Reducing Conflict 53 Jokes or Not

August 8, 2022

I was having an online conversation about jokes and teams at work. The discussion was relative to having online messages misinterpreted. Clearly, we have all experienced this uncomfortable situation more than once.  I got so fascinated about this topic that I wrote a book on it a few years ago. 

The reader could take it literally

Someone brought up a situation that is common in person as well as online. One person tries to rib another person with a joke, but the receiver takes it literally. Online the damage tends to linger because the message is there to see forever. The writer is astonished when the reader takes umbrage at the barb. Often the writer says, “but I was only joking.” 

When people say or write things in jest, there is usually an element of truth in them. Jokes are often just distortions of reality; that is what makes them humorous.  The problem occurs when a joke puts down another person. This is so common you probably witness it frequently at work. The problem hardly registers because it is ubiquitous. If you are watching for it, you will see it often.

No ability to see the impact

With a verbal jab, it is easy to see the negative reaction through body language. In an email, the sender has no idea the joke caused a negative reaction. Actually, even in person, there is usually a part of the barb that is for real. Online, the danger becomes magnified for two reasons.

  • the person cannot see the facial expression and
  • emails are permanent, so the person can re-read the joke.

The most effective antidote

The antidote for this common problem is to establish five behavioral norms in your workgroup as follows:

  1. We will not make jokes in any forum at another person’s expense.
  2. Praise in public or online but offer constructive criticism face to face in private.
  3. When there is a disconnect in communication, we will always assume the best intent and check it out.
  4. If something in an email seems upsetting, check it out. Meet face to face with the other person as soon as possible.
  5. Call each other out politely if we see violations of these rules.

 

Conclusion

These five rules are not difficult. It does take some resolve to get all people in a population to comply with them.  Get firm agreement among the entire group and post the rules in the team meeting area. Actually follow the five rules above. It will change the entire complexion of the workgroup. This is not rocket science. It is much more important than rocket science.

 

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change, The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 


Reducing Conflict 52 Operate Ahead of the Power Curve

August 1, 2022

The power curve is a critical skill area that my first mentor taught me. I was blessed with a wonderful mentor for most of my career.  He and I got along famously, and he taught me a number of leadership skills over the years.

Micromanager

 He was not a perfect manager himself, as he had a tendency to micromanage people.  I found that out early and worked hard to over-communicate with him. I also anticipated what he would ask, so I could usually say, “I already did it.” After a while, he stopped micromanaging me and left me alone to do what I thought was right. 

The Power Curve

One critical skill he taught me was what he called “operating ahead of the power curve.”  It took me a while to figure out what that meant. I eventually got the idea, and the concept has been incredibly important to my success in life.

Lowers stress

The idea is to charge at the work very early and not wait until just before something is due to get it done.  That takes some discipline to do, but it is a wonderful way to live. Reason: you do things in rough draft form well before the due date. Then you can relax and hone them in due time. It works well.

For example, as I am writing this blog article, it is the third one I have written this hour. My pattern is to put out three articles each week.  I have a stock of numerous articles ahead of me, so I don’t have to rush them out.  I can think about them.  When the inventory gets low, I bang out 4-6 more articles to get ahead of the power curve.

Help from my wife

My wife helps me by proofreading the text and making suggestions for improved content and search engine optimization.  Then I rewrite the article and have it “on the shelf,” ready for when it’s needed. That way, I am never rushed to get an article out, and I can take my time working on the content of each one.

Works in all areas of life

Try the technique of working “ahead of the power curve” in your life. The process works well for school papers, budgets, painting the house, or any activity that you might want to procrastinate on. Just grit your teeth and do the bulk of the job early. You will find that the quality of your finished work is much higher.  You are also less stressed about getting the work done. That is a wonderful benefit for anyone. 

 

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change, The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 


Reducing Conflict 51 Better Teamwork

July 25, 2022

We all would like to see better teamwork where we live and work. The culture of a team governs its effectiveness. Most teams have a culture that allows adequate performance despite many unfortunate outbreaks of tension and sometimes childish behavior. The problems are exacerbated in these uncertain times of hybrid work.

