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I am a hypothetical dept. chairperson at a high school (I no longer get paid for the position but am still considered the chair). My authority is really next to nil but the dept members look to me for leadership issues. Our school district is pushing for PLCs (Professional Learning Communities which engage in common planning). We attempt to do this. However, one employee will sit in on common planning time and agree with everything being said, then returns to her classroom and does as she pleases without regard to the PLC plan. This has become very frustrating to most of us in the dept. but I have no actual authority to talk to her about this in a professional capacity. I have gone to my supervisor about other issues with this employee in the past and don't want it to seem as if I am "out to get her." How can I effectively handle the situation without appearing as if I have a personal vendetta against this particular employee?

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When you say handle what exactly do you mean? Do you mean get her to change and start using the PLC plan? –  ReallyTiredOfThisGame Jan 3 '13 at 14:38
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Professional Learning Communities which engage in common planning - Common planning for what? Also is it possible that she is just intimidated in front of the group of her peers, so she agrees to everything? Have you tried asking her why she doesn't follow the PLC's plan instead of trying to get her to fall in line? May be her way is better. –  Karlson Jan 3 '13 at 15:01
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Have you had a discussion with the teacher to try to understand why they are not implementing the PLC plans? Is it possible they believe they are? I know there have been times where I have had a different understanding about how something was to be done than others. –  ReallyTiredOfThisGame Jan 3 '13 at 15:41
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How do you know this teacher does as she pleases? Do you have an evaluation metric in place already for this PLC program? –  enderland Jan 3 '13 at 19:02
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@Xandria Because as I said not everyone is capable of standing up to a room full of your peers who are of a different opinion. Secondly in any vote driven organisation majority wins even though minority may have a better option to achieving the goal. Have you checked that the goals of the PLC are reasonable? Does she meet them if they are? And in this particular case: do parents complain? –  Karlson Jan 3 '13 at 20:52

6 Answers 6

up vote 12 down vote accepted

If you have the leadership skills that are strong enough that others are willingly looking to you to lead things, I think you may have more influence than you give yourself credit for. The trick is, that it's influence but not authority. Although, I'll say, speaking as someone who's had both - that often authority is not all you think it is - often influence is the more powerful force.

Here's some things I'd try to see if you can stretch your influence enough to get the job done:

  • Find some non-threatening 1 on 1 time with the teacher - This isn't an attack (ie, "why aren't you doing what you said you would?"), this is an "I'm confused, please help me understand" meeting. I like to assume that there's a gap in cases where someone sits through a meeting and then doesn't do what they said they would. Have a few specific cases in mind, so you aren't speaking in hard to understand generalities, and ask why, if she agreed to something in the meeting, she did something so completely different after the fact. Then be willing to listen - there could be all sorts of reasons. Some may even be useful for improving the overall plan. Some may be points you can clarify then and there. Some may be such a mix of individual issues that you would have to leave them alone for a direct supervisor to handle. But where it's a messed up communication or understanding about the work where you are the chairperson, you should be able as an authority on the work to step in and offer clarification or guidance.

  • Work on outcomes as well as plans with the team - work on the PLC group to figure out what demonstration of the new common plan will look like. Is there something students are now uniformly able to do? Is there an element of the cirrculum that will be finished by a particular deadline or in a particularly observable way? Hopefully this can be chained to the positive impact that the school district anticipated when they pushed for this.

  • Don't just engage employees - when you have some clear, observable critieria of what will happen when the plan is successfully implemented, don't just shake on it in the group - find a way to brief and get consensus with management. Consensus should end not only with management saying "yep, looks good", but with a plan to integrate the new way of doing things with how employee performance is tracked. That takes the work of enforcement away from you and puts it in the hands of the person with the actual authority. At that point, if the problem person's supervisor has agreed (along with all the other supervisors), then the supervisor is as accountable as the person for making sure the work stays with the plan.

  • Find ways of making status very, very public. I don't mean individual status, ("So-and-so didn't follow the plan!") but the aggregate ("in 4 out of 5 classrooms the positive outcome of the plan was successfully demonstrated in 1 class room, there was a shortfall of XYZ points"). Where possible, take this even farther than the direct supervisor of the problem person - a committee of supervisors, a school board meeting - some place where the supervisor will have to answer for the problem in performance.

