Updated: Sep 23, 2020
During Anna’s project review with her manager and finance department, she recalled the near miss with a customer by not picking up the phone right away. The outcome was positive where she got the customer to pay for the modification.
“Your project is doing great!” Anna’s manager exclaimed, “You solved a customer problem, making it a win-win for everyone.”
“I should have confronted the situation head on instead of procrastinating. I risked the project and my relationship with the customer. I don’t feel it’s a win but a near-miss situation” Anna responded thoughtfully. “It all worked out because I offered our engineering group to help brainstorm a feasible solution.”
“You influenced the customer. Good job!” her manager answered. Anna stared as he walked away, then addressed Dude, “what is he talking about? I didn’t influence the customer?”
“Actually, you did. You used the persuasion method. By telling the customer the facts and offering our Engineering group to help in the solution,” Dude chimed in.
“Well, I feel like I defused the problem, which means I did a great job at using the collaborating approach for conflict resolution.”
“That’s true too. You managed your conflict and persuaded the customer to follow your logic. It was common sense that he wanted a solution, but you didn’t give in by paying for it. That makes it a win-win resolution.”
“Yeah, maybe we are both right,” Anna started walking towards her office. Suddenly, she heard her name being yelled out. She stopped, turned around and saw Jo, the manufacturing planner racing up to her.
Jo was flustered and taking a deep breath started speaking. “The raw materials for the XM shaft we ordered are no longer available for your project. I spoke with Paul and he told me he gave the materials to Mike’s project. It makes no sense because I tagged them for your project. He simply ignored the tags.”
Anna was in shock. This was a critical path item. “Can you just make a rush order and get more in?”
“I tried but Paul doesn’t want our department to pay the extra fees. He wants your project to pay out since it’s doing so well, and you have the money” Jo spoke. Then looking at Anna, she continued “He also did not want me to tell you what he did but I’m not taking the fall for this! He keeps doing it his way instead of using SAP and has his people take the heat for his mistakes. This has to stop! Besides, he knows you well. You are going to ask everyone and figure it out so I’m saving you time. I can get the raw material for you with a one-week turnaround, but your project will take the extra costs, not the department.”
“What the F@#!” Anna thought and Dude quickly exclaimed, “This guy needs to be exposed! But you need to calm down, so you are not vengeful. You cannot burn this bridge because you need him.”
Anna took a deep breath. “It would have been great if you told me about this situation before my project review, I could have brought this up.”
Jo just shrugged, “Bad timing, I guess.”
Anna; “Let me figure it out and let you know. What you need to do is send me the costs as well as the dates to place the order and receive the raw materials. You’re right, I am going to investigate regardless, and you aren’t going to be blamed as a whistle blower.”
“You’re the best, Anna” Jo said and walked away.
Anna got out her stakeholder analysis to see who she could talk to about this ongoing issue with Paul. Paul had 28 years with the company, so he believed it was his right to bully his people in doing what he said. Questioning his authority was going to be hard. So, it made sense to look at who on her stakeholder list she could turn to for help. The foreman, Mark and sourcing lead, Frank were known to go out with Paul for drinks on Fridays. Maybe they would be the first to be approached.
Before doing so, Anna called the closest members of her team for an emergency meeting. When all five were in the room, she explained the issue. Transparency has always been her strong point and it created trust in her team.
Anna spoke, “I want to brainstorm how we will approach Mark and Frank to solve the problem. The outcome we want is to get our raw materials without having to pay for the rush order.”
“Why don’t we expose him?” one said. Another chimed in, “why don’t we confront him and tell him we know it’s his fault?”
Anna went to the white board and wrote “What if…Then.” This was a root cause method she had learned in the past. She then looked at her team and said, “I want to root cause possible outcomes. We can add what you just mentioned and brainstorm other possibilities. Then we can look to see which one is the best case.”
For the next 40 minutes, she and her team came up with all these possibilities on the white board:
“What if we confront Paul with what we know...Then…:
He will give us our raw materials back but make Jo’s life a living hell.