Sadly, many teams don’t experience the exhilaration of working in a supportive culture that produces excellent results. The methods of building teams into high-performing units are well documented. Unfortunately, most teams do not go through the rigor required to get to that level. This article blends well-known processes with horse sense born of experience that will allow any team to perform well.

Tuckman Model

In 1965, Bruce Tuckman described four stages that every team goes through. They are Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing.

A critical time for any team is when it is forming. This is when the team is trying to figure out its role and goals. Members are not sure of their status or contribution at this point. Personal bonding is a key element to the eventual success of the team.

During the storming phase, there is some kind of power struggle where members vie for position and influence.  It is up to the team leader to help the team move quickly through this awkward time.

It is in the norming phase that the team decides the degree of effectiveness it will ultimately enjoy.  If individual and team behaviors are agreed upon with conviction, the team will immediately begin to perform with excellence.

Three routes to successful teamwork

There are three basic things required for any team to become a high-performing unit:  

1) a common goal,

2) trust, and

3) outstanding leadership. 

If these building blocks are in place, all of the rest of the team dynamics will sort themselves out. When any of these are missing, the team will sputter and struggle to meet expectations.

A key rule fostered by most teams that is most often compromised is to treat each member with respect. There is a kind of disease that sets into most teams where members subtly undermine each other.

Common team problem

People often make jokes in team meetings. Keep your antenna up. Often you will discover that the majority of jokes are sarcastic digs about other people in the room. Everyone knows they are only jokes, and they laugh, but deep down it does some damage.

The antidote

Smart groups have a rule that they will enjoy humor but never make a joke at someone else’s expense. It seems like a small thing, but over time this practice can improve the function of any team. You will see it’s easy to accomplish. The leader just needs to set the expectation and remind people when they slip up.

Social loafing

I have coached hundreds of teams. I find that there are patterns that lead to success and other patterns that lead to extreme frustration. One condition rises above all the others when it comes to dysfunctional teams. It is called social loafing.

When team members believe other members are not pulling their fair share, there will be problems. Unfortunately, this situation is common. Fortunately, there is a simple cure that is about 95% successful at preventing this condition or stopping it. The cure is to have an agreed-upon Charter for the team upfront, before behavior problems surface.

Draw up a Team Charter

During the forming stage of a team, there is an opportunity to document several critical parameters of how the team will operate. These include:

  1. the talents and skills each member of the team can contribute,
  2. a set of solid, measurable performance goals for the team,
  3. behaviors that the members agree to follow,
  4. consequences that will occur if a member fails to live up to the behaviors.

When teams take the time at the start to document these four items, the chances of success improve. The most powerful item is #4. It is the one that is most often omitted from a charter. If people are tempted to goof off, then the penalty they have already agreed to is quickly applied. The bad behavior is extinguished.

Conclusion

Most teams without a good charter end up in frustration. One or more people will believe they are doing more than their fair share of the work. A good charter spells out the expected behaviors and the penalty for non-compliance. With this work in place before the group experiences a problem, it reduces the most common team malady.

 

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change, The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 


Reducing Conflict 50 Your Choice

July 18, 2022

It is your choice how you live your life. Just for a moment, take a guess at what percentage of the world’s population woke up today with a mindset of peace and happiness.

Some people are living in the lap of luxury, yet they are totally miserable. Many other people live in horrible conditions but have risen above them by changing their mindset. They have found a way to live a good and satisfying life despite the hardships of an unfair world.

After years of study, I found a quote that sums it up for me. “The quality of your life is a reflection of what is going on in between your ears.”

Problems are everywhere

Think of the people who don’t know if they will have anything to eat today. Consider those who want to destroy other people. How about those who haven’t a clue how they are going to survive financially or physically? Include those who believe they must steal in some way from others in order to survive today.  

My estimate

My own estimate only a small portion of people currently living on earth are actually living up to their potential. Others are trying to exist in a perpetual struggle each day and draw one day closer to their grave. In the richest country on the planet, many people survive at the most basic level. There is little hope or optimism for a rewarding life. Some people buy guns for the purpose of killing others or for “protecting themselves” by killing others. I think it is really sad.

