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Turn obstacles into opportunities for better management outcomes

We had a good-sized winter storm this week, leaving about a foot of heavy, wet snow overnight. Some see this as an obstacle, others an opportunity. For better management outcomes, you can see them as both! 

A deep covering of snow conjures up an array of sentiments, depending on who you talk with. If you love to ski, well, this was a jackpot for the spring sport. But if you’re ready to see your garden flowers emerge, it was a setback.

Workplace obstacles and opportunities

Our workplaces present these same sorts of dilemmas. What is exciting and fun for one person can be an annoying ordeal for another. When you are managing a diverse group — or even just one person who may be very different from yourself — this can be a challenge.

How do you meet the needs of everyone? You can’t. So stop trying.

OK. You know there is a catch here, right? As a manager, you certainly do need to be aware of how those on your team are perceiving and reacting to the environment. But more often than not, you can’t change the situation, so don’t make that your management plan. For example, an employee may request vacation on a certain day that you are holding a key event that has been planned and promoted. Since you likely can’t change the event date, it opens the moment for you to turn this into an opportunity. Explain the value in her work, the importance of her contributions towards the event, and discuss a different perk that will leave her with a sense of satisfaction.

Instead of focusing on removing every bump in the road, focus on improving your communication and actions to move through them. 

Let’s go back to that snowstorm as another example. Upon waking Thursday morning to the drifts outside the door, I knew Grace would not be thrilled with the prospect of forging through the dense wall of snow. At 13 years old, she’s a tad stiff in the morning, and she’s also anxious for her breakfast, which she knows she can’t get until after we go out. If she had to plow her way through to the paved road, she would have ended up wet and cold, not a very motivating experience to start her day. I decided to carry her.

I couldn’t change the fact that we were both faced with this obstacle, but I could show her that I’m not going to make things unnecessarily difficult for her. Once we got up the short distance to our quiet road, I put her down and she was happy moving freely, sniffing all the scents left overnight. She was content to mull around for a while, but what happened next was interesting. Instead of waiting for a free ride back to the warmth of her blanket inside, she took initiative to get there herself. I looked up and in a second, she leapt up as if she had springs in her feet, jumping over a snow bank taller than she was! Off she went, easily moving towards something she wanted — on her own initiative.

Focus on the opportunity not the obstacle

In order to manage successfully, we have to be aware of our employee’s wants and needs. Because it is not realistic that individual and organizational needs will always be aligned, we need another approach. Focus on the opportunities, not the obstacles, and watch your employees take a leap of faith alongside you.



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  1. Michelle on March 9, 2018 at 1:59 pm

    I love the way you can turn current events into learning moments! You’re so creative!

    • Robin on March 9, 2018 at 2:06 pm

      Thank you, Michelle! Grace gives me lots of opportunities. I still crack up at that picture — you wouldn’t know she hates to slog through deep snow!

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