Category Archives: Working successully

Is there life after conflict?

Like you, I’ve been listening to all the political messages over the past few days and weeks.  I’ve also been thinking about what we can learn from their tone (on all sides) that might transfer to  workplaces.  Now that the election is over, some of the winners are gloating and ridiculing the losers, while some losers batten down the hatches and make excuses for the outcome.  None of these are productive responses, especially since we then expect both sides to suddenly forget all the awful things that were said and work together toward a better future.  Unfortunately, we see very similar behavior in the workplace, especially when conflict happens and the resolution favors one side over the other.

Let’s take this situation: In the Company there’s a budget battle going on in which people are fighting for positions in their departments.  Marketing says that their work is critical to ensuring continuing growth and profitability, that they have smart, creative staff who are really committed to the Company.  They also say that Research and Development (R&D) has been totally mismanaged with expensive exploratory trips and software purchases, and that their staff are stupid in mis-reading the customers and wasting time and money on nonsense.

Meanwhile, the R&D folks are touting the great new products that have been developed by their brilliant employees, which the idiots in Marketing can’t seem to understand because they’re too wrapped up in show and totally lacking in substance.  They’re saying that lagging sales are all Marketing’s fault; Marketing is saying it’s all R&D’s fault for wasting time and money and developing unpopular products.

The Executive Team and CEO finally decide on the budget, cutting R&D rather drastically and putting more money into Marketing. Of course, Marketing is thrilled.  They won!  R&D is hurt, angry, and feeling misunderstood, betrayed and marginalized.  They lost.  Then the CEO directs the two departments to work together closely to ensure success.  After months of mudslinging, is that even possible?  Probably not.  And who really loses?  The Company does.

Is there another way?  I’d suggest there is. The Company needs to create a culture based on the “Five A’s”:

  • Assume positive intent on the part of all parties: everyone wants the Company to succeed.  Everyone wins when the Company is successful.  Everyone loses when it is not.
  • Argue vigorously for issues, perspectives, and points of view while being very gentle with people.  No name calling.  No attacks.  Everyone loses when people are attacked and labels are thrown around (stupid, incompetent, useless,…)  Everyone wins when issues are analyzed and vetted for the best possible outcome for the Company and decisions are made on facts, not personalities.
  • Allow everyone to save face.  People in the workplace have to be able to continue to work together effectively on the other side of the conflict.  If the relationship is torn so badly that one side (or both) believes they have been betrayed, maligned, insulted, or otherwise seriously hurt, working together for the good of the Company becomes very difficult, if not impossible.  People who have lost face look for ways to get revenge – and when they find them (and they do), everyone loses.
  • Acknowledge the past, but move on to the future.  Things will move forward if both winners and losers respect one another’s perspectives and past conflicts, but commit to coming together (that means both sides give some) for the best future for the Company.
  • Advance everyone’s interests by building personal relationships on an ongoing basis so that future conflicts (which are guaranteed to occur) can be worked through and best outcomes achieved.

There will always be conflicts in the workplace, and in our personal and political lives.  There is never enough time, money or staff.  There are different beliefs and values.  It’s not about eliminating these conflicts.  It’s about learning to build relationships and focusing on debating  issues rather than maligning people.  The better we learn to do this in all aspects of our lives, the more likely we can create a greater good for all.

What are your thoughts about how to create a good outcome for all after heated differences?  Please share your ideas!  ~Daphne Schneider

Headphones at Work?

I recently read a post in Dave Clemens’ HR Cafe on the issue of whether employers should let employees listen to music or other material on headphones while at work. He noted that surveys  show that employees feel more productive and satisfied while listening to music, books, etc. and that with headphones on, they’re less distracted. He then went on to discuss when it might be inappropriate to let employees do this (e.g., if they’re in customer service) and the dangers inherent in wearing headphones such as failure to hear a fire alarm or co-worker questions.

This got me thinking.  My main thought being: I don’t think employees should be on headphones during work. 

