I was recently recruited to a manager's position for a small, fast paced manufacturing company. Essentially the company feels like a start up but has the backing of a large European group. The group has sent over various european employees to help get the US division integrated with the company as a whole. Most of the expats fall into a strange organizational dynamic where they don't necessarily report to any manager, but take on more of a consulting role. Unfortunately it often feels like an "Us vs. Them" situation.

There is, however, one of the europeans that does report directly to me. Because I was not initially familiar with the ERP system and the company's (undocumented) processes, this direct effectively trained me. She now feels as though she can direct my workflow and becomes extremely frustrated when I try to actually manage her. This direct is not fluent in English, consquently communcation is slow, laborious, and ineffective. Strangely, she will often assume she understands what people are talking about and interject with her (irrelevant) comments or answers.


As the subject line indicates, this is my first management position and I have so much to learn and develop to be at the performance level that I desire. Thankfully I have just discovered MT, but I'm only 2 days into the O3 podcasts and have yet to roll it out. I'm also confident that I have not handled the situation with my direct in the way I should've and likely have worsened the relationship. I am however sypmathetic to her situation: unfamiliar country, unfamiliar work culture, not fluent in the spoken language, few friends, etc.

The truth is that we have become so frustrated with each other that I'm struggling with whether or not I should include her as I roll out the various Manger Tools. I try to justify this position with the fact that she will only be here for another 2.5 year and that even basic communcation is so difficult. Sometimes I just want to use my role power to limit her scope of responsibilities, make her a "Milton" and be done with her. Of course the othe part of me that loves a challenge tells me not to be passive and that she is the perfect candidate to practice these techniques to become a better manager in a quicker amount of time.


mickmgrtools's picture


I can't imagine a better way to improve the situation than to get to know her better through one on ones.  Don't beat yourself up for not knowing all the MT wisdom yet, it takes time.  I've been listening since November and it has (I feel) helped me a lot.  Like all good things, it takes time.

2.5 years is a long time, and it would be a shame to not get full productivity out of this person during that period.  It will be an excellent learning experience for you to help her get what she needs from you as her line manager.

I strongly recommend the 03s, and then sit down (in a different meeting) and discuss measurable objectives.  If you have this agreed, then you should be able to give her a bit more autonomy, as you will have agreed with her what you want her to do, by when.

I manage only non-native English speakers (I am the expat) and communication challenges and cultural differences add complication.  Just accept this fact, and gain experience dealing with it - it will make you a better manager.

Please keep us posted on the progress!


svibanez's picture

This is a great opportunity to salvage a relationship and learn the most important thing about being a manager - having a relationship with your directs that helps your whole group become more effective.  The employee probably doesn't need to be salvaged, as she was likely assigned to this position because she's very good at what she does.  Learn to capitalize on her knowledge and abilities.

When you build the relationship with this person, her remaining time may well feel like "only 2.5 years."  Without the relationship, it will almost certainly feel like a lifetime.  She willingly taught you some things you needed to know right away.  In my mind, that makes her not a "Milton."  Don't send her to the basement.  She may well surprise you with all the other things she can teach you about how the company works that will help long after she has gone.

As part of building the relationship with her (and to help your relationship with others at the European mothership), you might consider learning to speak some of their language.  Just showing the effort goes a very long way.  I have traveled all over the world in my career, and the one thing that has always made my time easier was to learn some of the local language.  If you're going to be dealing with the foreign company for a long time, you'll do very well to learn their language and customs.  It certainly won't hurt you, and will go a long way toward eliminating the "us vs. them" feeling.


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rrothwell's picture

 If you decide to roll out O3s, you absolutely should include her in them. 2.5 years is a long time! 

I think it was a PMO3 cast that said the shortest useful period to run O3s for was about 6 weeks based on M & M's experience.

rrothwell's picture

 If you decide to roll out O3s, you absolutely should include her in them. 2.5 years is a long time! 

I think it was a PMO3 cast that said the shortest useful period to run O3s for was about 6 weeks based on M & M's experience.

SuzanneB's picture

I agree with Steve.  2.5 years is a LONG time.  And if you work hard to build a strong relationship with her, you will increase your goodwill with others at the home office when she returns there.

The employees who are the most challenging to implement with are likely the ones who need that relationship building the most.

As for her directing work flow.  I'd recommend the "How to Avoid Reverse Delegation" cast.