No Rhyme nor Reason

Click image for brief anecdote.

Click image for brief anecdote.

 

Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of creative alternatives for responding to conflict — alternatives to passive or aggressive responses, alternatives to violence.”
Dorothy Thompson

Yesterday I attended a conflict management workshop that I’d signed up for since I didn’t want to squander the opportunity to make use of the professional development resources that my workplace offers.  You know, I’ve booked our venue for that particular facilitator before and our management staff would always make snarky commentary about the fact that the facilitator would book the room to set up for the event on the night before. I eventually was able to steer to conversation back on topic by looking wide-eyed and really uncomfortable and then delicately following up with the comment, “I’m sure he means well…” and then those that encouraged the behavior would start to feel a little bit uncomfortable, the laughter would die down and that would sort of be the end of it.

After attending today’s training session, however, I can see where the extra planning went.  The facilitator did not just read off a bunch of slides to us or or even force us to talk about uncomfortable issues, he really took us through an artfully facilitated experience.  It was so well-executed in fact that I knew about 5 minutes into it that when I got home I was going to more than likely blog about it.

Healthy approaches to Conflict, and knowing when to use them, can provide a variety of benefits

Healthy approaches to Conflict, and knowing when to use them, can provide a variety of benefits.  Mindmap

One of the major emphases of this session that he wanted us to focus upon was upon understanding how our own personal conflict styles impacted our perception of the way others approached conflict.  So he took us through a Kraybill Conflict Style Inventory and then had us read over and discuss whether we noticed correlations within our behavior when we experienced what he referred to as “storm shifts” in behavior as we watched conflicts escalate.

I scored almost identically under the cooperative conflict style for my primary (calm) and secondary (storming) mechanisms for approaching conflict.  Some of the costs associated with over-using this particular style included

  • fatigue & time loss
  • distraction from more important tasks
  • analysis paralysis
  • exhaustion from fear of “too much processing”

particularly if the person using this framework is unskilled in dealing with conflict.  The benefits, however, include a high potential for increased creativity and personal growth, a better understanding of the situation, the opportunity to build team cohesion and self knowledge.

My particular pattern typically played out the following way: my first reaction to conflict is to tend and directly address the issue at hand to negotiate for the win-win, but if these attempts are rejected I respond to the shock I experience by withdrawing momentarily to gather relevant data and information, so that I can assess it in a calm and methodical way in order to comfortably enter negotiations and resolve them efficiently once things have calmed down.

I might look for relevant details, plans, options, weigh costs, check for policy compliance, and precedents from elsewhere before making that decision, and if the situation requires a directive, I either make it and do the best I can to explain what course of action I’ve taken, who’s involved in that process if they want to appeal and my basis for evidence that led me to the decision.  Occasionally those discussions may take place retroactively, but once I have better information it becomes easy to let the person I’m experiencing conflict with make a decision about how they are going to react to this conflict, what they stand to benefit and what’s at risk should they choose an action that doesn’t reflect everyone’s best interest.

Click this image for a lovely anecdote about trust and healthy conflict management

Click this image for a lovely anecdote about trust and healthy conflict management

What I also learned is that your previous experiences with a particular conflict style (e.g. I associate those who raise their voice or snap at others in order to be dismissive with prior associations in which those who used that style, often people who I cared about very deeply, resurfaced that conflict because of some previous form of conflict they hadn’t resolved previously that left them feeling un-affirmed, hurt and afraid of being abandoned when they encountered that previous conflict… and those patterns of behavior, that imprinting was passed on.  Often large, demonstrative expressions of anger reflect

  • accumulation of resentment due to needs that haven’t been acknowledged or met
  • a fear of being perceived as weak or threatened when approached to engage with someone they haven’t built trust with but have been approached by to engage in conflict
  • resistance out of the belief that one is being denied the right to be validated for simply being themselves
  • inability to articulate of boundaries

According to the book that was recommended to us to supplement the assessment: Style Matters, when dealing with those who have a more in-your-face conflict style or a history of abusing others, my best plan of action is to withdraw to safety but I need to express when I do so a clear intention to return and work on things once things cool off.  Otherwise it will escalate their anxiety and increase the likelihood of the behavior increasing.

