Talented but not a Team Player

Dear Coach,

I am a manager for a very well thought of company. We’re not big but we’re not small anymore either. We are still privately held and one of our core values is family. Our founder and those of us who have been here since the beginning think of each other as extended family members.

Recently, we hired some new people and I am writing to you about the one assigned to my office.

Her name is Doris and she was hired because she’s very bright. She’s in her early 20’s but has skills and we thought she’d do very well selling. She does indeed and her marketing degree is proving to be an asset. She is our top producer and has been here several months.

Unfortunately when she’s in the office, it’s a different story. I’m not sure how to describe her problem except when she’s working with customers, she has all the patience in the world and extremely good manners. 

When she’s in the office, she’s impatient and insulting. Basically her approach is, “I’m smarter than you are -- shut up.” When she’s on her best behavior, she’s condescending and on several occasions has even challenged my authority by slamming some decision or another during staff meeting.

We work as a team around here and I don’t appreciate her attitude one bit.

In particular, she seems to have it out for my Assistant Manager, Jim, who did not have the privileges she had, is twice her age and never went to college. Jim is a good worker and we want him to stay. We are planning on opening another office in a year and he will be a front runner to manage that operation.

Jim needs some polish, I admit, but not to the extent that Doris makes it appear. According to Doris, Jim is a moron and “she does not consider him a supervisor”.

I’m in the field about half the time and I depend on Jim. I have told the staff that Jim is who they report to directly when I’m out and when he doesn’t know something he calls and we decide together. He and I talk about three times a day to cover everything that comes up and then he directs staff from there.

Doris will have none of it. When she runs into something that she needs immediate assistance on, she begins calling me on my cell phone instead of talking to Jim. If I don’t return her calls within an hour of the first one , she begins calling the founder on his cell phone – and that really doesn’t work.

The founder wants me to give her a disciplinary memo that basically says, “work with Jim, clean up your attitude, or get out” but I’m uncomfortable doing that. She has nothing else derogatory in her folder. What suggestions do you have?

- Ms Snippy's Boss

Dear Boss,

Whew – sounds to me like you’ve got a class combination of the two “I”’s – intelligence hampered by extreme immaturity.

What you see in Doris with customers tells me that she has the wherewithal to conduct herself with respect and decorum in the office – she is simply choosing not to. And I agree with your founder – her behavior is unacceptable. I often recommend that clients have “teamwork” as a job element within which they set some clear performance standards and your case is a perfect example of why.

However, whether she is officially expected to treat other team members professionally or not her behavior is non-productive. And, I agree with you that due process can be a good thing. I subscribe to the “three strikes and you’re out“ model.

First, sit Doris down behind a closed door and name the pattern. Cite two (no more) significant examples you directly experienced and describe how they were disruptive. Your first objective is to let Doris know that her behavior does not meet your internal standards and will not be tolerated. Your second objective is to hear her side of the story and extend your support as she decides how she will bring her conduct up to expectations.

Be prepared to hear her perspective on Jim and how the operation is run. Work to avoid defensive explanations but be willing to respond to sincere inquiries. Hopefully she will have some constructive ideas and you can coach her on using her sales skills in-house.

Offer to provide Doris with support and direction in how to relate more effectively with her team mates during the timeframe you set. Set a time to talk again with the understanding that you fully expect her to succeed.

Good Luck and All my Best –
-Sylvia