There’s Something About Mary
Mary was a dedicated, long time employee, hired for her technical skills. She was well-liked by customers and co-workers. She got excellent performance reviews and was rewarded with regular pay raises. Her company had a very good share of the local market, but Mary’s industry began to undergo significant changes that dramatically changed the nature of their business. The company needed to develop a new approach to attracting and retaining its customers. The new approach required, among other things, new skills.
Mary’s company understood that they needed to evolve if they were to survive and thrive in this new environment. They determined what changes needed to be made, explained the changes to their employees and brought in a consultant to train the new skills.
Mary’s job changed. So did her job description. But Mary wasn’t sold on the need to change what she’d been doing so well for so long and wasn’t sure she could. She attended the training but opted out of using the new skills. She stuck with what was comfortable.
Mary’s boss was frustrated. She knew that Mary knew what she should be doing, but Mary wouldn’t do it.
I was that consultant. When I asked what was being done to get Mary on board, I got a lot of excuses.
It was mentioned in her review, and she got a smaller raise.
A smaller raise, for not doing her job.
She’s been spoken to.
That’s the extent of the consequences?
She’s doing a few of the new things.
She’s doing part of her job.
I observed that Mary didn’t have to do anything, as there were no consequences for opting out. At least none that bothered her enough to make the necessary changes.
“So, what are we going to do? Fire her? She’s been a good employee, with us for a long time, and is going to be retiring in 5 years, anyway.”
Five years. So for the next five years, everyone else is going to be rowing in sync, keeping the company ship afloat and moving forward, while Mary drags her oar in the water? Or worse, starts drilling holes in the boat?
How is that fair to everyone else? Mary’s not only not helping, she’s hurting. It’s unfair to them to allow someone to get paid to not do what is necessary for the company’s stability and growth. What about others, who see Mary getting away with not working? Pretty soon, you have more oars dragging. Going out of your way to be extra nice to good old Mary, you’re hurting the employees who are really trying.
Mary is a type of highly disengaged employee. Not only is she not helping, she’s actively hurting. McLean & Company has estimated that an individual disengaged employee can cost a company up to $3,400 per year for every $10,000 of salary. And they’re contagious. Next thing you know, your boat is full of holes.
What should you do about Mary? I had a version of Mary in a class, and I will share her wisdom in her own words:
“At first I thought, who the hell are you, coming in here and telling me my perfectly excellent skills are no longer valid? Then I thought, well, it really isn’t anybody’s fault the industry changed. So, I guess I have two options: One is to take advantage of the company’s willingness to provide training and coaching and develop new job skills. Option 2 is to go somewhere else, where my skills are better appreciated!”
Key takeaway here is- there is no Option 3, where an employee decides not to learn and use new skills, but will continue to show up every day, be unhelpful and collect a paycheck.
As for my version of Mary, she decided on Option 1, and turned out to be key to her company’s success as both a worker and a role model. She was willing to change. A CEO who oversaw many mergers and acquisitions in his career noted that the people who are ultimately successful are those who were willing and able to change, with willingness the key.
How do you manage a Mary? Accountability is critical. First she needs to know why the changes are important, to the company, to her. She also needs to know that there is no Option 3. Once you’ve provided skills training, focus on supporting her through strong coaching to master the new job knowledge and skills. Coach ‘em up or coach ‘em out, but don’t give in. Give regular feedback. Praise success and address challenges. Make sure rewards and/or performance improvement plans are properly aligned. (Tip: A smaller raise for not doing a key part of one’s job is still a raise. What is the message?)
How many Marys are dragging oars on your boat? What’s your plan?