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Archive for May, 2009

Improve Performance, Change Behaviors, & Implement Discipline With Open-Heart Conversations

It’s sweaty palms time again for you, the manager. This physiological reaction, which may also be accompanied by a dry mouth, a higher pitched voice, a sleepless night, raised blood pressure, and possibly some hyperventilating, is caused by one of three types of events:

1. A meeting with an employee to discuss improving his/her performance,
2. A meeting with an employee to discuss his/her behavior that is causing or may cause disruption within the work environment, and/or
3. A session in which you must implement disciplinary action.

This reaction is a form of stage-fright. It is caused by anticipation because you know that:

• You will be “center stage.”
• You have this type of discussion so infrequently that you feel uncomfortable and unsure about what to say and how to say it.
• You do not have any proven methodology for making these conversations objective and emotionally painless for both parties.
• You are concerned about the employee’s potential negative reactions (e.g., hurt feelings, anger, defensiveness, violence, verbal threats, retaliation, etc.).
• You know that conversations such as these can form the basis of subsequent employee litigation.

But what if you had a method that:

• Achieves your desired results,
• Places the employee “center stage,” rather than you, and
• Utilizes a strategy that minimizes both the employee’s overreaction and the potential for employee legal action because it actually improves your relationship with the employee?

CONVERSATION
Improving human communication is probably the single most important strategy for achieving organizational effectiveness. There are many methods of communicating. The primary method throughout the ages has been conversation. One of the ironies of our technologically connected world with its multiple methods of communication is the fact that people have great difficulty communicating with each other on a face-to-face basis.

Additionally in many organizations, conversation has become a competitive exercise where the person who talks the loudest and longest “wins.” Maybe we have become hardened by the competitive “conversations” that we see on television from programs with equally confrontational names like “Hardball” or “Crossfire.” Maybe people are so stressed with the pace of organizational life that they don’t have time to converse with others and find it more expedient to talk at other people, rather than talk with people. Whatever the reason for the escalation in fiery rhetoric and the decline in civility, the fact remains that many conversations have a negative impact on all the parties involved as well as on the organization.

Here is a methodology for strengthening a relationship during a specific type of conversation (performance improvement, behavior change, or discipline) that by its very nature has the potential for diminishing a relationship and the potential for negatively impacting organizational performance.

OPEN-HEART CONVERSATIONS

Performance improvement, behavior change, and disciplinary conversations represent a unique form of the conversations that people have in organizations. These conversations are almost always initiated by a manager and are designed to affect some change on the part of the employee. With this change effort, a manager is confronting one of his/her subordinates with information that the employee is personally failing to achieve an expectation of the manager. As such, a manager needs to display a level of conversational maturity that accomplishes his/her objectives while minimizing conflict.

The potential for conflict is very high in these situations because the personal nature of the topics discussed can generate a range of negative emotions on the part of the employee such as anger and resentment that can escalate into litigation and even workplace violence.

Unfortunately, very few managers are trained to handle the emotional and psychological aspects of these conversations. Management training programs provide minimal instruction on controlling the emotional facets of performance improvement, behavior change, or disciplinary meetings. Disciplinary training programs most often concentrate on tactics that will improve an organization’s chances of successfully defending a lawsuit by building a case for termination.

Additionally, the cultures of many organizations view the expression of soft skills on the part of a manager as weaknesses to be eliminated rather than strengths that improve the social fabric of the enterprise. This combination of inadequate training and corporate bravado leaves a manager in a vulnerable position.

The solution to this problem is the training of managers in a technique known as Open-Heart Conversations.

The purpose of an Open-Heart Conversation is to bring clarity to the employment relationship. An Open-Heart Conversation is a conversational process that enhances an employee’s psychological need for self-esteem and control by establishing trust and mutual respect as the backbone of the conversation. But, “What does it mean to converse with an open-heart?”

If it is true that 90% of ending a conflict successfully is in the approach, then it must also be true that 90% of preventing a conflict is in the approach. As such, how a manager approaches an interaction with an employee will significantly determine the impact on the relationship.

