Managing Employee Hostility: Simply a Storm Over a Teacup

Last Updated May 14, 2010 4:41 AM EDT

In last week's blog we found that leaders are like teabags: we only know how good they are when they land in hot water. But teabags have another use for leaders.

I discovered the value of the teabag from the leader of a plant hire business in the UK. When she was appointed the staff were dismayed. Plant hire is a boys club where they all get to play with Bob the Builder type of equipment. Why on earth was a girl running a boy's club? She was not 100 percent welcome.

Even the leader was not quite sure what to do with her new role. She was more familiar with office plants than with excavators and drillers.

So she set about what she did best: drinking tea with the staff. She went to each plant hire location, sat down with the staff and drank tea. And she listened to what she could do to help them. Often it was little things: have a safe place to lock up their personal tools at night; have a new Union flag for the flag pole; new clean uniforms to give the right image. There were also more substantive changes which they wanted: more autonomy on buying plant to hire out, and more autonomy on setting prices, which went alongside giving them more responsibility for overall profit performance.

She listened and she made the changes. Most of the changes were very low cost. The more substantial ones gave each plant hire location more responsibility.

The result was that performance leapt forwards. Just as important, the leader became hugely respected by all the staff. They had rediscovered their pride in working in a Bob the Builder sort of business. And they had at last found a leader understood that communication does not just mean talking longer and louder: it means listening well and responding with deeds not words.

I asked her what the secret of her success was. "Always carry a box of teabags with you" was her reply. Tea may be the secret of management success.

(Pic: koocbor cc2.0)

  • Jo Owen

    Jo Owen practises what he preaches as a leader. He has worked with over 100 of the best, and a couple of the worst, organisations in the world, has built a business in Japan; started a bank (now HBOS business banking); was a partner at Accenture and brand manager at P&G. He is a serial entrepreneur whose start-ups include top 10 graduate recruiter Teach First and Start Up, which has helped over 250 ex-offenders start their own businesses. He has and has spent seven years researching leadership, strategy and organisation in tribal societies. His books include "Tribal Business School", "How to Lead and How to Manage." He is in demand as a speaker and coach on leadership and change. His websites include Tribal Business School and Leadership Partnership