The Positive Stories Project (TPSP)

slide 1

I had breakfast with an old friend this morning. He asked me about work and I just unloaded everything. I think I was just so relieved to have someone I could speak with about it that even though I could hear myself and the red flags popped up that the content was a little heavy for this reintroduction, I just didn’t stop.

 

slide 2By the time we parted, I apologized, because I knew that it was wrong, I just couldn’t seem to control the impulse to talk about it, and he confirmed my fears by saying, well maybe the next time I see you we can chat you’ll have some more positive stories to share. And I felt sick. I knew I was being kind of a downer. I kept apologizing for doing it, but it was like word vomit. I couldn’t make myself stop. Actually, the truth is, that I did make it stop, but the next time I opened my mouth again to talk about something else, I kept referencing my own experience which only reinforced my anxiety and made me more nervous.

That’s not good.

slide 3

As I walked away with this toxic pit in my stomach, I realized that I had poured so much energy into trying to work my way out of this negative experience that my whole identity had become wrapped up into it. I was either this person who felt like a victim in this scenario, or this person who was intentionally practicing these other coping behaviors because I didn’t want to feel like a victim in this scenario.

What I would have liked to have been, was this person who was able to charm and entertain others with these really awesome, inspiring and uplifting stories; and I honestly didn’t have any to tell, unless I talked about the really small stuff, the little everyday miracles that bore most people and make people want to find someone else to hang out with, someone who’s life is a little more exciting. So the little bits of info that my friend and I talked about didn’t have the same kind of emotional tags and we ended up chatting about the sucky parts of our stories because that’s the kind of energy I contributed.

So I made a decision to sit down at the coffee shop and sketch out a storyboard for what I imagined would be a really great story about me and my friend eating breakfast and me complaining the whole time, me having this realization, and then sitting down and drawing a comic strip for a segment I’d like to integrate into this blog called “The Positive Stories Project.”

slide 4I probably should have picked a different location, because I ran into some old friends who were visiting in town. They asked me what I was up to, how I liked my job, etc. and I made an effort to be positive. But my responses came across as kind of cryptic and weird. You could tell that I was giving kind of a manufactured answer, so they kind of automatically assumed the worst. Then I’d have to go, “well it’s not really that, I’ve had an opportunity to learn ___ from this experience.” And the conversation just kind of dragged on. So I kind of changed the subject and tried to make things as pleasant as I could, but my anxiety at “being found out” kept growing, so at the first opportunity, I ditched them for someone else (almost as if I had the opportunity for a do-over) and extended the appropriate pleasantries for exiting and that was kind of the end of it.

Ironically enough, the person I ditched them for, was there to meet up with the old friend I had just had breakfast with, so I kept the pleasantries simple, briefly explained why I would not be able to hang with them (I was honest about having been kind of a downer earlier since it was someone who was already kind of familiar with my situation and she was super supportive and understanding about it. – She even offered to take our old friend to see her new dog so as to change the vibe for a moment). Then I bolted to the outdoor patio and buried my head in a book.

Speaking of irony, the chapter that I read was about how Inappropriate Self Interest leads to errors we believe will produce short-term gains but instead, produce long-term damage. Yeah, so that happened…

 

slide 5My old friend and other friend stopped briefly to greet me as if I hadn’t seen them earlier and I wished them a great outing and pretended to be deeply engrossed in the reading for my book. Then I read for awhile until I was distracted by an old acquaintance who I talked with about this moped he found on Craigslist that he hoped to buy. Then he asked me how I liked my job; he had recently seen me when he stopped by for information because he assumed that the job should be pretty cushy. I explained that it should be, but that I didn’t expect to be in the position much longer. And we talked a bit and he seemed pretty engaged, so I just kind of let him coax the story out. I felt better afterward, because I had done a better job of avoiding the details and put more of a positive spin on the story, abbreviating the negative parts with descriptions like “misaligned ethics,” “not on the same page when it comes to our operations process,” and my favorite statement, “the reality of working within conflicting boundary constraints, especially when you’re able to quantify it is that when you follow instructions and do what’s asked that when people get the results that they’ve asked for, the reality is that everyone ends up disappointed. Then we discussed whether it would be beneficial or detrimental to include a histogram graphing out the performance progressions/ regressions and how they correlated with the workers performance over the range of time in which the policies were re-structured.

It was a helpful conversation that was very solutions focused. I was obviously craving the need to have someone help me kind of work through it, but I was also kind of bummed that I had not followed through with my intention to publish my storyboard. I decided to change venues hoping that I might be able to find some inspiration with a change of scenery.

 

slide 6

Of all of the places to run into people, I found a slew of them on the scenic route home. I happen to live near the college where I went to school and it just so happens that some of the younger siblings of my old classmates were going to be graduating from college this weekend. So not only did I run into my old classmates, but also their very large families. It appears that they had all gathered down at the local park near the cross country trail and had begun to grill up burgers, chicken, etc. Now when I say large families, let’s just say that there were approximately 6 families there by the time I left, the largest had 12 immediate family members (which doesn’t include extended relatives). The next largest family had 9 of the 10 family members present and so on…

Interestingly enough, although I didn’t know their families well, I was the only one there who had stayed at each of their residences (mostly on account of my own family situation is rather complicated, and it creates a fair amount of anxiety to have to explain why I don’t go home for holidays to my friends parents, so I generally avoid family events unless someone has gone out of their way to invite me). Even so, I found myself going through the process of introducing parents at an event to which I hadn’t even been invited. So after the initial introductions and talking with some of the less assertive parents for a bit, I eventually excused myself and made a ghost retreat before too many people noticed.

I felt bad for leaving, and probably would have benefitted from to social activity, especially where play was concerned. But for some reason it didn’t feel appropriate. Plus, some of the families were very different in values and I could see the tension building from some of the more conservative graduates, who were worried that one of her friend had arrived to the event in a very short mini skirt and was slightly inebriated. I actually heard one of the parents (not her own) tell her that her initial reaction was, “wow it’s impressive that you can pull that off, but what in the HELL are you wearing?” And that wasn’t even any of the more conservative parents.

So yeah, that’s right about the time that I left…

The good news is I didn’t talk about myself. It was nice to shift my attention elsewhere for once but I did get that overwhelming sensation that I was grossly out of practice. So I can definitely see some benefit toward using a project like the positive stories project as a mechanism to reinforce the behavior I would like to see. That being said I was able to achieve two outcomes as a result:

slide 11

1)      I actually completed a digital version of my storyboard (the dialogue boxes illustrate how much I feel like I dominated the conversation in each situation) and

2)      I completed the first step of my positive stories project by acknowledging what kind of energy I contributed toward those interactions and making a vigilant effort to correct it.

