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Q. What specific actions, short of termination, have you taken to deal with a hostile or uncooperative staff member?

STAFF MEMBERS HAVE sometimes questioned instructions or directions that I've given them in my role as their direct supervisor, and I've had employees who are difficult to work with. There is a big difference, however, between a difficult staff member and a hostile one. Employees differ greatly in the ways that they approach their jobs and interact with other staff members. Many times, it is the difficult employee who causes us to more clearly articulate our directions, refine our plans, and meet more frequently with staff than originally planned. But when a staff member becomes hostile or uncooperative, few specific actions--short of termination--will resolve the problem. Through their behavior, hostile employees indicate that they lack some of the interpersonal and coping skills necessary to be part of a quality association management team.

Don I. Tharpe

Executive Director, Association of School Business Officials International, Reston, Virginia

ABSENT UNETHICAL BEHAVIOR, termination is to be avoided and alternative action taken. A mandatory vacation or day off might allow an employee time to cool down after a discussion of unsatisfactory behavior or performance. Bonuses or salary increases can be withheld, with a clear explanation of the reasons for the freeze in pay. Supervisors should clearly identify and discuss with the employee specific problems and plans to monitor progress. Continuing education or training could improve performance, and shifting job tasks can sometimes be a way of taking advantage of an employee's strengths, while minimizing areas of lesser skill. Finally, providing leadership that motivates the employee to conclude voluntarily that another job in a different organization might be best can result in a more human parting of ways.

J. Michael Keeling, CAE

President, The ESOP Association, Washington, D.C.

UNFORTUNATELY, LEGAL CONSTRAINTS sometimes make these situations a by-the-book process. I follow certain basic steps to minimize both my own and my association's liabilities. I first clearly communicate to the employee--both verbally and in writing--my concerns, including the comments in any performance review that might be pending. If these discussions fail to bring an employee back on course, I then start communicating more sternly, with my expectations even more explicitly spelled out. If the problem persists, I may next put the employee on probation, documenting performance and keeping my president fully informed in case termination must be considered.

Nelson Fabian

Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer, National Environmental Health Association, Denver

WHILE WE HAVE HAD FEW blatantly hostile employees, there have been those who have been uncooperative and unproductive. In most cases, the concern has been resolved by changing the person's job assignments or by increasing job responsibility. In one last-chance effort to improve circumstances, we exchanged the roles of two employees; one improved measurably and the other blossomed.

Some employees become uncooperative because they are cast into a job that is not a good fit, they are bored, or they do not feel sufficiently acknowledged for their work. If the staff mix allows flexibility and room for new opportunities, those once hostile and uncooperative can become supportive, creative, and productive.

Mary Riemersma, CAE

Executive Director, California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, San Diego

Q. What techniques do you use to make sure your board members feel good about their investment of time in board meetings?

WE'VE DEVELOPED SOME successful methods to ensure that board meetings are productive. Only action items are allowed on the agenda, which means routine business details, such as committee reports, are not included on the agenda but rather with the board materials. We mail the binders of material in advance and have few handouts on site. Using a timed agenda helps keep us focused. To ensure that everyone who wishes to be heard gets to speak, we keep a list and call on people in order. By using these techniques, we've shortened our board meetings at our convention by several hours and made better use of our board members' time--results that do make members feel their investment in board meetings is worthwhile.

Eve Becker-Doyle, CAE

Executive Director, National Athletic Trainers Association, Dallas

WE PROVIDE NEW board members with training to familiarize them with their roles in communicating and in working effectively as leaders. Meetings are structured to allow reporting of problems and opportunities, but also to allow for brainstorming, strategy development, and decision making that involve the wisdom of members. Careful planning prior to meetings makes members aware of the best methods for sharing information and comments. Finally, and most importantly, we send a handwritten thank-you note to each board member acknowledging his or her contributions, which shows them that each board position is important to the leadership of the profession.

Kendall N. Starkweather

Executive Director, International Technology Education Association, Reston, Virginia

SEVERAL YEARS AGO, we changed our nominating committee to a directors affairs committee, with the expanded role of monitoring board effectiveness, as well as providing member orientation and training. Adding to that a technique to evaluate the effectiveness of our board meetings, we've improved results and actually have a waiting list of individuals requesting to serve on our board. We conduct the following quiz after board meetings:

1. Did all members have an opportunity for input or did a few members dominate discussion?

2. How much time did staff take to present information compared to discussion time taken by the board?

3. Did the board exercise its responsibility for establishing organization policy? Did members fully discuss important issues and consciously make decisions--or was the agenda so full that important items were rushed?

4. Does the board periodically review the effectiveness of its governance, composition, and responsibilities--both individually and collectively?

5. Was a portion of the board meeting reserved for educating the members about industry trends and issues?

Jon F. Doidge, CAE

Executive Director, Association for Retarded Citizens of Greenwich, Connecticut
COPYRIGHT 1999 American Society of Association Executives
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Publication:Association Management
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 1999
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