Think of the potential

Now let’s flip to the other extreme. Whenever a new human infant pops out of the womb, think about the potential that little package represents. Every soul has the potential to become someone of significant positive value to the world.  What are the odds that a particular infant will grow up to be a Mother Theresa or a Nelson Mandela?  The odds are infinitesimal, so much of the wonderful potential that is born with each new baby disappears. 

How about you?

Now let me bend your mind a bit more.  If you live a comfortable and productive life, do you use your good fortune to make a difference? You have a choice just to enjoy your luck as you move through life, or you can make a difference in the world. It may seem like lunacy to actually try to make a difference because the problems are so immense. You can shrug your shoulders and go for hedonism, or choose to dig in and try anyway.  It reminds me of a line from an old song by Buffy Sainte-Marie. “Ah, what can I do say a powerless few? With a lump in your throat and a tear in your eye, can’t you see that their poverty’s profiting you?”

Conclusion

There is no solution to this musing and no magic wand to wave that will have a noticeable impact. I just wanted to recall that the choice of what I do with my gifts is mine. 

I need to realize that if I decide to make a small change in the world, that is a good thing.  If enough of us do some good things, the aggregate impact may be large enough to notice. So, I rededicate myself to helping to grow leaders in every way I know how. That is the gift I bring to the world and my reason for living. I invite you to join me and live your purpose too.

 

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change, The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 


Reducing Conflict 49 Little White Lies

July 11, 2022

I suspect there is not a soul alive that has not told white lies at some point. Even though our parents taught us to tell the truth, sooner or later we have all violated the rule. If you have never told a lie, write to me and I will nominate you for sainthood. The thing about lies is that you can usually detect them by observing the person’s body language.

Lying to my manager

I recall one incident when my manager asked me if I had read a particular book. I said yes, but I really had not read it.  I was pretty sure he saw through the fib. There must have been a dozen ways my body was saying “no” while my mouth was saying “yes.” What is fascinating is the huge array of body language that is going on all of the time. It never stops. Most of the body language we send out is unconscious so our lies are easy to detect.

Watch the eyes

We see that kind of deception in children most easily. If you ask Johnny who tipped over the vase, he will shrug his shoulders indicating he does not know.  If you ask “was it you,” he will say “no.”  He is afraid he will be in trouble if he tells the truth.  But all parents know to watch their eyes for the truth. The mother knows instantly that Johnny not only knows who broke the vase but that it was him.  We teach our children that the bigger sin is to hide the truth than to break the vase, but only some of them learn the lesson.

Politicians are experts at lying

It is sad that so many people in positions of authority never did learn that lesson. Time after time we catch them in half-truths or big lies. It is so common with politicians or celebrities that we end up wondering if we can trust any of them. I am sure some of them can be, but my first inclination is to not believe what any of them say. This is particularly true if they broke the vase.  They might say it is a “no-spin zone,” but if you believe that I have a bridge I want to sell you.

What adults need to realize is what we try to teach our children. It is better to be honest and admit mistakes because all human beings are fallible. Lying about a misstep gives us away because we cannot hide our subconscious body language. Next time you are tempted to tell a half-truth, remember that your credibility is on the line, and do not follow the example of many public figures who frequently embarrass themselves.

Admitting mistakes actually increases trust

I discovered many years ago that admitting a mistake is a good way to build rather than destroy trust. People will take notice when you consciously blow yourself in when you might have escaped with a lie.  Build a reputation for yourself as a straight shooter. It is worth the effort.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change, The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 


Reducing Conflict 48 Wait Your Turn

July 4, 2022

Ever since we were children, we have had to wait our turn. The world has numerous individuals who all have needs. The services available to attend to those needs are pitifully inadequate to meet them all at once. Hence, the need for a cue and a triage process. Hospitals deal with this problem every hour of every day. The decision process is complex, but the hospitals have a routine and do it by rote.

Nursing Homes

Other institutions handle the problem of priority with varying degrees of skill.  For example, some nursing homes are quite good at assessing the needs of individuals. Unfortunately, many of them are so understaffed, the residents often feel abused when they have a personal need. They have to wait long periods for assistance. Attempts to gain higher priority by several different methods, like calling out every 15 seconds, usually backfire. These attempts to get attention put that person lower on the priority list than those who humbly wait.

