BackgroundJoe Gibbons is a vice-president at MegaLights, a lighting manufacturer. Joe has been with MegaLights for 38 years and will retire in two years. Joe’s assistant vice president is Charles McNeil, who was brought on board one year ago to take over for Joe when he retired.
Charles is concerned about his not being invited to participate in the five year plan that Joe is creating for the plant. Charles is understandably upset by his exclusion and has confided you that this situation is causing him stress and is probably affecting his relationship with Joe.
StrategyJoe has been an employee for many and he may have a reason for not including Charles in the conversation. Since you have only heard Charles side of the story, it is imperative that you hear what Joe has to say. Joe still has two years left and it is important that he maintains authority, but not at the expense of the company.
Obviously there is tension between Joe and Charles and it is important to find out what caused that tension. It seems to be a classic case of the old employee and the young upstart. Could Joe feel challenged by Charles? It is very important that the outcome be beneficial to both as well as the company. With only two years to go until retirement, there may not be time to find a new replacement and have that new employee trained. There is also not any management talent below Charles, so it is important that Joe and Charles have an amicable relationship.
It is possible that the problem is not really a personality conflict between Joe and Charles. Since the two work closely together, some other issue may be causing friction that is manifested like an old married couple that knows how to goad each other. After hearing both sides, it will be more apparent if it is an interpersonal conflict or an intrapersonal conflict.
Next, it is important to find all the actual causes. It could be a resource conflict where Joe does not want to give up control, or maybe is having doubts about his worth when he retires. Charles also may be “feeling his oats”, and seeing the inevitable shift in power, has decided to assert himself more. The most important objective is to get the two talking, and even if they are never friends, at least have a business relationship that is everyone’s interest.
ConclusionIdeally, both Joe and Charles will collaborate on the new five year plan. The plan will be Joe’s legacy and Charles roadmap. The first objective is to get both sides of the story, and then if necessary bring the two parties together. What happens after that is conjecture, but in the ideal world the two parties can work together and build the future of MegaLights and the legacies of both. In the event that no easy solution is found, then an arbitration model needs to be implemented.
In the case of the arbitration scenario, the arbitrator could be the senior vice president. The needs of MegaLights come before the interpersonal relationship of Joe and Charles, and drastic measures, (i.e. replacing one or both), may need to implemented. It is better to deal with this sooner rather than later and an independent mediator may need to be brought in to present a face of neutrality.