What’s the Temperature of Your Office?

The bad news: if your office displays 2 of the following 5 team maladies, you have a sick office culture:

  1. Interoffice sabotage (usually driven by gossip)
  2. Excessive non-medical absenteeism
  3. Limited dialogue, lack of free expression
  4. High turnover – all staff positions
  5. No passion. Lack of direction. It’s for the paycheck, not the team

The good news: changing office culture is top down. Managers / directors / supervisors have the ability to make significant changes that will move an environment of dread to a positive and productive office.

Interoffice sabotage is nefarious. It’s hard to uncover and equally as difficult to combat. In most instances relationship building is a beginning to recovery.   Open and frank communication is the driver. Be warned, you may not like or agree with what you hear – but ignorance, in this case, is certainly not bliss.

When your employees dread coming to work – managers need to find out why. Multiple absenteeism due to “personal” reasons become a key indicator when numbers increase. This takes a little bit of sleuthing and a lot of communication. Team meetings that foster dialogue is one way to start. Always be sensitive to conversation after “meeting adjourn”!

Nothing is more frustrating than to nurture a new employee – only to have him or her jump ship. Employee turnover is expensive, hurts productivity and kills team morale. It’s true, payment incentives may factor in when an employee leaves. But negative environments can be equally – if not more – the reason for leaving. The dream team is comprised of employees that want to be at work.

Team building did not go out of style with 1980s big hair. Determining what you want your company/department/office to be known for and creating the enthusiasm of your team to build the brand is powerful for productivity, quality, and above all positive office dynamics.

Let us know if you’d like more on this topic. As always – we welcome your comments.

Agreement to Mediate – What makes mediation unique

Agreement to Mediate – This is what it’s all about

Mediation can be a little bit like Little Miss Muffet: when it is good, it is very, very good. But when it is bad, it is horrid. Roadblocks to successful mediation can take many forms from structural (bad location) to talent (amateur practitioners). It’s probably no surprise that these two issues can also be basic components of very successful mediation.

When conflict occurs or is identified as a negative force, management will naturally explore avenues of resolution. Mediation may not necessarily be the first choice. Not all conflict is suitable for mediation. For example, some conflict should be directive, as in arbitration. But in areas of conflict that can be best served by promoting understanding between parties – mediation is often a valuable consideration.

Be warned, mediation is not a “sit back and let it happen” exercise. Success depends upon genuine participation. We like to think that the first formal step – the agreement to mediate – has the ability to set the process on the right path. Most mediation professionals will request an agreement signed by both parties that acknowledge the understanding of the following:

Participants: The mediator’s role needs to be fully understood. This individual must be absolutely un-biased. Trust and fairness are the hallmark of a good mediator. The best mediators show no bias to the extent of making sure private caucus time is given equally to each party. For the participants, how will each party be represented? Most peer to peer, management to employee issues are represented by the individuals only. If counsel is requested (usually for issues involving government mandate) both parties should be equally represented by counsel. And finally, while commitment to understanding and resolution are the ultimate goal, each party needs to know they have the ability to terminate with proper notice.

Disclosure: This is the time that the mediator(s) must be absolutely clear about any relationship or experience with or concerning either party which may influence neutrality. This is an opportunity for either parties to ask questions. We’ve seen situations where even the appearance of a conflict of interest discovered late in the proceedings has destroyed an otherwise successful mediation. When you mediation, your confidence in this process is paramount.

Confidentiality: Unlike adjudicated proceedings, mediation has the protection of confidentiality. Most agreements to mediate will included language that declares that all statements made are privileged settlement discussions and are made without prejudice to any legal position. In other words, statements and declarations made during mediation will not be disclosed and are not admissible for legal proceedings.

Records: The Agreement to Mediate will include a statement indicating how and when documents from the sessions will be destroyed. No records will be kept concerning the proceedings.

Fees: Fee structure should be detailed and easy to understand. For example, at Colorado NDR, there is an application fee usually met by both parties. The detailed hourly fees will be explained by logistics (location), fee and party responsibility.

Do all mediations result in resolution? The answer is no. Results are varied and valuable. As always – please send us your questions and comments!

Best Message of the Week: No Gossip on My Watch

Being negotiation based, we tend/need to be neutral in all elements of controversy. Religion is no exception. That being said, the message carried this week to the Curia by Pope Francis on the danger of gossip was monumental.

