage your credibility with the rest of the team. but her negative attitude is starting to poison the rest of the section.
This challenge comes up often when I’m coaching new leaders. It’s a difficult situation and there may not be a good answer. But, there are some actions you can take. Throughout this process, make sure you carefully document everything you do and say.
First, sit down with Jill and ask why she is having a problem with the changes. I know you’ve already spoken to her but now is the time to be very direct. Professional and courteous, but direct. I know you’re thinking this won’t work, but you have to try one more time. This is not the time to make threats. Instead explain that you understand Jill does not support the changes, but you would like to understand why. Explain that you recognize her experience with the company, and you’d like to know if she sees a problem that you aren’t aware of.
If your conversation doesn’t produce the results you’re looking for, it’s time to talk to your boss. He or she probably knows Jill and might have ideas for you to try. This issue will not be easily resolved and the boss needs to know it exists. Clearly explain the results of Jill’s behavior in terms of productivity and team efficiency. You’re more likely to gain the boss’s support if you are very precise.
Take a little time to observe. Jill is probably not going to give you the satisfaction of agreeing with you, but she might start to slowly come around. If you see that, don’t rush her.
If Jill is still not coming around, use the next regular meeting to ask her to give the team her opinion of the changes. This will result in one of three responses: short answer or silence, tirade, or expression of her concerns. If she expresses her concerns, listen carefully, she may have good points and there’s a chance others on the team have the same concerns. Be prepared to firmly guide this discussion so it doesn’t become a shouting match.
You have now given Jill the chance to air her grievances. This step is important so that the rest of the team understands you are open to dissent and discussion. It’s been my experience that when the leader is up front with the team, they will see how the problem member is being uncooperative and will be more likely to stay positive themselves.
At this point, you’ve been completely open and have attempted to keep the team together but Jill is just not cooperating. It’s time to review your options with HR. Show them the documentation you’ve been keeping and get their advice. Then, sit down again with Jill. Now is the time to explain the consequences of her actions. State the facts and explain how you intend to handle the situation (based on your conversation with HR). This is not a discussion and should be mostly a one-way conversation. Ask her to consider what you’ve said and come back the next day to tell you how she wants to proceed.
Leading your organization is rewarding but also challenging and will occasionally involve issues that are not fun. Challenges like Jill must be handled quickly and firmly to prevent them from poisoning the rest of the organization.
Now it’s your turn. How would you handle a Jill? Comments please!