Questions

New COO clashing with two most important veteran employees

I run a remote e-commerce company of roughly 40 employees and 3 months ago I hired my first COO, young girl who hasn't done it before and who's motivated and is bringing crazy value to the table. She recruited tens of people after she got in the role and she's been managing/growing them nicely, no complaints at all. The whole business is getting a boost as my hands freed up and she manages most of our ongoing projects and let me focus on the highest level strategy. All of that would be wonderful, if there wasn't an issue with two oldest employees on the team - leaders of two departments who feel disrespected by the way she approaches them as she tends to change things in their departments without letting them know even though we agreed on not doing that and she's also pretty rough with them, in a way I've never been. Those to employees are frustrated together and in sort of an open war with the COO, they do their best to keep their cool, but conflicts appear every 1-2 weeks and I'm becoming hopeless. Even though I told her where's the problem, she keeps on being aggressive whenever she doesn't like something and when they see it, they get reactive as they are fed up with her attitude. I see it as a mistake of the COO not being able to understand the way those two operate to be more sensitive towards her intentions with their departments as she operates from a place of power than credibility there. On the other hand, the COO is together with those two my most important team member and I can't imagine letting her go, it would dramatically slow my company down. I'm seriously looking for someone to jump on a call and discuss this situation, it's very difficult for me and I need some fresh perspective. Thanks for the help!

8answers

Almost all my clients have the same issue as yours.
So your challenges are not unique.

While making positive business progress is a wonderful thing, external growth must come with relevant similar pace of internal growth.

It seems that you are using the same old management approach/ style despite your business has grown from 1 or 2 people into current size. It is no more purely a number game now, mismanaging people will lead to loss of knowledge, valuable customer, profits, and growth potential.

Your backyard is having fire currently means your internal support team is having some challenges and you may have uneven growth in some business functions - immediately you should investigate the following areas:
1. Review your management approach/ style and system
2. Review whether you are capable to manage C-level employees.
3. Review your human capital policies and culture diversity
4. Review, whether you have clear/ appropriate a) accountabilities, b) roles and responsibilities, c) committed budget, d) monitoring and control system, e) KPIs, etc
5. Revisit your mission/ vision/ expectations, adjust if necessary.
6. Review workflows and communication models to identify what has triggered the conflict(s).

I think the above should help. Upon making the reviewing, you may already have action plans. If you still have problems, feel free to drop me a message


Answered 7 months ago

I'm sorry you're going through this! Looking back over three decades of experience, with a lot of that in early-stage companies, I'd say this is a very common growth pattern: you've come as far as you could with the early team, now you and the company are ready to challenge yourselves, and you introduce, whether consciously or not, a kind of irritant to push growth. I have been that young lady for sure, but I've also been in your role, and I've been a part of the old guard that felt the umbrage. So the question becomes, what can you do in your own thinking and then in addressing the dynamic to get the best from all for the health of the enterprise.

1) Stop-- Stop thinking there's a problem and start seeing the opportunity for what it is, a potentially alchemical relationship among seemingly unlike elements. I'm not asking you to deny there's a problem, I'm asking you to ask yourself (and therefore, your team) to look deeper.

2) Look-- Where are the fears? If they appear to be all on one side--for example, from your veterans--then you're not seeing the whole picture. Just assume that each party has equal fear and that as long as they're acting out of fear, they will see problem not opportunity.

3) Listen-- And ask your team to listen to each other, not to you, or at least not just to you. This isn't an excuse for you to abdicate and just let them figure it out. If you do that, you'll lose the opportunity to develop better leadership skills, in addition to creating more friction on the team. Instead, this is about developing more empathy, which presumably they need in their outward-facing work to understand and solve customer problems. So think of this as an opportunity for Customer Empathy 101 for the team. This is just one idea, but could be helpful. Can they see each other as potential customers, each with a need for a product or solution that only the other can provide? If that's the relationship, and the "purchase price" is a paycheck and job satisfaction, what is each team member willing to do for the customer?

Again, I'm sorry you're facing this situation. I'm sure it's both tiresome and worrisome (and plenty of other adjectives). I'm happy to spend some time on the phone if you'd like.


Answered 7 months ago

Tell your COO they are causing problems with the older employees by not respecting their space AND not sticking to the agreed upon process for handling the situation. Remind her that if someone were to not follow an agreed upon process under her direction, she'd likely be extremely upset.

Tell her it's her problem to solve and you expect it sorted out immediately.

Done


Answered 7 months ago

As owner, best you jump in + resolve this.

Get all parties together + talk about problems.

Setup a policy to resolve future similar problems.

Note: Growing pains are expected, as revenues grow.

If new COO is bringing more value than old employees, then prioritize her approach.

If not, the prefer veteran employee's approach.

The single toughest part of being a CEO is dealing with this type of evolution.

I'm happy to have a call with you.

Likely many others can provide a call too.

And ultimately, your job is managing revenues... rather than being friends with anyone.

I know this may sound rough + you're at the wheel + must steer the ship in the best way you imagine.

You are the ultimate, final say in all matters.


Answered 7 months ago

You have got some solid advice here. I would not be your guy to jump on the call, however will chime in with a couple extra things to keep in mind.

Only 2 points I would add.
1. It is you 4 VS growing the company. Not VS each other.
2. None of them are wrong, it is just different ways (balancing the way it was vs growth)

Good luck, handle it fast or lots of time and resources will be wasted.


Answered 7 months ago

I work with a number of clients to improve their leadership skills and I see this more than you would think. There are a couple of ways to look at it.
More often than not, you see fallout of the veteran employees and one or both could possibly leave you. This is ok. You have prepared for this and have the systems and processes in place to cover the gap until you fill the positions and train the replacements in the shortest time possible.
The second scenario is that you are able to get all three of them in a room together to has it out. You will need to facilitate this. It will take a good deal of planning and framing to understand that no one is to blame or wrong. It is time to get your team on the same page, letting the veteran employees understand that she has been brought in to execute your strategy for the company, not a hidden agenda. I would also suggest some leadership coaching to address change management.
I'd love the opportunity to chat to you more about this and see how I can help. Feel free to set up a call with me.


Answered 7 months ago

An important guideline when coming into a leadership position with senior staff is to take 2 years before you make major changes. The first year you mostly go with the flow and try to fix blatant deficiencies. By the second year you have built trust and a relationship and know the company intimately. Changes can be consistent and more bold by year 2. After year two you can start weeding out those unwilling to adapt to the culture and trend you are creating. If she is going in and making waves I would encourage her to back off and focus on building relationships. Those employees probably know the company better than her and she could use their experience.


Answered 7 months ago

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