Creating a “Win/Win” with Your Team

In business, there is no avoiding the hard conversation, but when a difficult or potentially volatile situation arises between peers, particularly business owners and managers, the conversation is often postponed for fear of conflict.  Conflict avoidance, however, is not a winning strategy. Does any of the story below sound familiar to you?

When he started his own business, my client Joe hired a project manager, Fred, a guy he’d known for years.  In the beginning, business was great – it was just the two of them “making it happen” every day.  Joe trusted Fred’s skills and didn’t ask too many questions. As long as the work was done, and the clients weren’t complaining, it was all okay.  As the business grew, staff was added, and it became apparent to Joe that the “just-get-it-done” approach wasn’t going to work any longer.  He realized that he needed to establish systems, processes, and procedures, so the company could grow with a strong foundation.  In order to maintain consistent profits and great service, they needed to standardize what they did. This meant that Joe and Fred were no longer able to be involved with every decision and action in the field. They needed to develop the team under them and build better systems for managing these folks.

To Fred, “systems and procedures” showed up like “more stuff to do” – he just wanted to do what he was good at – build. This created a dilemma for my client. Joe started to become resentful of Fred for not wanting to help the company build a better foundation.  As Joe put processes and procedures in place, and Fred neglected to follow them. Joe’s response was to remain quiet; instead, he started working directly with the folks directly reporting to Fred. In turn, Fred began to keep himself even more isolated and not attending operations meetings because “things came up.” Fred also began criticizing the new processes to other staff members and making remarks about how “all that paperwork isn’t necessary–we just need to be able to do our jobs.”

While the quality of work on Fred’s jobs was good, profits began to decline. The owner, Joe, was becoming increasingly unhappy with Fred’s performance.  Seeing Fred’s ever-increasing resistance, he didn’t want to confront him and end up in an explosive conversation; nevertheless, he began building a case against Fred, so that he could have enough “evidence” for a conversation.

Joe wanted to grow his company and understood that better systems and processes were key to sustainable success. However, the implementation had a few glitches:

  • Joe did not have a clear plan for what changes he wanted to make
  • He didn’t communicate with other key staff about when he wanted to make those changes
  • He didn’t tell those key staff how this would impact their jobs
  • Joe didn’t address the issues that arose with Fred as a result of not communicating the above in a direct and timely manner

How could Joe have communicated better with Fred, and what can help you avoid these same problems?

  1. He could have sat down with Fred, outlined where he planned to take the company and asked if Fred was willing to participate at a higher level of management, specifically to mentor and coach the team under him.  AND Joe, as owner, was willing to truly hear the answers without insisting on Fred being someone he is not.
  2. If Fred was not showing up to planned meetings, Joe needed to talk directly with Fred and let him know that the meetings were mandatory and his presence was critical to the success of the meeting. Collaborating with Fred’s schedule would make sure the meetings happened.
  3. When word got out that Fred was criticizing the processes and procedures the company was trying to implement, Joe could have asked him about it and found out what his concerns or issues were.  Willingness to hear Fred’s concerns and to spend the time to help him understand the important role systems and policies play in helping the company grow sustainably could have overcome Fred’s objections.
  4. When Joe realized he had not been communicating clearly or not holding up his end of the relationship, he needed to be willing to take responsibility for his own part in the communication gap.

Responsibility is the ability to respond. It is NOT shame, blame, or fault.  To practice open, honest communication, one has to be willing to take responsibility for the communication first, then be willing to be genuine, real, and truthful in that communication. By the way, honest and truthful does NOT mean bludgeoning the other person with blame.  It does mean speaking what is true for you, while at the same time taking responsibility for it being your experience, and knowing that it may not necessarily be fact.

Added benefit? People trust us more when we have open, honest, and direct communications with them.  We know when people are “stepping around” the real issues and not being direct.  It doesn’t serve anyone when we do that – as we saw above.

While Joe had to deal with Fred, who was burdened by a long list of unresolved issues and delayed conversations, you don’t have to. Don’t let one conversation make or break a relationship. Start out with small conversations (particularly if they are difficult) and work your way up to big ones – doing so will build trust and connection with the people in ways that are meaningful and profound. Joe discovered this once he began talking with Fred. The more willing they are to have those open and honest exchanges, the more trust they build and the easier it has been for change to be implemented in the company.  By the way –this is useful everywhere in your life – not just business!

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