The Joys of Managing People ….With a 2×4

I generally tune out those around me at work. Not because I’m a bitch, but because I work in a cubicle environment that can be loud. Over the years, I have learned to just sort of make that background noise as I focus on what I need to get done.

Here, the team has learned that if they want to pull me into a conversation, all they have to say is my name. Sometimes they truly need my input – sometimes they are pulling me into a joke. But generally I just sort of go into my own world until they pull me out of it.

Last Friday, something else pulled me out of it. Two of my developers who are generally happy-go-lucky guys had a change of tone during the conversation they were having with someone. Hearing both of them speak in a way that is unusual and was quickly approaching escalation – I looked over to see who was sparking this with them.

It was the newbie. The guy who is a whole 6-weeks into his IT career.

I made a beeline to where they were talking – listened for half a second – then pulled him away from them.

The newbie was at first offended that I did that. But when he caught the parting shot by one of the developers a "so is there a way to code my time to ‘total waste of time that kept me from doing my job’" – I think he realized he had, to borrow a phrase, tripped over his own dick.

Seeing that the two he had irritated both had their headphones back on, I went ahead and had the dialog we needed to have in the cubicle environment. I explained that he may not have noticed but he had fucked up in how he was communicating. I told him I understood his job was to make sure the stats were right in our planning software, but reminded him that he had ZERO authority to make it happen with members of my team. I told him the way he was going about it was insulting to highly competent, highly experienced people – and that the message they are getting is not the intent of why we are doing it.

He argued a bit – and we continued this discussion in private for another 45 minutes. In the end, he finally understood and had a realization that maybe he needs to let me manage my group so that he doesn’t cause problems. Too late for that, but I told him it was a good idea.

I went to grab lunch and came back to be greeted by the lead developer who wanted to talk.

He had gotten a earful from the two guys involved.
Then he got another earful from a guy who was nearby and overheard.

All were pissed.
"And she didn’t even correct him" was a comment they made.

As I told the lead developer, "She" didn’t even hear what had happened – she was trying to deescalate the situation – and she had already had a come-to-jesus talk with the newbie on how things will and will not be going forward.

My boss was like, "This guy has all the potential in the world but fuck does he have to change his approach else this will not work out for him."

We were going into a long meeting which wouldn’t allow for me to talk to the guys afterwards. So I sent them an email.

"Early, I know the newbie caused some confusion about how he wants you to enter time into the system. I intervened because I was hearing people speak in a tone of voice that is uncharacteristic of those involved. Even without hearing the details, I knew I needed to have a chat with the newbie about how he interacts with my team going forward. In talking to him in length, it is clear he is not aligned with the rest of management. I have told him that he is to no longer work with you all directly on this. We will meet so that I can clarify all of what he has caused confusion with."

After the meeting, the lead developer and I grabbed the newbie and dragged him into a conference room to talk. I started with, "you know how I mentioned earlier that they may seem like they are blowing it off but it will likely come back and blow up?" He nodded. "Guess what blew up and now involved the lead developer?"

The look of "oh shit" on his face let us both know he was now feeling the errors of his way.

The lead developer explained what happened. A few items were brought up where the newbie said, "I didn’t think I said that" only to realize that his message – whatever intended – was lost on my team because he talked down to them and pissed them off.

Finally, he came to the realization he should have, "They don’t trust me now, do they?"

Nope.

"What do I do??"

We both at the same time said, "Ask questions, and shut up and listen to the answer."

Between then two of us, we explained that they have 20+ years of IT experience. They have done aspects of all of our jobs while IT was still in flux in terms of organization. They don’t come to the table with zero understanding of what is trying to occur but with a perspective. "Listen to the perspective – they are telling you because they know how things can go astray."

He was deflated in the end. Not our intent, but we were trying to get him to understand that his lack of people skills and his know-it-all approach were creating for him a hostile environment with the guys around him. Sadly, given his approach to it all, it took a verbal 2×4 to get him to understand.

Yesterday, I had to sit that portion of my team down and have an honest conversation about all of what occurred. I did not defend his behavior, but instead commented that I think he is grasping onto what he can control a bit more than he should – and it is hurting him because it isn’t the real focus. I mean, he doesn’t know how to do parts of his job yet because he’s learning, but he can do this one thing – he has experience doing this one thing – so he is trying to do it really REALLY well.

The respond I got from that was, "Ah, that explains why he is all over this! That makes sense." Then they started sharing stories about how they stepped in it with people when they were in his position early in their careers.

In the end, they were in a good place. I think I convinced them not to kill him, at least right now. I assured them that he had zero authority over him – and that, in the end, right now, he is more of an admin for IT than a leader in IT. That seemed to make them feel better too. And honestly, that is what he is.

The lead developer and I spoke last night after everyone left about the situation. "Is it put to bed?" I asked. "Nope. I think it is the quiet before the next bigger storm. I don’t think the newbie is going to really change his approach. I think he is just quiet but will go back to the way he was."

Sadly, I think he is right about that.

What do you think?