What if that troublesome employee -- the one that pushes back, or wants to slow down, or needs every detail ironed out before moving ahead -- what if that employee was doing you a favor? What if that employee wasn't an obstacle, but instead, a blessing?
We can be quick to label the people who don't come on board with our vision right away. I say "we" because I've been there. Back when I was part of my company's lean team, we had strategy meetings about how to deal with specific individuals -- whether we should force them to be on a Kaizen team or somehow work around them, like scheduling the Kaizen while they were out on vacation. Sounds horrible, but the practice is more common than you think. And it could be YOU the team is working around. Supervisors and other managers weren't exempt.
Our intent was positive. We were trying to make change as painless for everyone as possible -- ourselves included, of course. We had a schedule to keep and results to get. Not everyone was going to make it. Carry the wounded, leave stragglers behind. Remove them permanently if you had to. But expect trouble and resistance.
Ted changed my mind about the troublesome employee.
Ted was what we referred to as a "legacy employee." That meant he had been at the company a long time, long enough to see change initiatives come and go. I was walking through the plant one day, probably headed to a meeting, and he pulled me aside. He knew we were making plans that would impact his work area. He wanted me to know, in no uncertain terms, that his area was not the problem and that we shouldn't waste our time.
"People like you come and go," he said. "I've seen it a million times. You come in here and screw with everything and then you're gone, leaving us to deal with the mess you leave behind. I'd appreciate it if you would leave my area alone this time" -- or something close to that. Not knowing at the moment what to say or do, I thanked Ted for being honest. I needed time to think about what he'd said, but I'd get back to him. The next day I went back and asked Ted if we could schedule time to talk.
The next week, Ted and I met in a private little conference room on the other end of our facility (Ted didn't want anyone to see us meeting). I spent the next 90 minutes listening. Ted was a deep well of information once you got him talking. He had so many ideas! And two big complaints: (1) Outsiders who thought they knew him and how to do his job better than him, and (2) Unwillingness of leadership to spend money on anything that wasn't their idea.
As fate would have it, our lean team never did go into Ted's area. Leadership changes on our team meant a shift in priorities and direction. But I did connect Ted to an engineering resource and our safety leader to help him carry out his improvement ideas.
Ted changed me. He taught me that rather than dread the difficult employee, I should try to engage them -- and listen to them. Later, in my coach training and certification, we learned the concept of holding people as creative, resourceful and whole -- a stark contrast to difficult, troublesome, or broken. I wish I would have had that nugget of wisdom back in my lean team days. Thanks to Ted, I came close.
The troublesome employee is a gift. It doesn't feel like it when you're in it, that's for sure. But if you can open up your heart and consider the possibility that they are here for you -- well, that's where the magic is. The troublesome employee, if given a chance, could turn out to be your greatest ally -- or better yet, your greatest teacher.