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Crucial Accountability QA

Transforming a Negative Environment

Dear Crucial Skills,

I am a mid-level manager in human services, and support a twenty-one person staff. Nineteen of these team members have a professional approach to their work, manage their emotions appropriately, and are respectful to others. However, two team members are constantly negative, complaining, and disrespectful. I have addressed these behaviors with them, but they only improve for a little while before reverting back. I am continually amazed at how these two team members can negatively affect nineteen otherwise positive people. Over the years, I have seen this on other teams as well, where the negative member(s) adversely influence the positive members, even though the positive members are in the majority. Is there a reason that negativity trumps positivity?

Regards,
Discouraged

Dear Discouraged,

Thanks for a winning question. Infectious negativity saps the vitality from far too many workplaces. Your final question is especially interesting to me: Why does negativity trump positivity?

I’ll describe several reasons for why negativity spreads and persists, as well as suggest a variety of solutions.

1. Negativity trumps positivity because humans are designed to be risk averse. This makes sense, when you think about our survival instincts. Bad news signals danger and may require action. Danger signals are processed by the amygdala, the emotional part of our brain, instead of by the prefrontal cortex. These amygdala-mediated thoughts seize our attention and focus it on the danger. This is why even people who are normally positive pay more attention to negative than to positive information.

2. People pay attention to negative information because it violates the organization’s public relations bias. Most organizations and most leaders try to sugarcoat problems, hiding them from employees. The result is that employees are hungry for the truth—especially for the less-flattering truths they believe are being withheld from them. This means they pay special attention, and seriously consider, the negative information they hear—even when it comes from less-than-trustworthy sources.

Solution: The solution to these first two problems is to add more and more honest information to the pool. People who have questions and concerns will turn to darned near anyone for information. Make sure you are there first with honest answers.

3. Too many people count on others to speak up for them. They are too timid to speak up for themselves. The people who do speak up fall into two camps: those especially skilled at crucial conversations and those who aren’t. Those especially skilled folks know how to speak up in ways that are frank, honest, and respectful. Those who are especially unskilled are honest, but offensive, and may not even realize how negative they actually are.

Solution: Create opportunities and make it safer for people to raise questions and concerns. Don’t force the silent majority to rely on their least-skilled members to raise their concerns. In addition, train and coach the less-skilled communicators to be more skilled in how they raise their concerns—and direct them to raise their concerns with you.

4. The fourth reason that negativity spreads is different from the first three, because it deals with a different kind of negativity: disrespectful behavior. When someone is disrespectful, others often respond with disrespect—tit-for-tat. As a result, disrespect becomes a poison that spreads quickly through a team.

Solution: Every team has informal/implicit norms for what constitutes respectful behavior. When disrespect is seen too often, it may be necessary to make these norms more formal and explicit. This may require a team meeting, a few crucial conversations, or an actual code of conduct. You’ll need to decide how explicit the norms need to be.

However, the key to success isn’t the norms, but how they are enforced. You need to achieve 200 percent accountability: Team members are 100 percent accountable for being respectful; they are also 100 percent accountable for others being respectful. This means that team members, not you, hold each other accountable. It may require some coaching or training, but it is essential. You, as the leader, can’t keep these norms alive. They must be enforced by the team members themselves.

5. Negativity is a habit that’s hard to break. We’ve all observed this unfortunate truth. People commit to stop complaining, rumor-mongering, or being disrespectful, but then fall back in to their old ways.

Solution: Use our CPR skills to make sure you frame the problem correctly. Here is an example.

Content: If the problem is a single incident, then address the content. The content includes the facts about what you expected and what you observed. For example, “When you have a concern or hear a rumor, I expect you to bring it to me, so I can deal with it in a productive way. I hear you shared a rumor this morning—as if it were true—with several team members without checking it out with me first. What happened?”

Pattern: If your chief concern is with the pattern of behaviors, then address the pattern. The pattern is that the person has made a commitment or promise, and has failed to live up to it. For example, “We’ve talked before about sharing rumors without checking them with me first. I thought I had your commitment to stop doing this. I hear you shared a rumor this morning. If my facts are right, then you broke your commitment to me. Help me understand.”

