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The New Contract Director: Letting Your Guard Down

The New Contract Director: Letting Your Guard Down

Vanessa Robinson

As an FSD for a large contract company, Vanessa Robinson has paid her dues in terms of moving from account to account over a 20 year career. She speaks fondly of her family and roots in Fayetteville, NC, where she first put her degree in dietetics to work in continuing care, then spent several years “on the bench, traveling to where I was needed in my region.”

As her career progressed, she moved into acute care, took on more responsibility that sometimes included multiple services, and
went on to increasingly larger locations from Tampa to Fort Worth and now to Houston.

At each new job, Robinson faced the task of earning the support of a new team, often one with its own anxieties about what the change in management would bring.

“It is different at each location,” she says. “The important thing is to show you are respectful of the employees. There are many
misconceptions about management companies and you are usually on the defense when you arrive. You have to dispel those misconceptions, whatever they are. What is important is that regardless of whose payroll the employees are on, we must work as a team to accomplish our goals.”

Employee concerns go beyond simple uneasiness with change and often include real worries about job security and the group’s own past performance, she says.

“You have to help them see that they are an important part of reaching the goals the client has set and can share in the pride when those goals are met. It involves a lot of listening initially, a lot of work on mutual expectations. If you want to succeed, you have to put people first. If you do, the other things will follow.”

That sounds obvious, “but it is not always that easy to practice when you’re a manager with looming financial and other goals,” she
says, You have to be willing to let your guard down. Employees want to see the real you, not the person they see dressed in a suit. They want to know what kind of person you truly are.

“That means exposing yourself to some extent. In exchange, people will open up. You ‘ll be surprised what you find out about them when you spend time listening. You find you have things in common to share. That is the kind of employee relationship you want to have, with people knowing you care about them and their lives.”

Doesn’t that approach complicate things when it’s necessary to provide critical performance reviews?

“It doesn’t have to,” says Robinson. “You need to start out the same way—with respect. All the rules apply to everyone the same way: you have to let employees know you respect them as individuals and are not being hypocritical. Today you may help them with a personal problem and tomorrow you may have to discipline them. That is just the nature of the job.

"As a manager, you want to help staff address problems. Sometimes you have to tell them—if you can’t address this, you will carry it with you to your next job, and the one after that. If you can maintain mutual respect, you can help many people avoid that.”

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