I must confess first that I don’t like the modern habit of listening to music 24/7: on the bus, when walking, when shopping, etc.  I believe in interacting with the world, not being perpetually distracted and separate from it.

That being said, some activities are very boring — exercise at the gym, for example–and even I can’t condemn doing something else while exercising.

So with that as a starting point, maybe wearing headphones at work can be appropriately allowed if: (1) the work is fairly solitary and repetitive; (2) listening to music, news or whatever will not affect accuracy or other elements of job performance; and (3) the employee can still readily hear what’s going on around him or her.  I would also add that the employee needs permission to wear headphones and that he or she should not be allowed to wear them for excessively long periods of time and certainly not all day.

There are (at least) two problems, however, with my criteria: they potentially pigeonhole certain jobs and can create resentment among others who are not allowed to wear headphones.  The answer to the first problem, of course, is not to label the headphone-appropriate jobs as “boring.” Other, more positive descriptions such as those used above are better.  As for the second problem, if the criteria are clearly stated and consistently applied, theoretically there will be no grounds for complaint. Or maybe an employer can institute “Headphone Friday.”

On the other hand, maybe it’s just easier to ban headphones altogether. Your thoughts?  ~Amy Stephson

Is Training the Right Answer?

As you might imagine, it depends.  Let’s look at a few workplace challenges and see.

Situation 1:  You’ve just learned that though there are a number of anti-harassment policies on the books at your workplace, no one really knows about them.  Is training the right answer?  Probably.  Many court cases have shown that even if you have policies, if you’ve never provided anti-harassment training to your employees, you could be held liable for any illegal harassment they perpetrate. So what do you have to do?  It doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated.  An hour or two to go over the policies, talk about the gray areas (there are many), answer questions, lay out some scenarios for folks to think about – that could be sufficient.  This is really about raising awareness and understanding.  You could do more, but this minimum will work for a start.  Do document that you provided the training, and keep a record of who attended – best done by having employees sign into the training and attest with their signature that they received a copy of the policy.

Situation 2: You’ve just had yet another complaint about one of your supervisors.  She tends to lose her temper and yell at her subordinates.  She sometimes apologizes later, but not always.  This has been going on for years – and other than this, she’s really a pretty good employee.  Is training the right answer?  Maybe.  But first, expectations need to be set by her supervisor, who needs to be clear with her that yelling at her subordinates (even if she later apologizes) is not acceptable.  Likely this has become a habit for her when she gets frustrated, so she’ll need to learn other (acceptable) ways to cope with her frustrations.  It’s unlikely that simply sending her to a communication or supervisory skills workshop will address her specific needs, but she may get tips at such a workshop that she can use.  So, if you send her, tell her you expect her to return with specific strategies to use when her employees frustrate her, instead of yelling at them.  Then, regularly monitor her to ensure she’s applying what she learned in the workshop.   Providing some individual coaching for her would actually be a better approach because a coach could help her with specific employee situations that frustrate her.

Situation 3:  Yours is, and has been, a very negative workplace.  Everyone gripes, makes snide comments, and puts their coworkers down.  Employees complain about management, the work, the customers and each other.  It’s pretty much always been like this. Good employees regularly leave for other environments that are more positive, which just leaves everyone else with more negative things to say.   Is training the right answer?  Training might be part of the right answer, but this is first and foremost a culture change issue, not a training issue.  To change how people behave in this organization, management will first need to lead a commitment process that speaks to values that promote positive behavior and good customer service.  Then they will need to set performance expectations around those values, hold themselves and their supervisors accountable for meeting those expectations, and finally hold their employees accountable for them as well.  Then, if needed, it may be appropriate to provide training for staff in how to behave to live those new positive values.

So, though we’re often tempted to fix all workplace problems by providing some training, it’s not necessarily the right (or only) answer.  As someone once said, if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.  Expand your toolbox!

