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I was recently offered a position of managing 3 individual shops in a shopping mall. Before me, there were 3 other store managers, one for each shop. All three of them transferred or were fired, each for different reasons. Since then the assistant store managers have been responsible for the shops before I took over.

I am facing a problem with one of the assistant managers who was expecting to be promoted to manage her store, but the company instead gave all 3 positions to me. She acts bitter and refuses to co-operate and does everything on her own without informing me. On top of that, she has accused me of being rude to her - which I am not - and I have been called for an HR meeting regarding "my behavior".

I really don't know how to handle this situation, as I have never even had an argument with her during these 3 weeks. I also feel also embarrassed for being accused of being rude. What do I say to HR? How can I deal with this assistant manager?

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    And the assistant manager wonders why she did not get the promotion... – Anketam Jun 28 '16 at 19:19
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    @Anketam please remember that we are only reading one side of the story. (not saying the OP is rude or has a bad behavior, but there are many reason that could explain why that assistant manager might perceive it that way) – njzk2 Jun 28 '16 at 20:48
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    Just remember that HR, in all likelihood, is aware that disgruntled employees can point fingers and plot false accusations. It's certainly not unheard of for someone to try to get their boss in trouble when said boss had to slap them on the hand over something they did. Having specific incidents to bring up during this meeting would make it obvious that maybe this employee just needs to cool their jets. – Thebluefish Jun 28 '16 at 22:33
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    @JoeStrazzere: That could potentially be terrible advice. If the disgruntled AM is currently or prospectively complaining about harassment or discrimination, then what you've suggested encourages the OP to act in a way that could look like retaliation. That makes consequences to the OP and the company much worse. – Phil Miller Jun 29 '16 at 1:39
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    (calling the assistant manager Sue) I would actually use the meeting with HR to ask them for advice dealing with the other person. I might say something like "These were all my interactions with Sue, it is unfortunate that she perceived my professional interactions with her as rude. Do you have any advice on how to deal with her as befitting my new role?" What this does is show them how you communicated with Sue, it re-frames their inquiry into your behavior as Sue's reaction, you come off cool and collected and interested in improving your communication skills. Let them draw conclusions. – kleineg Jun 29 '16 at 13:22
79

A meeting to set or reset expectations is overdue with this assistant manager of yours.

If necessary, hold this meeting in presence of HR, and put her on written notice about her behavior (e.g., not following orders, making false accusations). Make sure she understands -- in no uncertain terms -- that her continued employment depends on her proper subordination etiquette.

I have never been in management, but have witnessed this type of behavior more than just once. A disgruntled long-time employee, thinking his or her thunder is being stolen, throws temper tantrums. I think your being nice is taken as being weak. You need to eradicate that misconception and nip it in the bud, before it fully blooms into an unsubstantiated fact among all workers.

Of course this all assumes you want continued employment at your present employer.

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    Document all her inappropriate conduct, using her own emails if possible, and provide it as a part of a "Performance Improvement Plan" for this person. Bring it to HR as a nice package, and get their support. Then implement it and STAND BEHIND IT. – Wesley Long Jun 28 '16 at 18:11
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    But don't just use the stick. the carrot works well too. – Retired Codger Jun 28 '16 at 18:44
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    When a false accusation is hurled at you, ask questions. "When did this happen? How was I rude? What did I say, In what way was that rude." Go on the offensive – Retired Codger Jun 28 '16 at 19:43
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    @PierreArlaud No, it's putting an end to nonsense by demanding specifics that can then be refuted. – Retired Codger Jun 29 '16 at 12:17
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    @Hilmar - what is credible documentation? If you have a log book that makes it credible? Is there a notary involved? If it is just you documenting something why would that be more credible than you saying something? – blankip Jun 29 '16 at 19:04
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As always, Document, document, and then document. Keep a log book of your comings and goings, who you spoke to, and what was said. This is a good idea regardless as you've got a huge job ahead of you.

second, always be armed with questions. When a false accusation is hurled at you, ask questions. "When did this happen? How was I rude? What did I say, In what way was that rude."