Susan Wheelan states that:

“We know from our experience that it is easier to develop trust in another person or in a group if we believe that we can disagree, and we will not be abandoned or hurt for our differences. It is difficult to trust those who deny us the right to be ourselves.”
5 styles

 

Kraybill seemed to believe that a direct correlation existed between the way a person approached a particular conflict style and the importance we placed upon whether we valued our agendas more over our relationships.  I realize now that the emphasis I place upon how important the agenda I’d like to convey definitely determines the approach I display when working through conflict because I absolutely hate the idea of giving up on a relationship, especially if I find the relationship to be important.  But the moment that I realize that the other party places little value upon the relationship, the easier it is for me to divest and redirect my emphasis upon confirming my rationalization (coming up with evidence for whether/why I’m right in case I have to protect myself) rather than placating the other person in order to try and salvage that relationship.

So I suppose in a way, I can be a bit willful myself.  But I think having that self knowledge and understanding which considerations I need to make (e.g.

  • whether the circumstance requires that I place more importance upon the relationship or the issue,
  • the time and energy constraints for addressing the conflict,
  • weighing potential consequences,
  • and alternative approaches to mitigate any damaging effects).

 

We may be able to move forward and to develop more healthy and appropriate avenues for working through workplace conflict.

The Bully Tracker

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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

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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.

Understand Your Strengths

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This morning I stumbled across an interesting article on Twitter from the Savvy Intern

It is Time: “Follow Your Passion” Must Retire as Career Advice

I found the topic somewhat compelling only really because the advice was absolutely contrary to what I’d been taught from successful people (like Steve Jobs in his commencement speech), professors and so on. I even heard the same advice from people who I knew that were deeply unhappy due to the fact that they had settled by staying in a role that didn’t align with their dreams or their gifts.

I know that I often have to put my ego on the back burner in my role. I think that one of the hardest lesson I have ever had to learn is how to separate which skills from how I value assigned value to myself as a person.

There were skills that were necessary for my role that I needed so that I could be effective at my job, but it did not devalue who I was a person even though it may have devalued many of my other skills.

And when you don’t use your skills you often find that you grow anxious and restless.  Paolo Coelho talks a lot about alignment of purpose and gifts in his book “The  Alchemist.” I don’t think Coelho would be proud of what I’ve done with my gifts.  But I did what was necessary to be able to earn a living and tried to make the most of what they’d give me permission to work with.

After reading this article, I realized that the sick feeling I experienced from acknowledging that I’d done exactly what the author recommended goes against all of the researched and scientifically backed evidence that doing things that don’t bring out the best in you more or less squander your gifts.  So I don’t know if that means I’ll be job hunting anytime soon.  There are many employers in this small little town, but I did think at the very least it would be wide to do a strengths assessment so I could reacquaint myself with those gifts and rekindle my relationship with them.  No offense to Gallup, but I just didn’t want to pay for a service that isn’t transparent about their evaluation methods before you pay them, so I opted for this free assessment and got the following results instead:

I don’t know about you, but when I read that I realize that I should be much more proud of the person I’ve become than I actually am.

I often feel guilty about not having stronger proficiency in my bottom 3, but I’m reluctant to take those on because I so frequently see people abuse it.  I’d been looking for ways to rephrase what I thought appeared to be weaknesses; too deferential, too analytical, too idealistic, too accommodating.  But I think it’s because I’m surrounded by people who view my strengths through that lens.  So I’m pretty excited to learn that these can be gifts and will be looking forward to really embracing these gifts.

Your Strengths are: (from highest to lowest)