The Pope’s warning of how the “terrorism of gossip” can “kill the reputation of our colleagues and brothers in cold blood” could and should be delivered to every organization across the globe. When it comes to verbal abuse generated by gossip, the only difference between the collective cliques in the church setting and our own offices are the players. The intent of malicious gossip is to hurt, discredit, or ruin the victim. The perpetrators are covert in nature and the damage is seldom able to be reversed by the truth.

Pope Francis’ description of how cliques who generate gossip “become a cancer” in the organization is true across the organizational spectrum. We find that the majority of disputes by and between groups are fueled by gossip and innuendo. Most of the heavy lifting in the initial resolution phase is allowing both sides to vent on issues of gossip. Allowing the victim the ability to address gossip is emotional and very seldom heals damaged reputations – but it is an essential exercise.

At best we need to prevent gossip in the corporate setting – at the very least we need to monitor the flow. The $64,000 question is “how?” Pope Francis gave us an excellent example to follow. He simply informed the Curia he would not tolerate gossip. Better still, the Pope went to great lengths to remind the group of the insidious outcome of gossip.

Creating a positive corporate culture demands opportunities to stop gossip before it begins. Organizations need much more than the anonymous complaint box. Early anger issues need to be identified and worked through before the sabotage begins. A positive corporate culture demands leadership that has not only the ability to listen but the ability to keep the team on track. But ultimately – zero tolerance for those participating in gossip.  Good overview of the Pope’s message by at Kerri Lenartowick at catholicnewsagency.com/news/gossip-is-poisonous-insists-pope/

Next week we’ll have a look at some of those practices that make our team genuinely desire to “breathe as one”.

Hostility – Is there a cure?

President Ronald Regan noted that “peace is not the absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means”. This seems simple enough, however, when two opposing groups or two opposing individuals build mistrust and resentment overtime, it may seem impossible to “retire the feud”.
We’ve believe five simple steps will be of tremendous benefit in the beginning stages of employee feuds:

1. Don’t assume that “time will heal all wounds” – begin communication exercises immediately.

2. Choose a neutral and private setting for a joint meeting between both parties.  Control dialogue.  Words truly do hurt and, in many cases, are enduring.  Set standards for discussion at each meeting.

3. Rome was not built in a day – repairing lines of communication takes time and commitment. Set regular meetings, reviewing the progress of the last meeting. For the initial meeting, congratulate both sides for their participation.

4. As the owner/supervisor/director/manager, are you able to play neutral? Probably not. As you move towards the mediation or dispute resolution process, work with an outside, a non-biased professional.

5. Gather useful input. Frame open-ended questions such as:

How would you change this situation?
Where do you see problems?
What are some steps you suggest?
A major element in creating a positive corporate culture is encouraging and allowing a “buy-in”. Take time to listen, the results will be rewarding.

As always, let us know your thoughts.

Online Dispute Resolution Methods for Employee Conflict – Not All Things to All People

Online dispute resolution (ODR) has achieved tremendous success in e-commerce. Few of us have not settled some sort of dispute through business internet customer service sites: telephone bills, credit card charges, retail returns, etc.

The advantages for ODR are significant. The process is cost effective, fast, recordable, and easy to access. There are some excellent online resolution firms, such as Modria.com who have brought sophistication to the field. Modria has made inroads to volatile issues such as property and contract disputes. The advantage for parties that have location issues (including time zones) is powerful.

However, emotional issues that make up the basis of most employee conflicts rarely translate well on line. For example, my complaint that my supervisor won’t listen to me might be answered by a text reply that I “did not go through the proper channels to register a complaint”. In my eyes this is the brick wall. Banter is sometimes lacking in ODR – and for workplace conflict, discussion that is flowing and augmented by physical cues is essential. Immediate interpretation of intent is essential.

ODR does have a growing place in negotiation where elements are finite and negotiable. From vacation days to employment contract settlements, ODR has the added bonus of automatically recording the process. For employee conflict issues that have an emotional element – person to person is by far the best choice. For more information on online dispute resolution, visit the Noam Ebner page on ADR Hub at http://www.adrhub.com/profile/NoamEbner. It’s a great read.