“Risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing.” – Warren Buffett
I must admit I’d been brooding a bit lately after our last round of hiring because due to a time crunch and lack of planning they’d excluded my input (and performance data) from the hiring process. And I didn’t “Lean In” or intervene because I didn’t want to overstep any boundaries or to communicate that I distrusted the hiring committee or create discord. But I let my fear get in the way which resulted in some pretty inequitable hiring practices.
I had some really great candidates. According to the data, they each had the strongest performance records, two had a pretty strong rapport with the workers that they supervised so I assumed that one of them would be hired, but they lost to a candidate who was awarded the position of head supervisor even though statistically she had one of the poorest performance records and was the least prepared for the position. When her friend, who just recently held the position told her they were considering candidates for the position, she would scramble around trying to appear to be helpful when being assessed by members of the hiring committee (which included her friend), but I’m embarrassed to say that the decision to hire her grossly reflects what many HR professionals refer to as a recency bias rather than her actual performance history.
It can be a bit hard to know how to navigate through the red tape surrounding all of this. I’ve had to build my reputation and I’ve compiled a lot of hard data because I know that distrust has been a huge factor in our organization and I want to be able to back myself up if I say something works so I don’t have to worry about being accused of bias or have to be held accountable for someone else’s negligence.
Statistically, I have a great performance record. I am really proud of the fact that I have good relationships with my workers and have been able to improve their performance. I just don’t see where it’s constructive to be a braggart about it. This year I’ve been fortunate enough to only have had 7 under-performers out of 60 relatively inexperienced workers. We had two drop outs, two who are on target to be kicked out because they don’t show up for shifts and are more or less at risk across the board, one who is juggling WAAYY too many responsibilities, one I’ll mention below and the worker I’ve mentioned.
Her workers are constantly off task and goofing off for HOURS at a time increasing not only our risk at being reprimanded by the labor office, but also our increases our patrons’ health risks associated with our high liability operation. She has no idea how to keep her workers’ accountable short of snapping at them, she hasn’t really made any effort to learn our policies which results into her giving our patrons bad information (which lowers the consistency and quality of our service) and if you try to work with her to get her up to speed, she’s pretty unwilling to learn or to listen. It’s very frustrating at times and I can totally understand why mothers of teenage girls are constantly pulling their hair out.
She wants the autonomy of being an adult without having to take on the responsibilities associated with being an adult.
In fact, the supervisor hadn’t made any attempts to fulfill her duties outlined by her job description until hiring began about one month ago. I’ve witnessed two emotional outbursts in which she’s publicly yelled at two of our inexperienced workers within the last week. They hadn’t actually even done anything wrong, she just got flustered and projected her hostility onto them because she didn’t know how to constructively articulate clear boundaries so she instead reprimanded them for behavior she didn’t personally like but had never articulated to them. And for me it’s kind of hard to watch. Obviously I can’t correct her in front of others and our office location is in front of everyone (I’ll explain in a bit) so even pulling her aside signals a public reprimand if we’re both absent. And to be fair, my position (on paper) isn’t really designed to give me that level of authority anyway. But because I’d previously expressed concerns about our even rehiring her to work within our department in a supervisory capacity, I feel as if I have considerably less influence now because I don’t want my concerns to be construed as some sort of retaliation or attempt to undermine her efforts to lead (ish). I also know that she and her friend have some kind of expectation that I might try to sabotage her efforts and they’re both kind of watching me closely (it’s quite nerve-wracking really) to find any tiny little indication that might validate their suspicions.
Had I known that they hadn’t even invited any of the other potential candidates in for an interview, I probably would have spoken up prior to their announcing the new positions. That’s a bullet I would have happily taken for the other candidates. I was initially worried that I had failed to prepare the more qualified candidates in some way because I’d heard that she’d had a strong interview. I’d heard that part of what resonated with the hiring committee is that this candidate expressed concern that she would be judged and compared to her incumbent because she wasn’t as experienced or organized or considered to be as nice a person — qualifications I believe are kind of critical when you’re hiring someone to supervise the other 60 workers. What I wasn’t aware of, until yesterday, when I was making a referral to one of the candidates who didn’t get selected to head over to our career center to set up an appointment on interview skills was that none of the other candidates had even been given a chance to interview. So right now I’m just kind of taking a step back and trying to reassess what my best role should be given the situation.