My own story

For the person waiting, it seems so unfair and annoying. I learned that lesson when I was in high school. One cold winter night, I had finished my homework and decided to take a hot bath before going to bed.  My Dad was out of town on business, and my Mom was out at an art class.  No problem; I was 17 years old.  I got in the hot tub and gleefully soaked for as long as I could stand. Then I got out of the tub to dry off.

I remember grabbing the towel, then immediately blacked out from the lack of oxygen.  The next conscious moment, I was on the floor of the bathroom with blood all over the place. I had fallen, hitting my chin on the tub, resulting in a gaping cut that would require stitches for sure.

I called the place where Mom was taking her art class and told them to send her home for an “emergency.”  Can you imagine how cruel that was to do to my mother? She had no idea what the emergency was!

She came screaming home and transported me to the emergency room of the hospital several blocks from our home. I sat in the waiting room of the hospital for over an hour with a towel to sop up the blood. They took me into the triage room and started to work on me.  Then, it seemed that the attention went elsewhere. There was a bunch of activity in the room next to me and all of the staff went over there.

The sad truth

I was very upset because I had to wait longer to get treatment.  After another hour, they came back and stitched me up.  When I complained, they told me that a man had a heart attack, and he died.  It turned out that the man was the father of one of my friends.  Ten minutes earlier I was feeling sorry for myself, and now I realized my problem was nothing compared to what was going on just a few feet down the hall. That was a memorable moment for me.

Summary 

Never assume you know the full extent of the load on service providers and be patient when other people are getting attention.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change, The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 


Reducing Conflict 47 Other People’s Pain

June 27, 2022

Empathy is critical if we want to help other people who are experiencing pain.  There ought to be a course somewhere in the education system on EMP-101.  This article brings up some cautions about how we express our empathy when people are in crisis.

You will hear the phrase “I know how you feel” perhaps thousands of times in your lifetime. The truth is that other people can never fully feel your pain.  They may be able to approximate it based on their own experiences. They may be able to deduce how you feel by extrapolating the situation and how you look or sound. They can never fully experience what you are going through.

Far better to say something like, “I am sorry you are going through this. Is there any way I can help?” You cannot put yourself fully in the other person’s shoes. Why utter banal phrases that make it seem like you can? 

I will direct this article mostly to a term called “Professional Hurt.” I learned the term from Dr. Ruby Brown from Jamaica, who coined the phrase. I met Ruby while speaking at the Caribbean Leadership Program in Trinidad. She wrote her dissertation on the topic of Professional Hurt.  It is when a person in a professional setting is abused somehow by managers or circumstances beyond control.

Professional Hurt also occurs when a person gets demoted or fired. It may be the result of being passed over for a promotion or being marginalized in some way. 

When someone else is hurting, spend more time listening to the person.  Avoid the temptation to say, “Oh that is just like how I felt last year when they withheld a promised raise.”  That is not going to make the other person feel any better.  Listening to stories of people who are worse off or have had the same problem does not relieve the person’s pain today. Rather, ask thoughtful questions if the person wants to talk. Just be present if the person is in shock or unable to verbalize the pain. 

Body language is particularly important when dealing with another person who is in a crisis. You can show that you care more with your facial expression than you can with a constant stream of babble. Just listening and nodding may be the best thing you can do for the other person at that moment. 

Logic is not a good approach. You may be tempted to cheer the person up by saying, “These things don’t last forever; you’ll be feeling better soon.”  That kind of approach often backfires. It can belittle the person who is suffering to imply that time alone will heal things. 

Try to avoid hackneyed expressions that are commonly used in the working world. If your friend has just been fired, don’t tell him, “Whenever one door is closed, another will open.”  Do not try to cheer him up with “Nobody likes working for that jerk anyway.” Shut your trap and take your cues from the person who is hurting. 

Let your presence and body language do the talking for you.  If it seems the other person needs input, try “you’re strong enough to overcome this.” Another phrase is “what would you like to happen now,” but the laconic approach is usually superior.

Do not recount how your neighbor had the same situation and ended up with a big promotion.  All those kinds of phrases may make you feel like you are helping. In reality, little real comfort is coming through the overused phrases or comparisons.

