Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Caught Up

You know when you walk into your place and you see your significant other in a compromising position with your roommate.  And then you stop in your tracks with your jaw dropped until you see that one of them has gotten a bracelet caught in the sweater of the other.  And then you understand the context of the situation.  And it's not so bad.  That hasn't happened to you?  Well, you could just as easily find Three's Company on demand and watch any episode.

The specifics of the situation may change but the overall issue remains the same.  On Three's Company, the plotline was the same - some misunderstanding (usually of a sexual or relational nature), followed by a poor response, an awkward reveal of the truth, and then, reconciliation.  The core issue was mistrust, but the situations that revealed it changed.  

In our organizations, we might find ourselves facing the same circumstances.  There is a core issue at hand that seems to reveal itself in what appear to be unconnected situations.  In actuality, they are absolutely connected.  I recently was with some HR pros who were addressing an issue that had come up a few times previously.  The situation was presented newly, but the core issue remained the same.  And what we do in HR often does not push the envelope towards addressing the core issue.  HR tends to seek peace as its goal.  We'll just hurry up and find a quick solution to the situation, rather than the issue, and hope that it doesn't come up again or that the person who continues to pick at the issue leaves the organization.  This is not managing the situation effectively.

What we can do is take the posture of dialogue to reveal the core issue.  Allow the conversation to move beyond the buzz of cliched approaches with which we get caught up - we need to manage this change better, we need to assess our strengths so we know if we've got the right people on the bus, we need to have an outing so that we can unify our team.  Listen, those things can be great, but if the core issue is lack of trust, then none of those recommendations, along with a thousand others like it, won't work.  It will serve as confirmation, in some cases, as to why the mistrust is there.  Cliques, suspicion and faux-enthusiasm become obstacles heaped upon an already tough set of circumstances.

Consider sitting in a room and simply asking, "Who wants to be here?"  What if we start with that?  What if we push the conversation around why people don't want to be there?  In some cases, there's so much damage in the history book that someone might not be motivated to meet in the middle.  If that's the case, then an organization can just keep pouring good resources towards resolution that will never come.  If someone wants out, then sometimes that's the best answer.  There is not going to be a pretty bow around it and that person may not speak well of you or the organization upon departure.  Honestly, oh, well.  

Learn the lesson from that situation and understand that the core issue still needs to be addressed with those remaining.  Call it out.  Put it on the table.  Have an honest dialogue about it and understand that all parties might not see the same circumstance through the same lens.  Embrace it, as frustrating as it might be, and ask good questions as to how to handle the core issue.  It's not about dying on the hill of circumstances, but rather fighting to get back to giving others the benefit of the doubt.  As a team, we have to encourage that, but we have to do it from the core, not the surface.

Some of us need to wake up and take stock of the issues in our organizations.  Stop pretending they aren't there, that they'll go away or that it's someone else's problem.  Our job is to address and provide the forum for dialogue, healing and growth moving forward.  We lay out expectations on both sides for moving this forward.  We don't accept everyone's stubbornness; we don't bow to fear.  We don't allow one thing to be said in our meetings and then another to be said at the cubicles.  We push for honesty, grace and truth.  

Listen, I recognize how hard this can be in some of our companies.  I know that there is entrenched organizational un-health and the unwilling spirits of employees.  But, I also know that there will only be repeat episodes of Three's Company as long as nothing is done to get to the core issue.  And those episodes will play without a laugh track. 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Are You Gonna Go My Way?

Labeling is an easy skill for most of us.  Our minds have been trained to categorize and label people, things and places.  There are schemata filling the schema in our brains.  In other words, files filling file cabinets in our minds with connections and definitions.  It's why you might smell something, good or bad, and connect it to a memory, a place, a person or a time.  We label.

For those of you re-watching episodes on MeTV of "Happy Days" (or maybe watching them for the first time), you know that the coolest guy on the earth in the 1970's was Arthur Fonzarelli, aka Fonzie.  Initially labeled a juvenile delinquent, Fonzie rose to show a deeper character and a true coolness.  When an organization that worked with kids with who suffered serious abuse and were emotional stifled came to the attention of director Garry Marshall, he wanted Fonzie to alter the label of super-cool a bit.  When Fonzie cried in one episode, and those kids watched it, the result was an open door for that agency to help those kids.  They were ready to emote since Fonzie did.

The labeling takes over rather quickly, however.  We decide who is a jerk, who is nice, who is conceited, who is fake, who is a wimp.  We connect people into categories and then treat the group in that category in the same manner.  We respond singularly, for example, to someone who is mean.  For some of us, we retreat from such a person.  For others, we look to engage and rip apart that person.  It's a sport - the art of the run and the art of the fight.  We all travel the scale and, for some of us, we have to manage people on the same scale.

Our involvement in the label movement is an everyday contribution.  When we treat our employees in a responsive manner rather than at the level we want them to operate, we display our commitment to the label rather than the person.  To be sure, there are jerks.  Of course, those jerks might not be long for their employment.  Yet, even if they are  to be with you for a short time, let's engage them in a way that calls them to greatness rather than meets them in their jerkiness.

As you think about how you're reacting, consider these thoughts:
  • Check your tone - are you sharper with a particular person than others?  Is your label of that person the reason for the difficulty in communication?
  • Re-read emails before you send them - when tone is hard to know, as it is in emails, it means that a bit more time should be spent re-reading prior to send.  You may be giving shade, even unintentionally, by doors you've left open for interpretation of words (and, yes, I said "shade").
  • Examine distribution of work  - are you sharing types of work as well as the amount of work equally, based upon skill sets alone?  Or are you giving the crappy work only to the employee you've labeled negatively?
  • Rotate opportunities to lead - Allow staff to take turns leading various meetings, training sessions or projects.  By rotating the team leader, you are sure that you're negative slant towards someone isn't getting in the way of job expectations and opportunities.
If you're thinking, "I would never let So-And-So lead a meeting or be in charge of a specific type of work", that's fine.  I would just ask back, "Well, then, why is he/she still working at the company?"  If the basis work of work isn't being met that you've uniformly given, then the employment of that person should end.  The work is the reason a person is hired.  

Bear in mind, too, that people might just sometimes surprise you.  The jerk could let his/her guard down and show you how wonderful he/she is.  The wimp might find his/her courage due to the way you're running the department.  The fake might become the most authentic person on your team as he/she learns that skill sets and work product matter more than the facade portrayed.  If Fonzie can cry, then any of these changes could happen. Heyyyyy...