What to do when an employee sees red –

Dealing with anger in the workplace is one of the most difficult and awkward processes a supervisor/manager/director must face. Depending upon frequency, subject of anger and team dynamics, reactions may range from ignoring the problem to full scale outside intervention. Managers we speak to often lament the trend to give legitimacy to trivial complaints. Ignoring the problem and hoping it will go away, is seldom – if ever a valid approach. Herein lies the problem.

We suggest 5 steps to deal with anger in the workplace. Once again, much depends upon the issue, the participants and the history. Using the following 5 steps will go a long way to helping the office work through anger issues.

Acknowledge the Anger. It can be as subtle as asking “what’s going on?” Be sure to frame questions as open ended that will open the way for conversations. Asking “are you going to be okay?” will give you a yes or no answer and discussion will probably end there.

Find the Source of Anger. When anger has been allowed to continue and build. Anger outbreaks may not necessarily represent the real issue. Spending time sleuthing the underlying issues will provide a good starting point for discussion.

Make Communication a Priority. Not everyone finds conversation about anger comfortable. Letting participants vent, not placing blame and simply listening is powerful. Foster communication.

Problem Solving. Get input from all participants. Sometimes you will be amazed that answers may be more similar than not. Treat the interaction as a problem solving venture. Once again – don’t let blame be a component of the process.

Clarify Expectations. Staff needs to know your objectives for office behavior. Identify your expectations and let them be known – and reminded.

We won’t kid you – there will be times that issues will be best served by outside help. Always keep in touch with your HR department. Never let anger run your office.

Team Building? Not so Fast!

Team Building?   Not So Fast –

We were recently involved in a project stemming from long standing disagreement(s) between two managers. Over time criticisms that enlisted the support of departments and businesses outside the organization had escalated. Within the past 12 months, issues that began as small, bloomed into direct conflict. The conflict that had become a fact of workplace culture had now divided departments, threatened production and fostered a toxic work environment.

How did we get involved? We were first contacted to provide team building exercises for the two departments. This always has the potential for being a significant red flag. Sure enough, after several conversations with HR and the CEO, it was apparent that some serious groundwork had to be completed – starting with determining the initial misunderstanding(s).

Our first task was to meet with all internal personnel involved in the dispute to sort out the details tracing back to the original problems. This effort is particularly onerous when time, culture, and power play out to draw up sides. Any appearance of inequities of interviews or recording of findings could quite possibly torpedo the process. Sorting through the “he said – she said” conversations is tedious – but extremely important from a fairness standpoint. Mediation is built on the assumption that each party will get equal treatment. It’s the main component in establishing and proving trustworthy behavior.

So how did the process go? Actually quite successfully. The initial fact finding meetings with persons directly related to the conflict yielded two opposing individuals. It soon became apparent that an incident in 2009 (real estate market meltdown) involving staff cuts reduced the staff of A in relation to the staff of B by a 1:50 margin. Pretty significant until contract obligations were reviewed. Keep in mind this was a time of great uncertainty where emotions ran high and fears about keeping one’s job was on everyone’s mind – from CEO to drivers.

After a historical review of staffing ratios with both A and B, light was shed on causes for staff reductions in both departments. This is where our time meeting with all related persons paid off. By giving everyone time to present their story – and to listen to others – understanding began to build. We suspect that sometime soon after the initial layoffs, communication began to falter. With broken communication, philosophical walls were built between the two departments and ill will prevailed.

Basic conversations were then ready to be cultivated between the two managers starting with general open ended questions regarding the company in general, moving towards department-specific topics. We used the department specific topics to move into a type of brainstorming exercise. The beauty of this transition was to begin collaborative discussion. It was a rocky few weeks of discussion – but mended feelings and a united cause is a good space.

Now, we’re ready for team building…….

Managing Emotions in Hard Decisions

Staffing Pearl of Wisdom: Fire Assholes

Authors Allison Rimm and Celia Brown article: “Knowing When to Fire Someone” Harvard Business Review, https://hbr.org/2015/01/knowing-when-to-fire-someone should be mandatory reading for anyone in management. Let’s set the scenario. We suspect that if you entertained a group of 50 managers/directors one evening for light refreshments, 45 of the 50 individuals would have a problem employee story. Rimm and Brown take these conversations past the story stage that usually ends with: “I would fire them if not for __________(fill in the blank).

No one would state that the firing decision is easy. So the question remains, how to get past the suffering and on to the next stage. Enter the “Employee Cost/Benefit Employment Worksheek”. It sets out a process that every manager/supervisor/director should be going through when dealing with an employee that may be competent in skills, but a toxic element in the office. Allison Rimm’s worksheet begs a quality overview of the individual’s strengths and potential for improvement weighed against the liability in the office setting. Hard discussions and decisions made clearer.

Notice we said clearer – not clear. We all know, and Rimm and Brown give great treatment, to the fact that no two situations will be the same. Just as our 50 managers above have 50 stories, every treatment is case by case. This is the beauty of the worksheet (available in the article). One of the bonus features is to prevent something that we have to address in (almost) all conflict situations that may result in termination: working past emotions and getting down to fact. If this individual is demoralizing the work setting and stealing precious time (your most important commodity), decisions need to be made.

The concluding message says it all: “Coming to grips with the need to fire a colleague, particularly when you’ve invested so much of your own effort to remediate his or her weaknesses, is one of the toughest management decisions you’ll ever have to make.“

Bravo to Rimm and Brown.

Best Wishes for 2015. See, Hear, Feel and Smell the Next 12 Months!

In our office we have a large Avery 12 month calendar. Yes, we do use Outlook and a CRM system, – but we also use a big calendar that everyone may pen a message/date/comment. By the end of the year, it’s a great review and a nice reminder of how far we’ve traveled.

This week, trading out 2014 for 2015 calendar, the thought occurred to us – one of our failings is giving history more attention than the future. Don’t misunderstand – our business plan is formalized, reviewed and edited from time to time. However, the “vision” of the business plan tends to be black and white and filled with numbers. We need Technicolor.

Strolling down memory lane with our 12 month Avery is painted with bright colors, conversations and emotions. There are even memories that can be explained by smells (don’t ask). The point we’re trying to make is: wouldn’t it be nice if we could spend a bit more time visualizing our planned 2015. As the saying goes – “it you can see it, you can be it” (thanks Jeff Henderson *)

Happy 2015 to all our friends. We wish you a planning process for your positive office that is filled with sight, feelings, sounds and yes – even smells!

*Jeff Henderson. “If You Can See It, You Can Be It: 12 Street-Smart Recipes for Success”. 2013