Have you had a good (or not so good) experience using training to solve a workplace problem?  We’d love to hear from you!  ~Daphne Schneider

You’re Just Not the Person I Hired!

I recently read an article in Psychology Today concerning how to tell whether you’re with the right mate.  It included some interesting observations:

  • We alone are responsible for having the relationship we want.
  • When we’re in love, everything about the other person is wonderful. 
  • When “reality rears its head” and we discover inevitable incompatibilities, we can only see the differences we have.
  • When we start seeing these differences, we tend to see them through the lens of what’s wrong with the other person, and what they need to change.
  • Then, our inability to get along with the other person (who we used to think walked on water) becomes their fault – and we can’t do anything about that.

 These insights about intimate relationships got me thinking about the expectations we have for our relationships with people we hire.  When we start a job, it’s pretty common to feel very positive and  hopeful about the people with whom we’re going to be working.  That’s even more the case if we’re the supervisor hiring that new person (of course we wouldn’t hire them if they weren’t just the right person!)  All sort of like falling in love.

 But then, after we’ve worked together for a while,  after the new person has worked for us for a while, the truth sets in.  They’re not perfect.  They’re not the ideal person we thought they would be.  Sometimes it’s as if a switch was flipped (another analogy from this article) and now that perfect new employee just can’t do anything right. 

  • What used to be their great attention to detail is now unbearably boring commentary.
  • What used to be their funny stories about past co-workers is now annoying as they become not-so-funny stories about current employees we like.
  • What used to be a take-charge attitude we admired now feels like bullying and an attempt to take over.

 Our conclusion?  We hired the wrong person!

 Well, maybe not.  To continue applying the analysis from the Psychology Today article, thinking of an employee as right or wrong is using the wrong construct.  No employee you hire will ever be the one and only ‘right’ one. 

 When you discover that that new employee really isn’t so great, refocus.  Ask yourself: why am I suddenly unhappy with this person?  It’s likely not the case that the employee suddenly changed.  Rather, most probably they never were as perfect as you thought them to be and you are now discovering that.  

 So, what to do?  Here are a couple of things to consider:

Remember the positive reasons you hired this person.  They’re likely still there.  Concentrate on them.  Accentuate them.

Address issues that really are matters that bother you only if they are matters of consequence, not just matters of preference.  Rely on that attention to detail – just avoid having to listen to too much of it.  Enjoy the humor, as long as it’s not destructive.  Let go of control so that new employee can have some ownership – it doesn’t all have to be done exactly the way you would have done it.  In other words, decide to change yourself – change the way you view that person.  You have control over that – use that control to quickly improve your outlook and the situation.

Finally, decide to ignore the small irritations you’ve noticed – you’re likely not perfect either!  It’s not worth dwelling on the many things that may irritate you.  Support the positive behaviors and, where at all possible, ignore the irritations.  Don’t let them get to you.  Again, change yourself.

 Following these suggestions will make for a much calmer, healthier and happier relationship with your employee – and will improve your non-work relationships as well!

 Have you found yourself irritated by someone you once thought was wonderful?  How did you handle it?  ~Daphne Schneider



Using the Right Bait

How do you get someone else to change their behavior?  That’s an ongoing challenge for many of us, whether we’re first line supervisors or colleagues, top level managers or parents.  You simply can’t make someone else change unless they have some incentive to change. 

Unfortunately what many of us do is identify our motivation for the other person to change, and assume that’s their motivation.  For example:

  • I ask you not to yell at me because it hurts my feelings (and I assume you care about that).
  • I tell you to clean your workspace because I hate starting my shift in your messy space (and I assume you’ll do it just because???)
  • You’re told to fill out the medical history form because that’s the physical therapist’s policy before they’ll treat you, but you’re there for a sore leg (and not interested in providing information about other parts of your body).
  • You tell your subordinate to stop taking extended breaks (and assume, because you’re the supervisor, he will comply). 

