Keeping Employee Confrontation Professional

Spring 2010

Michelle was my assistant, and she was a stellar one at that.  In my absence the store didn’t miss a beat and when I went onto pursue bigger better things she took over the store in my stead, successfully running it for years.  When I left my position as DM to raise my beautiful and amazing daughter I was not surprised when Michelle was promptly offered my position, she is a go getter and her hard work shows through her achievements.  But like all great leaders we have a past of mistakes that mold our knowledge and success.  Michelle was no exception to that rule.

My District Manager was very hesitant in promoting Michelle to my assistant, in fact she was so hesitant that it actually took three or four entire months for the official promotion to go through.  “I’m concerned with her attitude,” my DM would express to me each time I asked.  Michelle was bossy, sassy, and let’s face it, somedays she could be a bit bitchy.  I needed her, she was the yin to my ever so kind and cowardly yang.  I knew she would be incredibly devoted to upholding my leadership, and I knew she would be able to emotionally handle any stressful retail situations that may come up at any point.

Finally the promotion went through and Michelle took the floor with a fierceness, chasing down burglars, kicking out kids up to “no good”, and disciplining non-performance or disorderly conduct with employees when I was not in the store.   She was in constant communication with me on matters, but that was always after the fact.  I did have to step back a bit until I could figure out how to approach her rule of tyranny.  I would have to let her know it was okay for children to be in the store, not all customers were out to get us, and employees need encouragement.  In retrospect, I see now where I should have stood up and been utterly blatant on my expectations, I should have offered feedback for all actions good and bad until she understood what I was trying to communicate to her, but I was a new manager and my confidence and knowledge was lacking

Finally the day came that I snapped.  It was a Friday, my favorite day, and she was dressing a mannequin behind the register while our struggling employee Chris was taking on the floor.  We watched as he fumbled through the sale of a skirt to a customer.  He would approach them and offer what assistance he could offer and then walk away.  I was impressed, this was a step forward for Chris, but instead of seeing the progress Michelle instead just saw the imperfection.  She walked up to the customers and ended up selling them two more skirts onto of the three they already had picked out with Chris.  She rung up the sale under her own name, taking the credit for what she had taken from her employee.

I asked her in the back and (trying to hold my cool) explained her the correct action would have been showing Chris how to add on those two skirts instead of doing it herself.  That she should not have stolen a sale from her own employee.  “If he wanted it, he should have taken it,” was her only response as she left to place the mannequin on it’s stand and feeling nothing but rage I went to clock out for the day.

I called my DM and screamed, “I’m firing her!  I’m firing her tomorrow! I’m pulling up the paperwork, printing it, filling it out, and she is signing it first thing tomorrow!”

“Hold your horses,” my DM urged.  “Why don’t you give her a probationary period, if she continues to act ugly to employees in that period then you have my permission to let her go.”

Being a writer I went straight home and typed, I typed out all my thoughts and feelings on Michelle and her leadership performance. My fingers never stopped, and I just let out all my anger and frustration for about an hour and a half.  I printed my writing and stepped away to eat a quick bite of dinner.  I returned with a calmer mind to read the paper.  I placed a strikethrough on all items that were personal, insulting, or not constructive.  I placed a strikethrough on things that I was overreacting to and writing out notes of possible alternatives she could use to handle each situation.

I edited it in my computer and printed again.  I read it out loud, rehearsing the speech, making sure it flowed and made sense.  I ended up striking through a few more personal or emotional comments that had been overlooked, or now with other points added just seemed unnecessary.  I went through and edited again and reprinted.  Finally, by the next morning I had a completely professional 3 page long action plan written for Michelle, and a summary of the conditions onto her 3 week probation I was placing her on.

I asked her to the back room when she arrived to work leaving the store to our second assistant.  I read to her my speech, and she was in shock that I had almost been to the point of termination over the situation.  She signed the action plan and more than exceeded my expectations each day from that point on.

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