Relationship: If your chief concern involves trust or respect, then address the relationship. The relationship may need to change. For example, “When you make commitments to me, and then fail to follow through on them, I begin to think I can’t trust you. And, if I can’t trust you, I don’t see how I can have you on my team. Help me understand.”

I hope these ideas help you deal with the negativity that spreads in your workplace. Let me know how they work.

Good Luck,
David

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Crucial Conversations QA

Dealing with Backhanded Compliments

Dear Crucial Skills,

I have a colleague who deals me backhanded compliments about my job performance as the proofreader for the firm. For example, she repeatedly congratulates me on catching errors and then says, “It’s nice to hear those things when you never hear it from anyone else. It must be awful to think your job is not valued.” First of all, my work is valued; that is not the issue or even something I worry about. I just want the backhanded compliments to stop.

I don’t like this woman on a personal level because she is a gossip and has a reputation for stirring up trouble at the office. However, because I work closely with her and her department, I want to at least have a respectful working relationship. How do I address the backhanded compliments she’s been serving me lately?

Signed,
Slighted

Dear Slighted,

Thank you for your question. I read some resentment in your comments (perhaps my interpretation). You say you don’t like your coworker. But the fact that you took the trouble to write about this makes me suspect that you feel provoked or offended by her insinuation that your work is not respected. That’s what I’ll assume for the purpose of my response to you. If I’m way off base, then I hope my comments are at least useful to others!

May I suggest that the reason her comments hurt is not because they’re hurtful, it’s because you fear them. They trigger some shame or hurt you hold from past experience. The hurt they create is predictable because you hold them in a mentally habitual way. Two things are necessary to create this pain. First, some triggering circumstance must occur. For example, someone indicates that they believe your work is of inferior value to that of others. Second, and this is the important part: you must interpret this triggering event as evidence of some shame you fear. For example, when someone disparages my work, I may conclude that I am worthless. The second step feels inevitable and true. We don’t even notice our role in the interpretation process because we have a lifetime of practice in drawing this conclusion whenever these kinds of triggers occur. But if you change the way you interpret, the hurt will disappear—completely.

I know this both from the laboratory of my own life and from a lifetime of observation of others’ emotional responses to social triggers. I was baffled for years as I observed people in apparently toxic interpersonal environments who seemed largely immune to them.

For example, I once watched a man who was (wrongfully) accused of being dishonest in the middle of a business meeting. This wasn’t a passing accusation either. It was delivered with a sneer and a string of epithets. I felt my body tense in empathy for the man who was being unfairly insulted. Had it been me, I would have felt a powerful urge to lash out at the accuser. This man, on the other hand, was relaxed. His face showed concern, but not pain. And his response registered interest, but not animosity. “Wow. I had no idea you saw me that way. What have I done that caused you to see me like that?” he said.

He felt no shame. He felt no pain. Instead, he felt compassion and curiosity. Why? Because he understood that this person’s action were not about him.

So, I’ve got great news for you. In fact, I can promise you that if you think deeply about what I’m about to share, nintey-nine percent of the problem you’re experiencing will disappear in a matter of days—or weeks at the most. Never again will you feel slighted, offended, or hurt by this person. Wouldn’t that be great? All you need to do is consistently practice the following skill in coming days and these results are guaranteed. Remember: It is never, never, never, never, never about you. Never. Ever.

Now, let me be clear. There are times when others’ words or actions give us true feedback. They may indicate we are incompetent, made a mistake, broke a promise, etc. And their feedback may be true. It may be helpful information about you. But their emotions and judgments are not about you; they are about them. Nothing they ever do or say has any implications for your worth, self-respect, or self-esteem—unless you decide it does. And it is this decision that causes your persecutor’s foible to feel provocative to you.

So, here’s what I’d suggest:

1. Own your emotions. Notice what kinds of triggers connect with painful self-doubts or shame you’ve learned to invoke. Then develop a script you’ll use to refute this inaccurate conclusion and reconnect with the truth about yourself.

