Tom’s Story

A veteran is given 90 days to address his workplace behavior—or else.

Tom Ehrenberg had what appeared to be a solid career. He joined Johnsonville in 1987 and over the course of 25 years worked through multiple promotions, landing a role as an engineer. A 55-year-old veteran, Tom believed he would continue to work with Johnsonville until he retired. But his supervisors weren’t so sure.

“I was told I had 90 days, I was on probation, and I had to stop the negative behavior,” says Tom.

It wasn’t that Tom was a lackey. In fact, his commitment to the job was part of the problem. “I had always believed completing the task was the most important thing and relationship damage was collateral damage I could live with,” he explains. “I would get frustrated or angry, and I would blow up.”

If Tom was to keep his job, he needed to change how he treated and interacted with others.

At the time, Johnsonville had put senior management through Crucial Conversations Training. Following feedback and results, they enlisted mid-level managers—and they enlisted Tom, even though he wasn’t a manager.

Tom’s first thought was, “I don’t have time for this stuff!” But after just a few minutes in training, he realized he was in the right place. He quickly learned his modus operandi was to intimidate others into silence, then see silence as consent and agreement. In truth, Tom’s coworkers avoided him for fear of unpredictable outbursts.

Following his training, Tom saw in himself what his supervisors had seen for years. He now had insight into how he might change, and he had reason to, but the question remained, could he? After all, Tom had for decades cemented his behavior and reputation. Could this old dog learn new tricks?

In the video at top, Tom describes his effort to learn new habits and apply them at work and home. ◼

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The opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of the storyteller and do not reflect the view of VitalSmarts.

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