  • Consider peer reviews - it's worked well for me on engineering teams - having one person review and provide feedback on another's work - usually it raises good questions for both reviewer and reviewee about "how are we doing this?" as they realize that both of them interpreted a given idea differently and inconsistently. This can be a way to track the progress of the implementation of PLCs, and you can vary the reviewers so that no one has to consistently review the same person - that actually helps improve overall consensus.

The goal with most of these is to get you out of the role of being the monitor for how this person performs her work. After all - that really is her supervisor's job. Your role, as the leader of the PLC Committee is to make sure that the new process of collaborative planning results in the desired outcome that different teachers produce the same good education for students. So all the suggestions above focus on you leading the team to a way of deciding what the outcome needs to be and then giving supervisors the tools to make sure that this outcome is part of the way they define "doing a good job".

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When you are drafting your PLC plans, you need to be sure to include some sort of tangible device or metric which the members can use to measure the effectiveness of the plan. It may require a bit of creativity and imagination to implement this, but it serves multiple purposes. It allows you to identify whether or not parts of your plan are meeting the desired objectives, and, especially in the case of your "rogue", it easily identifies who is adhering to the plan. The metric itself does not have to be complicated or excessively detailed. It just needs to be enough to provide sufficient feedback so that non-participants can be easily pointed out and addressed.

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If you don't have direct authority over this person I would think that issues regarding this person are a responsibility of her supervisor, not you.

Does this affect everyone, or is it a situation where the person's actions are not directly affecting others? If it affects other people in the team, I would arrange a meeting with the supervisor and include other team members so they can voice their concerns too. This would show that it isn't just you, not a personal vendetta, but rather a problem for the team.

You said you don't have any direct authority over others in the group and if this person is not taking the hint when issues are brought up with them then it becomes a problem for the manager/supervisor. Beyond that, there's not much you can do.

As for feeling like this person is being singled out that may happen no matter what to some degree. They're not playing nicely with the team so they're singling themselves out, and getting called out on it isn't so much being a target of a vendetta as it is not doing what they're supposed to be doing.

I also agreed with the previous answer mentioning metrics of some kind to measure progress and goals. If you're working in a more creative field, you may be loathe to use such tools, but it could prove important for record keeping and progress measurement, and may give a record to point out where the person is falling short. Just don't create a system of metrics that is based entirely on this person's actions; it should be broad enough in scope that it benefits the team, not curing a wayward member of the team.

Document everything and try not to become a defacto manager if they're not giving you the job title and pay raise to cover that kind of responsibility. :-)

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Introducing change into any organisation is very hard, and takes time.

In this case, if I understand you correctly, you have a set of changes that have been agreed to in public, but you are facing non-compliance from an individual. This is a pretty typical passive/agressive type reaction; it tends to be more common with more introverted people, as extroverted people will usually let you know their objections (usually firing both barrels) in the meeting.

Either way, the person is letting you know that they feel stressed/angry about the process. This might be because they feel their views have not been heard or respected, that they haven't been consulted enough, that it threatens their status or they don't agree with it, or any one of a number of other "personal" trigger points.

I would suggest that you start off by observing the next meeting very carefully; you will probably need to find someone to observe and comment, especially if you always chair the meetings.

Look at how engaged people are in the process:

  • who is sitting alert, attentive and listening?
  • who is doodling, playing with their phone, or disengaged?
  • who is sitting back, raising their eyes or sighing occasionally?
  • is everyone contributing equally, or just a few people?

If you have people who are not fully engaged, then the meeting is to some extent, failing, as the primary goal is about cooperation and joint planning.

As chair, you can control a lot of how the meeting is organised. A few things I have found useful include:

  • Make sure people have a chance to read/digest any material you want them to comment on before the meeting. Some people need to think things through carefully, and attheir own pace. Circulate minutes, agendas and other points at least 24 hours in advance.
  • Make eye contact with everyone in the room while you speak, looking at their engagement and for signs of withdrawl. Draw them into the meeting by asking their opinion.
  • If even one person is disengaged, go round each person in turn, asking for their opinions on the subject. Use open questions, be sincere, and if required, stroke their ego a little.
  • Try throwing in the "fist of fives" approach from time to time; ask anyone who votes one or five why they feel that way
  • break up the meeting regularly - an hour is maximum for any "block" discussion
  • When someone makes a statement that goes against the trend of the meeting, use the "however" technique. In this, you acknowledge the persons position first, use "however" in place of "but" and then present your ideas from your perspective :

"So, you are saying XXXYYY. I can see that point of view, however I think YYYY."