2. Get curious. Once you’ve owned and managed the emotions that could get in the way of a healthy conversation, you’ll notice your resentment will be replaced with curiosity. So act on it. Approach this person, describe the pattern you see, then genuinely try to understand where she’s coming from when she makes these statements. As you do, you will almost inevitably gain new insight about why she frames her “compliments” the way she does. For instance, when your shame is not distorting your perception, you may learn that she has felt her work was disrespected in the past. Maybe her comments were a clumsy attempt to reassure you about something that is only an issue for her.

3. Teach. With a better understanding of her true intent, you can let her know how you hear comments like this. Teach her better ways of expressing solidarity or affirmation to you.

I wish you the best in creating a healthier relationship with her. But most of all, I hope recognizing this trigger gives you an opportunity to develop greater emotional mastery—which can bring a greater peace and happiness to your life.

Best wishes,
Joseph

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Influencer Institute

Using Our Skills in Our Own Communities

At this year’s REACH Conference, I had the pleasure of interacting with a hundred or so VitalSmarts Certified Trainers in breakout sessions entitled “Using Your Skills in the Community.” I walked away from our conversations with a renewed interest in serving in my own community, and I think other attendees felt similarly.

How will you use your skills in your community? What follows is a brief summary of our conference musings. Perhaps these will spark your own creativity and desire to serve.

Be an example. Let’s say that you’ve learned a new skill, such as how to hold a high-stakes, emotional conversation—that’s the crux of Crucial Conversations, right? Each time you use that skill, you’re sharing a little light with those around you—giving them a glimpse of a new behavioral possibility. Think of your skills, not just those that stem from your exposure to VitalSmarts content. Can you use them more deliberately and frequently? In an appropriate way, can you use your skills more visibly?

Be a mentor. Can you remember a key moment in your life when someone mentored you? Take a moment and consider the people in your professional, social, and family circles. Who could you motivate or enable? Whether you think of your own skill set as limited or vast, chances are that there is someone near you who can benefit from your kind words, coaching, cheerleading, or guidance. You don’t need official permission or a mandate to be a mentor, and often those who need your help are hesitant to ask. Who might look back a few years from now and thank you for mentoring them?

Be a trainer. If you’re a VitalSmarts Certified Trainer, then you may have heard of the Not-for-Profit Training Grant Program. Through this program, you can donate your unique skills as a trainer to a qualifying nonprofit organization in your community. Many nonprofits, which otherwise couldn’t access training of this quality, have benefited from this program. Can you think of an organization in your community that could benefit from your training skills?

Be a volunteer. The important work of building healthy communities takes place at many levels—through the work of inspired individuals, neighborhood associations, churches, service organizations, and a variety of nonprofits, for-profit and social impact ventures, and government. Nearly every one of these is an entry point for volunteers. Given your skill set and the needs of your community, how might you stretch yourself into an unfamiliar and potentially rewarding volunteer role? As a trainer, you possess facilitation and teaching skills that could be especially valuable.

Be an influencer. During our breakout session, we spent extra time discussing the Influencer model, which is the backbone of the book, Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change. This model presents a systematic way for any reader to influence behavior. You don’t need special permission or training to apply the Influencer model, and, in fact, I’d love to hear about your efforts, successes, and challenges. I encourage you to read stories of others who have applied this model to accomplish important goals within organizations and communities. How will you influence your community to change for good?

If you’ve felt inspired by any of these descriptions or questions, then I’ll conclude with this invitation: act now. Act in a small way, but act now. Don’t wait for the perfect opportunity or for a formal invitation or for a season when you have more free time. Don’t wait for this motivational microburst to subside. Take this challenge now—and let’s all use our skills for good.

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Trainer QA

Is Compromise a Bad Thing When You’re Trying to Create Mutual Purpose?

I hear this question from participants almost every time I facilitate Crucial Conversations. Here are some thoughts:

I often ask participants, “When you are trying to push (interesting choice of words) your purpose? What is your strategy?” The common response, in one form or another, is usually “verbal persuasion.” At that point, I usually pull a Dr. Phil on them and ask them, “How’s that working for you?” The response is often, “Not so good!”