This doesn’t mean that I’m out of the woods, when it comes to my work life just yet. But as long as I have other things to focus on that are independent of that experience, I think that I can start to repair the impulse control portions that have apparently been damaged by internalizing all of this nonsense. And if these positive psyche theories are correct, I should go back to being a happier person again because of it.

slide 12

These were some ideas of things I could try for TPSP. I don’t have to be successful at them, I just have to try these out and try to turn it into a positive story. 🙂

 

Move over Bucky; I too want to make a good story…! 🙂

The Camel’s Back

2

I spent the better part of last night trying to come to terms with the fact that I’m going to have to find a new job.  Before I had just been researching and only sending resume’s to jobs on a case by case basis, most of which were kind of a stretch due the the number of years of experience they wanted because I didn’t really want to leave my job.  I just wanted this job to work well, and in a lot of ways it has.  During my tenure:

Client engagement was the highest it had been since the 1970s

We completely turned around a workforce and boosted their performance and productivity and increased our lower level leadership retention and their effectiveness (they work well together because my position doesn’t authorize me to solve their problems, my options are to either report concerns that merit attention from my direct supervisor or to involve those at the lower levels in critical thinking discussions with one another so that they can listen to and work together to understand each other’s perspective, decide what’s going to be the most effective solution for all of them and to share accountability for the decision making) and I record the outcomes.

Even my direct supervisor admitted that we were in a much better place than we were last year (since they restructured my role)

Mrs-Hughes

Unfortunately (and you must forgive the duplicitous nature of these writings; they’re written to try to make sense of something I find incredibly vexing not to criticize or condemn anyone for their inexperience), my supervisor seems to believe that this progress happened under queen bee’s watch, because he implicitly trusts her  (and she does a lot of thing well) but when looking at the performance records the retention of knowledge, skills and dispositions for the workers she supervises is considerably lower because she only knows how to tell workers to complete tasks; she doesn’t clarify the standards so we have considerably more disciplinary issues under her watch (and we have evidence to support that) and my workers end up picking her workers’ slack (which has provided some great opportunities to engage my workers into the discussion about why the work they do is important and they seem to be receptive to it).

But all grumbling aside, my workers really have been happier and more productive than they’ve been in the 6 years I’ve been a part of this organization. Our clients comment to me about the differences they’ve noticed since I became involved in the oversight and training.  But now that my workers understand that their contributions and effort will not necessarily be rewarded, which was a surprise to me given our institutional mission (one of my workers upon hearing about the promotion of the ill equipped colleague angrily grumbled “yep, I should have realized; it’s all about who you know!), I’ve been wrestling with how to keep them intrinsically engaged with their work, so we’ve been talking a lot about higher ethics and the goals of our organization and how these lessons will make them more effective and equitable leaders once they transition to real jobs and are responsible for the livelihoods of others after their contracts have ended.

Ironically enough, I found myself in the position of having a similar conversation regarding ethics and expectations with my direct supervisor yesterday.  We seemed to be at an impasse because we have different expectations regarding what the standards of our department within our organization should be.  He advocated for more of a constructivist model in which we just let our newly promoted supervisors feel their way out, which I’ve adhered to but may not necessarily agree with, but admits that he doesn’t have a clue what’s going on in our organization most of the time because he’s stuck in his office trying to sort out whatever the crisis du’ jour is at the time.  I am of the school of thought that the time that we invest in training our workers on the front end pays off, because once we’ve clarified our expectations of them, it becomes easier to acknowledge and positively reinforce good performance. And as they build skills and accountability we can provide a structure for them to operate with a degree of freedom within those parameters and to equip them “as they are ready” with the training and guidance they will need to be able to diagnose and troubleshoot how to prevent some of the operational issues that arise from not having a clear sense of what your role is, or what’s expected of you.

It kind of reminds me of the following exercise:

I initiated the discussion because one of my workers lost it with me during the morning shift.  She was one of queen bee’s buddies and was pretty upset with me for putting her on cleaning detail (which is more or less her job description).  She had grown so accustomed to blowing off her shifts, or hanging out and goofing off at the desk with queen bee while others were working, that she perceived that I was treating her unfairly by asking her to complete the items on the cleaning checklist for the one room which she was assigned — something that has been asked of every worker who has been on cleaning duties.

When I asked her get started yesterday, she immediately lay into me.  I spoke with Queen Bee and your direct SUPERVISOR and they said I don’t have to do that and that the level of detail that you ask me to clean (and she made sure to reference even when it’s the bathrooms) isn’t necessary because someone just cleaned it two days ago. I don’t know whether I made a blank face or  not (more than likely it was probably any combination of these):

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

What I took away from this discussion was that albeit my goals were in alignment with the overall organization, that the top leadership in my department had elected to opt out from participating in this vision, but also felt it necessary to actively discourage my participation in it.  And I suppose it makes sense. I’m the only one in the department who attends the trainings, forums, and other organizational events. I am the only member of the department active in the planning committee, so I feel liable for my workers and colleagues, because the other departments perceive the success and failings of my own department with what they believe to be my level of accountability. And the department doesn’t have the best history, which they explained in my interview as their justification for hiring me.

But every time I receive a new set of instructions or they restructure the department (it’s happened 6 times in the past 2 years), I only get bits and pieces of information about how it changes my responsibilities.  In the context of the lego exercise, the instructions I receive are as follows.  At any given point in time, I can be any of these: but let’s say that we start our way from the front-line and work our way up.

Person C

builder-a

I don’t know what the hell we’re building anymore (besides a mess).  I have two runners giving me very different sets of information.  They can’t see one another although theoretically they really should.

Runner 2 is very adept at hiding because 2 doesn’t want  runner 1, who also acts as 2’s director, to know that they don’t really understand what they are doing.  Runner number 2 fears a loss of control.

And I sincerely believe Runner Number 1 really wants me to succeed (because they really invest a lot of effort into affirming my contributions and have spent a good deal of time and resources in equipping me).

No. 1 has really been intentional about defining my success as being interconnected with the success of the entire organization. I haven’t really received any indication that Runner number 2 is looking out for my best interest even though I’d like to believe that 2 wants to be sensitive to those needs.  In fact, runner number 2 often gives me instructions that make me wonder what their idea of success looks like because it’s so far off the organizational standards for our institutional vision,  and they don’t spend enough time on the ground to really even know what parts I’m working with or what process are involved in the process of building that I feel less inclined to trust their instructions even though I know I am required to abide by them.

Thankfully, runner number one (who shares that outlook and whom I trust and trusts me) has been gracious enough to inform me that I will be responsible for building people who have good work ethic, who feel valued, who act with integrity, who treat each other with respect even when they don’t always agree and so on.  I can buy into this vision.  I may not always be able to recognize the pieces that I have to work with, but I have built people before.  I’ve seen it go well, I’ve had moments when I didn’t know what I was doing because I didn’t have anyone helping me identify the pieces before and things fell apart.  But as a general rule, I have a good understanding of how to listen, how to identify when I need to listen and when I need to speak up, and how to make decisions about what kind of feedback I need so I can ask or equip myself with that support.  So as long as I have one runner who I know is willing to do everything to support me I just try to make the best of things and do the best to stave off any fires that may get out of control when I feel signs they’re igniting.

 

Well you know, I certainly couldn't say sir...

Well you know, I certainly couldn’t say sir…

When I ask runner number 2 for operating parameters because they haven’t taken the time to articulate their needs, or to even gather feedback to ascertain that I understand what it is that they would like from me; I get nothing. This is mostly in part because they’re too busy doing damage control in their area, so I doubt they have even really taken it into consideration. And when I ask, and we finally agree upon a solution, it doesn’t get communicated where it needs to, which has generated this recipe for conflict with queen bee and company.  And God forbid I even try; even in an open and inclusive format, to make any attempt to recommend anything because even though I rank higher in the organization, in the department I no longer have the positional authority for her to feel like she has to listen to me, even if there’s a cliff on the other side of her next step.  And she walks right off the edge just about every time.  And I don’t harangue her about it.  My workers just pick up the slack and try to pick up the slack and try to re-build some sense of normalcy, so we don’t appear to seem so mismanaged or disorganized.