Above all, recognize that you do not know how the other person is feeling and the best thing you can do is admit that. Show your love and feeling by avoiding the typical mistakes made by well-intended people.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change, The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 


Reducing Conflict 46 Perception Problems

June 19, 2022

This article is about perception problems in everyday life.  No two people will see a phenomenon the same way. As our fingerprints are all unique, so is our perception of what is going on around us.

Hold up a Quarter

To demonstrate perception, I can hold a quarter out in front of me while I am facing you. I will describe a round metal object with an embossed head on it.  You will describe a round metal object with an embossed picture of an eagle sitting on a branch.  We are both describing the exact same object, yet we see it differently.

The phenomenon is generally true

The same phenomenon happens when two people see any kind of situation at work or at home. They see the same thing, but it has a different appearance depending on their personal vantage point.

This difference means they will draw different conclusions about what just happened and the significance of it.  Taking the next step requires each individual to react to the stimulus in an appropriate way.  Each person is free to react however he or she feels is appropriate for the situation.  This is true even if both people perceived exactly the same thing. What would seem appropriate to one person might be the wrong thing to do for the other. All this discrepancy leads to squabbles about actions taken.

Example of an attendance problem

For example, let’s suppose a manager is discussing an employee with a severe attendance problem with her supervisor. The manager and supervisor may have different opinions about the problem itself. Perhaps the supervisor knows the lady has a child who has special needs. This situation calls for many trips to the child’s doctor. The supervisor wants to be lenient based on this knowledge.

From the manager’s perception, this employee needs to have the same set of rules as everyone else. Special treatment will lead to poor discipline in the unit. The manager sees an untenable situation that needs progressive counseling, while the supervisor sees the need for flexibility.

Differences of opinion create a great deal of conflict in any workplace.  From my perspective, I will be pretty sure my way is right.  The trouble is that another person will be just as sure his perception and remedy are right. 

The opposite of right is wrong

If I know that I am right, and you see things differently, then by definition, you must be wrong.  In most instances, my reaction to this dichotomy is to try to educate you on why your perception is incorrect.  You will try to get me to realize the error of my thinking.  We are off to the races in conflict.

This genesis of conflict is going on in small and large ways each and every day. Is it any wonder there is so much acrimony in the workplace and at home?  This problem is ubiquitous. What are some antidotes so we can reduce the conflicts between people?

  1. Seek to understand assumptions – What is behind the perception?
  2. Try reversing the roles – Force yourself to see a different perspective.
  3. Use Reflective Listening – Make sure you are hearing the other person.
  4. Watch the language – Ask more questions and avoid edgy statements.
  5. Agree to Disagree – You can still be friends.
  6. Don’t blow things out of proportion – Keep differences small.
  7. Get a good mediator – A third person can be helpful.
  8. Give in – Letting the other person win is often a great strategy.
  9. Discuss calmly – A calm rational discussion can often clear up the difference.
  10. Show love – Keeping things positive helps a lot.

Humans have a remarkable ability to drive each other crazy. This tendency is worse when people are in close proximity. It is the reason why you can appreciate and love members of your family until they come to visit for a week.  At a distance, it is easy to manage disagreements most of the time. When people are underfoot every day, the little things tend to become so irritating, that the conflict begins to snowball.

We all see things through a slightly different lens. We process assumptions about what is happening through our parochial brain. Conflict is going to happen. Take some of the evasive steps like the ones above to keep the volume down on interpersonal differences.  Life is too short to be habitually annoyed by fellow workers or family members. 

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change, The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 


Reducing Conflict 45 Adopt Problem People

June 12, 2022

Managing problem people is an art that can be very complicated and frustrating. Most managers recognize that they are spending an inordinate amount of time with a few problem employees. The Pareto principle applies in this instance: usually, 20% of the people will require 80% of a manager’s attention.

Problem people are a distraction

When you have problem people on the team it is a great distraction. It prevents you from spending time on the strategy or on reinforcing people who are doing good work. I found a technique that helped me convert some of the more difficult workers into superstars.

Adopt the difficult cases

The idea is to select one or two of the most difficult cases and “adopt” them. Don’t tell them you are doing this; just start operating in a different way. The first thing to do is decide which of the problem people are worth saving. You will not be successful at saving them all, but by using this technique you can convert around 50% of the difficult cases. That progress can be a huge benefit to your effectiveness.