Third, you can take the approach of taking her under your wing. If she's smart enough, she'll get the idea that she could fight you or be groomed for the next promotion, as I assume the three store management position you are in will be temporary. If she's too combative to go for that then....

It may be time to bring out the BFG. Take that long list of everything you've noted into a meeting with you, her and HR and make it clear that this behavior will no longer be tolerated. Give her a write up for bad conduct and make it clear that if the behavior continues, she's gone.

After that, if she steps up, compliment her in front of other staff for the good job she's doing. It costs nothing to be nice and it's always good to reinforce the behavior you want to see.

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    To take a slightly less confrontational view of this, I think having questions is a good idea regardless of your objective. Ask exactly what you did and how it was offensive. If they can't answer, you've proved them wrong, and you can show to HR that you tried to get to the bottom of it, this person was uncooperative, and couldn't back up their claims. If they do give you an answer, you can defuse the situation by apologising, and you've learned how you can improve your workplace behaviour. Either way, you've made things better. – anaximander Jun 29 '16 at 8:53
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    Wow would hate to work in an environment where my time was wasted by writing a police log everyday. Not sure where you are from but the people that do this where I am - are not the ones to be trusted. I assume if someone is working hard and doing a good job they have no reason to document. For mediocre workers or fakes I can see the need. – blankip Jun 29 '16 at 18:55
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    Where did I misrepresent? (Go back to your documentation to check if needed) – blankip Jun 29 '16 at 19:03
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    You said I misrepresented something which is directly a bash on me. Just tell me what I misrepresented. – blankip Jun 29 '16 at 19:09
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    @RichardU: I don't think blankip is trolling; I find his or her comments very compelling, and would be interested in your answers. I read your answer the same way (s)he does. "As always, Document, document, and then document. Keep a log book of your comings and goings, who you spoke to, and what was said" sounds like spending a huge amount of your time writing about your job instead of actually doing it. How much of your workday do you spend doing such things? How detailed are your logs? Do you expect everyone in a company to do this, or just the managers? – ruakh Jun 29 '16 at 21:33
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To be honest I feel you have a heap of bad answers here:

  • you are new. I doubt you have leverage to put someone on written notice after they just went to HR about you. In fact if you can, your HR may be totally clueless.
  • holding a meeting with you and AM with HR is probably the worst thing you can do. How do you think this will work out? Holy crap, you could be canned or crying by end of meeting.
  • talking with other employees is almost as bad of advice. You aren't Columbo solving the case of the rude remarks. Pretty sure that these people could be on the AM's side not yours (they were passed over too).
  • Document, document, document... Yep so you can show everyone and look like a clown busy documenting a petty fight instead of doing their job of managing three stores.

What you do:

  1. Talk to your boss. For sure the #1 thing. Whoever hired you - explain your situation.

  2. Get HR involved. Let them know what has happened. You shouldn't be writing her up or putting her on notice. Let them know exactly what is going on. Let them think of a plan they want to catch her or to deal with her. If she has no history of doing "bad" things I would not be aggressive at all. Maybe she was a %$&$# but just needed a few weeks to blow off steam. If she has a poor track record HR will push it for you... However I doubt much gets to HR from mall shops.

  3. I would suggest as much communication as possible you have with AM is through email. And not with your boss cc'ed. If the AM wants to disregard your emails or backtalk it is easily trackable.

  4. Your relationship isn't lost with the AM yet. If you lose it you could have a really really long year especially if the AM is good at playing games and working management. After a few weeks have a one-on-one phone call with her - these should happen every week or two ongoing. Discuss how things are going. Make sure your manager is also on the call - in the background. You have to trust manager won't speak or that manager will fire her if he/she does because this could backfire.

  5. Depending on how things go the first month, you then might need to write her up, put her on notice or whatever. If she starts acting drastic I am sure it could happen sooner but I wouldn't push the one month timeline.