Also, in order to reduce the risk that someone may perceive that I hold any personal grudges or would seek to undermine the authority that the new supervisor holds in her new position, I spoke with both her and our building supervisor on separate occasions to let them know that because it was my responsibility to instill trust and to allow her to learn how to do her position on her own (since that what she prefers) that I was going to take a step back out of the role of supervising workers.
It isn’t technically included in my job description, I only inherited the role because the administration and community wanted to hold someone accountable when our workers were neglecting their duties. I just happened to be the only visible person around since they moved my reception area down in the middle of all of the building foot traffic and once I realized that the “that’s not my job” excuse was not going to be very effective since most people only saw me acting as an agent of the organization, I was going to have to step up and exhibit that leadership when needed. It’s not a role that I have always enjoyed, but it has played to many of my problem solving strengths. It has also forced me to reassess how I handle uncertainty and conflict (both verbally and non verbally) when I’m at my wits end because I am constantly “in public” due to the design and location of my workspace. I mean, I’m not even allowed to non-verbally communicate that I’m flustered or frustrated (even when it’s valid) because there’s no privacy and my role is expected to be responsive and deferential. So you can imagine why it’s a role that can often make me feel conflicted.
While theoretically it would seem that I have the option of simply removing myself from the equation (so I’m not expected to be liable for it) — this could easily be perceived as a cop out and could easily be construed as a lack of accountability if someone wanted to push it. So I don’t want to leave that to chance as it would be poor reputation management.
Yesterday I mentioned in mixed company that on my way home for lunch I noticed that the heads of the first crocuses of spring had finally poked their little purple heads out. I made a reference to something Shug Avery said in “The Color Purple” about it making God mad when we walk by the color purple and didn’t notice and the memory made me smile even though purple was a color I’d always been rather indifferent to in the past. But it made me happy to see evidence that after this very cold winter spring was finally coming.” And most of us just kind of stood and looked around for each moment not saying anything and smiled. Then out of nowhere she goes; “Well IIIII really like the color purple…. I have three shirts in that color at home….”
For some (I think really unnecessary reason), she’d made a commitment to whatever she thinks this rivalry is. Like she’s getting some sort of dopamine boost out of obsessively looking for ways to contradict me and I’m going to have to find some way to manage it. It’s not going to go away by me simply ignoring it. It isn’t really something that I understand, but it’s not the first time I’ve gone through it, I imagine it won’t be the last. But apparently I have failed to recognize early on that she finds something about my presence pretty threatening, and by making the decision not to succumb to it, it isn’t de-escalating the situation, but is more likely feeding it.
But what I realized from that interaction was that this wasn’t about me.
…and the truth is, I have neither the interest nor energy to play into it. It’s hard enough walking on eggshells to make sure that I am not only keeping myself accountable. If I engage her directly, or even demonstrate to her or to others that I’m rattled, it distracts my focus from being able to set a good example and create meaningful relationships with my other workers. But if I don’t take care to regulate my behavior (including the nonverbal behaviors) when she has her emotional outbursts, I run the risk of triggering additional outbursts even when I exercise restraint because she’s looking to be the victim in this scenario, and I don’t want the motives behind my indifference to be interpreted as dismissive or negligent.
Part of me just wants to sit back, let her throw her little tantrums and tucker herself out. But unfortunately, the business world will blame me for neglecting her because although I have no official authority over her, I am the only visible agent of the organization that will be associated with her behavior due to our shared physical proximity in our workspace.
At least previously, I had the option to write the worker up or send them home when they behaved insubordinately or couldn’t keep their emotions under control; a strategem I exercised fairly frequently in previous iterations of my job when I was expected to act as a disciplinarian in this role, really just because we’d had such poor worker oversight when they transferred me to that area and I needed to communicate to our community and my superiors that this area could and would not be neglected any longer — as well as to establish very clear boundaries with some of the workers who had been bullying their peers. So she isn’t my first emotionally volatile worker and I imagine she won’t be my last. But promoting someone to a level of oversight that would her give her the same level of authority as one of my professional colleagues based upon one month of performance without weighing her performance for the previous 5 months does seem to be a bit irresponsible, even if the efforts may have been unintentional.