So I suppose my job in real world terms has devolved into the role of putting out those fires so that we can free up our supervisors to avoid scrutiny.  But in lego terms,we can prevent those fires by working to build an organization that understands the value and the process of fire prevention so we can provide a meaningful resource to our clients to use within the greater community.  Runner number 2 doesn’t like the clients or the community because they call a lot of unnecessary attention to the very serious fires number 2 is (unsuccessfully) masking.

That being said, in role C I am not being told not to build people, just to train them not to build fires. And interestingly enough, I have found that the best way to do this is integrated in the way that I build up people:

01_intellegent_life

Hey, so I notice that we have a fire here that’s getting out of hand… yeah, it sucks… well it doesn’t have to. It really just depends on how we manage it. What are some of the sensations you’re experiencing that lead you to believe you might not have a handle on controlling this fire…. well, they keep getting mad at me for not adding sticks, but I’m allergic to sticks so I have to use this shovel and it makes it really hard to control how many stick I’m putting into the fire… hmm’ have you checked with Gary to see whether he happens to have an extra set of gloves, perhaps he might be able to direct you to where you can get some… that actually makes a lot of sense, thanks for the reminder.

Yesterday when I discussed my role confusion with my direct supervisor, especially since we’d seen an increase in fires pop up since I stepped out of the role of builder and into the role of go-between or runner.  I was essentially being asked to train without giving instructions (in my job description and the departmental structure it is outlined that my role is to train them with skills, that I am liable for the work that they do in my functional area and that my role is to assist in the absence of a designated supervisor. I am also liable to the rest of the organization if I watch the fires happen but don’t intervene to try and stop it, but queen bee and my direct supervisor complain that they are too busy to be accountable for their areas so when I don’t intervene the area goes neglected and inevitably a fire pops up).

I think part of the problem is that queen bee and I work opposite shifts.  And my direct supervisor works during an overlapping shift, but really he spends most of his time working with queen bee.  Because they work the evening shift, when they come in, a lot of the work of running the facility is done mostly by the morning crew. So the perception of the need for oversight may not be as high on their end because my crew ends up doing all of the damage control and can’t do any of that stuff because that’s during the peak time for our facility when it generates the most traffic.  Queen Bee scheduled her buddies to share that shift, so for the workers who are used to working with me, during the time when we are frequented by departmental administrators, and some of our higher value clients, the expectations about what is required to remain in organizational and OSHA compliance is clearly defined and executed, not just by me but also the supervisors that I train who assign those tasks.  And since I’m literally the only point of contact representing our organization during that shift for days at a time, I can understand how these factors may have generated queen bee’s perception of competing loyalty (but I think that’s because she’s used to viewing it through the lens of a silo-ed organization because that’s the only model with which she’s been trained.

When QB’s workers have to make up shifts (that they’ve blown off to go to the tanning salon) or get caught hiding in the restroom snap-chatting and tweeting for hours at a time for days on end (they do get pretty pissed when I ask them to go back and complete a task that they’ve blatantly half-assed).  Yesterday’s eruption had to do with one particular instance in which one of QB’s social media all-stars finally got pulled from her regular cleaning duties, and asked to wipe down an area directly within eyesight of the service desk (an area that we have to keep clean because not only does it collect a lot of pathogens daily, but also an area gets a considerable amount of traffic and that we would be extremely liable for if someone were to get hurt or an infection).  She cut a lot of corners and came back to my desk five minutes later.  It takes our biggest under performer who was not scheduled to clean the area that day at least 40 minutes, so I asked her whether she had finished.  Her reply to me was: “finish what?”

mrs-hughes-downton-abbey-building-a-fire-quote

After considering it for a moment, I concluded that it was a fair question given that she hadn’t had much experience performing the duties outlined in her job description and showed her the duties for the assigned area we had outlined on the cleaning list (which are visibly displayed at the supervisor’s desk (who just happened to be out for a doctor’s appointment) with guidelines pulled from the departmental files so that they were consistent for everyone. All-Star flippantly stated that she hadn’t done them but that she also didn’t see a point to having to do it (she was looking for an excuse to duck into the bathroom to update her profiles again) and I explained to her that since we didn’t have anyone scheduled to come in and that since we were responsible for keeping the area clean considering the usage and risk of infection, that we needed to focus upon cleaning that area, since it was often neglected (which is true, we have morning crew workers in there every week working upon items from the list that under-performer blatantly neglected). The worker was pretty angry by the end of her shift.  I typically just give it enough time to blow over and then discuss it with them during their next shift so that we can establish mutual respect and ground rules for what the expectations are moving forward.

So when All-Star came in to work yesterday morning, the moment I asked her to get started she was out of the gate, “getting me told” so to speak before I could even initiate the topic. I could tell she had rehearsed it.

“Well I talked to Queen BEE and Runner no. 2 and THEY said I don’t have to because it was cleaned two days ago and I know for a fact…”

I let her air out her frustrations at the desk, mostly because I didn’t have the coverage to be able to redirect our venue to a place more appropriate for the discussion.  As I engaged in standard active listening pose, I noticed something fascinating out of the corner of my eye. Queen Bee was THERE (she wasn’t even scheduled during my shift)!  She was literally hiding in an alcove trying not to be noticed (in a neon pink shirt) watching the whole thing go down.

evidence

So I replied with the very textbook explanation (albeit firm and direct I still kept it very respectful) that any discussions that had taken place with her supervisor had not been communicated to me, that I would be happy to speak with them on the subject but in the meantime she was not being asked to do anything inconsistent with what had been asked of her peers. That her concerns for having to clean that particular area were valid, but for different reasons. And that if she had in fact spoken with Queen Bee and runner no. 2 that she must have been made aware that she was being assigned to the space because of concerns that she was cutting corners or neglecting her responsibilities altogether and hiding out in the bathroom stall. So while the intention wasn’t to initiate conflict, the assignment was given to protect her interest and to provide her with a task that we knew she was very capable of performing. That she was welcome to disagree with me if she felt uncomfortable completing a task as I understood it my responsibility to create a safe and respectful environment, but her approach, given her tone, indicated to me that she was more interested in pursuing conflict than in coming to a peaceful agreement.

Naturally she was very defensive, probably more so since she had the audience. She argued that she wasn’t hiding and I pulled out pages and pages of documentation and asked her if she knew what the forms were for (that I had collected the information and just because I chose not to address it with her did not address it with her directly did not mean that I did not notice and that it was my responsibility to report it if I noticed that it was a recurring issue), but rather that we (I wasn’t the only one of her supervisors who noticed) that when we provided her with other opportunities to give her the benefit of the doubt that it had only confirmed the concern (but while the intention was to confirm the behavior, correct it and move forward, not escalate this into a larger issue). So if there were concerns that I was treating her differently, I would not deny it, but that the deviations were based upon the merits of her performance because I believed her to be disengaged with her regular assignment, but that I wasn’t sure of the degree until she raised this issue.

0

Then I added that in the absence of a supervisor that I was who would be responsible for assigning tasks, so given that we were both in this situation that her options were to either let me know what it was that she was willing to clean or that she we was welcome to clock out and come back during a time in which she felt more comfortable when she could work with queen bee.

