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Being in the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time

Conflict Solving
Psychological Safety
Juniors

17 June, 2021

Eric Rabinovich
Eric Rabinovich

VP of Engineering at Aspectiva - a Walmart company

Eric Rabinovich, Vice President of Research and Development at Aspectiva, never jumps to conclusions when a competent employee is having trouble connecting with the rest of the team.

Problem

At one point, I entered a position where I was leading a few of my team members. I was given an overview of everybody who I would be overseeing. Some of the team members had been in conflict for some time.

I was informed that one of my reports was not performing very well. The leadership was ready to let this person go, but I wanted to investigate further in order to really get an idea of what was going on.

Actions taken

The first thing that I did after talking to this person myself got some feedback from the people who they were working with. I wanted to see what their expectations were for this person. I saw a huge cultural gap between the team and the team member in question. It was not the perfect match. They were not in alignment with each other.

I then looked to the person that the employee was working with the most. The coworker that this happened to be was known for having a bad temper at times. It could make a lot of people nervous. The underperforming employee reporting to this person was very introverted and shy. Whenever tensions would run high, the underperforming employee would simply assume that it was their own fault.

I saw that under these conditions, the underperformer would build this bubble around themselves. They were not listening and engaging with the rest of the team because they were worried that they were not doing a good job, even if the problem was not their fault at all.

I realized that I could not extinguish this other employee’s temper, which was contributing greatly to my underperformer’s sense of imposter syndrome. Other employees in the company we're talking and judging without even seeing the situation themselves. I looked at the work being done; there was no underperformance there. It was the perception around them that was causing this person to question themselves and to fail as a result. It was a self-perpetuating cycle.

Eventually, I decided to simply find another project within the company to move them to. Nobody knew who they were. I spoke to the manager in charge of the project in order to let them know that they should try to ignore the rumors about this person going around the office.

I wanted to wipe the slate clean for them. Once they had been taken out of that toxic environment, their self-esteem and confidence had returned and their performance was enhanced greatly. The new manager was very happy with the change. Sometimes, it’s a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Lessons learned

  • As an IC, avoid assuming that a problem within the team is about you if it does not concern you and your work directly.
  • When I notice an employee suffering in this way, I make sure to open up a constant line of feedback for them. If you believe in somebody, try to understand what can be fixed if they are not delivering as expected.
  • When people think about feedback, most of the time, their minds go straight to negative feedback. This mindset needs to include both negative and positive feedback.
  • Some characters just click together. Others just don’t. An employee suffering on one team may thrive when part of another.

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