Based on a true story: Petra is a 55-year-old project manager in the bio-science industry in the Netherlands. After a colleague fell ill, she was asked to ‘adopt’ a team of high potentials (Hi-Po’s) who were young, bright and enthusiastic and had been hand-picked by HR with the aim of nurturing their talents. Here is what happened:
Soon after her first interaction with this group Petra started to have doubts about the team’s potential as she expected much more from these “bright sparks”. She grew increasingly unhappy with the team and made a point of communicating her disappointment with them to anyone and everyone who would listen.
“They don’t seem that smart. The output of their work is substandard. They’re continually late for meetings and have absolutely no respect for my authority. In my day, all we needed was a kick …… These youngsters need to grow up and take life more seriously.”
Petra felt she was very open and approachable. She felt that she was continually making concessions to meet them and to accommodate their specific needs.
She thought “They have an attitude problem and need to be toned down a few notches”.
The Hi-Po team’s perspective
The team’s motivation started to decline. They became more and more disengaged from their projects and felt that work was becoming unbearable. “The woman is like an army sergeant”. Before a site visit Petra e-mailed the team a list of rules on how to ‘behave’. This made them feel they were being treated like children!
“She never gives clear feedback and she makes the team set ridiculous deadlines that even she cannot meet. She is continually complaining about punctuality, but she is not setting an example either. As a group, we’ve tried to talk to her about the situation numerous times, but she is unwilling to enter any form of dialogue”. “She is inconsistent. In a recent project review, one of the team members got a terrible rating, even though she had pulled the project through. When she was discussing this with her, she suddenly changed her mind and gave her a better rating. She seems to have her favourites and rates them better than the rest of the team, even if they are not performing as well.”
The young talented team lodged a formal complaint against the manager. Things escalated when HR was asked to step in.