Rank

Strengths

Description

Score

Video explanation

1 Developer People strong in the Developer theme recognize and cultivate the potential in others. They spot the signs of each small improvement and derive satisfaction from these improvements. 100 Click Me
2 Input People strong in the Input theme have a craving to know more. Often they like to collect and archive all kinds of information. 98 Click Me
3 Belief People strong in the Belief theme have certain core values that are unchanging. Out of these values emerges a defined purpose for their life. 96 Click Me
4 Conectedness People strong in the Connectedness theme have faith in the links between all things. They believe there are few coincidences and that almost every event has a reason. 93 Click Me
5 Ideation People strong in the Ideation theme are fascinated by ideas. They are able to find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena. 89 Click Me
6 Fairness People strong in the Consistency theme are keenly aware of the need to treat people the same. They try to treat everyone in the world fairly by setting up clear rules and adhering to them. 89 Click Me
7 Arranger People strong in the Arranger theme can organize, but they also have a flexibility that complements this ability. They like to figure out how all of the pieces and resources can be arranged for maximum productivity. 84 Click Me
8 Relator People who are strong in the Relator theme enjoy close relationships with others. They find deep satisfaction in working hard with friends to achieve a goal. 82 Click Me
9 Activator People strong in the Activator theme can make things happen by turning thoughts into action. They are often impatient. 82 Click Me
10 Responsibility People strong in the Responsibility theme take psychological ownership of what they say they will do. They are committed to stable values such as honesty and loyalty. 82 Click Me
11 Restorative People strong in the Restorative theme are adept at dealing with problems. They are good at figuring out what is wrong and resolving it. 82 Click Me
12 Individualization People strong in the Individualization theme are intrigued with the unique qualities of each person. They have a gift for figuring out how people who are different can work together productively. 82 Click Me
13 Learner People strong in the Learner theme have a great desire to learn and want to continuously improve. In particular, the process of learning, rather than the outcome, excites them. 82 Click Me
14 Analytical People strong in the Analytical theme search for reasons and causes. They have the ability to think about all the factors that might affect a situation. 80 Click Me
15 Empathy People strong in the Empathy theme can sense the feelings of other people by imagining themselves in others’ lives or others’ situations. 80 Click Me
16 Adaptability People strong in the Adaptability theme prefer to ‘go with the flow.’ They tend to be ‘now’ people who take things as they come and discover the future one day at a time. 78 Click Me
17 Maximizer People strong in the Maximizer theme focus on strengths as a way to stimulate personal and group excellence. They seek to transform something strong into something superb. 76 Click Me
18 Discipline People strong in the Discipline theme enjoy routine and structure. Their world is best described by the order they create. 76 Click Me
19 Communication People strong in the Communication theme generally find it easy to put their thoughts into words. They are good conversationalists and presenters. 76 Click Me
20 Woo People strong in the Woo theme love the challenge of meeting new people and winning them over. They derive satisfaction from breaking the ice and making a connection with another person. 73 Click Me
21 Futuristic People strong in the Futuristic theme are inspired by the future and what could be. They inspire others with their visions of the future. 73 Click Me
22 Intellection People strong in the Intellection theme are characterized by their intellectual activity. They are introspective and appreciate intellectual discussions. 71 Click Me
23 Significance People strong in the Significance theme want to be very important in the eyes of others. They are independent and want to be recognized. 71 Click Me
24 Achiever People strong in the Achiever theme have a great deal of stamina and work hard. They take great satisfaction from being busy and productive. 71 Click Me
25 Harmony People strong in the Harmony theme look for consensus. They don’t enjoy conflict; rather, they seek areas of agreement. 69 Click Me
26 Strategic People strong in the Strategic theme create alternative ways to proceed. Faced with any given scenario, they can quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues. 69 Click Me
27 Focus People strong in the Focus theme can take a direction, follow through, and make the corrections necessary to stay on track. They prioritize, then act. 67 Click Me
28 Deliberative People strong in the Deliberative theme are best described by the serious care they take in making decisions or choices. They anticipate the obstacles. 67 Click Me
29 Positivity People strong in the Positivity theme have an enthusiasm that is contagious. They are upbeat and can get others excited about what they are going to do. 64 Click Me
30 Includer People strong in the Inclusiveness theme are accepting of others. They show awareness of those who feel left out, and make an effort to include them. 62 Click Me
31 Context People strong in the Context theme enjoy thinking about the past. They understand the present by researching its history. 62 Click Me
32 Command People strong in the Command theme have presence. They can take control of a situation and make decisions. 56 Click Me
33 Self-Assurance People strong in the Self-assurance theme feel confident in their ability to manage their own lives. They possess an inner compass that gives them confidence that their decisions are right. 56 Click Me
34 Competition People strong in the Competition theme measure their progress against the performance of others. They strive to win first place and revel in contests. 56 Click Me

Begin to Lean in

“Risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing.” – Warren Buffett

I must admit I’d been brooding a bit lately after our last round of hiring because due to a time crunch and lack of planning they’d excluded my input (and performance data) from the hiring process.  And I didn’t “Lean In” or intervene because I didn’t want to overstep any boundaries or to communicate that I distrusted the hiring committee or create discord. But I let my fear get in the way which resulted in some pretty inequitable hiring practices.