All of these sound like reasonable requests and might work if the other person is amenable to doing something a different way.  However, if the other person is resistant, they are unlikely to work because the incentive is not there. 

So, what do you do when you’re faced with someone who won’t do what you want them to?  We are often tempted to threaten…do it this way or else.  However, most threats are ineffective – and are ignored.  For example,

  • If I already don’t like you I may not care if you threaten never to talk to me again if I yell. 
  • If I know our supervisor doesn’t care whether or not my workspace is messy, your threat to tell her on me (kind of like third grade) will have no effect. 
  • The likelihood they’ll refuse to treat your sore leg if you don’t  fill out their form is…zero.
  • And even if a threat might work, it will only work if you’re watching.  Without my buy-in, the threat to fire me if I’m late returning from break will only be effective in getting me back on time if I know you’re watching every single time I go on break.

The only really effective way to get someone else to change their behavior when they are resistant is to find a reason they will want to change.  I recently saw a brilliant version of this truism at a wonderful restaurant in Colorado.  On a card tent on each table was the following small note:


Your call is important.

For your privacy,

Please use the lobby area.

That’s absolutely brilliant.  We’ve all been annoyed when the person at the next table talks loudly on their cell phone.  And we’ve all seen the signs that say “No cell phone use here” or even, “Please turn off your phone while in this area.”  And we’ve all seen people ignore these signs because they’re about the establishment and the other customers, not about their need to use the phone.  However, this restaurant notice was clearly designed to address the needs and interests of the person using the phone – and there was not a single person in the restaurant on the phone.  It works.  One of my favorite sayings is, “When you go fishing, what kind of bait do you use?  What you like or what the fish likes?”  Clearly, that applies to our interactions with people as well as fish.  Find what will work as an incentive for the other person, and they will change. 

Have you given someone a reason they care about to do something they might not otherwise do?  We’d love to hear it!  ~Daphne Schneider

Bullying? Maybe not…

A colleague asked me the other day whether I think there are more lawsuits and more formal workplace complaints than there used to be. I think there are, and one of the things that’s increased dramatically over the past years in my work is more complaints for harassment and bullying against coworkers. Though some of those complaints are clearly valid and serious and need to be addressed in a legal/investigation context, many of the others I see are something else entirely.

Please don’t misunderstand me: bullying is a real and serious issue, a legitimate problem. When one person targets another on the basis of race, gender, religion or any number of other reasons and makes his or her life miserable with taunts, comments, sabotage, malicious gossip or threats – that’s bullying and harassment (at a minimum).  When that’s going on, you need to either address it directly or with assistant from management or human resources.

However, I get worried when I see the word “bullying” so often tossed around and people labeled as bullies when what they’re really doing is essentially behaving badly (they never went to manners class). Unfortunately, there are lots of people who are rude, obnoxious, obstinate, unfriendly, unwelcoming, discourteous, insensitive and otherwise  ill-mannered.

Here’s the sort of thing I’m talking about:

– Susie, the administrative assistant who makes it very difficult for anyone to give her work to do (though doing work for others is her job) by purposely misunderstanding directions and repeatedly getting things wrong.

– Art, the analyst, who constantly interrupts, speaks way too loudly, towers over people (he’s bigger and taller than most everyone and stands way too close).

– Yusuf, a senior employee, who is constantly telling people how to do their jobs because he’s been there a long time and believes he knows all.

– Carlotta who gives out lots of unsolicited advice, spreads gossip constantly and wants to be in everyone else’s business.

So, are these bullies? No, they’re not. They don’t target specific people (one of the definitions of bullying behavior). They’re just generally hard to work with because they have bad manners, are rude and arrogant.

So, if you work with one of these folks, should you file a harassment and bullying complaint? No. You should become assertive and address these behaviors directly.  Even though confronting them may be uncomfortable, it will very likely result in changed behavior.  I’m going to bet that most of the folks who behave this way have never been called on it, so keep doing what they’ve always done.  So, with the above coworkers:

– Be clear in your instructions to Susie, and tell her you expect the work to be done correctly. Follow up and have her re-do it until it’s right. She’ll get tired of that and start doing it right in the first place.

