Do you have an employee or colleague that has a tendency to dodge particular tasks? Or perhaps have lackluster outcomes from an assignment? Grace’s behavior during this week’s snowstorm gave a clear indication of why that could be happening in your workplace.
How a snowstorm can shed light on a common management problem
On Tuesday, we received about 18″ of heavy, wet snow accompanied with blustery high winds. This March blizzard was a bit extreme but not unprecedented here in New England. The storm moved through slowly, starting early so that when Grace and I went outside first thing in the morning, we faced a brisk breeze and several inches of snow already on the ground. As the day progressed, conditions worsened and Grace was well aware from the howling noises of the wind and the deepening blanket of white that kept squirrels out of sight. Normally, Grace is enthusiastically asking for a walk no later than mid-afternoon, but she had absolutely zero interest on this day.
The big change in her demeanor was completely understandable. In my mind, only the extreme outdoor adventurer would enjoy being out in those conditions and clearly Grace and I were aligned in our thinking. No sensible short-haired, sun-loving dog would want to subject herself to those elements!
It got me thinking how conditions, such as our own interests and temperament, impact the choices we make about our daily work assignments.
Grace doesn’t like a cold, deep snow and gets nervous in heavy wind: in the workplace, the equivalent would be an employee who lacks interest in the particular task or feels overwhelmed with an assignment (either because of a real or perceived skill deficient). As an example, perhaps you are more excited to start a new initiative than buckle down and wrap up the nitty-gritty details of a current one. Ignoring this piece of the project could jeopardize successful implementation but it’s off your radar because it’s boring to you.
Dreaded work assignments can develop into a larger issue
Those dreaded work assignments, if not dealt with, can develop into a much larger issue. A manager needs to be aware of the signals and work to address them. Start to notice when a person hesitates or avoids a task and look for trends. If you can shift or off-load those types of projects, great! But that is not always possible. Whenever possible, focus on the person’s strengths and tap into those as much as you can. But if something is not getting done, especially over time, this has a negative impact on everyone.
Find a balance when negotiating with your employee
Work with the individual to understand their tipping point and areas where you can find mutual ground. Even though Grace hated to go outside in the storm, she knew that she had to be out long enough to take care of business. No matter how much she wanted to stay cuddled in her plush blanket on the sofa all day, there was a point she had to go out. She knows the rules of the house regarding bathroom breaks but there was no reason for me to make her go for a long walk that day. Find the balance of what is required and what is necessary for job performance when negotiating with your employee.
Put into perspective whether the “blizzard” is happening for one day or a whole season. If someone puts off something occasionally, it’s probably not a big deal. But when there is a pattern of avoidance, especially for a key component of the position, that presents a problem not only for the outcomes of the position but for the entire team.
Grace can stay cuddled on the couch without impacting others but in the workplace, someone avoiding tasks for too long becomes a problem to the team. Your job as a manager is to ensure that individuals and teams succeed in all activities, and that means getting the important things done through wind and snow.
There are lots of times in the course of a normal day when we need to persuade a co-worker. Sometimes it is as simple as asking a teammate to cover during a lunch break or as challenging as implementing a new policy that presents unwanted changes. No matter the degree of difficulty, there is one thing that will make all your efforts to persuade much more effective.
The quality of your existing relationship with the person you are trying to persuade will always impact the outcome
Think about a time when someone you respected and admired asked you to do something. And then think about a time when a rude, arrogant, and insensitive person asked you for something. I’m sure it’s easy to recall which exchange went more smoothly. Even if you had issues with the request from the person you felt closer with, you would work through those questions in a helpful way. However, chances are pretty good that there was grumbling involved even if you did want the annoying person wanted.
When we think about our role in persuading others, we immediately jump to how we need to inform, educate, or change the other person. However, our best chances of persuading is when we listen to what is important to the other person and work together towards a goal that meets the needs of both. Ranting and raving about what someone is doing wrong will not endear them to you.
When managing, or even working alongside others, we tend to forget how important our everyday actions are influencing the basic relationship. The little things we say or do at any given moment create a foundation of a relationship. That is the baseline from which the bigger conversations will be decided. It’s too late to be nice just on the day when we know we have to announce a major upheaval that we want people to embrace.
Building quality relationships occurs with every interaction
In every interaction, you are building trust — or eroding it. Think about these activities and how you are handling them and you will clearly see whether you are building good will or depleting it.
- Aware of the needs of the other person
- Responding to email messages in a timely way
- Communicating status of projects even when not asked
- Being direct and open in addressing issues
- Accepting responsibility when things aren’t going well
- Being approachable to all opinions, staying clear on how you feel but non-judgmental about others’ perspective
- Informed about a subject or curious to know more
This list could be longer, but in my opinion it captures the critical aspects to a relationship that share respect and trust. Without that, persuading someone else is very arduous work. If you are having trouble getting someone to do something, step back to the larger picture and be honest about the overall quality of your relationship. What can you do right now that will create a stronger relationship?