Then she left. I wanted her to.  I don’t like power plays but I am also wise enough to know when I need to clarify a boundary so that I don’t get run all over.  I think the hardest part is that anything that deviates so much from my cooperative style of communication, makes me feel as if I’m mismanaging the situation.  It’s like handling lego bricks that I’ve never seen before. I can feel the nodes and know that they assemble to something, that they have a defined boundary and specific use, but I have no sense of whether I’m using it right even though that’s the tool I’ve been instructed to use (healthy boundaries).

I could hear her venting to Queen Bee who was still standing off in the corner (total ninja fail btw). And I could feel my entire inner being shaking.

thumb

I went back to my work, and during moments of distraction when I could feel my mind start to wander back to that place I’d look at the post it note of a Marianne Williamson quote that I keep taped to my desktop monitor:

“Everything we do is infused with the energy with which we do it. If we’re frantic, life will be frantic. If we’re peaceful, life will be peaceful. And so our goal in any situation becomes inner peace.”

I didn’t feel peaceful. If anything I felt scared.  And I didn’t want to transfer that energy to anyone, even if they really did deserve it.

So the moment I got coverage I left my desk for a bit, went outside and I cried.  Then I prayed for a little while.  I prayed for peace.

Apparently the mass text had been sent out because after I got back I kept getting crazy looks from All-stars friends who had made it a point to drop in to the facility so that they could establish solidarity by snubbing me.  And I can understand their sense of loyalty and willingness to protect their friend.  But I didn’t dare challenge them with reason or try to amplify the shortcomings of their friends.  I had no interest in focusing upon all of that.  I was still pretty distraught when I spoke with Runner No. 2 about it that afternoon.

obrien-and-thomas-hatch-another-plot

“She was probably just upset because we had already talked to her about it.” was his reply.

“She’s the one who initiated the conversation,” I informed him.  “The conversation literally started with me asking her to get started cleaning and she leapt out of the gate telling me what it was that she did and didn’t have to do.  And from what I observed of Queen Bee hanging out in the corner, who made no effort to intervene, it sounds as if you discussed quite a few things with her that I had to hear from the worker that were not communicated to me… and she’s not a good hider.  I’m not sure what that was about, but it sounds like you all have discussed concerns about me that you’re avoiding discussing with me. ”

No. 2: Well I’m not here very much and it sounds like you and Queen Bee have very different standards (I do have a tendency to go for the win-win or at least to stay within compliance of established standards since we have so many volatility that erupts from our fuzzy boundaries).  So I don’t really know what’s going on around the building but I trust Queen Bee to tell me.

Me: But we go for long periods in which I’m the only one in the building and if we don’t have a supervisor scheduled then that creates a position in which the responsibility falls upon me, and I’ve asked for parameters for what you and queen bee want on more than one occasion and since you haven’t made a decision about what those should be, I have to go based upon the guidelines outlined by our organization.

No. 2: Well I was going to sit down this summer and try to figure out what I’m going to put into their training. I mean it’s hard, we only get 3 days and then that’s it.

Me: Well we have supervisors returning. Do you think it would be useful to have newly promoted Queen Bee involved in facilitation training and some of your strategic planning so that she can learn how to run some of those trainings? The organization kind of expects that departments conduct continuous on-going trainings since that’s kind of the goal of our institutional programs. When we had it structured, it took my staff 3 months to learn how to do their work well enough to be unsupervised, and that was just in my functional area.  You’re giving them only 3 days to learn how to operate this entire business without any supervision or senior level experience and if you don’t figure that out, the organization’s eventually going to notice.

downton-16

…but not necessarily…

And it sort of went on like this.  We agreed on the need for a lot of the same things.  For some reason he was under the impression that I didn’t and I had to clarify that.  I also explained what my front line experiences were and referenced the performance records. He suggested that when I noticed problems occurring that I should make an effort to bite my tongue and just email him to let him know that these problems were occurring, so that I wouldn’t step on Queen Bee’s toes.  And I reminded him of the pages upon pages of unread reports lying in the disheveled pile upon his desk (in addition to the emails) that provided him with all of this information before any of these situations escalated, and that I had made a special effort to bite my tongue because I didn’t want to create any perception that I had made any of my observations under bias, but that in the absence of feedback with how to proceed, I begun to rely heavily upon the performance records , institutional guidelines and my documentation for an accountability mechanism because that critical component of our working relationship had been neglected, and that the confusion about my role also fueling this confusion and relational conflict (p.10) that we were experiencing because of the way it was being managed.

What on piggly wiggly earth do I dang diggly wigglly do woo oo?!

What on piggly wiggly earth am I expected to dang diggly wigglly do woo oo?!

I kept calm as we discussed it and I know I probably sounded hypercritical.  And I did make sure to mention that I didn’t like complaining, but that this was something that I really was struggling with in my role within the department.

Meanwhile, I have other departments who have been trying to poach me from the beginning, and the improvements we’ve made during my tenure would signal disruption if I applied for a transfer which is why I’ve been trying to figure out this whole job search thing for the better part of a year now. And I’m nowhere near as bitchy or cynical as I feel like I come across in my criticisms of these colleagues. But I’ve been pretty silent for the better part of a year, and now that I’ve received affirmation from the organization that the behaviors in which I’d been actively discouraged from participating in were actually expected from the organization all along, I think I’m starting to feel angry (like genuinely angry) about it, not just at my colleagues, but also because of all of the fear based, overly cautious excuses I made for their behavior.  Hey, runner No. 2, wanna hear something?:

You’re not too busy; you’re just disorganized.  And the person that you implicitly trust the most might actually be crazy…! I’d call her a narcissist but she spends a little bit too much time focusing upon what I’m doing for that to be the case entirely.

(Do I give up my job security, benefits, etc. to go somewhere else? And if so, what indicators do I look forward before even applying that will help me trust that I’m moving into a healthier, more organized environment?) I can embrace a lack of structure if the organization has an open culture (what I’m used to) in which we can discuss observations and make suggestions in a way that people still valued and engaged to be accountable for their contributions.  And if I’m looking for the right things in the wrong place, what danger do I risk to my professional reputation if I leave without having made a genuine effort.

It’s unsettling to have the esteem of other departments and my workers, but not the colleagues in my department. But I also don’t think I can continue to take anymore of this either:

 

I can be patient to a point, but in light of the way things have escalated, I’m losing the will to stay because I can see how it’s affecting my attitude, my imprinting and my capacity for patience.

 

A bumpy ride…

f295104ab7a74786dec990ef5a0995d2

I’m really excited for you to read tomorrow’s post, but for now I want to reflect upon my experience tonight at the neighborhood gym.  Let’s just say that I ran into some coworkers that had deviated from their regular workout schedule (which sucks, because I like going at night because I don’t have to deal with all of the weird catty and hormonally charged social dynamics. Seriously, if I wanted to watch a bunch of toddlers exhibit bad peer influence, ruin reputations and congregate in the middle of the floor, I’d go to the mall, not the gym). One member of this group who had dropped in for social hour was the incumbent supervisor I mentioned in an earlier post. I suppose she saw me coming around the corner and made it a point to mention to the person that she was talking to how excited she was to be moving on to her Teach for America position in Indianapolis where she would FINALLY GET TO BE TREATED LIKE AN ADULT.  I didn’t know whether to chuckle at the folly of her passive aggressive gesture or cringe at her blatant attempt to be obnoxious.  But I did a quick mental assessment to remind myself that although it pained me to watch, I didn’t have anything at stake that would merit my investment in continuing to internalize it.  I only wish my kidneys had gotten the message.