After some gentle questioning and exploring of others’ paths, many participants come to the conclusion that verbal persuasion is usually not a Mutual Purpose process but rather a “Your Purpose” process. I then ask, “So, what do you do when verbal persuasion fails you?” You can see learners put on their thinking caps. The customary response to that question is, “We usually compromise at that point.” And that leads us to the following question: “Is compromise a bad thing when you are trying to create Mutual Purpose?”

In life we make many compromises. We compromise in our homes with loved ones. We compromise at school with fellow students and teachers. We compromise at work with fellow employees, bosses, and other stakeholders. You may even have to compromise with the IRS! (Whoa—too much information!)

Compromising is not a bad thing when you are stuck, but there are better options. Merriam-Webster defines a compromise as “a settlement of differences by arbitration or by consent reached by mutual concessions.” And there’s the rub. A mutual purpose feels good—both parties contributing to the Pool of Shared Meaning and achieving something they care about. A mutual concession doesn’t feel that good—the pool feels like it has sprung a leak. When you compromise, it is sometimes very difficult if not impossible to create a true Mutual Purpose.

An old football coach I once knew hated ties. He had been quoted more than once saying that a 7-7 tie with your neighboring town’s team was like “kissing your sister.” It’s a nice gesture, but not a whole lot of fun. The same thing can be said about compromising to try to get to Mutual Purpose. A compromise or a concession makes most people feel a little disappointed and not overly positive, which hampers the Mutual Purpose process.

So what can you do when you are at cross-purposes? And if you live on planet Earth, you will often be at cross-purposes. Create Mutual Purpose using the following four skills:

Commit to seek Mutual Purpose
Recognize the purpose behind the strategy
Invent a Mutual Purpose
Brainstorm new strategies

With these skills, you don’t give anything up in a compromise. You actually create new ideas that incorporate the important points from everyone’s original thoughts, ideas or decisions. The more I work with these four skills, the more I see how important they are in helping you align your ideas with others to get better results.

One last big idea on creating Mutual Purpose: many people think that inventing and brainstorming are the most important of the skills, but I would argue that committing to seek Mutual Purpose and recognizing the purpose behind the strategy are the most crucial. These skills allow you to build safety with the other person and get to inventing and brainstorming in order to truly create a Mutual Purpose and get you the result you both want.

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Crucial Accountability QA

Parenting a Strong-willed Teenager

Dear Crucial Skills,

I have the privilege and frustration of being the mother of a strong-willed teenage girl. It seems my child popped out believing she was an adult and in charge. She is very verbal and says it like she sees it—for good or ill. I realize that teenagers are emotionally driven, however I’m struggling to know how to respond to her routinely rude comments. I love my child deeply but she needs a filter; her words can be very hurtful. Unfortunately, I am not the only target of her meanness. I’m concerned that she will burn bridges if she does not take greater care with her words. Any advice?

Sincerely,
Struggling

Dear Struggling,

A business associate of mine told me about his son going off to a distant university. The father became very emotional. He told me how difficult his son was to raise; his son was rude to others and had angry, emotional outbursts. His father responded with anger and punishments.

When the son left for college, he told his Dad, “I hate you and hope I never see you again.”

Later that semester, a school counselor assigned to new students called to tell the father that his son had been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. As the father learned more, he discovered that the behaviors that his son exhibited and irritated him the most were common symptoms of Asperger’s. My friend started crying as he told me that if he had known his son had a physical/emotional problem, he would have treated him differently. He would have tried to help him, not punish him. My brokenhearted friend wondered if he would ever be able to heal the badly damaged relationship he had with his son.

In sharing this sad story with you, I’m not presuming that your daughter has this or a similar issue; I am urging you to consider whether or not there is an ability component to her behavior. This is a preliminary diagnosis before beginning the problem-solving process.

Being a teenager with a still-developing brain that is overdosing on hormones and adrenaline, is almost the definition of an ability problem. But, compare her to her peers. You mentioned that your daughter is “routinely rude” and needs a filter. Is she unable to think about what she is saying, or just unwilling to? If her behavior is more belligerent or extreme than other teens, or if she seems unable to empathize with those she insults, seeking counseling or professional expertise might be the solution. You may avoid a lot of unnecessary pain for both you and your daughter by taking this path.