In February’s online workshop, Robin discusses two of the nine Behavioral Traits measured by the ProfileXT assessment, specifically Pace and Assertiveness. You will learn the strengths and benefits of both ends of the scale and how it impacts an individual’s work style and interactions. Even if you aren’t using the assessment, the information will be valuable in understanding how this impacts our effectiveness for work performance and communication.
Sometimes this mistake happens behind closed doors. Other times within earshot of others. It often happens nonchalantly, like when two colleagues are having a casual chat that develops into a full-blown venting session. It might seem like a valid stress-relieving technique at the time, or at least innocent without ramifications. But never will this mistake provide a good outcome.
The mistake? When a manager makes a disparaging or off-handed comment about another person in the organization. Or worse, when a leader publicly and purposefully denigrates the performance of another. There are few things that will erode trust and competence faster than this common occurrence.
Why is this mistake so costly to your trust and competence?
There are several reasons.
- If a manager is talking about someone behind their back, the chances are high that everyone is a target at some point.
- Effective leaders support their team, at all levels of the organization, rather than berate them. They find ways to work through an issue constructively instead of assigning blame as an excuse.
- Talking about a person behind their back indicates that the manager is not addressing the issue directly and respectfully.
Everyone can play a role in removing this behavior from your workplace
Sometimes you can get caught up in the moment, whether you are the one spouting or perhaps you are simply agreeing with someone else’s remarks. The latter is not any better. When you are on the receiving end of hearing something that sounds more like gossip or an ill-placed critique of someone, back out as graciously as you can. Here are some ideas for what to say:
- “I’m not sure about that since I wasn’t there.”
- “You probably have good reason to be upset but I think you should discuss how you’re feeling with [the person’s name] to figure out how to avoid this next time.” Then move quickly to another topic!
- “Probably good to speak directly with [the person’s name] so you can clear up the miscommunication.”
- “I’d feel better staying outside of this one as I think you two are in a better position to work through the problem together.”
- “Let’s focus on something that we have control over.”
It takes ‘two to tango’ so participating in the behavior is just as problematic as starting it.
Everyone can play a role in removing this type of dialogue from your workplace culture. By doing so, you eliminate high levels of negativity and increase trust, loyalty, job satisfaction and outcomes. Which environment would you rather work in?
With never-ending pressure to get results out of yourself and your team, it’s tempting to move fast. Why shouldn’t you forge ahead like a steam roller? The more you do, the more you can achieve. Right?
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Moving fast does not guarantee fast results, nor effective outcomes.
There is a real need to be efficient
Businesses are constantly faced with the realities of accomplishing a boatload of work in a short amount of time. There is a real need to be efficient, fast, and productive in order to compete in today’s marketplace. However, savvy managers know how to prioritize and how to work a project plan at a pace that matches the needs and stakes involved.
The first step is making sure that you don’t have too much stacked on your plate. I often see fast-paced managers take on too many projects at once. This can burden a team who doesn’t have the bandwidth to accommodate all the work. Instead, keep your eye on the need for all projects, but tackle them in priority order.
Next, be clear on the pace in which an individual works best. Every one has their own unique way, ranging from methodical and focused to rapid, even chaotic, with many of us falling in between the ends of the spectrum. The slow and steady approach, like the tortoise in the popular animal fable, can get results. On the flip side, a fast-paced work style is often lauded in our work cultures and there is something to be said for those who can constantly crank through tasks. Speed and quality need to be balanced, for sure.
Many ways to reach the finish line and the best way is not always fast
There is not a better way, though best results come when the pace matches the situation. Moving quickly makes sense for simple things that only involve a minimal number of players, and the stakes aren’t high. Conversely, a leader should move more carefully (and slowly) if a decision is multi-faceted, impacts a large group of people, or has significant ramifications. Planning a new product design or revamping existing company-wide policies should require more consideration.
For many, it seems counter-intuitive to slow down when you want to get fast results. However, that’s exactly what will give you a better chance of fast — and successful — outcomes, especially for large initiatives.
Moving too fast results in resistance. Managers then claim that “people hate change” but the adverse reaction is usually just a result of being on the receiving end of an aggressive stance without having an opportunity to offer a different perspective. Managers with the best intentions can set off fireworks unnecessarily by moving too fast. They need to realize that others can help them make a more informed decision while still working towards a common goal. The backlash can happen for a number of good reasons, including the following:
- Some people need more time than others to adjust to change
- Those most involved with the change have the best insights into what can go wrong and how to avoid complications
- Engaged employees want to have a say in their work
Your job as a manager — whether of projects or people — becomes easier when you slow down and involve others in the process. You show your respect for your team when you ask for their input, opinion, and recommendations. Move fast when you can, but recognize when you need to beware of the hare!