It’s never easy for a manager to resolve conflict between employees. And we are often the most unprepared for handling it when we start out. Many managers never gain the skills needed to successfully manage and resolve conflict.
Mike was one of those managers.
Two of his employees, Kim and Tina, just could not seem to get along. It wasn’t a big deal when they were just co-workers in the same department — but it became a huge problem when Kim got promoted and became Tina’s boss … Within a month, Tina was in Mike’s office to complain about Kim and request a transfer to an area outside of Kim’s supervision and influence.
And, of course, Mike came to my office for advice and guidance.
Did Kim violate a policy as it relates to her supervision of Tina?
No, Kim hasn’t done anything in violation of policy. It’s more that Tina doesn’t like her and isn’t responding to her management style
How’s Tina’s performance level?
Tina is just OK. She’s not top of the group, but she’s not the bottom.
Are you in favor of moving her to another area?
I don’t really have another place to put her. And Kim’s still learning the other areas so I can’t move her. At least not right now. I have 3 other people that have put in to be moved when an opening comes.
I gave him a blank stare.
I know this sounds silly to you. But it’s hard for me. I don’t want to choose!
It’s too late for that. You’ve already made your choice.
When an organization promotes someone into management, they agree to have that person’s back. The organization is saying they trust this person’s decision-making and behavior to represent and lookout for the company’s interests. And barring a violation of this trust, the organization agrees to support this person’s choices.
Mike chose Kim when he promoted her over Tina. Since Kim had not violated any company policy, we had no cause to discipline her. Tina’s request for transfer was duly noted but we would not process it at that time because there was no opening — and we weren’t going to push a transfer through for a mediocre performer just because she didn’t like her supervisor. The real world of work doesn’t operate that way. Tina’s request for transfer would eventually be processed alongside all other requests according to procedure.
When I shared this story with some of my HR friends, they gasped and criticized me. They said the decision not to move Tina was leaving the company at risk … Perhaps they’re right. However, I believe HR is responsible to mitigate risk not eliminate it. There will always be risk. No matter how good the leadership and HR is at what they do, risk will never go away.
When issues are brought to our attention, HR has a duty is to investigate, determine if a violation of policy has occurred and correct the problem. We are not fairy godmothers, pixies or genies here to make every employee want, whim and wish come true. If the investigation finds no violation, there is no problem to correct and no additional action to be taken. Conducting a complete, thorough investigation which exonerates the person accused of wrong-doing is the best and correct answer.
The choice is clear.