– Politely ask Art to back off, or sit down. Don’t allow him to interrupt – tell him you were speaking, and need to finish (it’s likely no one has ever said that to him before!)

 – Express your appreciation to Yusuf  for providing history, and tell him that you will do things the way you believe to be best, and don’t argue (don’t give him the opportunity to browbeat you into compliance.)

– Stop listening to Carlotta when she gives advice or spreads gossip. Tell her you don’t have time, and go back to your work. A lack of an audience may well tame her inclinations.

There are many other examples of bad behavior at work that are simply that – bad behavior at work. Learn skills to address people who act this way, rather than filing formal complaints. But do make a formal complaint if real harassment and bullying is going on – and learn to tell the difference.

Have you encountered bad behavior at work that may have felt like bullying but wasn’t really? Tell us about the “equal opportunity” rude coworkers you’ve encountered and how you dealt (or should have dealt) with them. ~Daphne Schneider

Stuck? Allow intuition in!

 In my work I write a lot of reports for clients.  At times that can be really hard.  Sometimes I’ve talked with a dozen or more people over the course of weeks, and reviewed piles of written materials.  I then have to tease out the relevant information, distill it into a document that is understandable, flows well, and makes sense to someone who know nothing about the situation (like an EEOC investigator, or someone from the press who has requested it as a public record.)  And it’s often not easy to figure out how to do that.

Sometimes my left brain (and I am very left brained, logical, analytical) works on that challenge until I’m tired and frustrated and feel like I’m not getting anywhere fast.  Has that ever happened to you?  I get writer’s block.  Then, what I do write appears awkward and strained (because it is.) 

What I have learned over time is that when that happens the best thing is often to leave it.  Stop.  Go away.  Do something completely different.  Take a walk, or a nap.  Though it seems counterintuitive to stop working when you need to get something done, in the end it’s often the most effective thing you can do.  Why?

Brain researchers have repeatedly shown that the unconscious brain keeps working even as the conscious brain hits a wall or stops.  And it’s this part of your brain that often finds the “aha” insight that solves the problem – based on lots of data processed intuitively.  As a number of researchers have explained, our intuition has helped us survive over the eons, and can help with today’s roadblocks too.

Here are a few tips for accessing that unconscious part of your brain (even when your logical left brain tells you to put your nose to the grindstone and just work harder):

  • Take up meditation.  Regular practitioners have a much better connection to their intuition than those of us who only rely on logic to solve problems (I’m working on that…)
  • If at work, take a break and get away from your desk.  Play a game on your computer.  Take a walk, read a magazine on a totally different topic.  The answer you seek may just come to you!
  • Write the problem down before going to sleep (a left brain thing to do).  Your unconscious brain will work on it during the night, and may well come up with a solution by morning.
  • Listen to music while working.  It engages your right brain and helps it work on the problem together with your left brain.

So, back to those complex reports:  when I get stuck, even (or especially) when a deadline is looming, I force myself to take a break (ignoring the little voice in my head screaming for me to push through).  I do something completely different (like play a game of solitaire on the computer) and stop trying to reason out the problem.  I can’t necessarily figure out how I get the answer, but often it just comes to me.  Right brain, intuition at work.

Have you found a way to use your right brain – your gut feelings and intuition – to help you at work?  Share your tips!  ~Daphne Schneider

Those Snarky Comments!

We’ve probably all heard the comment Winston Churchill made to the woman who told him he was drunk, “I may be drunk, Madam, but in the morning I will be sober and you will still be ugly.”  I wish I was that quick with a comeback to a snarky (rude, sarcastic, snide ridiculing) comment!

