Posts Tagged 'Difficult conversations'

Approaching redundancy with care

Some of you may have heard about Aviva’s recent faux pas when they accidentally sacked 1300 members of staff in 1 quick tap on the key board. A calamity for the HR department responsible for sending an email to 1300 people asking them to pack their bags and leave the building, when really it should have gone to just one person. Surely though, irrespective of the mistake of getting the audience wrong, is sacking by email really an acceptable way of letting staff go?

For anyone involved in Change Management, HR or Communications, the how and when of communicating redundancies often creates a high level of tension and discussion. The choices of who should communicate the message, how it should be communicated and when, always bring out different personal views and different cultural perspectives. Often those involved in making the decisions are influenced by either previous personal experiences or seeing what has worked or not worked in different organisations.

In all cases, I would encourage the decision makers to take a step back when thinking about the redundancy strategy. The decisions should be based on:

Being consistent with the Corporate values

Recognising that everyone who becomes and ex employee will be an advocate or an opponent and will build or damage your brand

Putting yourself in the shoes of those receiving the news

I am sure that if these 3 things are considered then the approach to communicating redundancy would change in many organisations. And more often than not the reasons for using short cuts (like sending an email) or impersonal and often fear based approaches would be shown up as being inconsiderate and unnecessary.

Whilst making people redundant is a difficult experience for all involved, I have seen it work well in organisations so people leave with their dignity intact. My hope is that more organisations will consider the big picture before getting in to a debate about the process.

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Creating trust in the workplace

Recent events in Australian politics have touched, or should I say ploughed, in to an area of leadership and team performance that I think is at the heart of teams failing or excelling. I’ve been watching the moves and words that have been used by the politicians and wondering how trust can be rebuilt at all levels – within the Labour party and also with the public.

Rather than this being a political statement I’d like to focus on what creates or destroys trust and the impact it has on a leader and their teams effectiveness.

As I mentioned in a previous blog we all believe ourselves to be trustworthy. This goes with believing we’re honest, candid and behave in a way that is appropriate. So if this is the case how can trust break down?

I think there are a few behaviours that are needed for trust to be created.

1. Words and actions need to be congruent and consistent – as soon as there is a discrepancy in what is said and done then trust begins to erode

2. There needs to be a basis of respect that emanates through the words and actions. In other words there needs to be a level of acknowledgment of each persons contribution and position

3. Where conflict occurs focus on the issue – find ways to listen to opposing views and address the issue rather than attack the person

One of the most important aspects of building or destroying trust are the symbolic acts that are seen by others. In politics we see many symbols of things being done where trust is eroded. I’m not sure we see many acts that build trust as these symbolic acts often lack authenticity.

Taking this in to an organisational environment there is much that we can learn from watching the politicians. Unfortunately it would seem we can learn more about what not to do rather than what to do. I’d therefore be taking the experience of the last few weeks to question what behaviours leaders can develop and teams use to build trust.

And may be – having observed the politicians you have ideas on things that have happened recently that have built trust. I’d be interested to hear about what you’ve seen.

Asking the million dollar question

In my work I’m lucky to collaborate with some great people who have an attitude of wanting to do things differently. Inevitably I am working with them because they want to do something different in the way they communicate; this opens up a plethora of opportunities for the way they communicate as an organisation, a team or individually.

Working one on one with leaders we often reach a point where we are exploring strategies that will engage other people; in most cases this comes down to asking the million dollar question or questions.

Let’s take a typical situation……..You are about to have a team meeting and want to gain commitment from the team to take a particular direction e.g to manage something that is changing, increase performance or engage new customers. Before you go in to this meeting you know that there are likely to be some tensions, emotion and resistance. You know the team should be involved in forming the outcome yet you’re feeling uncertain about how to handle the meeting. What do you do?

Often the starting point for leaders is to find ways to avoid a discussion about the emotions or the elephants in the room and to shift in to TELL mode. This is a strategy used by many to reach an outcome which on the surface may appear to have reached commitment. For some it then comes as a surprise when the required actions to deliver on the change, the performance improvement or the new customer, don’t happen.

For the leader an alternative path to take before you go in to the meeting could include:
– Planning the parts of your meeting
– Planning what you will say to set the context for the change
– Mapping out the real or potential issues and hot spots
– Thinking about the million dollar questions you will ask

Probably the most difficult part is to think about the relevant million dollar questions and in particular how to use these questions. What ever your million dollar questions are, you are looking for the questions that:
– Involve people in the discussion
– Allow people to give their opinions
– Create a safe space for issues to be raised
– Move the team towards a collective outcome

Inevitably, your million dollar questions will need to be open questions – the How, What, Where, When and Why questions. On top of this, they need to be open questions with thought. Asking “Why aren’t you committed to this?” is likely to create a more defensive or negative response than asking “What do you need to commit to these changes?”

For many, finding the million dollar questions is hit and miss. To hit more than you miss will take practice and awareness; the planning steps mentioned above will help you to go from random shots to thoughtful engagement.

Reasons to avoid difficult conversations

Ever find yourself coming up with reasons to justify why you avoid having conversations that are difficult or confrontational?

As I talk with people in business about the challenges they are facing, it often becomes clear that they are avoiding the difficult conversations or using them as an opportunity to attack others. Which ever path is taken, it tends to mean that you have no chance of achieving the results you want. This has a corrosive effect on the business and for the people involved. Some of the unproductive knocks on effects of these behaviours are:

» Time wasted on conversations that don’t achieve anything
» Break down in relationships that are needed to get things done
» Loss of innovative thinking
» Negative impact on productivity due to time wasted on the wrong actions, the wrong conversations and remedial activities

A Mercer study (2005) showed that only 39% of employees believe mangers do a good job confronting issues before they turn in to major problems. If 60% managers aren’t dealing with the big issues why is it and what can be done about it? What does it mean about the behaviours of these managers, what stops them from confronting issues and having difficult conversations?

There seem to be two main reasons that people don’t have conversations that are difficult or potentially confrontational. Our ability and willingness to have these conversations is dependent on:

» Each person’s previous experience of dealing with difficult conversations – both in the workplace and in other aspects of life. For instance, someone who has been embarrassed, belittled or ignored may find it difficult to say what is on their mind
» The culture of the organisation – does it encourage debate at all levels, is conflict managed so it’s productive, is power/ hierarchy seen as a given when decisions and discussions take place?

Given that we all have different experiences that shape our ability to have difficult conversations and you may be working in an environment that doesn’t encourage these discussions to take place, what can you do and what are the likely results?

Fear tends to prevent people from having the difficult conversations. A starting point when coaching people facing this situation is to be clear on:
» What’s the result that you want to achieve by having the conversation?
And
» What are the consequences of not having the conversation?

Being clear on the outcome you want makes it easier to articulate it clearly and to hold your ground. And thinking about the consequences of not having the conversation often makes it clear that you have to do something differently. For instance, you may realise that not having the conversation is damaging the ability of you and others to get work done; it may be blocking the development of new ideas and could even lead to inappropriate actions being taken. On a personal level it may increase your stress levels, effect relationships and lead to disengagement.

The consequences of not doing anything usually outweigh the risk of doing something. To help you prepare and be ready for the difficult conversations that will arise at some point in your work, take a look at the Kandula tips on Having Difficult Conversations