Real example

Ruth was a caustic employee in one of the departments reporting to me. She once told her manager, “You’ve got no right to be in business.”  Ruth was an informal leader of the people on her shift because she was witty and quick.  People listened to her, which was bad news for the manager because she was spreading negativity. I saw great potential in Ruth if she could change her attitude.  I genuinely liked her despite the rough exterior and acid tongue. She had strengths, but there were too many rough edges.

I started getting to know Ruth a lot better. I found out about her unique set of needs and opinions. After a while, I started to understand what made her tick. I made it a point to drop into the break room almost daily before the start of her shift. I would sit with her group and just listen.  At first, it was awkward, but they tolerated me and soon they actually welcomed me to their table.

The root cause of the problem

It turns out that the reason Ruth was acting out was severe racial abuse by her prior manager. The scars left her skeptical of all people in management.

I started improving the relationship with Ruth by asking her opinion. I encouraged her manager to listen openly to her ideas. Look for the insight they might provide instead of rejecting anything that came out of her mouth. Ruth started to turn and soften the rhetoric because she felt more respected.

Recognizing the opportunity

We were now in a position to take the next step. We asked Ruth to head up a planning group for a new packaging line.  Her natural leadership showed in this effort. She was able to quickly get the cooperation of the operators and maintenance people. The job turned out to be a big success. We brought in top management and let Ruth tell how the job finished early and under budget.  Top managers were impressed and said so. 

Building on success

Having a success to build on, we took a further risk and appointed Ruth to a supervisory position.  We also sent her for some excellent leadership training. She was excited to see these moves because there was real upward momentum in her career. It was something she never dreamed would happen. She was making more money and having greater influence in the business.  At the same time, the negativity was melting away.  Gone was the caustic sarcasm that was her trademark for years before. She was a strong advocate for the management side of contemplated actions.

Ruth ended up retiring as a very successful supervisor. If she had stayed on, I was considering making her a department manager, she was that strong and effective. The best part is that she felt better about herself and what she had accomplished in her career.

Conclusion

Recognize that you cannot save all individuals who are problem employees. You can, however, change some of them. They can go from a drain or negative influence on the environment to a very positive, even stellar, performer. Imagine the power of taking people who are a drag on performance and making them into your superstars. That is well worth the effort.

 

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change, The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 

 


Reducing Conflict 44 Consolidation Mistakes

June 6, 2022

During a major consolidation, such as a merger or acquisition, trust goes down for many different reasons. In this article, I will discuss a phenomenon that really hurts people. Managers ask some individuals to do their previous job plus the work of another person. It happens when leaders fail to plan the transition well.

I tell a story below as one form of the disastrous consequence of clueless leadership. There are a host of other consequences that can occur as well.

A common story in reorganizations

In the planning phase, top management has a gag rule on information. Sometimes it is because of legal restrictions. Other times it is out of fear. They are afraid people would panic if they knew what was going to happen. They try to avoid sabotage and other problems. It seems best to keep things under wraps until the merger is ready.

Secret meetings lead to rumors

Rumors start as a result of all the secret meetings. Workers expect some layoffs because one primary objective of a merger is the consolidation of staff positions. People are aware of this and hope they will be one of the survivors. In reality, some people are smart enough to hope they do not survive.

Managers keep people in a vacuum before the announcement of a merger.  Then some people find out they are expected to do the impossible. Many managers handle the situation with zero sensitivity, and they pay a heavy price.

Top brass announces the merger, but it is really not a shock to the people in the organization. They are just glad to have the news out in the open. Living with the rumors is a most uncomfortable feeling. Now, at least people will find out if they will be “impacted” or not.

The announcement day

The dreaded day approaches and finally arrives. The boss calls the impacted people in one by one to tell them the bad news. A remaining employee, let’s say, Mary, breathes a sigh of relief until the boss calls her into the office. He says, “As you know, we have let Jake go, so you will now cover his responsibilities.”

Mary says, “But I already have a full workload of customers, and I don’t know anything about Jake’s job.”