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I had some really great candidates.  According to the data, they each had the strongest performance records, two had a pretty strong rapport with the workers that they supervised so I assumed that one of them would be hired, but they lost to a candidate who was awarded the position of head supervisor even though statistically she had one of the poorest performance records and was the least prepared for the position.  When her friend, who just recently held the position told her they were considering candidates for the position, she would scramble around trying to appear to be helpful when being assessed by members of the hiring committee (which included her friend), but I’m embarrassed to say that the decision to hire her grossly reflects what many HR professionals refer to as a recency bias rather than her actual performance history.

It can be a bit hard to know how to navigate through the red tape surrounding all of this. I’ve had to build my reputation and I’ve compiled a lot of hard data because I know that distrust has been a huge factor in our organization and I want to be able to back myself up if I say something works so I don’t have to worry about being accused of bias or have to be held accountable for someone else’s negligence.

Statistically, I have a great performance record.  I am really proud of the fact that I have good relationships with my workers and have been able to improve their performance.  I just don’t see where it’s constructive to be a braggart about it.  This year I’ve been fortunate enough to only have had 7 under-performers out of 60 relatively inexperienced workers. We had two drop outs, two who are  on target to be kicked out because they don’t show up for shifts and are more or less at risk across the board, one who is juggling WAAYY too many responsibilities, one I’ll mention below and the worker I’ve mentioned.

Her workers are constantly off task and goofing off for HOURS at a time increasing not only our risk at being reprimanded by the labor office, but also our increases our patrons’ health risks associated with our high liability operation.  She has no idea how to keep her workers’ accountable short of snapping at them, she hasn’t really made any effort to learn our policies which results into her giving our patrons bad information (which lowers the consistency and quality of our service) and if you try to work with her to get her up to speed, she’s pretty unwilling to learn or to listen. It’s very frustrating at times and I can totally understand why mothers of teenage girls are constantly pulling their hair out.

She wants the autonomy of being an adult without having to take on the responsibilities associated with being an adult.

In fact, the supervisor hadn’t made any attempts to fulfill her duties outlined by her job description until hiring began about one month ago.  I’ve witnessed two emotional outbursts in which she’s publicly yelled at two of our inexperienced workers within the last week. They hadn’t actually even done anything wrong, she just got flustered and projected her hostility onto them because she didn’t know how to constructively articulate clear boundaries so she instead reprimanded them for behavior she didn’t personally like but had never articulated to them.  And for me it’s kind of hard to watch.  Obviously I can’t correct her in front of others and our office location is in front of everyone (I’ll explain in a bit) so even pulling her aside signals a public reprimand if we’re both absent.  And to be fair, my position (on paper) isn’t really designed to give me that level of authority anyway.  But because I’d previously expressed concerns about our even rehiring her to work within our department in a supervisory capacity, I feel as if I have considerably less influence now because I don’t want my concerns to be construed as some sort of retaliation or attempt to undermine her efforts to lead (ish).  I also know that she and her friend have some kind of expectation that I might try to sabotage her efforts and they’re both kind of watching me closely (it’s quite nerve-wracking really) to find any tiny little indication that might validate their suspicions.

Had I known that they hadn’t even invited any of the other potential candidates in for an interview, I probably would have spoken up prior to their announcing the new positions.  That’s a bullet I would have happily taken for the other candidates.  I was initially worried that I had failed to prepare the more qualified candidates in some way because I’d heard that she’d had a strong interview. I’d heard that part of what resonated with the hiring committee is that this candidate expressed concern that she would be judged and compared to her incumbent because she wasn’t as experienced or organized or considered to be as nice a person — qualifications I believe are kind of critical when you’re hiring someone to supervise the other 60 workers.  What I wasn’t aware of, until yesterday, when I was making a referral to one of the candidates who didn’t get selected to head over to our career center to set up an appointment on interview skills was that none of the other candidates had even been given a chance to interview.  So right now I’m just kind of taking a step back and trying to reassess what my best role should be given the situation.