On the other hand, if her actions seem within the bounds of normal teenager behavior, then I would recommend some Crucial Accountability strategies.

First, get your heart right; Start with Heart. Ask yourself, “What do I really want?” Don’t think in terms of character traits; think of specific behaviors, actions, and words. Maybe something like, “I want my daughter to refrain from saying rude, hurtful remarks. I want her to express herself in respectful ways, even when she disagrees with something being said or done.”

Now, get your head right; Master your Stories. Ask yourself, “Why would a reasonable, rational decent person say those things?” If that seems like a bit of a stretch for a teenager, you might ask, “Why would a decent kid say those things?” Maybe she’s frustrated and angry. Maybe she’s rebellious and lashing-out because she wants to be her own person and test the limits. Maybe she wants to hurt others to keep them from getting too close. Maybe she got up on the wrong side of the bed and her stars are out of alignment. Having considered many possibilities, ask the hard question. Which of these is true? Realize the hard answer is, you don’t know. So don’t assume you do. Maybe you ought to talk to her and find out, so you can address the real problem and not the symptoms.

Begin the conversation by Describing the Gap. Factually describe her behavior and compare it to what you expect. Make sure you address the pattern of behavior you have witnessed.

You might say “At dinner tonight, when we were discussing the new bussing schedule, you told me that I didn’t know what I was talking about and that I am ‘so lame’ I shouldn’t be saying anything at all. Earlier this week in the car you called your sister an idiot. And on Saturday, you said you didn’t want to go to her boring soccer game and that she was the worst one on her team. I’m seeing a pattern of hurtful remarks. I expect you to be respectful to others, even if you disagree with something.”

Next, ask a diagnostic question to understand why she is behaving this way. “What’s going on? Help me understand. Why are you saying these things?” Be intentional as you Make it Safe and create dialogue with your daughter.

Taking these steps will help you avoid the costly mistake of assuming your daughter’s pattern of hurtful behavior is a motivation problem.

If you decide the problem you face is a matter of motivating your daughter to change her behavior, then use the Crucial Accountability process to get compliance. Share with her the consequences of her rude remarks. By focusing on the negative natural consequences of her behavior, you not only educate her but you motivate her to change as well.

If these efforts don’t create a willingness to improve, calmly and respectfully explain the consequences you will impose on her when she speaks rudely to others. Be specific. “The next time you are disrespectful to me, like saying I’m lame or I don’t know what I’m talking about, you will lose your phone privileges for twenty-four hours. This also applies to others, like when you call your sister ‘stupid’ or say that she’s the worst player on the team.” Set a follow-up time within the next twenty-four hours to review her behavior. In your interaction with her, always model the respectful behavior you expect from her.

Praise her good behavior and hold her accountable for unacceptable behavior. Don’t ever ignore her hurtful behavior. Be consistent—every time, all the time. I wish you all the best as you succeed in doing the hardest job on the whole planet—being a loving parent.

Ron

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Kerrying On

Kerrying On: Whose Line Is It Anyway?

It was a Saturday morning in the summer of 1980, the front doorbell chimed, and my seven-year-old daughter Rebecca ran to see who was there. It turned out to be her best friend, Candy, who smiled and asked, “Can you come out and play?” Rebecca took a quick look at her pal, curled her lip, said “No,” and then slammed the door.

I watched this exchange and thought to myself, ‘Who slams the door in a friend’s face?’ Apparently my daughter. So, I asked her what had just taken place. She explained that her mom had told her to clean her room before she went anywhere.

“So you wanted to play, but you had to clean your room first,” I carefully paraphrased. “Yes,” she responded. “The sooner I do my chores, the sooner I can play.”

“How do you think Candy felt about your slamming the door in her face?” I asked. “She looks sad,” Rebecca explained as we peered out the window and watched Candy trudge back to her house. “I guess I hurt her feelings.”

“Can you think of something you could have said that would have been kinder?” I inquired.

Rebecca had no answer. That’s because she’s human and we humans aren’t born with much knowledge. We certainly aren’t born with the complicated, and often subtle, skills that make up social awareness and charm.

