Brash New Employee Wants to “Straighten Out” Boss
Over the last three months, Aaron has been working as a logistics specialist for a large regional food distributor. He was hired right out of grad school, where he was an honors student. He has quickly learned company operations under his boss, Carl, a three-decade veteran of the company.
You work at this firm as well, and you helped Aaron get his job. You’re having lunch with Aaron, and he sounds quite upset. He tells you that Carl’s approach to product distribution issues is out of date, and that Carl has been doing things the same way for too long.
You counter that Carl has a lot of practical experience, but Aaron cuts you short. “His approach would be a joke back at school. His thinking is tactical, but the whole emphasis today is on strategic management. He’s clueless. I need to set him straight!”
How Should You Proceed?
Aaron was hired to bring some new thinking to the company’s supply management, but you are concerned that his being confrontational so soon after being hired could end his employment with your firm. As a Q4 leader, what would be your best approach for dealing with Aaron?
It’s a good instinct to use your leadership skills to model Q4 behavior and help these two find common ground. However, both Aaron and Carl would probably resist your being part of a boss/direct report meeting. Carl doesn’t yet know Aaron’s differences with him, so your presence would seem unexplainable. Aaron would probably object to the idea that he needs you there to restrain him. More importantly, Aaron needs to discover the benefits of collaborating with Carl to achieve his outcomes. See Answer B.
Try to get together with Aaron after work, so there’s time for a longer discussion. Probe Aaron to understand his viewpoint and his passion for wanting to make procedural changes. Ask open-end questions designed to broaden his thinking on how to talk with his boss. This isn’t a classroom debate back at college. “Aaron, from what you know about Carl, what would be the best way to ensure he will accept your new ideas?” “How can you make Carl see that it’s in his best interest to be open to a different approach?” Try to help Aaron understand the principle of influencing others through collaboration.
If you can help Aaron discover an approach that will show Carl the benefits for considering Aaron’s ideas, you might also ask Aaron to consider the consequences if he can’t convince Carl. “Aaron, if Carl doesn’t want to listen to you, what is your Plan B?” If Aaron can see that in the working world, we cannot make our bosses act, then he should realize that planning a strategy of engagement is in his best interest.
While we don’t want to stereotype entire generations, today’s young employees do not want to sit idly by or remain silent for months after joining a company. That’s a good thing. Even without experience, Aaron is smart and well-positioned to bring new thinking and fresh solutions to his department. Aaron would resist your advice to zip it. Help Aaron discover how to speak and contribute more effectively by learning Q4 collaboration, rather than confrontation. Carl is much more likely to be open to change if Aaron understands the need for these skills, as discussed in Answer B.