Delegation; Employee Problems and Problem Employees; Leadership; Motivation

tHe well-eNtreNCHed eMployee

Primary Topic—Change Management

Additional Topics—Delegation; Employee Problems and Problem Employees; Leadership; Motivation

When Dave Farren was hired from outside to be manager of communications for University Hospital, he gave little initial thought to the one-person mail room opera- tion that was part of his department. However, he was soon forced to focus on the mail room because of an alarming number of complaints he received about mail room service. Other departments and elements of his own department complained of slow service on outgoing mail, late and erratic service on incoming mail, and frequent losses of interdepartmental mail.

The mail room operator, Mary West, was a long-time employee who had been in the same job more than 20 years. Her title was actually mail room supervisor, although she had never directly supervised any other employees. However, she had always been left to function very much on her own.

Before Dave could begin to make sense of the complaints about the mail room, Mary West launched something of a complaint campaign of her own. She insisted that she needed a full-time helper in the mail room, claiming that “There’s far too much work here for one person and there’s nobody to help me.” However, Dave quickly learned from others that Mary’s “I need help” campaign was an approach that she had used on all of his predecessors over the years.

Dave’s first visit to the cramped, out-of-the-way mail room left him appalled. The area was cluttered, with battered interoffice mailers piled everywhere and just plain junk accumulated in every available space. Although Dave was ready to con- cede that some physical improvements could aid the situation, he was also forced to conclude that the biggest problem area was Mary West’s complete lack of an efficient approach to the job.

Dave offered some suggestions aimed at improving the operation of the mail room. However, for the most part his suggestions were met with icy silence and he later picked up secondhand complaints to the effect that Mary wanted “real help, not some new boss nosing around and trying to tell me how to do my job.”

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Dave proceeded to authorize a few hours of regular overtime apparently bud- geted for that purpose to see if that would help Mary get caught up and become more organized. The overtime had no noticeable effect; rather, it seemed to Dave that Mary spent most of her time wandering about the hospital visiting with people. It also seemed that everyone Mary visited heard all about how “overworked” poor Mary was.

After several weeks of casually observing Mary and pondering the mail room situation, Dave concluded that Mary was the major problem. She was apparently still working the way she had worked when she started on the job back when the hospital was less than half its present size.


Putting yourself in Dave Farren’s position, develop an approach to the problem that includes:

• Development of a rationale with which to try “selling” the need for change • An honest effort to win the employee’s cooperation • Identification of alternative approaches to consider should “selling” fail

44 Case 8: The Well-Entrenched Employee

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