I pretended as if I didn’t hear and was polite to her as I quickly greeted the group, making a special effort not to interrupt on my way to the locker room. Then I headed to the smith machine and cranked out 36 squats hoping that the physical exertion and the terrible performance of the Miami Heat against Indiana would be a good distraction.  But once the young woman positioned herself on the treadmill across from me, the thought occurred to me,”well if you have to tell people that you’re an adult in order to convince them, then you’re probably not demonstrating it well.”  That’s when I had to acknowledge that despite my best efforts to focus on something more constructive, I was hooked.

So I did what any good little fitness buff would do, and upped the intensity of my workout (no I didn’t do plyo, but I think it might be good to develop so I can move some of my workouts back outdoors).  When I finally got to dumbbell squats however, queen bee and a group of her buddies congregated to my corner of the weight room and I completely spaced on the positioning of my hands on the dumbbell.  I ended up using like 3 different hand positions until I decided to settle on the one that felt the most natural… which as it turns out, was not the version I wanted to use, but was fine enough to get me out of there.  Then I ducked back to the water fountain to hydrate, get my head together and I plugged my headphones into the av jack on a treadmill that wasn’t in view.

dumbell-300x213

Before I cranked up the pace to full gear, I turned the tv station on to nick-at-nite to watch the episode of Full house. It was the episode where Danny and Jessie find out that DJ is dating Viper, the mullet wearing man-child from Uncle Jessie’s band.  Danny kind of dresses DJ down about the guy because he’s offended that she’s sneaking around (which I thought was valid), but then he negates his position by belittling the guy, which only makes her want to be with him more (if only Danny had read Dan Ariely‘s book he’d have understood that the combination of frustration attraction and making the guy seem unattainable only increase his value).  Meanwhile, uncle Jessie had taken his family with him on tour only to discover that the raunchy hotel room that he used to have fun hanging out in when he hung out with groupies wasn’t really suitable for his new family and that maturity had changed his expectations A LOT.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I could relate. I even dropped my pace a hair because I wanted to finish out the episode.  Then out of the corner of my eye, I notice the group begin to inch into view, so I went into a cool down about 15 minutes into my run and eventually fled the cardio room.  On my way out, I ran into someone I knew who just happened to be the ex-boyfriend of the incumbent’s roommate, of who she’d formally made a campaign to bully back in school.  To give a full context, the guy was a total jerk back then.  He used to be really arrogant and difficult to work with, and I tried to warn him about burning bridges before he got kicked out of school.  I hesitated for a moment and then greeted him, just out of sight and asked him how he’d been coping since he got out of school.  It appeared that life had not been so kind, but that he’d recently reapplied to school and I wished him luck.  Then I disclosed that I’d made a similar mistake when I was younger and how the consequences I’d experienced had taught me a lot about humility and had instilled a new-found sense of gratitude that when I finally went back to school that I got to look at all of the experiences afterward with a fresh new lens, and that I’d found a college willing to invest in me buy giving me a second chance (tuition free). He agreed. We also talked about how both of our siblings had suffered similar consequences and how they’d matured since then.

If I was being “stalked” or intimidated by the incumbent before, my anxiety dissipated once I saw her poke her head out of  the weight room. I guess she wasn’t too keen on the conversation, because she left me alone after that, although I did  overhear her mention to her roommate that she’d seen me talking to him in the stairwell of our apartment building (unfortunately she lives across the hall from me, so I won’t be able to escape her until she moves). But I don’t think that will escalate into conflict or anything.  Her roommate used to work for me, so she knows my character better than the incumbent does, and she’s the type that would ask me directly about it rather than escalate it or passive aggressively use it as an excuse to be cruel.

On my way home, I walked by the police station and apparently there’s something going down in town, because a bunch of squad cars raced down the road in the opposite direction of where I was headed.  I said a brief prayer for the safety and comfort of those involved and then realized how grateful I felt to be headed in the opposite direction of the danger, both physically and ideologically.  For the first time in a few weeks I genuinely felt grateful for this experience.  I was grateful that I didn’t have to repeat those lessons, grateful for the confirmation and reminder that failure and self-sabotaging behavior doesn’t have to be the end of the road, thus absolving me of the need to keep making an emotional investment that was inevitably (as I’d hesitantly predicted over and over again) with low returns.  Even though I feel as if it’s my responsibility to model and instill constructive behavior, if someone feels threatened because I’ve taken an interest in them, it doesn’t mean I’ve failed, it means they’ve got a bumpy road ahead, but sometimes those failures can lead us to better places… and this young person (who is eager to take on the responsibilities of being an adult) just signed with Teach for America for 2 YEARS (so if she sticks it out, she’ll have plenty of opportunities to learn humility and maturity from her peers and students … and TFA doesn’t exactly have the best reputation for attrition).

What I’ve learned and we discussed tonight, is that once you go back and make an effort to correct your mistakes, most people are pretty resilient and get along much better after they’ve matured a bit a few years after they’ve left college.  I met with one of my old college supervisors (who I hired as my replacement and then didn’t leave) who I clashed with because of ideological differences in regards to how to enforce policy in our office.  And we hung out last week for a few hours and regaled each other with tales of our bumpy transitions after college…

…”oh to be so full of certainty and sure of EVERYTHING… even when we were right we were wrong…”

 

quote-humility-leads-to-strength-and-not-to-weakness-it-is-the-highest-form-of-self-respect-to-admit-john-j-mccloy-347620

If you knew back then (before you embarked out into the “REAL WORLD,”) what you know now, what kinds of behaviors would you have avoided?

And I Have to Spend All Day with These People?

Suzy Welch (endorsed by Oprah) wrote an interesting article about how to deal with difficult co-workers or “un-teammates” as she referred to them.  In her article she gives tips for how to deal with:

 
6b381b66ce38abde90b48462a50c287349

  • Boss Haters: Most Boss Haters persist, using every kind of subterfuge from eye-rolling to outright belligerence, until management loses patience and ousts them. Some Boss Haters are hard to extricate because of union rules or special skills.
  •  Stars: many key players are Stars largely because they are the best kind of employee, inclusive and inspiring, but some Stars can develop into real bullies. Sensing they are untouchable, they will bulldoze their ideas through the team process and ridicule anyone who dares to disagree. They may also passively disrupt discussions by not participating, their silence sending the message “This nonsense is beneath me.”
  • Sliders: former Stars, resting on their laurels and undermining their teams with apathy. Their unspoken excuse is “I’ve proven my worth around here; I don’t need to scramble anymore.”
  • Pity Partiers: un-teammates who have an excuse for every act of inaction.  The most expert Pity Parties concoct long-running sympathy stories: bad backs, bad marriages, bad childcare, and so on. I don’t want to sound harsh. Sometimes people really do need time off or special accommodations, but Pity Parties make an art form of wriggling out of responsibility, and you’re left wondering if you’re a heel for resenting them—or a dupe for helping them.
  • The Self-Promoter: like “Look at Me” Margaret (not her real name), who saw every team assignment as an opportunity for personal advancement. In their pursuit of fame and glory, Self-Promoters occasionally sabotage peers. I once had a co-worker who used staff meetings, with the boss in attendance, to vociferously attack every other writer’s work as “hackneyed” or, her favorite word, “superficial.” If we pushed back against her critiques, she accused us of being competitive with her. There was no way to win. Usually, that’s the case with Self-Promoters. They can drub you with their narcissistic “logic”—they’re right; you’re just defensive—and wear you down with their egocentric career campaign.