The Boss says, “Just do the best you can. Remember, as one of our most talented people, you are lucky to still have a job here.” (This last sentence should never be uttered by a leader who has a clue.)

In a daze, Mary wanders into Jake’s empty office. She looks around and shakes her head. “Well, I might as well dig in here and see what Jake’s job entails.” She looks halfheartedly into Jake’s file drawers and starts trying to make sense of the mess. 

Think about this scene. Have you ever tried to decipher someone else’s files with no crossover? It is impossible.

Reality hits

The sound of the phone ringing in her office wakes Mary up. She runs down the hall and grabs the phone in time. It is the familiar voice of one of her own customers. Thankfully, she is able to answer the question and satisfy the concern. She does a double-take and realizes that there are 18 messages on her answering machine from the past two hours. She starts clearing out her backlog and becomes totally engaged in her old job. She knows that job and can handle the issues.

Trying to train herself

Every day for the next several weeks, Mary goes to Jake’s office for a couple of hours (usually including her lunchtime). This is a feeble attempt to keep the most vocal customers in Jake’s area from blowing up.

There is little understanding or history to back up her actions, so she is not very effective. It is impossible to keep up with Jake’s workload in a couple of hours a day. Mary focuses most of her attention on the job she understands: her old job. She works many long days trying to manage the load.

Unhappy customers

Customers eventually write nasty e-mails to the top manager who jumps all over the area manager. Customers are taking their business elsewhere because there is no service. The boss rushes into Mary’s office and says, “Mary, you are not performing like your usual self. We have customers that are your responsibility who are defecting. I know you are super busy, but you simply cannot afford to ignore customers who are in need.”

 

 Bye-bye now

Mary says, “You are right, Bill. I cannot. Another thing I cannot afford is to work here for you any longer. My family and my doctor tell me I am heading for a heart attack. I am simply unable to perform what is expected. Therefore, I am handing in my two-weeks notice.”

Note the simple but inevitable consequence of an action by management to do a poor job of transition planning.

The company lost valuable customers and one of its most valuable employees. In addition, this situation is going on multiple times in the work unit.  Mary was not the only one whose workload doubled with no training. There is no way to make up for this damage. It is a major blow to the business; in many cases it is fatal.

What caused the failure?

The fault here is not the merger itself; it is the rush to jettison redundant staff too soon. That is silly because they could have planned for a few months of crossover time in the process.

I am not saying that mergers are a picnic if managers give people more time to plan. Many of the problems will occur no matter how the managers announce the merger. If we contrast the above scenario with a slightly modified one, the result has the potential of a brighter outcome.

 A better way to handle the transition

The area manager calls all employees together on day one. He says, “As a result of the merger, we are probably going to need to reduce staff in the next few months. None of us are happy about this, but it will likely happen. The best thing you can do now is focus on your job. As we plan for how many people will need to leave, I will keep you informed.”

During the next couple of weeks, the need for a layoff becomes clear. The boss calls Jake into the office and says, “Jake, as you know we are projecting a layoff. It looks like you are impacted. We will either let you go or have you assume a different role. I will work with you to find the best option.

You should begin networking now, both inside the company and outside. In the meantime, please work with Mary to introduce her to your customer base. I will tell her that we are combining her job with yours, but we will reduce her other responsibilities to allow her time to accomplish the combined area.”

 

The discussion with Mary

In the discussion with Mary, the boss stresses that she is a highly valued employee. She is being called on to stretch her influence with the customer base.  A reduction in her other responsibilities will provide some relief in order to allow more face time with customers. She will also receive a modest bump in pay as a result of the increased load. She will inherit Jake’s accounts and should get up to speed on them over the next few weeks. Jake will help train her.

Advanced planning and preparation can help adjust the numbers needed for adequate customer service.

I grant that this second scenario is far from easy or painless for all parties, but the consequences are far less debilitating for the business. Treat all employees like adults from the start and level with them.

Conclusion

All consolidations are problematic. Regardless of the particular situation, managers need to be particularly attentive to the needs of people. Clueless decisions usually lead to much greater disruptions.  The best course of action is to be as transparent as possible in the concept phase.  In the planning phase, leaders need to think carefully about the consequences of their decisions.

 

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. He is author of the following books: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind