Direct conversations can help create a "no-whinge" culture
When the reality of an organisation's culture doesn't match its espoused values, simple conversations can help bring the "miserable people" into line, says leadership educator Steve Fearns.
Be solutions focusedWhen managers have issues with their team members, they must be encouraged to assist with the solution, Fearns says, and not just dump the problem on HR.
"Tell them, 'If you're not prepared to be part of the solution, you forfeit the right to complain'."
He says "most people are reasonable" and go to work to do a good job, and if managers "have real conversations and hold people accountable", it's possible to move the difficult people into the group of those who work and behave appropriately.
(He adds, however, that two per cent of people will never change, "no matter what you do and... how good you are at communication. They've got to go".)
The solution should focus first on helping the problem person to "grow", and only if that fails, on helping them to "go", he says.
And the "grow" steps are not just to "tick a box and get documentation in order to move to 'go'".
"But if you've helped them to grow, and done everything - if... HR can say 'Here's all the sessions we had; here's the development and the accountabilities; however they still haven't been able to do this' - it's much easier to let them to go if you need to."
Fearns calls this "fighting clean". The first step is to have a real conversation with the person, label the issue clearly and call them on it, but "go in soft".
Managers often have conversations in which they'll say something like, "You're too negative; please be more positive", and don't understand why behaviour doesn't improve, he says.
They need to use specific examples to make sure the person understands. For example, "I just wanted to have a quick chat about some of the things you mentioned in that last meeting. Do you know what I'm referring to?"
Going in soft gives a self-aware person a chance to say "Oh actually, yeah, I probably shouldn't have said 'XYZ'", and the manager can simply reinforce that knowledge and ask that the behaviour not happen again.
Or, Fearns says, "They'll say, 'No, what are you talking about?' and you'll realise they had no idea".
"And whose fault is that?"
In such cases, these first conversations can be as simple as, "Remember when you said 'XYZ'? Can you see how that might affect the team? Would it be OK if you weren't to say comments like that?
"This could be the first time they've heard it," he points out, suggesting that all managers give employees the benefit of the doubt in this first instance.
The key is to create awareness of the issue, and get the person to agree to change it.
"Once someone's got awareness, then they've got choice. They can either toe the line, or they can go, 'I know I've been told, but I don't care. I'm going to carry on and see how far I can get away with this'. At least they're now in the driver's seat, and we're aware it's a conscious decision."
Only after this important step has been taken, and if further breaches occur, should managers consider taking the complaint to the next level, he says. "It's a lot easier then, of course, for the conversation to go on."
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