Another side note: People are assuming she is retaliating because she didn't get the position and she is a huge issue - this completely could be correct. But if there are three managers gone at the same time this signals there were some major issues at the stores. Total mismanagement, theft, not abiding company policy, whatever. This employee could have been a "whistle-blower" and a great employee before the firings and was possibly promised something. She might be more qualified than you. That doesn't mean you give her your job - it's your job - but you need to step back and get the facts and assess things. The best possible outcome is that she stays on and is a great employee. If you pull that out your management will be very high on you - you firing her may get their attention in a bad way.

  • What's a phone 1-2-1? – user1717828 Jun 29 '16 at 13:38
  • @user1717828 I'm not sure, but I'd guess a "one to one", i.e., a one to one conversation, via phone. – Joshua Taylor Jun 29 '16 at 15:00
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    "you are new. I doubt you have leverage to put someone on written notice after they just went to HR about you. In fact if you can, your HR may be totally clueless. " That doesn't really make sense. The fact that this person has been placed into a management position explicitly gives them the "leverage" to deal with insubordinate behavior. edit: accidentally hit enter instead of ctrl+enter before I was done – industry7 Jun 29 '16 at 21:00
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    @industry7 - I manage managers - if a new one wanted to write up a long standing employee based on opinion and hearsay I would not be happy. No way our HR would allow a formal write up. Even a new manager needs to prove themselves out. – blankip Jun 29 '16 at 21:36
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    @industry7 - it makes a lot of sense. A new manager coming in and throwing their weight around because of a disagreement is going to make things worse and most likely put the rest of the team off-side. If she was that much of an issue, senior management would have dealt with it. Avoid needlessly antagonizing anyone and inflaming the situation further. Instead, present a plan for change/improvement - get her to buy in on it and take ownership of part, acknowledge her experience and recognize achievements. It's better to work with than against. – Thomo Jun 30 '16 at 1:51
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I suspect they promoted you for good reasons.

Be calm. It is up to her to prove it did happen more than you prove it did not.

The question is if you should use this HR meeting to address her performance issues. HR may not want you to expand the subject and it may look like you are getting defensive. Yes her performance and attitude needs to be addressed but this may not be the meeting to do that.

You should talk to your boss - give him / her the facts and ask how to proceed. If the meeting is going to be used to address performance issues then ask your boss to attend.

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    "It is up to her to prove it did happen more than you prove it did not." In a court of law, yes. In a HR review... things get quite a bit murkier, depending on many different factors. – Mason Wheeler Jun 28 '16 at 21:18
  • @MasonWheeler This is person that was just chosen to manage 3 stores over a person that did not even get 1 store. Yes she will be given the benefit of the doubt. – paparazzo Jun 28 '16 at 21:29
  • People are really taken the offensive her. expecting problems ahead of time. Following much of this "advice" could lead to a bad work environment. – cognacc Jun 29 '16 at 17:42
  • @cognacc: It's already a bad work environment. – Lightness Races in Orbit Jun 29 '16 at 23:42
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I want to address this as realistically as possible and the theme here is you're the manager, she's an employee. You have the luxury from the start of being the company favorite, and your coworker has the disadvantage of being the only person complaining about you across an entire branch of stores.

Likewise, you're in retail. The documentation you have is what managers, i.e. you, see and report, and what customers see and report. If enough employees see and report to a manager, something gets done. In this case, one employee went to your manager. If it were me, this is a classic case of someone didn't like your promotion, you know it, HR knows it. You have to realize that HR has to process the claim, though. Ride it out.

What you're going to do is be completely objective. Your feelings aren't hurt, you aren't emotional, you're in a position of facts. HR will ask for each of your side of the story and she will be emotional about it, and you will be empathetic that an employee takes issue with you, but that at the same time you'd be perfectly happy to work with her on improving your relationship.

You will be open to improvement for not just one of the two of you, but the team, and you'll take responsibility for implementing that plan. You will be the agreeable one that wants to work on the issue, the coworker will have nothing but complaints. You will in no way shape or form be bashing her performance, and you may find it in you to add some praise for her in that she is a good worker and you had no idea there was a problem, and she will in some way be bashing you in her complaints.