Also, in order to reduce the risk that someone may perceive that I hold any personal grudges or would seek to undermine the authority that the new supervisor holds in her new position, I spoke with both her and our building supervisor on separate occasions to let them know that because it was my responsibility to instill trust and to allow her to learn how to do her position on her own (since that what she prefers) that I was going to take a step back out of the role of supervising workers.

It isn’t technically included in my job description, I only inherited the role because the administration and community wanted to hold someone accountable when our workers were neglecting their duties. I just happened to be the only visible person around since they moved my reception area down in the middle of all of the building foot traffic and once I realized that the “that’s not my job” excuse was not going to be very effective since most people only saw me acting as an agent of the organization, I was going to have to step up and exhibit that leadership when needed. It’s not a role that I have always enjoyed, but it has played to many of my problem solving strengths.  It has also forced me to reassess how I handle uncertainty and conflict (both verbally and non verbally) when I’m at my wits end because I am constantly “in public” due to the design and location of my workspace. I mean, I’m not even allowed to non-verbally communicate that I’m flustered or frustrated (even when it’s valid) because there’s no privacy and my role is expected to be responsive and deferential. So you can imagine why it’s a role that can often make me feel conflicted.

While theoretically it would seem that I have the option of simply removing myself from the equation (so I’m not expected to be liable for it) — this could easily be perceived as a cop out and could easily be construed as a lack of accountability if someone wanted to push it.  So I don’t want to leave that to chance as it would be poor reputation management.

How-to-Make-a-Good-First-Impression1

Yesterday I mentioned in mixed company that on my way home for lunch I noticed that the heads of the first crocuses of spring had finally poked their little purple heads out. I made a reference to something Shug Avery said in “The Color Purple” about it making God mad when we walk by the color purple and didn’t notice and the memory made me smile even though purple was a color I’d always been rather indifferent to in the past.  But it made me happy to see evidence that after this very cold winter spring was finally coming.”  And most of us just kind of stood and looked around for each moment not saying anything and smiled.  Then out of nowhere she goes; “Well IIIII really like the color purple…. I have three shirts in that color at home….”

For some (I think really unnecessary reason), she’d made a commitment to whatever she thinks this rivalry is.  Like she’s getting some sort of dopamine boost out of obsessively looking for ways to contradict me and I’m going to have to find some way to manage it.  It’s not going to go away by me simply ignoring it.  It isn’t really something that I understand, but it’s not the first time I’ve gone through it, I imagine it won’t be the last.  But apparently I have failed to recognize early on that she finds something about my presence pretty threatening, and by making the decision not to succumb to it, it isn’t de-escalating the situation, but is more likely feeding it.

But what I realized from that interaction was that this wasn’t about me.

…and the truth is, I have neither the interest nor energy to play into it.  It’s hard enough walking on eggshells to make sure that I am not only keeping myself accountable.  If I engage her directly, or even demonstrate to her or to others that I’m rattled, it distracts my focus from being able to set a good example and create meaningful relationships with my other workers. But if I don’t take care to regulate my behavior (including the nonverbal behaviors) when she has her emotional outbursts, I run the risk of triggering additional outbursts even when I exercise restraint because she’s looking to be the victim in this scenario, and I don’t want the motives behind my indifference to be interpreted as dismissive or negligent.

Part of me just wants to sit back, let her throw her little tantrums and tucker herself out.  But unfortunately, the business world will blame me for neglecting her because although I have no official authority over her, I am the only visible agent of the organization that will be associated with her behavior due to our shared physical proximity in our workspace.

