From Difficult to Wonderful

The Story of Yvonne

Each day when I walked through Kmart’s front door, I immediately looked to see where Yvonne was. As soon as I made eye contact I would shout out, “Good morning, Yvonne!” Then I would quickly run in the opposite direction.

Yvonne’s reputation was kept a secret from me when I first took over as the new manager of the discount store outside of Cleveland. The secret did not take long to reveal itself. With every project our department took, Yvonne would offer a countering opinion as to how it should be done or why whatever was suggested would end in failure. She constantly criticized others, expressed disgust, and would do what she wanted regardless of company vision or team needs. Yvonne was the type of employee that co-workers would ask, “what time are you going to lunch?” just so they could request a different lunch hour. Nobody from her department wanted to be around her. Even employees from other departments would clear the way when Yvonne was in the area. Her bitterness and anger grew during the first few months I was at the store, eventually leading to the point she began calling our regional office to let them know how poorly the store was being managed. The Regional Human Resources Manager would listen to her at first, but by the fourth or fifth call he could take no more. One day, after talking with Yvonne, he immediately called Greg, the District Manager, with the message that he was never to hear from Yvonne again. He added that Greg could not fire her or seek retribution in any way. Transformation When Greg arrived at the store, he had a brief fact-finding discussion with me before calling Yvonne into the office. I am not sure what happened in their discussion, but the two people that entered the office were not the same two people that emerged from the office an hour later. Greg appeared with the demeanor of one who had discovered a hidden talent. The old Yvonne never came out of the office. Yes, you read it correctly – the old Yvonne never came out of the office! Instead, a new employee had taken over Yvonne’s body. This new employee would reveal herself over the next weeks and months to be the person that could be counted on to encourage others. People started asking Yvonne which lunch hour she was taking, then they would ask for the same lunch period so they could join her. Each morning when I walked through the front door, I immediately looked to see where Yvonne was. As soon as I made eye contact I would shout out, “Good morning, Yvonne!” Then I would quickly run to her and ask how her day was going. Yvonne had transformed from the person everybody ran FROM to the person that everybody would run TO! The immediacy of the transition was amazing. How did it happen that an employee had undergone a 180o change overnight? Greg discovered that several years prior, Yvonne had been told she could someday become the department manager if she worked hard enough and proved herself. She fulfilled her part by becoming a very hard worker, but the current manager had no plans to retire or transfer. Yvonne set her sights on new stores opening in the area, but she was never approached to manage one. Her demeanor slowly began to change. She needed a new strategy. She decided to prove herself by showing she knew better than anyone else how to do things. This led to her bitterness and rage. It was not until the “transformation” interview with Greg that she was told management requirements had changed. She was no longer eligible for a manager’s position because she did not meet the new requirements. She was obviously disappointed. Greg knew that the news of the policy changes was only the beginning of Yvonne’s transformation. She needed to be connected to a new future – one that would reignite the fading embers of the lady that once had set her sights on being a superior leader. Greg masterfully asked her if she would consider using her tremendous knowledge to become a trainer. She was exciting about working with new employees and management trainees. To some this may seem odd that Yvonne could be motivated by training new hires so they could have the position she had longer for more many years. Yet it did. It sparked her interest. She was able to get great satisfaction in helping shape exemplary managers and employees of the future. And she was good at it! A couple of years after I left the store, it was discovered that Yvonne had cancer. Unlike the cancer of problem behavior, this cancer could not be addressed through conversation, redirection, or mutual understanding. Her health caused her to retire and leave the wealth of friends she had made. Her retirement party was a special event as customers, co-workers in her department, and others from other departments came together to wish her well. Memories of the “old” Yvonne had long since vanished, buried by her positive attitude, willingness to help others, and genuine concern for helping others. Yvonne, once a problem employee, had become the department’s biggest asset. In my career I have met many people like Yvonne. Each one could be “fixed”. It is only a matter of wanting to “fix” them more than wanting to replace them. It requires the ability to see beyond the present behavior into the heart of a human being.