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Welcome to the July 2009 issue of Alignment Solutions! We are pleased to announce that our next teleseminar, "Organizational Self-esteem: You Can't Succeed if You're Hiding Under the Desk," will be held on Thursday, July 23rd at 9 a.m. Pacific time (noon Eastern). We will discuss the connection between an institution's self-esteem and its success, and identify ways to minimize the obstacles to collective high self-esteem. To register for this event, please click here.

On July 8th we issued a press release containing tips about how to prevent employees from becoming collateral damage in the labor-management battle. A copy of the statement is posted on the Business Alignment Strategies web site.

Our article series called Research News You Can Use selects findings of academic research that are applicable in the workplace, and suggests how you might implement them in your organization.

July Topic: How to Increase Employees' Satisfaction with their Supervisors

Premise:Research shows that the #1 reason why employees leave organizations and why they join unions is dissatisfaction with their immediate supervisors. Find out what specific behaviors affect this important measure of employee well- being.

This month's theme is "optimal communication." Much of the work I do with organizations has its genesis in communication issues that arise from behaviors ranging from a total lack of communication, to a breakdown in communication, to an inability to communicate or interact appropriately with others. Lack of clear boundaries and respect seem rampant (e.g., cell phone users who talk loudly and/or about personal matters in public places). The specific aspect of communication dysfunction that we address this month is the unwillingness of many people to confront unacceptable or inappropriate behaviors.

The Feature Article, "Is the Political Correctness 'Elephant' in Your Workplace?," contends that avoiding difficult situations and conversations has serious negative repercussions on the work environment, and lists some of the benefits of a culture of candor.

In "How to Drive the Political Correctness 'Elephant' Out of Your Workplace," the Business Solutions section lists four ways to help create a healthy environment in which individuals regularly engage in productive, realistic, and candid conversations.

In the Personal Solutions section, "Are You the Only Person Who Can Do That?" passes along some sage advice designed to result in a dramatic increase in your well-being.

I invite you to visit my web site at www.BusinessAlignmentStrategies.com to find other articles and resources that may be of value to you and your colleagues. I welcome your feedback!

 

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Is the Political Correctness "Elephant" in Your Workplace?

Note: "The elephant in the living room" is a common metaphor for situations in which people refuse to confront or even acknowledge a major issue even though everyone knows about it and it is causing serious problems.

Recently an executive asked me, "Is it okay to speak directly to my peers and subordinates? By that I mean is it good management practice to speak in a candid, forthright way about sensitive, difficult, or contentious issues with them?" Although the answer may seem intuitive, the question really goes to the struggle many individuals have in putting theory into practice. That is, while most people would concur that difficult issues such as disagreements over a course of action or poor performance should be addressed clearly and directly (the theory), the reality is that many are not comfortable doing so. It's so much easier at those moments to revert to the "politically correct" indirect methods that are the norm in many organizations (the practice). As a result, we find the proverbial elephant in the living room - or in this case, in the workplace.

There are many reasons why people engage in the indirect, "politically correct" approaches to problems. Do any of these explanations sound familiar to you?

- Our self-image is at odds with direct communication because we think of ourselves as "nice" people and we believe "nice" people don't upset others.
- We don't want to upset others because we are uncomfortable dealing with emotions.
- We buy into the saying "to get along you need to go along."
- We don't want to be "responsible" for another person's being called on the carpet for his/her shoddy work or lack of judgment.

How candid are the conversations in your workplace? Do people feel they can speak freely and honestly with each other, or do they fear real or imagined negative consequences, such as being labeled a troublemaker? In one organization I was called in to help, individuals who challenged or questioned decisions or policies often were told, "You're not a team player." I quickly learned that phrase was a code for this message: "If you don't keep your mouth shut, you can kiss your career goodbye." Imagine the chilling effect that practice has on candid conversations! It also has very real adverse consequences in the workplace. Here are a few of the ways that a lack of candor can hurt organizations:

  • Kill innovation and creativity
  • Shortchange employees by masking their actual performance
  • Create a toxic environment and a culture of mistrust and fear
  • Reward poor performance, causing productivity and morale to plunge
  • Foster a culture of mediocrity

Conversely, here are some benefits of a culture in which candid conversations are the norm:

  • Performance meets or exceeds clear performance expectations
  • Productivity is high as misunderstandings are addressed before they escalate
  • There is mutual trust among and between managers and employees
  • Poor performers leave because substandard performance is not tolerated
  • Constructive confrontation enables constant improvement

For ideas about how to rid the workplace of the "elephant" of political correctness and create a healthy environment in which managers and employees regularly engage in productive, realistic, and candid conversations, please see the article "How to Drive the Political Correctness 'Elephant' Out of Your Workplace" in the Business Solutions section of this newsletter.