Unfortunately, we sometimes work with someone (Susie, for this example) who is prone to make snarky remarks.  She’ll insult people (“That’s the best idea I’ve heard in the last minute”), put them down, (“I bet you think you’re smart,”) or be downright offensive, (“Brownnosing again?”)  Frustrated co-workers sometimes call this behavior bullying, but it really isn’t because it’s not targeted at a specific individual but rather aimed at pretty much anyone.  There are usually no policies in place that can effectively address this behavior, so it’s up to co-workers (rather than management) to deal with it – especially since it’s usually only exhibited when no supervisory staff members are present.

We’ve probably all had to listen to snarky comments from Susie, all been upset by them, and all kicked ourselves for not knowing what to say in the moment.  So, Susie gets snarky with us, and we feel bad.  Is there anything else we can do?

 Sure – PREPARE!

 Make a list of effective responses, and practice them.  I want to re-state the ones from Amy’s last blog, and add a few:

–         “I don’t think this conversation (or comment) is appropriate. Let’s move on.”

–         Change the subject: “Anyone want to xxx?”

–         Repeat what Susie just said, with a question, “Susie, did you really just say that I’m a moron?”  Look at her and wait, silently.

–         Label what Susie just said, with a question, “Susie, did you intend to insult Henry with that comment?”

–         With wonder in your voice say, “I don’t think I heard you right.  Can you repeat that?”

–         With shock in your voice say, “Pardon me? What did you just say?”

 All of these comments will likely stop Susie in her tracks.  She’s not used to being called on her rudeness – and won’t like it one bit.  Doing this regularly in response to her comments will tend to modify her behavior to the good, and will make you feel empowered rather than victimized.

So, practice these (or other) comebacks.  Write them down.  Post them by your desk.  Say them to the mirror in the morning.  Do this until they become a natural part of your communication arsenal, and you will be well prepared to respond in an effective way to those who, like Susie, want to control interactions with their snarky remarks.

 Let us know great comebacks you have used!  ~Daphne Schneider




Shorts, tanks, flip-flops…yikes!

It’s a glorious sunny summer day and predicted to be quite warm, so Sherry puts on her flowing, cool halter-neck dress and her fanciest sandals and heads off to the office. Meanwhile, James is putting on his blue-green striped shorts, matching blue shirt and sandals, while Carmelita pulls out her favorite summery beige miniskirt and orange and yellow striped tank top with those great bright yellow sunny high-healed sandals. Lin, meanwhile, feels quite daring as he puts on his light blue Dockers and white polo shirt , and Kanisha wears her tan suit, white blouse and open-toed heels. And, they all work in the same office!

Summer is here (yes, it really is…) and so are the annual questions of appropriate workplace attire that come with it. Most workplaces today don’t have dress codes that are very useful for actually determining what the expectations are – they tend to say things like, “Dress should be appropriate and professional” – like you couldn’t have figured that out?

So, how do you know what’s ok to wear to the office and what’s not? Here are five key guidelines to help you:

1. Consider the message: what do you want your boss, co-workers, customers or clients to think when they see you? Send a message that’s as universally professional as possible, yet not stuffy – be comfortable, casual, appropriate to the setting.

2. Office casual oes not mean clothing that you’d wear to the beach, for yard work, to the dance club, for exercise or sport.

3. Too much skin in the form of excessive cleavage, or exposed back, chest or stomach is a no-no – as is clothing that shows bra or underwear.

4. Avoid words and pictures on clothing that may in any way be offensive. Generally, sports team, university or fashion brand names are acceptable if the print or logo isn’t too large.

5. Ensure that all clothing is neat, clean, pressed and in good repair – that means no unhemmed pants or skirts and no tears.

Finally, check with your supervisor or human resources before coming to work wearing any of these – even in summer in a casual office: shorts (even longer /Bermuda shorts), jeans, tank tops, leggings, short/mini skirts, Hawaiian shirts, and t-shirts if worn without a jacket (they’re generally acceptable under a jacket).