You obviously don't believe you've done wrong and by answering HR's questions truthfully this will be revealed with due process. The situation will change if other employees or customers had complaints levied against you, this answer assumes there is one complaint, however.

1

One got fired, one got transferred and now one is left with you taking on all three positions. Sound like the company trusts you and you should continue doing your job as you did to earn such position. Just let this other manager be herself and it sounds like the company is more than ready to do something about it.

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    No it seems like company didn't trust old managers and wanted to save money by only hiring one. They basically just told the assistant managers, you are the new manager but don't get to make big decisions nor do you get a raise. – blankip Jun 29 '16 at 4:27
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I think you need to organize a meeting, and bring it out in the open with HR, that AM, and whoever else (senior) you think needs to be involved.

Talk to her before a witness, that you are trying to do what you think is best, and that you have 3 stores to manage. That you think that clearly the other person was expecting to get that job, but that the company chose you instead.

That you believe that since it was the company's decision, you and she should abide by it in the best interest of the three stores.

Discuss a way how she can be recognized. Maybe she can be more autonomous in the way she is running that particular store or department.

Good. Less work for you in that department.

And say, on the forum, that if people start complaining against each other to HR, it will not help matters in any way. That we need to resolve issues among ourselves.

Also, take control, and go on record, to say, that since you are her supervisor, she needs to first raise her complaints to you, and that if she is going to HR, that needs to be only for serious escalations, and not for everyday matters.

Tell her that this is how the business always works.

Remember, that bitter people are ALWAYS bitter. No matter how much you try to appease them, they will remain so.

And finally, think again about your new job. The company fired THREE store managers? Whatever the reasons, I don't think that it is coincidental. It has to do with an untrusting employer. What makes you think you won't be the fourth in line?

-1

For this specific HR meeting, regarding the assistant manager's claim that you have been rude to her, here is what I did in a similar situation.

Speak to the assistant managers and employees at other stores publicly. Ask them if during your tenure as manager of the 3 stores have they felt as though you had been rude or disrespectful towards them or have they witnessed you being rude/disrespectful towards other employees. If they answer yes, find out when those instances took place, ask the individuals to write up the incident and provide a signed copy of their write up to you as well as to HR. If their answer is no, ask them if they wouldn't mind indicating that in a letter of support. I would avoid the store where the individual making the allegedly false claims works.

This does a number of things for you:

  1. It establishes either a show of support from subordinate staff at the other stores under your supervision in writing to HR or it establishes that you are proactively engaging your subordinates to be a good manager.

  2. It shows that you do in fact care about treating your employees with respect and dignity and that you can and are willing to accept criticism and are willing to learn and change the ways in which you interact with coworker/subordinates.

  3. It also leaves the other asst. manager hanging on a limb for not at first attempting to resolve the conflict with you one on one, demonstrating her lack of conflict resolution skills as well as a lack of understanding of the chain of command.

  4. It also points out that she waited until after being passed over for promotion and after you had been chosen for the promotion to lodge her complaint against you.

In my experience, subordinates talk with each other, especially if they feel they have been wronged or mistreated by management, and most of the time if a manager is rude to one, he or she is almost always rude to many. If your engagement with the other assistant managers and employees does not reveal a legitimate history of rudeness by you, it will decrease the validity of the other asst. manager's claim and make her look more like a petulant little child than a professional and mature adult.

Hope it all works out for you!

  • I do wish that downvoters would have the decency to explain why. – Mawg Jun 30 '16 at 11:53
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    I agree. Is my answer wrong? Should the structure of the reply detract from the quality of the advice? If the advice I gave worked for me in my situation and I'm sharing it with someone in a similar situation, who is anyone to judge it? Don't think I'll be contributing here again. – David Patrick Donohue Jun 30 '16 at 20:04
  • That is disspointing to hear. Also, this sort of thing has become common and excessive on Stack Overflow, the original site, where one downvote seems to attrack a bunch, in what I call drive-by down-voting. It is not as bad as that here yet, thankfully. Please don't go; stick around and help make the site better. – Mawg Jul 1 '16 at 10:55

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