He may use his relationship with the CEO to flip the bill
He takes the stance that he has the right to do what he wants in his department
He can just laugh in our face and walk away
He can threaten us
He can start sabotaging our projects
“What if we tell Mark and Frank that Paul is a bully doing what he wants and not following our procedures…Then…
They can tell us they know how he is and it’s not going to change, so just let it go
They will side with us that Paul is a bully but not help in fear of retaliation
They will say we need to go talk to the CEO about it….
They tell us how they work with him
“What if we talk with Mark and Frank, asking them how to befriend Paul…Then…”
They will tell us how-to
They will be suspicious and not answer or go to tell Paul about it
There were other “What If…Then” statements…” but all the outcomes were similar.
Then Mary spoke up “I have a close working relationship with Frank. I can go talk to him about our issue getting our materials from Paul without exposing Paul, so Frank won’t become defensive. Frank mentors me a lot so he won’t hesitate to help. He’s a good guy.”
“So, you don’t think he’ll go tell Paul or be suspicious about your motive?” Ed asked.
Mary responded, “No, I have already talked to him about Paul in the past. When I found out they hung out after work. I told him that their characters were so different, I didn’t understand how they got a long.”
“And what did he say to that?” Anna asked.
“Frank said that Paul is a bully because he fears change and the young people knowing more than him. So, he scares them from using their abilities to make him look bad. The outings after work is really Frank and Mark coaching Paul on how to deal with his fears.”
“Why didn’t you say this an hour ago so we didn’t waste time on this brainstorming?” Ed exclaimed.
“Actually, it was this brainstorming that got me thinking about this conversation. See I asked him when I joined the company a year ago, so I didn’t connect the dots when Anna told us about Paul. I just cringed and hoped I was not going to be involved.”
“But now you are volunteering, why?” Anna asked.
“Because I know I can get the best-case scenario outcome on the root causing exercise we just did, and I want to help. I need to work on stepping up more.”
Everyone stared at her. Then Ed started clapping followed by everyone else. Mary flushed and smiled.
Anna said, “So we have a plan. Mary will talk with Frank. Then she will send us an invite to meet up in this room to discuss the outcome and next steps.”
“Not bad, Anna. I think you did good to bring in your team to brainstorm instead of you just going to talk to Mark, Frank or Paul directly.” Dude said.
Anna replied, “Being a leader doesn’t mean you are the one doing everything. It’s about fostering the strengths from your team and helping them grow.” Anna remembered the story she heard about “Does the leader hold the marker?” and was proud of herself being a team player.
Mary didn’t waste any time getting a hold of Frank to talk to him. Then she sent a note out and everyone got back into the conference room.
Mary spoke, “Frank was awesome! He told me that the way he works with Paul is by influencing skills, reciprocating, and persuading. All Paul wants is to be perceived as the boss. He wants people to look up to him. Frank said that Paul thinks that the leadership skills business books that talk about being inclusive and developing your team are BS. He believes in ruling with authority and the stick.”
“Wow, so Paul is a self-aware bully. How are we going to befriend that?” Ed said.
“By doing what Frank suggested? Using the influencing skills.” Anna answered. “Mary, did Frank give you examples of how he influences Paul?”
“Yes, he said that Paul had wrongly reported numbers to upper management a couple of years ago, to look good. When the CEO challenged the numbers because they did not match the overall business performance, Paul blamed sourcing. Frank was furious and asked to do a deep dive after the meeting. When he and Paul went to his office to compare numbers, they found the error. Paul was stunned and started bellowing “this can’t be, it’s not my fault”. Frank decided this was his moment to get Paul on his side. He told Paul that the numbers were correct, but he was also correct. It wasn’t his fault because the manual process led to miscalculations. The response to the CEO was that inadequate reporting was occurring because of all the home-grown systems they were using. Frank wanted to implement SAP, replacing all these systems so he persuaded Paul to become a SAP supporter. When they both approached the CEO with the results, Frank had Paul speak, giving him the credit for the finding and the solution. Frank said the rest was history. Now they go out and Paul listens to Frank’s advice all the time.”
“Wait, you’re saying that Paul supported the SAP implementation and now he doesn’t follow his own rules? That’s crazy!” Ed exclaimed.
“Yeah, he doesn’t seem to remember. But this is great information, Mary. Let me see if we can get Jo on the line to ask her about the tagging on SAP.” Anna said as she was composing the number on the phone.