At least previously, I had the option to write the worker up or send them home when they behaved insubordinately or couldn’t keep their emotions under control; a strategem I exercised fairly frequently in previous iterations of my job when I was expected to act as a disciplinarian in this role, really just because we’d had such poor worker oversight when they transferred me to that area and I needed to communicate to our community and my superiors that this area could and would not be neglected any longer — as well as to establish very clear boundaries with some of the workers who had been bullying their peers.  So she isn’t my first emotionally volatile worker and I imagine she won’t be my last. But promoting someone to a level of oversight that would her give her the same level of authority as one of my professional colleagues based upon one month of performance without weighing her performance for the previous 5 months does seem to be a bit irresponsible, even if the efforts may have been unintentional.

Plus it undermines the positive environment that we’ve built since then.  I immediately switched toward a positive reinforcement model of supervision once we weeded out the people who lost incentive to work for our organization once we increased oversight. Workers used to apply to work for our organization because it was the one area on site that met the labor requisite but required the least amount of accountability but the majority left once they increased my oversight because I actually enforced our policies and held our workers responsible for upholding our service standards and policies to ensure liability compliance. Once we eradicated the people from our workforce who were there for the wrong reasons, it was much easier to implement a structured merit based performance model.  The expectations were clear, we frequently rewarded those who modeled the best character and met our performance standards with more autonomy and more oversight. We also secured more buy-in with our new hires by implementing peer recognition initiatives and used peer modeling to improve our organization’s reputation and standing in the community as well as our staff, as is evidenced by our significant increase in leadership retention.

And in all fairness, now thinking back, I suppose I am guilty of suggesting that we seriously consider replacing that particular supervisor unless we can provide her with direct mentorship and supervision to help her work through some of her areas of weakness.  But I didn’t think they were going to hire her head the entire leadership division.  Her friend will be leaving soon and sadly, when her friend isn’t around to take her under her wing, she reverts back to the behavior I’d previously documented.

Trust me, I’ve been there, and I know how much it sucks to be micromanaged or to have someone feel as if they constantly need to put you in your place; which is why I make a special effort not to do that.  Many millennial often experience that when they become recent graduates.  Nagging makes young women old before their time and I may know a lot, but it doesn’t mean that I’m willing to take on the role of trying to control other people’s choices.  And I do my best to refrain from unsolicited advice when I can; but there are times when I see them standing on that ledge and at most I just give the boilerplate speech so that someone has a record of me attempting to be reasonable before anything disastrous happens.  If it’s a big enough concern I will pull them aside and ask them whether they have considered the implications of x choice that they are making?

Most are pretty receptive to it because they don’t want to make mistakes.  But the more headstrong mentees, like our new head supervisor and the incumbent just kind of bulldoze off the cliff for no other reason than they don’t want to feel like they’re being managed.  And I have to just let them — and wait — wait for them to approach me when they need someone more experienced to intercede if things degenerate and require a professional intervention.

And I understand that these young women want to contribute, to be treated like adults, and that they want to prove that they are capable of doing things on their own and I try to respect that. But:

You’re not going to reinforce my or anyone’s trust if you communicate that you’re impossible to work with; point blank.

Leaning in does not mean bulldozing over the people who care about your development or that you don’t have to be held accountable for your behavior or that exempt from having to listen.  You can either listen to someone who genuinely wants you to succeed, or you can listen to the consequences, but I have no intention of chasing you if you have a piss poor attitude or if you plan on wasting my investment. And I frankly have no interest in standing in between anyone and that choice if I’m not required to take on that imposition.

I’m certainly not looking to set back women’s lib 400 years or anything.  There are some aspects that you have to take seriously if you’re going to give good service.  I don’t push her to live up to those standards because she’s not required to, I am.  But when she makes mistakes that merit any meaningful consequence, I do pull her aside to call it to her attention because that’s what my responsibility is whether she’s receptive to it or not.  And it is also my responsibility in many cases to fix it, because I get reprimanded for it whether it be my mistake, my supervisors’ or my workers.’ But with her most of the time I can’t even get two words in and she automatically perceives being corrected as a threat and it has to do with her background or the way that leadership has been modeled to her in the past.  You can tell that most of her distrust of perceived authority figures has to do with ways that she’s been previously wounded and I would have to either keep a paper trail or wait for her to have a serious breakdown before I could even safely recommend that she seek out the kind of help she would need to resolve it.