Plus it undermines the positive environment that we’ve built since then. I immediately switched toward a positive reinforcement model of supervision once we weeded out the people who lost incentive to work for our organization once we increased oversight. Workers used to apply to work for our organization because it was the one area on site that met the labor requisite but required the least amount of accountability but the majority left once they increased my oversight because I actually enforced our policies and held our workers responsible for upholding our service standards and policies to ensure liability compliance. Once we eradicated the people from our workforce who were there for the wrong reasons, it was much easier to implement a structured merit based performance model. The expectations were clear, we frequently rewarded those who modeled the best character and met our performance standards with more autonomy and more oversight. We also secured more buy-in with our new hires by implementing peer recognition initiatives and used peer modeling to improve our organization’s reputation and standing in the community as well as our staff, as is evidenced by our significant increase in leadership retention.
And in all fairness, now thinking back, I suppose I am guilty of suggesting that we seriously consider replacing that particular supervisor unless we can provide her with direct mentorship and supervision to help her work through some of her areas of weakness. But I didn’t think they were going to hire her head the entire leadership division. Her friend will be leaving soon and sadly, when her friend isn’t around to take her under her wing, she reverts back to the behavior I’d previously documented.
Trust me, I’ve been there, and I know how much it sucks to be micromanaged or to have someone feel as if they constantly need to put you in your place; which is why I make a special effort not to do that. Many millennial often experience that when they become recent graduates. Nagging makes young women old before their time and I may know a lot, but it doesn’t mean that I’m willing to take on the role of trying to control other people’s choices. And I do my best to refrain from unsolicited advice when I can; but there are times when I see them standing on that ledge and at most I just give the boilerplate speech so that someone has a record of me attempting to be reasonable before anything disastrous happens. If it’s a big enough concern I will pull them aside and ask them whether they have considered the implications of x choice that they are making?
Most are pretty receptive to it because they don’t want to make mistakes. But the more headstrong mentees, like our new head supervisor and the incumbent just kind of bulldoze off the cliff for no other reason than they don’t want to feel like they’re being managed. And I have to just let them — and wait — wait for them to approach me when they need someone more experienced to intercede if things degenerate and require a professional intervention.
And I understand that these young women want to contribute, to be treated like adults, and that they want to prove that they are capable of doing things on their own and I try to respect that. But:
You’re not going to reinforce my or anyone’s trust if you communicate that you’re impossible to work with; point blank.
Leaning in does not mean bulldozing over the people who care about your development or that you don’t have to be held accountable for your behavior or that exempt from having to listen. You can either listen to someone who genuinely wants you to succeed, or you can listen to the consequences, but I have no intention of chasing you if you have a piss poor attitude or if you plan on wasting my investment. And I frankly have no interest in standing in between anyone and that choice if I’m not required to take on that imposition.
I’m certainly not looking to set back women’s lib 400 years or anything. There are some aspects that you have to take seriously if you’re going to give good service. I don’t push her to live up to those standards because she’s not required to, I am. But when she makes mistakes that merit any meaningful consequence, I do pull her aside to call it to her attention because that’s what my responsibility is whether she’s receptive to it or not. And it is also my responsibility in many cases to fix it, because I get reprimanded for it whether it be my mistake, my supervisors’ or my workers.’ But with her most of the time I can’t even get two words in and she automatically perceives being corrected as a threat and it has to do with her background or the way that leadership has been modeled to her in the past. You can tell that most of her distrust of perceived authority figures has to do with ways that she’s been previously wounded and I would have to either keep a paper trail or wait for her to have a serious breakdown before I could even safely recommend that she seek out the kind of help she would need to resolve it.
In the meantime, I have tried to find other areas to redirect my interest. I’ve been pouring through Martine’s book of etiquette to make sure that I am holding myself accountable in my treatment toward her so that my involvement won’t be considered a factor in the assessment of her performance. I treat her civilly, and with respect, and when she fails to return the favor, I excuse myself politely and take my work to a different location. But it still doesn’t stop her from trying to contradict me or to try to make me look bad in even the most trivial of conversations.
When we talked, I thought we’d resolved not to step on each others’ toes (and had even gone so far as to develop a nonverbal hand signal to let the other know when we’d cross the line, but I developed that for her to feel more of a safe space. I didn’t think I was going to be the one to have to use it.