Unlike some guppies Rebecca and I had watched being born a few days earlier, humans don’t arrive with knowledge about anything. Guppies shoot out of their moms like a mini-torpedo, take a quick look around, swim to the nearest plant, hide in the foliage, and then swim in sync with the moving vegetation. They’re born with first-class hiding skills. That’s because the fish around them (including daddy and uncle guppy) eat baby guppies. To maintain the species, guppies are taught most of what they’ll need to survive—not in schools (pun intended), but in-utero. They’re born teenagers. Most of what they’ll ever know, they know at birth.

Humans, in contrast, are born with a blank slate. Infants know nothing nor are they pre-programmed to do anything. The good news: humans don’t get jerked around by instincts. (Hey, let’s swim up an Alaskan stream until we beat ourselves to death on the rocks!) The bad news: humans have to learn how to survive—skill by skill, situation by situation. Social scripts are no exception. By age seven, Rebecca hadn’t learned the door script and was having a hard time inventing one of her own.

So I continued the instruction. “What if you said, ‘I’d love to come out and play, but I have to clean my room first. When I finish I’ll come over and get you.’?”

Then I stepped outside and knocked on the door. Rebecca answered and I asked her to come out and play. When I share this story, I typically ask audiences what they think Rebecca did at this point. They respond: “She slammed the door in your face!” But they’re wrong. Rebecca politely said, “I’d love to come out and play, but I have to clean my room first. When I’m done I’ll come get you.” In less than three minutes, I had taught Rebecca a social script.

While working as a professor a few months later, I decided to test whether I could apply what I had done with a seven-year-old to grown adults by teaching them a social script. And unlike Rebecca, whom I taught openly and to her knowledge, I wanted to see if I could teach adults a social script without them even noticing.

To find out, I asked a group of graduate students to cut into movie theater lines. Our goal was to count how many people would typically say something to the line cutter. In the laid-back Mountain West where we conducted the experiment, no matter the gender, size, or demeanor of the line cutter, nobody spoke up. Better to stay mum, the subjects concluded, and avoid any potential conflicts.

Next, I asked the students to cut in front of—not a stranger—but a fellow student whom we’d secretly placed in line. The student was instructed to become upset. “Hey, quit cutting in line!” the student would brusquely say to the cutter who would then go to the end of the queue. Next, we waited a minute and cut in front of the person standing behind the student who had just chewed out the line cutter. Would experimental subjects be informed and emboldened from the demonstration they had just witnessed and now speak their minds? Since we hadn’t exhibited a very healthy script, we hypothesized that most people would remain silent. And they did. Not one person spoke harshly after watching someone else do the same.

For our third trial, we cut in front of a student who was instructed to be diplomatic. The student was to smile and say, “Excuse me. Perhaps you’re unaware. We’ve been waiting in line for over fifteen minutes.” The cutter would then apologize and go to the end of the line.

Now for the big question. Similar to Rebecca learning the door script, would onlookers learn and use their new and smart sounding line-cutting script? We waited a minute, cut in front of the subject standing behind the positive role model and watched what took place—in fifty different lines. The results were startling. Over 80% of people who observed the effective interaction, spoke up. In fact, they said the exact same words they heard modeled. We did it! By using a positive role model, we taught strangers a social script that they immediately put into action. And we did it without them even knowing.

The implications of this research are obvious. Humans, despite the fact that they’re born without a scrap of useful knowledge, can observe, learn, and put into play, a whole host of skills—including social scripts. For example, you watch an employee argue for his idea in a meeting with far too much force, causing others to resist. You note that the tactic didn’t work. Then you watch someone tentatively present the same idea and ask others what they think—this approach is met with acceptance. “That nonaggressive approach worked!” you think to yourself and, just like Rebecca, you’ve learned a new social tactic.

And yet, most of us spend little time observing, learning, and teaching social scripts. We exert more effort learning French (or even Klingon) than studying human interaction. But this can change simply by watching people in tough social interactions, spotting what works and what doesn’t, and then practicing the skills yourself. Eventually, you can teach the skills to others.