In the meantime, I have tried to find other areas to redirect my interest.  I’ve been pouring through Martine’s book of etiquette to make sure that I am holding myself accountable in my treatment toward her so that my involvement won’t be considered a factor in the assessment of her performance.  I treat her civilly, and with respect, and when she fails to return the favor, I excuse myself politely and take my work to a different location.  But it still doesn’t stop her from trying to contradict me or to try to make me look bad in even the most trivial of conversations.

When we talked, I thought we’d resolved not to step on each others’ toes (and had even gone so far as to develop a nonverbal hand signal to let the other know when we’d cross the line, but I developed that for her to feel more of a safe space.  I didn’t think I was going to be the one to have to use it.

Most of the time, I just keep my distance so as not to egg on any conflict since she’s made it a point to articulate that she finds my presence a hindrance. And she doesn’t just do it with me.  I’ve also seen her bully or neglect some of the other workers as well.  There are times when I almost feel as if I am living in a modern day depiction of Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility” where I’ve been cast as Elinor and she as Marianne — only instead of having dueling views of romance we instead differ in our views and etiquette of work ethic.  There are days when she seriously makes me feel like Tina Fey from the movie Mean Girls.

tina-fey-mean-girls-musical

And I don’t want to be hard on her.  I understand that learning is necessary if she’s going to grow, I just think that at the level of emotional awareness and maturity that she illustrates right now that she really needs guidance before she’s entrusted to work at that level.  I understand that this conundrum ultimately revolves around issues of trust.

I learned the hard way early on, that leadership can be a burden if you don’t know how to build trust with the people that you work with.  And if someone you work with doesn’t like you or trust you, they will go out of their way to undermine you using any opportunity they can.  And this new kid is gunning for me.  Although I’ve never expressed it to her directly, I’m sure that her friend (the incumbent supervisor) and she have discussed that I raised concerns about her being rehired again.  The incumbent supervisor isn’t really supposed to disclose that information, but they’re friends, and the incumbent supervisor doesn’t have many because her time commitments don’t allow her much of an opportunity for a social life.

I just genuinely don’t trust that the new kid understands what she needs to be successful as a supervisor, let alone HEAD supervisor and I have the documentation to prove that she won’t even follow basic instructions, and she’s pretty negligent to the needs and expectations of our patrons and her subordinates.  But, for the most part, I do trust my direct supervisor who made the decision with the incumbent.  I just think because he was stressed for time and didn’t plan for his hiring process that he may have not looked at the bigger picture and the implications of half-assing his hiring process. I know that he trusts the incumbent supervisor implicitly.  She trained him how to do his role and I believe that he wants to be fair and equitable and to instill trust in her.

So I’ve been doing a lot of praying about it. I know that if I don’t find a way to learn how to manage it, it’s just going to silently continue erode away my self-confidence.  I think part of this means that I have to acknowledge my own disappointment about not being able to form a healthy bond with her and that displaying fear in an unhealthy manner is only going to reinforce a threatening environment.  I have a lot of incredible strengths that I don’t get to take advantage of.  And I won’t get to if I keep sitting back waiting for the storm to pass.  So although I don’t think want to sit back and take it, if I stop focusing upon her and just redirect my attention toward setting a good example, it’s going to frustrate her to no end, but I’m going to have to find a way to manage it.

They dug a pretty deep hole, but it’s not the end of the world.

I’ve also been doing a little bit of really wanted to research to see if I could find a more nurturant solution to address these concerns. I just have to record the data and measure the outcomes in performance.  Of our 7 under-performers, only 1 of them showed measurable improvement.  It was the one I predicted from the data I collected over summer.  So I shouldn’t write them off completely.  But sometimes people have to see themselves, or see how they are perceived by others before they can make meaningful decisions about how they choose to develop self-discipline.

What I’ve learned about myself from all of this is that data provides a rationalization for skewed bias, but it doesn’t mean that I’m exempt from having to listen.  If I’m going to hold myself accountable for how I treat our under-performers, then I need to be more aware of how my reactions appear to others.  And I need to learn how to do a better job of setting up our under-performers with mentors that they can trust and confide in so that they can have a safe place to go to, and do a better job of articulating my intentions.