“This is Jo, how can I help you today? Jo answered.
“Hey Jo, this is Anna and I have my team with me. We are trying to understand how the tagging in SAP works along with safety stock. Can you help?”
“Definitely”, Jo answered, “all materials coming into our facility get inspected. Then the information will be entered into SAP and the material becomes available for you. When the material is needed, it gets picked by tagging it in the system.”
“Does this mean that it’s tagged in SAP but if someone were to walk in the storage space they would not know if the material they see is for a project or whether it is still available?” Anna asked.
“That’s true. We do not physically tag the material at the moment. Paul has wanted that because he isn’t savvy with computers, but the quality group says it’s a waste of time and resources to do it.”
“Not if the mistake proofing is done by the inspectors at the time the material comes in. Wouldn’t you say, since we are a JIT (Just-In-Time) factory, most of the stuff coming in is already allocated to a project?” Anna said.
“Well that was never discussed but yes, most of the materials are already accounted for. The remainder is usually safety stock. Looking at your raw material, it is strange that there is no safety stock constraint-tag assigned to it. Most of the projects always use it.”
“Eureka!” exclaimed Anna. “I know what to do. We need to get the quality group to agree on changing the procedure. Paul won’t be at fault and so we can ask him to take the extra costs.”
“I’m confused…” Jo said and looking around the room, Anna saw her team was also confused.
“Ok, let me break it down. We know there is no safety stock constraint-tag tied to this material which is an oversight that needs to be fixed.”
“We also know that Paul allocates materials without using SAP. He does it on the manufacturing floor, then tells one of his planners to update SAP. If we implement the tagging where material coming in gets inspected and tagged to a project, then he can’t allocate the materials if he sees the tag with his own eyes. He can only allocate the materials without tags from the inspections which are just for stock products.” Anna paused to see if everyone was still following her logic.
“Yeah, that will work for sure.” Jo agreed. “But it doesn’t solve your problem of paying extra for the order.”
“Well, I think he will flip the bill if he can avoid getting a bad reputation. I need to convince him that we can write up the root cause and solution up together. He can blame the process and in return he pays for the expediting fees.”
“Not sure this will work.” Ed said.
“OK, I thank you all for helping me figure out how we can resolve this issue. I’ll go talk to Paul and let you know how it goes.” Anna stated.
The following morning Anna went to see Paul. “Good morning, Paul. How’s it going?”
“If you’re here about your material, you need to talk to Jo. She’ll be in soon.” Paul answered.
“Actually, I wanted to talk to you because I know the root cause and I wanted to see if I could help, given that my background is in quality, so we can change the procedure together.”
Paul looked totally confused. “I have no clue what you’re talking about. What does the procedure have to do with anything here? You have no material and need to order it.”
“Exactly, you took a walk with Mike the other day and gave him my raw material because there was no tag on it saying it was mine. It was tagged in SAP but let’s face it, you can’t physically see that. So the process is broken. It needs to have a mistake proofing step, where the inspectors tag the product coming in if it is designated for a project.”
“That’s what I’ve been saying for the last year ever since SAP was launched! I knew it was all screwed up!” Paul said. “Let me show you how bad it is, come on…”
Now Anna could see Paul had relaxed and was starting to listen to her. He was showing her all the materials stored with poor labels. He said, “Anyone can take it. Mike did just that the other day.”
“You know what is even worst, Paul?” Anna said watching him stare at her intently. “If you do go into SAP the material is still tagged to my project. Mike just gave Jo his requisition for the same raw material, but she cannot change the tag because of insufficient amounts in the system. There is no safety stock tied to this material that is in high demand.”
“What do you mean Jo can’t change SAP? I can override it,” Paul stated.
“No, you can’t, it’s set up that way. The only way you can get my project’s material to Mike is if I cancel my requisition, which you know I can’t do. I need it for my project. So Mike is the one paying for the expedited fees, not me. I’m sure he won’t be too happy about that. But I have an idea on how to solve this…want to hear it?” Anna replied.
“Yeah, what’s that?” Paul grumbled.