 

sick1
 
If you’re curious about how Welch recommends dealing with these work-place offenders, be sure to check out her article.

 

While I find the article interesting, because I definitely recognize many  of these types, what I would have liked to have seen and will probably investigate more is suggestions for how to develop a culture of accountability if you aren’t in a position of authority so that you can eliminate the need for these behaviors.  One of the reasons that I opted to use the bully tracker is that it eventually eliminates the need to avoid conflict (which is the primary source of most of my anxiety — I’m used to being able to being able to address grievances directly and to ask for what I need).

 

I found an article from Harvard Business Review and was relieved to discover that I had followed the standard conflict resolution protocols before even reading these articles, but found that once I finally entertained that the person initiating the conflict might be unreachable that I might have begun to head into dangerous territory, which is why I keep compulsively trying to reject that idea.  The article shares:

 

When a colleague’s agenda is seemingly opposed to your own, it can be tempting to demonize him. Distorting other people is a common response to conflict, but not a particularly productive one. In fact, doing so undermines your ability to exert influence.

 

bad-manager

 

Most of the time when insubordination (or in the way we’d define it within the framework of behavioral economics competing agendas or interests) emerges within the workplace, most people attribute the problem to ineffective management.  And considering the circumstances, I definitely see evidence that would support that.  But given that I am considered by our clients, patrons and stakeholders to be accountable for the successes and failings of management, you can see why I derive so much anxiety regarding now knowing how to work around this.

 

Surprisingly enough, I did find an article on performance management that recommended that I approach this challenge with the exact same methods that I’d previously intuited.  And as you can tell, I really like the performance management approach because it gives you the advantage of tangible metrics that you can accessibly work with.  I can’t imagine that Welch’s approaches to conflict management yield a very high rate of return upon her investment.

 

What you may also find interesting is that I am currently reading a book about predictably irrational behavior and have just finished the chapter about how marketers us anchors in imprinting, and it occurs to me that it might be valuable to reassess how this experience has realigned my own anchors so I can set concrete goals about what I’d like to achieve so that I can perform an assessment of how I can go about creating achievable goals for my problematic worker so that we can modify her  behavior through consistent peer modeling and habitual re-enforcement (especially since peer acceptance seems to be one of her motivational drivers).  At the very least, if I can focus upon equipping her subordinates to fill in the gaps in the areas which she lacks leadership, it will make the team much more resilient through these new cultural norms.

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

And I feel pretty confident I can do that.  She isn’t well versed in management or leadership enough to feel threatened by me working with the other leaders.  We have an organizational Youtube channel that I trained my office workers with, so that might serve as an excellent vehicle to clarify our policies, strategies for securing buy in and communicate these institutional norms.  Sweet! 🙂

Sizing me up

84d22e866962c82fc0af2afd17af25e1

So problematic worker surprisingly enough was in a good mood yesterday.  I spent the first part of her shift under the Martine’s protocol (only contributing to the conversations when I could add something pleasant, taking an interest in the other participants and politely excusing myself to work on another assignment when I began to feel myself become too anxious or hyper-vigilant). This worked well until the shift change when her clients and peers left and I found myself alone with her in the cubicle.

Thankfully we had a events occurring at our venue later this week and there was a day when they’d scheduled to turn the water off, so it allowed me to concentrate very intently on producing and distributing good signage around the building.  After I’d hung about 27 signs on each of the 3 stories, I came back to my desk to determine what other work I could do, but I suppose she was lonely or something, because she whipped her phone out and asked me whether or not I wanted to see a picture of her friend’s puppy (her friend had initially texted her to inform her that she’d planned on going out to get a tattoo and somehow came home with a puppy instead).  Then she told me about new phone cases she bought and some other stuff and I made an attempt to appear to be listening while I began to work on my next project because I didn’t expect her good mood to last long.

Then she did something surprising, she complimented me.

 

foxy

 

I forgot that I’d mentioned I’d bought this little bauble on ebay only it turned out to be much larger than I realized, so it felt kind of gaudy to wear daily, but I’d paired it with a sand colored shirt layered over a chambray top and topped with a brown quilted vest.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

She really liked the fox, to which my response was, “…what this little ole thing? well thank you.  It’s so big I wasn’t sure when I would have the occasion to wear it.” Then she complimented me again, but made sure to note specifically that she thought that I also looked “super cute” on Friday, the day of “the clipboard” incident.  Apparently she was a big fan of not only the scarf, which had generated a lot of buzz by lunchtime, but also the other accessories I’d paired with it — over my white long sleeve shirt and black trousers.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

So I felt pretty good about things, for awhile.  I’d overheard that one of the clients who happened to linger a little longer at her desk than usual had just asked her out, so I kind of hoped that would be a good enough distraction to keep her occupied and in good spirits for awhile.

I was just grateful to see that she was making an effort to be nice.

Things even went well into today for the first hour of her shift.  I kept up as many social graces and just focused upon rapport building with our clients.  She did mention that she didn’t have breakfast this morning and she thought it made her mean when she hadn’t eaten.

Then after awhile, when I redirected the conversation back toward work and opened up a discussion asking her how she made decisions about what she prioritized for cleaning, because we had a few areas that were time sensitive, she got really nasty with me, so I literally just rolled my chair back into the corner and went back to my computer.

Later she tried to joke with me about one of her peers who had given her a Snicker’s Bar last night because he’d told her that, “she got really mean when she was hungry” I responded by saying, “well yeah, I wasn’t really sure how to respond to it, so I just figured it was better for me to find something else to do.” Then she told me a story about how she unnecessarily berated one of her friends over something really petty hoping that I’d understand.  But I didn’t.  I simply replied, “I suppose we should probably look at keeping some food back here then” and went back to my work.

Consequently, our cubicle right now is dead silent.  I’d actually started this post last night because I was looking forward to acknowledging that something positive happened and that perhaps I was being hyper-sensitive.  But I suppose when you’re in a capacity where you’re responsible for teaching someone else but you don’t have any real authority over them, sometimes you have to recognize that some people just aren’t receptive to being helped no matter how much you try to take an interest in them.

I would like to be able to say that I have an excellent ability to build rapport with people, and for the most part that is honestly true.

But there are certain patterns of behavior that really hinder that process, and I don’t know how to convey that to any person who knows better but does not respect themselves enough to value their relationships. I know technically by drawing a nonverbal boundary and making it evident that her emotional outburst are not acceptable, goes contrary to the rules of establishing rapport:

Rapport is important in both our professional and personal lives; employers are more likely to employ somebody who they believe will get on well with their current staff.  Personal relationships are easier to make and develop when there is a closer connection and understanding between the parties involved – i.e. there is greater rapport.

 

But I don’t believe it’s wise to set a precedent where I condone that kind of behavior or reinforce it as a behavioral norm. From what was articulated to me, it either sounds as if her friends have either enabled her behavior our of fear that they won’t be accepted or they’ve given it right back to her, which is what I’d more than likely do if she didn’t work for me.