Most of the time, I just keep my distance so as not to egg on any conflict since she’s made it a point to articulate that she finds my presence a hindrance. And she doesn’t just do it with me. I’ve also seen her bully or neglect some of the other workers as well. There are times when I almost feel as if I am living in a modern day depiction of Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility” where I’ve been cast as Elinor and she as Marianne — only instead of having dueling views of romance we instead differ in our views and etiquette of work ethic. There are days when she seriously makes me feel like Tina Fey from the movie Mean Girls.
And I don’t want to be hard on her. I understand that learning is necessary if she’s going to grow, I just think that at the level of emotional awareness and maturity that she illustrates right now that she really needs guidance before she’s entrusted to work at that level. I understand that this conundrum ultimately revolves around issues of trust.
I learned the hard way early on, that leadership can be a burden if you don’t know how to build trust with the people that you work with. And if someone you work with doesn’t like you or trust you, they will go out of their way to undermine you using any opportunity they can. And this new kid is gunning for me. Although I’ve never expressed it to her directly, I’m sure that her friend (the incumbent supervisor) and she have discussed that I raised concerns about her being rehired again. The incumbent supervisor isn’t really supposed to disclose that information, but they’re friends, and the incumbent supervisor doesn’t have many because her time commitments don’t allow her much of an opportunity for a social life.
I just genuinely don’t trust that the new kid understands what she needs to be successful as a supervisor, let alone HEAD supervisor and I have the documentation to prove that she won’t even follow basic instructions, and she’s pretty negligent to the needs and expectations of our patrons and her subordinates. But, for the most part, I do trust my direct supervisor who made the decision with the incumbent. I just think because he was stressed for time and didn’t plan for his hiring process that he may have not looked at the bigger picture and the implications of half-assing his hiring process. I know that he trusts the incumbent supervisor implicitly. She trained him how to do his role and I believe that he wants to be fair and equitable and to instill trust in her.
So I’ve been doing a lot of praying about it. I know that if I don’t find a way to learn how to manage it, it’s just going to silently continue erode away my self-confidence. I think part of this means that I have to acknowledge my own disappointment about not being able to form a healthy bond with her and that displaying fear in an unhealthy manner is only going to reinforce a threatening environment. I have a lot of incredible strengths that I don’t get to take advantage of. And I won’t get to if I keep sitting back waiting for the storm to pass. So although I don’t think want to sit back and take it, if I stop focusing upon her and just redirect my attention toward setting a good example, it’s going to frustrate her to no end, but I’m going to have to find a way to manage it.
They dug a pretty deep hole, but it’s not the end of the world.
I’ve also been doing a little bit of really wanted to research to see if I could find a more nurturant solution to address these concerns. I just have to record the data and measure the outcomes in performance. Of our 7 under-performers, only 1 of them showed measurable improvement. It was the one I predicted from the data I collected over summer. So I shouldn’t write them off completely. But sometimes people have to see themselves, or see how they are perceived by others before they can make meaningful decisions about how they choose to develop self-discipline.
What I’ve learned about myself from all of this is that data provides a rationalization for skewed bias, but it doesn’t mean that I’m exempt from having to listen. If I’m going to hold myself accountable for how I treat our under-performers, then I need to be more aware of how my reactions appear to others. And I need to learn how to do a better job of setting up our under-performers with mentors that they can trust and confide in so that they can have a safe place to go to, and do a better job of articulating my intentions.
And I’ve had a lot of success empowering and character coaching with the majority of my workers. One strategy that I’ve employed more recently is a pilot big/little mentorship program between the more experienced and the less experienced workers so that the workers can get used to consulting one another for guidance. The workers all seemed pretty enthusiastic about the opportunities for mentoring and bonding, and I think a program like that could be incredibly useful in teaching our workers how to recognize good leadership traits, model good work ethic and to initiate trust building to do a better job of closing our leadership gap intermittently so we can reduce the likelihood of something like that happening again.
In the meantime, here are some of the resources I’ve perused to kind of get a more holistic sense of directions I could take to manage this:
Problem Employees: Counseling & Discipline
Using “The Halo Effect” To Make a Good First Impression
How to work with untrustworthy peers
8 Ways to Eliminate Hiring Bias During Interviews
So I look forward to seeing how this develops. I’ll be sure to update you on any strategies I implement or interesting outcomes from the data I come across.