This problem-solving case study better illustrates the need for a new woman manager to be able to identify and resolve a major problem better than almost any other example imaginable. And it really happened.

The Basic Steps Applied
In this Problem-Solving Case Study

Clearly define the problem. Write everything down – symptoms, impact on the business, observations, discussions, etc. - so everyone involved (other members of the team, your boss, and the Human Resources Department) can understand what the problem is and why it’s important.

  • Jill (not her real name) was only working four days a week, taking the fifth day off to follow her vocation – being a docent at a museum. When I told her I really needed her to be there every day, she said her former boss - now my boss - had given her permission that clearly trumped my objection. I confirmed with him that this was the case.
  • I was traveling a great deal so was dependent on her to keep things running while I was away.
  • Even though I clearly conveyed her priorities to her, she worked on whatever she wanted to whenever she wanted.
  • I was new to the company and she was a tenured employee.
  • She was the only person trained to manage our complex database. The only other person in the company who could pull data from it was on the CEO’s staff and traveled frequently.
  • Her reports were late to me so my reports were late to everyone else. The CEO would come to my office every morning asking for the latest numbers, which were the barometer of progress in new venture.
  • She spent an hour at a time talking to my boss behind closed doors in his office.

So what was the problem? An employee who wasn’t getting her job done and thereby was impacting my ability to do a high profile part of my job.

Identify alternative solutions.

  • Learn to extract the required information from the database myself so I didn’t have to rely on Jill.
  • Suggest the CEO get updates from Jill.
  • Transfer responsibility for reporting to someone other than Jill or me.
  • Convince the “powers that be” to switch to a different database.
  • Terminate Jill and hire someone who would be accountable for his or her performance.

Analyze the cause.

  • No one had held Jill accountable for her work or attitude until I arrived. She was used to doing things her way and wasn’t willing to change.
  • My boss was unwilling to support my request that Jill work five days a week.
  • I met with the Human Resources department. They believed her behavior was due to a personal relationship with a company executive and because of that relationship, she could do whatever she pleased with no consequences. The database being used was customized, and was far more complex than we needed given the data we required.
  • Since I was “the new kid on the block”, no one thought I’d make waves.

Assess the alternatives.

  • The one person who could teach me how to pull the information I needed “didn’t have time” to teach me. Even if I could have learned to use the database, it would have become a full-time job for me.
  • My department chairman called a meeting to discuss switching databases. It became clear during the meeting that there would be no change.
  • My boss was unsupportive when I requested permission to replace Jill. He argued that she had been there a long time and suggested that maybe we could compromise and have her work all five days a week after all.
  • HR advised me to place her on “corrective action” status and follow the company protocol in case termination became my only option.

Choose one.

My only option – the only option over which I had any control - was to terminate Jill. During the assessment phase of the process, it became clear that the other alternatives were out of the question.

Implement it.

I went to the Human Resources and started the termination process.

Evaluate if the problem has been solved.

Yes it was. I recommended to the member of the senior staff, who had ultimate responsibility for maintenance of the database, that he appoint someone from his technical group to manage the database and automate a set of reports to run each night. I had the information I needed for the CEO and hired an administrative assistant who worked out well.

This Problem-Solving Case Study
Shows that People Problems Can Be

As women in management, especially those with artistic or amiable personality styles, this problem-solving case study is a classic example of a situation in which you would need to adapt your personality style. The confrontational elements of the problem are obvious, but simply coping with the problem wasn’t an option. My job would have been in jeopardy if I hadn’t been willing to solve the problem.

If you're reading this problem-solving case study, you will also be able to apply Predictive Management steps to keep something like this happening to you too.

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