Don’t rely on chance—certainly not with your children, friends, and coworkers. Expecting people to invent tactics for working through complex social issues is akin to handing a child a pencil and paper and expecting him to invent calculus. Instead, take what you’ve learned through observing others, break it into component skills, and teach these social snippets to those around you. Teaching others social skills is one of the best gifts you can give them. Plus, if you get really good at handling high-stakes conversations, you no longer have to put up with line cutters.

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Crucial Accountability QA

Dealing with New Job Expectations

Dear Crucial Skills,
I have been doing a job for 14 years, making improvements and reevaluating each year to make it more efficient and produce better results. The two teams I have been dealing with have always expressed satisfaction with my work. We now have a different management team with a different philosophy; they want me to do my job in less than half the time, assisting 50% more clients than I had previously. They want me to just “get the job done” and are not concerned about quality. How do I deal with this without sacrificing personal integrity?

Regards,
Frustrated with Management

Dear Frustrated,
When managers make this kind of demand, it feels like a kick in the guts. It’s as if the new management team is discrediting your experience and the improvements you’ve worked so hard to achieve. You’ve put a lot of yourself into your job, so it’s hard not to take it personally. And, when they increase your workload as much as they have, it feels as if they are devaluing the job itself—“Since your job isn’t worth doing at all, it’s certainly not worth doing well.”

And yet, taking this demand personally would be a mistake. It’s very unlikely the new management team was thinking about you and your personal performance when they made this change in priorities. I’ll suggest a few, more dispassionate, ways to respond.

Explore Others’ Paths. Begin by seeking to understand the facts and logic behind the new direction. Hold off on evaluating the feasibility of the specific changes until you understand why the new management team believes new priorities are needed.

For example, I worked with a management team that discovered they could double their sales and triple their profits if they switched from producing top-quality external siding to lower-quality interior siding. Employees felt lousy about producing lower-quality material, until they understood it was what the marketplace wanted. The lower-quality material would be used inside walls, where its flaws would be hidden. In this case the change was a success. The operation expanded, and everyone benefited.

Reinvent the Process. Try to reinvent how you manage this new volume of clients. Tweaking the existing process probably won’t be enough. It will likely require a disruptive innovation. For example, instead of increasing the speed with which you work with clients over the phone, maybe the solution is to ditch the phone, and use a website where clients solve their own problems.

Learn from Positive Deviants. A positive deviant is a person who faces the same challenges as everyone else, but has somehow achieved breakthrough results. Check to see if there are any of your peers who are meeting the new numbers without sacrificing essential quality elements. If there are any, go and observe them. Ask them to observe you as well. You may discover insights that will radically change your results.

I saw this a few years ago when I was working with a team that transcribed physician’s notes. The department had just introduced voice-recognition software, but hadn’t seen the productivity increases they’d expected. The team looked for positive deviants, and discovered three members of their team who had become four times more productive than the rest—but no one knew why. They observed each other, and quickly figured it out. These exceptional three had independently programmed Microsoft shortcuts that sped up their work. Once they shared these shortcuts with the team, everyone’s productivity quadrupled.

Track a Balanced Scorecard of Outcomes. My guess is that you and the management team are focused on somewhat different outcomes. They are looking at volume and margins, while you are looking at quality and complaints. The mistake would be to track one set of outcomes without also tracking the others. You’ll want to track both the desired outcomes and the potential risks.

Notice that I’m emphasizing tracking and measuring. Verbal warnings about potential risks never carry as much weight as actual data. Maybe the results will confirm your warnings, or maybe they will confirm the management team’s hopes. Or maybe the data will land in the middle, and everyone will see the need for more work. Remember, it’s not about winning or losing an argument; it’s about getting facts and data on the table, where they can serve as common ground.

Yeah But . . . What if these tips don’t work? What if, after giving it your best shot, you conclude that the new management team doesn’t value the work you do? If this is the case, I believe you have three options.

1. Stay in your current job, but feel as if you are sacrificing your integrity. This won’t work—at least, not in the long run. You will hate your job, and your feelings will show on your face and in your actions.
2. Change to a job they do value.
3. Or find another organization that values the kind of work you want to do.

Good luck,

David