"I suggest we fill in one of those quality change forms requested to change the procedure. First we tell them about the physical tagging along with the merits of having this mistake proofing in place. Next we show them the high turnover of this raw material and the need for it to have safety stock added. We request the changes because of the fact that there are two projects requesting the same materials at the same time.”
“OK, I think that makes sense. As long as you or Mike pay for the expedited fees” said Paul.
“Actually, don’t you think it makes sense that you pay for the fees since the procedure is part of your department? It will go into your quality bucket. The good news is that you will have solved the issue for the future saving the company money,” Anna replied.
Paul thought about it for a while. Then he said, “You have money in your project to take the hit, why don’t you?”
Anna looked him right in the eyes and said, “Because I followed the procedure and so it’s harder for me to show this cost than it is for you. Besides, I have the materials and it’s Mike you need to go see to tell him about the expedited costs.”
Paul thought about it. Both he and Anna knew that going to Mike would mean being exposed to the fact that he did something wrong. Anna stood her ground on not taking the blame and Paul knew she could expose him too.
Anna saw Paul thinking and his face turning red, so she started speaking, “l suggest we avoid getting the quality group involved so they don’t conduct the root cause themselves.” Anna knew the quality group would come to the same conclusions for the fixes she was proposing but they would also expose Paul of his wrongdoing. Paul would blame her and she would of burned a bridge.
“What?” Paul said. “You’re going to rat me out?”
“No, I’m trying to tell you that I don’t want to rat anyone out. I want to solve the problem. Honestly, from my end I’m looking at $1,000/day of liquidated damages for late delivery. Can you imagine how upper management is going to take this? We can avoid all this if we work together!” Anna responded.
“Either way I get screwed with the costs and the failure in my department. I don’t like it!” Paul said angrily.
Anna replied, “Well, we can mitigate the failure by proposing the solution for the future. Besides, don’t you want to walk the floor like we are doing now and make decisions by looking at the materials instead of a computer?”
Paul replied, “Yeah, I would love to do that.” He continued walking and thinking. Then he said, “Alright, let us fill the form. You’re right, it can be perceived as a quality issue because of our weak labeling system and safety stock miss from the SAP integration group. The expediting costs are only $250.00 which is less than your project’s liquidated damages. I can take the hit if I get my tags at the end.”
Anna smiled while she heard Dude say, “why the hell are we doing all this for just $250.00?”
Anna answered Dude, “we are doing it because Paul will not stop doing things his way and other people are going to get hit with this issue in the future. Also, I want him to stop screaming to his planners. Indirectly he is assuming responsibility for his actions.”
“Do you have the form with you?” Paul asked.
Anna refocused on the situation. “Yes, here it is. Let us fill it out and I’ll come with you to the quality group. I used to be part of their group, so it’ll help us speed things up.”
“Great, you start filling that out and I’ll go tell Jo to order the material.” Paul walked to the offices. Anna followed to make sure she overheard the conversation. Paul just went to Jo’s desk and told her to call the supplier and get the material in. The extra costs to place under the quality code. Then he told her to make a copy of the order so he could attach it to the form as proof he was spending money because of a bad procedure.
Jo was stunned at the normal tone and logic from Paul. She looked at Anna who smiled back. Then she told Paul, “I’ll take care of it right now. See if they can also improve the delivery date.”
“Good” Paul said. “Anna, let’s go into my office to finish this.”
Moral of the Story
When something unexpected occurs, don’t just react. Take a step back and assess the situation. Reach out to others to help because many heads are always better than one. Look at your options, plan your course of action and then do it.
When dealing with a difficult person, do what Michelle Obama says, “When they go low, you go high!” You need not quarrel with him or lay blame like he does. You need to learn how to handle this person, so you make it easier for yourself and for others to work with him.
Lessons Learned on Communication:
1. Learn influence skills to help you work with difficult people. Using some like:
a. Reciprocating: Giving something to get something; tit for tat.
b. Persuasion: Convincing someone using facts, logic, and common sense.
2. Don’t be scared to ask for help. Whether it’s a friend, a colleague, or your project team. Many coming together contribute to the solution in ways you cannot attain all by yourself.
3. Learn the SCARF® method to control your reactions to situations.
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