A CEO cannot play referee to resolve every internal dispute. But leaders need a strategy to address employee complaints about each other.
Ben Horowitz, a CEO and venture capitalist in Silicon Valley, proceeds with care when staffers fight over a “he said, she said” incident. He deems it too risky to meet privately with each person to hear alternating sides of the story.
“Simply by hearing them out without defending the employee in question, you will send the message that you agree,” he says.
If word spreads that you side with one manager over the other, team members might ignore directives from the perceived out-of-favor manager. In time, that manager will become ineffective.
Horowitz responds to a manager’s complaints about a peer’s behavior by meeting with both people together. He asks each person to share his or her perspective.
Once they clear the air, they usually find a way to get along better. Each party commits to steps to behave better, and that settles the matter.
Horowitz handles complaints about an employee’s competence differently. If he’s already identified an individual’s performance problem, he figures that he has “let the situation go too far” if another manager is complaining about it. Often, he’ll quickly terminate the poor performer.
“While I’ve seen executives improve their performance and skill sets, I’ve never seen one lose the support of the organization and then regain it,” he says.
— Adapted from The Hard Thing About Hard Things, Ben Horowitz, Harper Business.