 

I’ve done it with my peers (and am hereby known as the preppy feminist one), but have mitigated the incidents of considerable bullying.  I just worry that if I do cross that line I run the risk of being perceived as a bully.  And as we all know, perception may not be reality, but it can definitely have similar impacts and can also escalate very quickly. So it isn’t my preferred method of conflict resolution unless I have the resources and support I need to address things directly and ethically.

 

So I’m hoping that once I am able to formally address her about her behavior, we can put a stop to this although it’s good that she’s starting to think about these things. What I don’t want to happen is that I move to soon and exacerbate the situation to where she increasingly recognizes that she does something wrong but feels entitled to make poor choices anyway (which is a variation of the unhealthy behavior I had been witnessing).

 

I’m reminded of a quote I read fairly recently from an article that mentioned that
Although these problems are serious, it is important for supervisors to see the difference between employees who don’t do their work properly because they choose not to and employees who don’t do their work because they need help.
This is one of those things that I already know, but when you don’t have the authority to do anything about, it can cause you to second guess yourself. Several weeks ago I had no problem acknowledging that this was a person who valued being accepted more than they did being led, and that her unwillingness to contribute was what made her an outlier more than her lack of expertise.
There’s always a fear that focusing too much upon these kinds of issues will create a pattern of damage or mis-align focus and energy that I could be using to be productive.  But I just read an article that shared

 

When our brain attempts to solve a problem, it wants to be energetically efficient. So it begins by searching for surface answers—those that are easy and obvious. When it’s addressing a question, the brain combs the data “files” of what popular culture thinks of as the “left hemisphere” to find out if it’s seen the problem before. It doesn’t want to invent a solution if one already exists.

 

If there is no familiar and readily available response, that’s when our brain dedicates more energy to draw on deeper resources. It invites the more intuitive and imaginative right hemisphere to participate in solving the problem, scanning remote but possibly relevant memories and abstractions that could provide it with a solution. This information would normally be tuned out by the left hemisphere but has become available in a time of need. (Read: When we’re in that corner.)

 

In other words, solving higher-order, creative problems, requires the types of people who can activate the entirety of their brain, the analytical and the insightful, in order to push, poke, prod, plumb their contents and experiment with that content in order to tease out alternate solutions.

 

So perhaps wrestling with this challenge for a little bit will direct me to some good information about how teachers use classroom management techniques and other administrators have been able to clarify boundaries and create breakthroughs to correct challenging behavior.  I believe it will ultimately come down to finding a way to reinforce acceptable norms so that the worker understands what is healthy and acceptable behavior.  I have a book on how to create a nurturing home environment for step children, but one of the things they emphasize is creating shared expectations and a partnership among both parents, which in this case, I’d have to really work to create leverage before I gain that level of support.  Standard protocols for these approaches that I’d have to develop strategies for include:
A Sample Protocol for Resolving Challenging Behaviors
1. Maintain ongoing observation and documentation of every child.
2. In reflective supervision, review these questions (Wittmer and Petersen, 2006):
a. What is the child experiencing? What is the child’s perspective on the situation?
b. What, when, where, how, and with whom is the behavior occurring?
c. What is the child communicating that he wants or needs? What is
the purpose of the child’s behavior? What is the meaning of the child’s
behavior?
d. What do I want the child to do?
3. Meet with the family to deepen and share understanding.
4. Determine a consistent plan for intervention.
5. Continue observation and documentation to provide data for evaluating improvement and ensuring the consistency of the intervention.
6. Consult with a mental health professional if the child is not responding and the persistence, frequency, and duration of the behavior is not improving.
7. Determine whether further referral to community resources is necessary through discussion with family, the supervisor, and the mental health consultant.

 

So what’s the lesson from all of this?

For millennials: I’d be sure to keep in mind that when you are in the workplace that people aren’t going to want to invest in you if you build a reputation of being hard to manage or difficult to get along with.
For employers: Please make sure that your organization has a mechanism for mediation, or that you train your management staff and hold them accountable for their workers so that conflicts don’t arise from poorly articulated  boundaries.
If you’re suffering from this problem: Give yourself permission to lighten up when you can, but don’t take on too much guilt if you find yourself compulsively working to find a solution to the problem.  Just be sure to take care of yourself (diet, exercise, rest, play, etc.) and don’t be afraid to seek out help.

The Bully Tracker

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After much deliberation, I think I have opted to go with the Boss Tracker system.  There should be quite a few advantages to using the system including:

1) help me keep a record of my own responses (labeled “re:”) so that I have a record of efforts made to be accountable.

2) compile quick usage data using this simple documentation template to catalog this increasing trend in intimidating and antagonistic behavior

3) remove the need for hyper-vigilance so that I can reinvest my attention back toward creating a safe and positive workplace experience for my other staff.


The instructions for the template are as follows:

Just fill in the bubble in the appropriate time slot to indicate whether the interaction was positive, negative or neutral. Then indicate whether interaction was in person (IP), via phone (Tel) or via some other form of electronic communication (EC). And this should provide you a useful tool to keep yourself accountable for policy and ethical compliance when dealing with recurring challenges without hemorrhaging time needed to stay on task and provides a mechanism to directly address conflict in a way that’s more healthy and constructive.

But I may modify the format so that I can input the data electronically and eliminate the risk of leaving the paperwork lying around.  I wish someone would convert this into an app.

If I have any incidents occur in the next couple of weeks I can make a decision about whether I want to report it or not, depending upon how quickly things escalate.  Who knows, once I have a good body of evidence, I might even throw her a bone and let her know about the documentation (I’d have to digitally record that conversation to mitigate the liability risk though) so that she has the opportunity to correct the behavior on her own.

I’m pretty sure I’m protected by our company’s whistle blower policy.  So I may as well do what I can to protect my own reputation until I can gather enough evidence to hold management and the worker accountable for her behavior.

I’d really be doing both the employee and the organization a disservice if I didn’t do SOMETHING to try and ethically correct this behavior.

Frankly I’m more interested in putting a stop to the bullying and intimidation than in getting her into trouble.  So maybe, if she realizes that I am documenting her actions and that she actually will have to be responsible for her behavior the problem will correct itself.

Hopefully, now I’ll be able to give myself permission to breathe a little easier so I can focus my attention back on the aspects of my job that I enjoy.

The Big/Little Bash

b12b130a253a734ff63e79572f84dd8d

Not an actual picture of me btw, but I did take this photo of a pretty hype friend of mine.

 

“One of the greatest gifts you can give to anyone is the gift of your attention.” — Jim Rohn

So I must be doing something right ; ) but it appears that I’ve also still got a long way to go.  So in previous posts I mentioned a need I had to reconcile my new role after raising concerns that one of my workers had been promoted without any of the other eligible candidates being offered an opportunity for an interview.

I previously settled upon making a resolution to take a step back (appropriately so, I believe) to allow the new supervisor to embrace her new role (without generating any misguided suspicions that I might attempt to sabotage) her new position.

I maintained that stance for about 2 weeks just to de-escalate the situation.  But I noticed that with the supervisor that my apparent disengagement seemed to create a fair amount of tension, and I noted definite improvements in her engagement levels with the other workers, as she stepped in to try and prove that she could be more empathetic and more understanding than I could be when they approached me hoping I could help them address some of their concerns and issues.  And I simply explained that with the evolution of the new roles, I didn’t have the information but to check with their supervisor who might be able to provide them with better information.

