Man in the Middle

Jim is the general manager of a service company.  This is a small company of 30 employees that had gone through several difficult years of shrinking sales and profits. This year, the company was experiencing growth, and employees were told by the owner that they would be getting a year-end bonus.  Late in the year, due to some year-end expenses and advice from the company accounting firm, the owner decided to wait until the first quarter of next year to issue bonuses. This change upset employees and posed a dilemma for the general manager, who had to deliver the message that bonuses would be delayed.  He was getting complaints that the owner had broken his promise.  This weighed heavily on Jim.  He found himself in the middle of a conflict.  He wanted to support his people by trying to convince the owner to keep his original promise of year-end bonuses.  He also realized that, as an officer of the company, he was obligated to support the decision made by the owner.

That is when he asked his coach for some help.

Jim’s dilemma is a good example of a perceived conflict between two groups pulling in different directions.  He wants to satisfy both groups, but in this case, he saw no easy way to do this.  If he supported his employees, he would need to convince his owner to change a decision that his owner’s advisors recommended.  If he supported his owner’s position, his employees would think he failed to support them.  And, worse, if he stated that it was out of his hands, he was throwing the owner “under the bus” by tacitly blaming the owner for reneging on a promise.

One of the methods in a coach’s tool kit is reframing.  Jim’s coach helped him to reframe the situation, not as a conflict but as an integral part of his role as a general manager.  His role as a leader is to serve both his owner and his employees.  When receiving complaints from employees that the company had reneged on its promise of year-end bonuses, Jim’s initial response was to agree with them.  This put him in conflict with his owner.  By reframing the situation, Jim realized the consequences of his initial response.  He reflected on his response, immediately feeling the tension of what he had done. When asked what he might have done differently, Jim suggested he would have presented reasons for the change in timing of the bonuses and reinforced the owner’s desire to reward employees, but in a way that supported the overall financial health of the company.  He needed to help his employees to understand that this decision was changed not to break a promise but to satisfy other fiscal demands on the company that were not known when the owner made his promise.  He quickly realized that even he was not aware of these demands and, therefore, jumped to the same conclusion that his employees did. Jim also realized that he was in a position to defuse the complaints that had the potential of turning a positive reward into a negative experience.

Immediately following Jim’s reframed thinking, there was a visible relief in his expression. This was an “Aha” moment for Jim.  He no longer saw this situation as a conflict but as a way of serving both his owner and his employees.

1 thought on “Man in the Middle

  1. I have had lots of situations as described here…historically and recently. As my tendency is towards serving the members of my team, I sometimes do so while risking mis-alignment with my leader. Not good! The reframing strategy is very empowering and an area that I hope to become much better at. Thank you for the post Coach Alan.

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