All that said, if you have full engagement in the meeting and non-compliance then you need to step things up a notch.

You can hold a "stop and prop" meeting (a phrase from the coal-mining industy); go round the table asking everyone in turn to say "what is going well with the PLC process so far" first of all, and write these down on a white board. Give people an option to "pass" and go round the room until everyone has commented. Then go round the room asking "what could go better?" in the same pattern. This is a common approach to improvement in Agile software development, but can be highly effective in other areas too.

Finally, you may have to have a long one-on-one with the person in question; use open questioning and be non-judgemental, and try and explore what it is about the PLC process they dislike.

While I have used all of these approaches, they don't always work. As with all change, you can only move at the pace that the slowest person that you want to retain is prepared to move at.

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You didn't even read the question before answering I think. –  ReallyTiredOfThisGame Jan 3 '13 at 19:26
    
Chad - I understood the issue to be that the OP is in a leadership role, and is finding that one individual, while saying "yes" in public, is not following their lead. I agree that the OP is asking how to "fix" the employee, without making it appear to be a personal issue. This approach is rarely sucessful, in my experience. I always fall back on "seek first to understand, then be understood" as one of the most powerful leadership ideas. If you are leading and even one person does not follow, in my opinion you should ask first what you are doing wrong in leading, and not blame the others. –  GuyM Jan 3 '13 at 19:46
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The OP is NOT in a leadership role and that is part of their problem. The OP is not leading the PLC meetings is just another member of the PLC. –  ReallyTiredOfThisGame Jan 3 '13 at 20:15
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@GuyM - You answer acts like the OP has authority he does not. He is seen as the leader but does not actually have a role that provides him the authority to do what you suggest. Again It is like you did not read the question jsut the title. –  ReallyTiredOfThisGame Jan 3 '13 at 22:11
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I'll have a run at editing this to (a) remove references to the chair position, (b) make the seperation between leadership and authority much clearer, (c) explain better why I see this as a meeting/communication issue, rather than a compliance one and (d) sum up with this approach to handling the situation, (as opposed to the person) may help. Might be some time... –  GuyM Jan 3 '13 at 23:57

I can understand the employee and sympathize with her. Having a joint curriculum decided upon by a committee of colleagues is counterproductive - teachers have widely varying qualifications and very often do not have the skills and knowledge to pick the best curriculum taking into account the frontier of science.

Design by committee can easily lead to dumbing down the curriculum to the level of the squeakiest wheel in the committee (pardon, PLC). If she is way smarter than the average member of the PLC, she may feel offended that the school district is trying (mindlessly) to undermine her work. She agrees to what you say in the meetings to weather out the storm of half-witted reforms being force-fed from above. At the very least, this is one interpretation of the story.

Am not a teacher though, and I take off my hat to the profession in general. In her shoes I either would have done the same or would have become a vocal opponent of the plan (if I believed my opposition could change anything).

The general conclusion relevant to Workplace SE would be: please pause for a minute and consider the possibility of her being right. If she's right, join her.

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You need to notify this person and everyone else that the policy requires you to document non-compliance. This may become part of the teacher's permanent record.

Identify who is in authority and put the information in her hands. You may not be able to discipline this teacher, but you may be able to have her removed from your team.

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That documentation process should include an arbitrary, non-biased assessment of the teacher's lack of compliance and performance. Being removed from a committee is a big deal, not just from a professional perspective, but it may also affect future working relationships between the teacher and the remaining members of the committee. You want to make sure that the decision to remove is backed up with evidence of non-contributory behavior. See my answer for additional details... –  Neil T. Jan 3 '13 at 17:16
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This solution seems to me to fail the criteria of without appearing as if I have a personal vendetta against this particular employee. I understand that this would apply to everyone in theory if only the one teacher is in non compliance then this appears to single that teacher out. –  ReallyTiredOfThisGame Jan 3 '13 at 18:04

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