But I did begin to notice a pattern of disengagement begin to set in. After I spent the first week or so finding other work spaces to complete my tasks, or meeting with vendors, or prospective clients, there was a tension that definitely existed from not being informed or included.

Concurrently the tensions also began to mount earlier this week as I began the pilot of our big/little mentorship program.  We had a few people ask what the purpose of the program which was;

to bridge the leadership gap between our inexperienced workers and senior level leaders by creating mentorship opportunities for our lower level workers so that they can begin to learn the magnitude of the responsibility of mentorship early and begin to cultivate the attributes they would need to be more effective leaders, in a safe, experiential, nurturing controlled learning environment.

And it was communicated to everyone we polled when we were trying to gauge potential interest that the program was voluntary, anyone could opt out at any time, and would not be a formal program due to the variance in desired level of participation.  And most workers expressed excitement about it; many even expressed preferences for who they would like to be partnered with.

I shot this. :)

I shot this. 🙂

So this week we started assigning “bigs” and “littles.”  We only had two conflict (ish) moments with two workers classified as “littles” wished to be claimed by more than one of our “big” participants, but the matter was quickly resolved by explaining the situation to the “bigs” and asking the “littles” for their top preference.

I did discuss the idea prior to launch with the incoming head supervisor after she expressed some apprehension about the program because she was concerned some might not be interested and she didn’t want to force participation.  But once she found out that the program would actually benefit her by providing participants an opportunity to go to one another for guidance and assistance, rather than flood her phone and inbox with messages (as it had done inconveniently so with the incumbent who held her position), she expressed that she thought it was a good idea.

Then today I was approached by our building manager, asking me to explain more about the program because he’d received a complaint about the initiative.

Someone had expressed to him that we shouldn’t have the program

…out of concern that people might be forced to participate in the initiative.  It was the incumbent.  He didn’t have to tell me who it was.  I already knew, because the incumbent had already expressed those concerns to me and I had already expressed to this person that the program was voluntary and that anyone who did not want to participate simply had to express that they wanted to opt out, which is why we were discussing whether workers would even be interested prior to launching the program, and what we’d like the outcomes of the program to be so that they could be flexible but still provide maximum benefit.

The person also expressed later criticisms about one of the big/little pairings because the mentorship arrangement would be across genders. I knew that the worker felt personally responsible for the “little” and even though I reassured the incumbent that the deliberation had taken longer to consider been made and that since the incumbent would be devoting so much time to the upstart that we didn’t want to neglect the needs of the “little” since she had expressed interest in the program, I reassigned the “little” to the incumbent since they had a natural affinity for one another and I acknowledged that it could foster a meaningful relationship.

The little was “thrilled.” That’s probably an understatement.  When I mentioned that one of the first assignments would be for the “bigs” and “littles” to assign nicknames to one another, her response was “OhmyGOD that’s so awesome.  We could be big A___ and little A___!” Although it was probably more of one very rapid run on sentence.

*of course names and images have been omitted to protect the identity of the people involved or mentioned

I took this.

I took this.

And as similar reactions came from other “littles” who relayed how much fun or how much cooler they thought their “bigs” were once they had spent a little time getting to talk with them (as in the case with the social butterfly and outgoing Air Force aspirant we’d paired with the anti-social kid in the corner who built functional crossbows out of pencils and rubber bands who wanted to join the Marine Corp and went home and built fully functional combat gear every weekend) I noticed the incumbent begin to act more withdrawn.

And the few of those who had already expressed that they wouldn’t be interested in the program or would be minimally invested were either kept off the list completely or paired with someone who’d expressed a similar level of commitment. And those who were on the fence seemed content to learn that they had the flexibility to choose their own level of participation.

We did get some eye rolls from the building manager, however, before today’s discussion (mostly because he isn’t a huge fan of any of the practices derived from the Greek system).  But after I reiterated that it was explained to all participants that the program wouldn’t be formal and that the intent of the program was to provide them with opportunities to build the soft skills they’d need to become better mentors and supervisors since we were going to have SOOO many people in leadership roles next year and our predecessors hadn’t really provided any leadership development options (‘m not quite willing to throw out the baby with the bath water just yet, as I think that the biggest lesson our younger workers can learn is how to respond in healthy ways whenever they find themselves unexpectedly in conflict since that wasn’t being modeled well by our top leadership).

I did request that he encourage those with criticisms of the program to come and speak with me in person, or at the very least remind them that at any time they can express to me that they would not like to participate and that they would always have that option.  I wanted to follow up with the reminder that they are all supposed to be adults, but felt that albeit true that it was probably wise that I left that omission.  So he agreed to allow the program to continue and that he would keep his ears and eyes open.

In the meantime, my “little” and I; I only landed one because she requested to have me specifically, are planning a little spirit quest of sorts.  Since neither of us expressed a preference for a nickname (I did give her that option), and we both like to run the trails (although I’m not familiar enough with “big coaster” to run out there without another person), she’s agreed to spend an afternoon out there more or less goofing off and creating some shenanigans on our quest to create a narrative about how we got our names so that we can create our own story.

I’m actually extremely lucky as far as “littles” go, because mine’s pretty, rad and popular, but she’s still uninhibited enough to get weird and nerdy.

She’s even got her boyfriend excited about participating and the plan isn’t really even formed.  We hadn’t even fully explained to him what the spirit quest was when he belted out, “does this mean I get to use a sword?!”

I took this.

I took this.

When I came home this evening, I did want to confirm whether my concerns that the attempts to disband the program might have been initiated by the incumbent because there was something I’d contributed, or not contributed in the early stages that I could have one differently. But after skimming through some articles about workplace envy [trust me, it’s a real thing] and remedies for it I learned:

Workplace Sabotage Fueled by Envy, Unleashed by Disengagement & Incidents of workplace sabotage spread if not addressed by managers

But I was also pleased to learn that:

“Smart managers, of course, try to avoid these dynamics by spreading around the opportunities, giving people a range of assignments, and basing recognition on measurable accomplishments.”

And I do feel as if this initiative could be really effective at accomplishing some of those goals, even though it may seem at a glance to be frivolous and unnecessary (at least to those who don’t understand the value of play and trust building simulations and the impact it has upon stimulating dopamine receptors as workers

  • cultivate a sense of belonging,
  • intentionally create small acts of kindness,
  • provide recognition for these gestures and these acts of kindness
  • coach, confide and encourage one another during times of stress or conflict,
  • discover confidence and gratitude as they build their proficiency in some of these areas
  • create positive associations and bond with one another through these multi-sensory experiences

I do, however, really like the idea of being able to choose how I respond to this –and if the initiative is successful– then I’d like to feel proud of the way we’ve worked around this barrier, and that we rose to the occasion as the authors and heroes of this story.

So I don’t know what the outcomes of all of this will be, but I am really looking forward to gathering some good metrics on growth of engagement since we have such a variable level of interest, to provide good research controls. Plus, my “little” and I discussed possibilities this afternoon of inviting other bigs/littles out for pac-mixers, pranks, competitions and other outings. If Derek Sivers is correct about his theory regarding how to grow a movement, perhaps this initiative to provide fun and fellowship will prove to be a glowing testimony and replication of his work on the rapid growth of cultural shifts spurred by grassroots engagement.