How much do you know about managing, quiz #3

This month we tackle insubordination, training mechanisms, and squabbling staff members. Read the scenarios and our best recommendations for action.

1. Question: We'll start this month's quiz with a scenario supplied by a TechRepublic member. He writes: "I had quite an experience during my early days of my new managerial post. During a daily performance review meeting with the staff, I assigned one employee (a woman) to write daily reports for the section. She refused to do the work point-blank in front of all the other staff members. She gave reasons why she believes the work is more appropriate for me, the manager, to do. What do I do?"

A. This is blatant insubordination. Fire her on the spot.

B. This behavior classifies as insubordination on two fronts. Not only did she refuse to do the work but she refused it in front of the team. You should respond, also in front of the team, that you're going to take disciplinary action (which could include dismissal) against her if she doesn't do the work requested. She needs to learn, as well as the others, what you expect in an employee.

C. Reply that you'll schedule a meeting to discuss the task privately. This will give you time to re-examine your request and determine why the employee might have responded this way. Also, in a private setting, you'll be able to explain why her response was inappropriate.

Is there any way this employee could construe the request as having been made of her strictly because she's the only female on the team? That may account for her unusual response. We're not saying that's an excuse but it may have been the motivation behind her strong stance. Take an honest look at your intention. If it's true that she was offended by the assignment, she's still should be reprimanded for her mode of response. If the case is that the request is fair but she just doesn't want to do the work, tell her she must do it or face disciplinary action from you.

More management quizzes
These management quizzes are a regular monthly feature. Click here to view Quiz #1 and Quiz #2.

Answer: Covering the answer options in order: You should never fire anyone on the spot in front of others. Unless your name is Mr. Dithers and you're in a Blondie and Dagwood comic strip, there are too many unknowns that could put you in danger of a civil lawsuit.

This woman's behavior is insubordinate. She should not have taken the tactic she did regardless of her feelings toward the task being requested. It is grounds for disciplinary action. But you may want to consider option C—at least in a scenario like this where gender may be an issue—just to protect yourself.

2. Question: You're the manager of an IT Support call center. Though technically brilliant, your staff could use a few lessons in the finer points of communicating with the average company employee. What's the best way to do this?

A. Engage them in role-playing exercises

B. Offer a seminar taught by someone well-versed in communication techniques

C. Monitor the calls made and offer specific criticisms

D. A mix of the above

Answer: OK, we probably gave this one away with option D. Yes, that's the answer, but here's why. Everyone has different learning styles. There are people who benefit greatly from role-playing exercises, as is evidenced by its popularity in a great many workshops. But, allow me to speak on behalf of those people for whom this technique does not work: There are those who find role-playing uncomfortable, and therefore, ineffective. If you put them in a role-playing situation, you can count on their taking away exactly one thing from the exercise: "This is one of the most embarrassing things I've ever participated in."

These people just don't "get" anything from the creation of artificial scenarios.

Having said that, there are multitudes of people out there for whom this technique works well. It allows them to envision information and therefore better retain it.

There are also people who learn the best from organized and well-presented lectures by professionals in the field. After all, most of our school lives were spent listening to a single person standing in front of the classroom teaching a lesson, right?

As for Option C, you might be thinking that that would be the least acceptable. No one wants to be watched or "dissected." And, ordinarily, we would have to agree with that. But in some situations, particularly if there have been numerous complaints from your customers about the way calls are handled, you might do some informal check-ups. Pull up a chair by a random staff member now and then and listen to how a call is handled. You can offer suggestions to that employee that may be more meaningful on the heels of an actual phone call (like role playing, but real life).

So the best thing to do is ask around. Ask your staff members what type of teaching method they would benefit most from and then offer a mix of types.

Need answers?
Would you like us to address a specific scenario that stumped you as a manager? If so, send it to us. We'll keep everything strictly confidential.

3. Question: One of your staff members has just told you that he finds it difficult to deal with another one of your staff members who he describes as surly and argumentative. He's just related to you a number of strained interchanges he's had with this guy and asks you to talk to him about his attitude. What do you do?

A. One of the hardest things for a manager to do is to get staff members to resolve their own problems. But since the staff of people who all get along is pretty rare, it's in the best interest of the employees that they learn to work out their own differences. Stay out of it unless things get too charged up. You may get the ball rolling, however, by offering the staff member suggestions for how best to approach the employee he has a problem with.

B. Sometimes one person on a staff is so disgruntled and irrational that he or she won't take criticism well from a peer. To keep things running smoothly, you should call each of the employees in separately to get both sides of the story and then schedule a joint meeting to talk with both of them.

C. Call the problem guy in and give him a talking to. Your staff has the right to a stress-free work environment.

Answer: We suggest you start with option A. The sooner your folks figure out how to resolve conflicts without your intervention, the happier they, and you, will be. In some cases—if you've tried the first option and nothing is getting resolved—it may be wise to go with option B. But you can rest assured that the guy who is called in out of the blue for a conference with the boss—especially if he already has an attitude problem—is not going to forget the poor soul who went to you to complain. It could open up a whole other can of worms.

If all options A and B fail, resort to option C.

About Toni Bowers

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

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