The difficulty with co-supervisor arrangements? No one has the ultimate authority to make a decision

Dear Joan:

I work in the HIM Dept. (Health Information Management, formerly known as medical records) in a hospital.  Most of our employees - medical transcriptionists - work for salary plus incentive pay.  Some work at home and some work in the office.  

I have an employee who is one of our top producers - quantity and quality-wise - but she also is the biggest distraction in our office.  She is loud, constantly interrupts other workers, and has the attitude of being the office know-it-all.  She has been talked to about her behavior but the behavior goes back to the same thing after a day or two.   

She has even been offered a home position but turned it down.  My co-supervisor is a personal friend of this employee and thinks the whole thing is funny and never disciplines this employee because "she is the best we have".  This is frustrating because this troublesome employee plays this card with me.  I have no recourse or support.  How can I get my point across without losing this employee? 

Answer:

Your situation illustrates why “co-supervisors” don’t work. It’s the same reason “50/50” partnerships are so problematic. No one has the ultimate authority to make a decision, so there is gridlock and frustration. 

First of all, being a personal friend is a serious conflict of interest for your fellow supervisor. It is blinding her to the action that needs to be taken. In addition, she is setting herself up for charges of favoritism, or worse.  

Secondly, while this employee’s quality and quantity are good, it does not give her a free “Stay Out of Jail” card. If she is disrupting others and interfering with their productivity and morale, she is causing a problem and should be asked to curb her behavior.  

You will not have any success confronting this behavior until your fellow supervisor supports you, and it’s apparent that you aren’t getting anywhere now. I recommend that you have an honest, heart-to-heart meeting with your fellow supervisor and spell out the damage this employee is causing.

Ask for her to support the actions you wish to take. Then talk to the employee with your co-supervisor present. The other supervisor doesn’t have to say much but her presence will reinforce what you are telling the employee. Make it clear to the co-supervisor that if and when this employee attempts to test the expectations (and she will) that you will step in again, and begin to impose more restrictions on her.  

Explain to the co-supervisor that you don’t wish to involve your manager but unless this can be resolved between the two of you, you see no other alternative. She will probably think you are being too harsh on her friend. As a result, it’s important to be ready with examples of how disruptive the employee has been, the complaints you have received, the negative interactions you have observed and the negative impact on productivity she has caused. 

If you can’t come up with examples of the things I’ve listed above, then you will have a weak argument and will probably not convince your co-supervisor to support your plan. In other words, make sure this situation warrants a discussion with this employee. If you overreact and confront a good employee about behavior that is minor, you will alienate her, as well as your fellow supervisor.  

I would recommend only fighting the battles that are crucial. For example, if she wants to be the office “know-it-all,” it will cause others to dislike her but it may not have much impact on their productivity. However, when it comes to talking loudly and constantly interrupting their work flow, you have a solid reason for wanting that behavior changed. 

If your co-supervisor stone-walls you, go to your boss and explain what is taking place. Ask him or her to advise you about an approach to take. If your boss backs away from this conflict, it will be clear that you aren’t going to get much support for this, or any other similar situation. In that case, I’d use my experience to apply for a different supervisory job—one that will be all yours.


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 354-9500, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
 
About Joan Lloyd
Joan Lloyd & Associates provide
FREE subscription to receive Joan's article by email


Email Joan to submit your question for consideration for publication, request permission to reprint an article for distribution, or for information about carrying Joan Lloyd's weekly column in your publication, or on your Internet or Intranet site. Visit JoanLloyd.com to search an archive of more than 1700 of Joan's articles.
© Joan Lloyd & Associates, Inc.