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How to Drive the Political Correctness "Elephant" Out of Your Workplace

Note: "The elephant in the living room" is a common metaphor for situations in which people refuse to confront or even acknowledge a major issue even though everyone knows about it and it is causing serious problems.

In the Feature article "Is the Political Correctness 'Elephant' in Your Workplace?," we suggest that individuals who are faced with difficult issues frequently choose to ignore them entirely or discuss them only indirectly. The failure to honestly and directly confront poor performance or unwise courses of action, for example, becomes the proverbial elephant in the living room - or in this case, the workplace.

How can you avoid or minimize the toxic results of the elephant's presence? More importantly, how can you create a healthy environment in which managers and employees regularly engage in productive, realistic, and candid conversations? Here are four suggestions to get you started:

  1. Teach people the skills that enable them to have honest, direct conversations. For example, teach them to:
    • Engage in constructive confrontation. This is not an oxymoron! Handled effectively, confrontation can be a healthy, positive experience that results in stronger, better thought-out decisions. My favorite definition of confrontation, which comes from a program I offer my clients called Influencing Options®, is "a respectful request for a new behavior or a change in behavior.
    • Focus on behaviors. This prevents people from addressing personalities or characteristics, which have nothing to do with performance.
    • Be specific. When we are vague, we essentially give others permission to fill in the blanks about what they think we mean.
    • Provide constructive feedback. Offer actionable information.
    • Receive constructive feedback. Few things kill candid conversations as quickly as people who are unable or unwilling to listen to others and act on their legitimate concerns and expertise.
  2. Reward candid behavior. Recognize people who take the risk of raising an opposing concern or argument, regardless of whether they ultimately are right or wrong. Establish a culture in which legitimate questioning behavior is supported and actively encouraged.
  3. Hold managers and employees accountable. People's actions generally are aligned with their self-interest. When there are consequences for being less than candid, people will change their behaviors.
  4. Let people know the consequences of indirect, non-candid communications. Follow through as necessary.

What actions will you take today to begin to herd the political correctness "elephant" out of your workplace?

 

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Are You the Only Person Who Can Do That?

Last week I was reminded of some sage advice I received a few years ago that continues to stand me in good stead, so I thought I would pass it along. It applies in the workplace as well as in one's personal life.

Three years ago one of my clients in southern California asked me to attend the organization's annual weekend-long "all hands" meeting. My roles were to help the CEO present the results of a new employee compensation plan on Friday, and to conduct a series of focus groups on Saturday. The Tuesday before the meeting, I was invited to a surprise birthday party for my uncle in Houston on Saturday night. I really wanted to go: in addition to wishing my uncle well, I would have an opportunity to catch up with my eight cousins and their families. But the obligations to my client presented an obstacle. No matter how many different airports and airlines I checked, I couldn't find a way to get from California to Houston on Saturday afternoon in time for the party. I was about to call my aunt and tell her I couldn't make it, when fate intervened in the form of a phone call from a wise advisor.

Feeling very sorry for myself, I explained the situation to her. When I concluded my tale of woe by saying that I would have to miss the celebration and the rare opportunity to see all members of this family in the same place at the same time, my advisor quickly put things in perspective by asking, "Are you the only person in the world who can do these presentations?" When I admitted I was not, she suggested I find someone else to do them so I could be with my family.

I ended up attending my client's meeting on Friday to answer questions about the compensation system, as I had been the one to develop it. But I easily found a very qualified individual who was happy to conduct the focus groups for me on Saturday. I arrived in Houston in time to visit with my cousins before the party. And in case you're wondering, my uncle truly was surprised. (How my eight cousins, their spouses, and all of their kids managed to pull it off is another story!) My 24 hour trip to Houston was well worth the effort. And to think I might have missed it!

My advice to you: don't wait for a special occasion to ask yourself, "Am I the only person in the world who can do this [task]?" By delegating things that others can do and focusing on those that you are uniquely qualified to do (or that you love to do), you will experience a dramatic increase in well-being. As a bonus, those to whom you delegate the tasks may appreciate the work.

 

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Date of Publication: June, 2009
Pat@BusinessAlignmentStrategies.com
www.BusinessAlignmentStrategies.com | 562.985.0333
Copyright 2009 © - All rights reserved, Pat Lynch