Career Guide: A project manager handles conflict management

'I keep asking my boss to help me but he says I need to learn to handle this on my own.': Sanober.

Sadya Siddiqui August 30, 2011

A day in the life of …

Sanober, a project manager.

10.10: I am waiting for Rafia to arrive and have the most difficult meeting of my three-year career. The firm is a small one and doesn’t have a human resources department so all conflict resolution has to be done by the managers. I am really nervous and have had two mugs of coffee so far.

11.20: She’s at her desk and I’ve been observing her for the last 20 minutes. You see Rafia is different from other employees, she is severely physically handicapped. It’s simply heartbreaking for anyone who lays eyes on her the first time. They say when God takes away something from you, he gives you something else in a much greater quantity — Rafia’s IQ level borders on genius. She comes from a well-to-do educated family who has supported their daughter passionately. Rafia’s work excels on all accounts. And now I have to talk to her about the fraud ‘mistake’ as she claims, and other complaints that I’ve been receiving.

1.30: I am scribbling notes about my job description. As a project manager, my job is to ensure the process flows that we’ve crafted for our USA-based clients are functioning when implemented but I also have to manage a team of software developers.

When the financial services model’s beta version was launched, Rafia was chosen to work with the outsourced call centre. When the calls were checked for quality, someone noticed that the verification done did not match the system data. A small amount of money was transferred and withdrawn. They reported that Rafia had done the phone verification. My boss, a UK-educated IT specialist, was exasperated. He told me I had to fire her immediately, but then retracted and said “No wait, we can’t do that”.

3.10: The administration guy drops by my desk. Last week he yelled at me over the phone for the medications package I sent to Multan through the company‘s courier service. My “What medicines, what Multan?!” reply left both of us baffled. The package was sent to my desk and it didn’t take me much time to notice that the meds were from the same company that Rafia’s family owned. It could be anyone — maybe somebody at the firm asked her for the meds and then used my name.

5.15: Amir asks me if I’ve had the talk as yet. Along with the call centre duties, Rafia was in charge of the SMS channel for which two mobile numbers were acquired for testing. Now both were blocked by the telecom company because a high number of overseas calls were being made. When I confronted her, she simply informed me that it was her maid who made those calls. I don’t know what was more shocking — using the mobile numbers for personal use or taking company equipment home.

The call centre team and the other managers keep saying that I need to take action. Keeping any problematic employee on board comes at a cost to the firm.  The rules for discipline and ethics apply to all. But at the same time, everyone’s worried that if our USA clients find out that we fired a handicapped girl they might just pull the plug on us.

I keep asking my boss to help me but he says I need to learn to handle this on my own. How do I that? Maybe she deserves more chances than others, maybe somebody just needs to tell her the difference between right and wrong. But what if she does something like this again, then what?

I will probably get fired and somebody else will have to struggle with this dilemma.

How to handle conflict management in the absence of an HR department:

1)    Talk to the senior management, get them to form a committee with key team members.

2)    Consult an experienced HR professional or a legal advisor

3)    Introduce a secret balloting system for team mates to vote on major issues.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 27th, 2011.


Sadya | 11 years ago | Reply

@USK and @Adeel- when Sanober (not her real name) came up to me with this dilemma of her, what bothered me most was that her boss(es) weren't willing to help her out , despite the fact that she stated clearly that she just did not have enough experience to handle the situation. Her boss was helpful on every-other matter except on this. You see nobody wanted to bell the cat- they were all afraid of coming across as heartless. Sanober is the one who needed the most help, she should have been supported instead she was left to figure it out on her own.

And this is so common at the workplace- the tougher decisions that alot of senior managers are afraid to take, they simply offloaded on the junior mgmt. and say 'you need to handle this on your own'.

Sadya | 11 years ago | Reply

@Rehmat - it is not uncommon for small firms/companies employees to do low level and senior management level tasks at the same time.

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