So, what about our employees? Sherry might be able to get away with the dress if she has a sweater over it and pins the high slit. If James has confirmed that shorts are ok, and that sandals without socks are acceptable, he’s fine if he tucks in that shirt – but he needs to confirm both of those before wearing that outfit to work. Carmelita’s outfit is likely inappropriate: the skirt is too short, the tank to too revealing. The shoes might or might not be acceptable, depending on how racy they are. Lin may feel unorthodox – but he’s just fine. As for Kanisha – she might even be overdressed if this office encourages casual attire during the summer!

What’s been your experience with office dress codes in summer? Have you ever had to talk with an employee about the appropriateness of their attire?  Let us know!  ~Daphne Schneider

What’s a new manager to do?

The Situation: Susan (not her real name), was a fairly new manager who was hired to head a division of 20 technical and support staff members, many of whom had been there a long time. Her predecessor of 17 years had retired, and the long-time assistant manager, Camille, had been asked to do both her own job and the manager’s job for about a year. She applied for the manager’s job, but Susan was hired instead.

Susan came in from the outside with lots of new ideas, and encountered a lot of staff distrust. After meeting individually with each employee, she noted that:

– most people seemed quite competent, worked independently and liked it that way

 – many staff members felt overworked since 3 positions had been cut

– there was little communication between Camille and the staff, and staff didn’t know or seem to care about the ‘big picture’ that Camille worked with

– there were no staff meetings, and no other regular ways for staff to meet or share information

– though staff members were individually proud of the work they did, there wasn’t any team spirit

– there was jealousy between some of the technical staff members over who got to do the more interesting projects, and how those were assigned 

Susan determined that a high priority was to improve communication. She instituted regular staff meetings (she brought snacks) where she shared what was going on in this and other areas of the Department. She asked for comments and input, but most people listened politely and remained quiet. She also started copying staff on information she received from other areas of the Department, and sending weekly e-mail updates to all staff concerning work within the division.

Susan also thought there should be more team spirit, so she created a monthly theme (usually tied to something seasonal), asked people to decorate their work spaces according to that theme, scheduled a monthly potluck lunch, and made sure birthdays were acknowledged with a birthday song and cake (for which she paid).

The result? People grumbled about being forced to do things not related to work, and team feeling sank even lower. Some staff members appreciated receiving more information, some grumped about excess e-mails with irrelevant information, and a there was lots of resentment that their time was being used for frivolous things that just put them more behind in their work.

What went wrong? Clearly, Susan had good intentions. So, what went wrong here? Susan approached her new job well. It was good that she met with everyone individually. She recognized (probably correctly) that some of the challenges of this workplace had to do with lack of communication and lack of teamwork. However, the solutions she imposed (staff meetings for the purpose of sharing information where only she talked, and mandated “fun”) were not going to work. For one thing, though she identified some of the issues, she imposed her idea of solutions without any participation from staff.  And that assumes that these two issues are really the ones staff feel are most important!

What should she have done? Once she had gathered information from individual employee interviews, she should have shared the results (in a general way) with the whole staff. Then, she should have solicited their responses to the information.  They would likely have determined that some way of sharing more information was good – but might also have come up with approaches that were more meaningful to them. And, they would have had ownership in those approaches because they developed them. The same is true for Susan’s poor attempts to improve team spirit. 

What now? Given that Susan found herself in this situation after having tried and failed in her attempts to improve things, the best thing to do is back up. Admit that what she did was not effective, and ask for help from the staff: invite interested staff members to work with her to determine effective approaches to the issues that were raised. That will be much more likely to yield positive results than anything she could develop on her own – even if it was a great idea. Involvement creates commitment. Ideas – even if they’re good ones – imposed from the top, do not.

Have you ever been a new manager trying to succeed in a difficult situation? Have you been an employee subject to a new manager’s ideas of how to improve things? Let us know what worked – or didn’t. We’d love to hear from you! ~ Daphne Schneider