And I’ve had a lot of success empowering and character coaching with the majority of my workers.  One strategy that I’ve employed more recently is a pilot big/little mentorship program between the more experienced and the less experienced workers so that the workers can get used to consulting one another for guidance.  The workers all seemed pretty enthusiastic about the opportunities for mentoring and bonding, and I think a program like that could be incredibly useful in teaching our workers how to recognize good leadership traits, model good work ethic and to initiate trust building to do a better job of closing our leadership gap intermittently so we can reduce the likelihood of something like that happening again.

In the meantime, here are some of the resources I’ve perused to kind of get a more holistic sense of directions I could take to manage this:

Problem Employees: Counseling & Discipline

Using “The Halo Effect” To Make a Good First Impression

How to work with untrustworthy peers

8 Ways to Eliminate Hiring Bias During Interviews

So I look forward to seeing how this develops.  I’ll be sure to update you on any strategies I implement or interesting outcomes from the data I come across.

Tracking Performance Equitably

6

“Jane Jacobs argued, contrary to common wisdom in the 1960’s, that streets are safer when more people are on them. They are also safer when people are able and willing to watch the street from windows. InThe Death and Life of Great American Cities, she explains how to make public streets and public spaces secure. Her ideas are a prescription for real crime prevention, not simply a way to achieve a feeling of security. Safe, well-used streets are inherently livable streets.”

Following the wisdom of Jacobs and by applying her principles to labor supervision, I created and adopted this recognition system template in the summer of 2013, later known as the “student worker acknowledgement grid — or swag sheet,” to quickly collect data on the work habit and work ethic of my students, liked the results and later used it with my workers.

This tracking system gave us real-time performance data that:

  • required supervisors to become more engaged with the work of their subordinates,
  • allowed us to give specific and periodic recognition (based upon the principles outlined in Aubrey Daniels book “Bringing Out the Best in People”),
  • track growth/ regression of our workers, &
  • gave the inexperienced workers a sense that the management was involved with their success.

This experiment actually resulted in a significantly measurable rate of improved performance.

The swag sheets were effective I believe for the following reasons:

1) Required supervisors to become more engaged with the work of their subordinates: rather than sit around and dictating orders or assignments, supervisors were expected to walk around the building, identify the name and appearance of each of their subordinates.  Often after the workers had gotten to know their supervisors better, they’d ask about the data collection and once the students knew they were being watched and recorded, they were much more willing to complete their tasks because they didn’t want a track record that they weren’t contributing. Supervisors were either enthusiastic or apprehensive about collecting data and most were very good about finding out other information about their workers, helping them find supplies or troubleshoot difficulty they may have been having, or letting the supervisor know of potential scheduling conflicts.  In previous years, because the roles weren’t clearly defined and supervisors weren’t involved at this level, there was a lot of confusion between supervisors and workers about who was working, when, which or whether supervisors should be approached about concerns, etc., so the swag sheets were effective in alleviating quite a bit of that confusion.  The swag sheets also made it easier for supervisors to pass information along quickly about what tasks had been assigned and to whom when they were switching shifts.

2) Allowed us to give specific and periodic recognition (based upon the principles outlined in Aubrey Daniels book “Bringing Out the Best in People”), Daniels talks about the failure of annual performance appraisals and employee of the month initiatives to motivate employees and how the rate of improvement in employee performance could be significantly achieved using specific positive reinforcement.  You can read more about Daniels work here in the publication Positive Reinforcement: Misunderstood and Misused.

3) Tracked growth/ regression of our workers: this allowed us to be able to track performance issues related to supervisor engagement, the impact of policy changes on worker performance and retention, or areas of mismanagement.  It also helped us to identify and reaffirm the things we were doing right.  We could look at indicators like absenteeism, history of task completion and so on to identify when workers were suffering from issues outside of work, to track illnesses, time falsification and even incidents of worker fraternization.

4) Gave our inexperienced workers a sense that the management was involved with their success: the increase in oversight and involvement improved employee attitudes and most workers saw the passive approach to monitoring less invasive because they’d received an increase in communication. As a result we’ve had one of the highest employee and leadership retention rates in the history of our department in a very long time.

So I suppose we have that to be proud of.