To converse with an open-heart, a manager must hold two opposing views - a sort of yin & yang of conversation. He/she must first have the humility (openness) to subordinate his/her observations, feelings, and ego for the benefit of the other person and the achievement of organizational goals. In essence, the manager must truly want the employee to change his/her behavior and continue his/her employment. Second, the manager must have the courage (heart) to admit to errors, fearlessly confront the employee’s behavior or performance shortcomings, and honestly confront management’s contribution to the situation.

At the core of an Open-Heart Conversation are the motives of a manager. The sincerity of a manager’s motives plays a major role in the employee’s commitment to change. If a manager makes a sincere effort to help the employee improve performance, change behavior, or correct an infraction, the employee will most likely sense the sincerity. If a manager is not sincere in his/her desire to “build a case for improvement” and only uses the Open-Heart process as a format for “building a case for termination,” then the employee will most likely sense the insincerity and respond with a fight/flight/freeze reaction.

The key to a manager’s motives lies in the fact that the manager cannot have already determined that termination is a forgone conclusion and that any meetings with the employee are simply the formalities that must be endured in order to get the employee fired or frustrated enough to quit.

Unfortunately, a manager often begins these stressful meetings with an employee at the point in time where the manager can no longer tolerate the employee’s behaviors, and therefore, the manager wants the employee to change overnight or leave. In other words instead of addressing the issue when it was first identified, a manager may shrug-off an incident in the hope that it is a one-time event or to avoid the interpersonal discomfort of addressing a sensitive issue. Then at the point in time that the situation must be addressed, the manager is usually so frustrated with the behaviors that he/she just wants the issue to stop and the employee to go away.

In a manager’s urgency to take action, the manager may not want to make the emotional or time commitment to assist the employee in resolving the issues. The end result is that the manager simply goes through the motions of a series of meetings as a way to document enough evidence to eventually terminate the employee.

In many instances, the employee may have never been aware of the impact of his/her behaviors and most likely never had a “reasonable” opportunity to change behaviors. As such, when the urgency of a manager to fix a problem conflicts with an employee’s perception that he/she has not had his/her “day in court,” the probability of employee litigation increases dramatically.

In order to understand how to utilize an Open-Heart Conversation to enrich a relationship and avoid conflict (i.e., anger, subtle acts of “sabotage,” litigation, etc.), one must look at the psychological foundations of conflict. Interpersonal conflicts have 2 major components:

1. Respect
2. Control.

Regardless of the issue, the triggers to most conflict are usually lack of respect (i.e., self-respect and/or respect from others) and the fear or feeling that the person is not in control (control defined as freedom to exercise free will).

When you add to these triggers the fact that an employee receives information about a manager’s emotions and intentions from the manager’s words and body language, the potential for conflict increases. As such, there is a very high probability that an employee will misread a manager’s emotions and intentions.

The Open-Heart Conversation Process dramatically reduces the possibility of misreading emotions and intentions by:

A. Requiring the manager to script opening words for clarity, neutrality, and intent.
B. Using a prepared document (Issues Resolution Worksheet) that minimizes “on-the-fly” comments from a manager and reinforces a structured approach.
C. Establishing respect and control as the driving forces behind a manager’s words and actions.

An Open-Heart Conversation is a contrarian approach to discipline, behavior change, and performance improvement discussions partially because of the steps involved but primarily because of the behavioral methodology that it requires the manager to execute.

Conventional wisdom for managerial behavior in such discussions includes admonitions such as “be strong,” “don’t back down,” “use your authority,” “don’t take any lip,” “be assertive,” “be in control,” etc. However, the typical human response to overly assertive or outright aggressive actions is fight, flight, or freeze.

This fight/flight/freeze response is particularly evident in disciplinary, behavior change, and performance conversations, especially if the employee has had little advance warning of the purpose of the meeting. Even with advance notice of the session, very few employees have the conversational maturity to redirect a supervisor’s assertive and “constructive criticisms” into an objective and solution-driven search for a mutually agreeable resolution. As such, the typical meeting often transitions into one of three scenarios: (1) a battle of wills (fight response), (2) the employee just “yeses” (flight) the manager in order to end the ordeal as quickly as possible, or (3) the employee has that “deer in the headlights” stare (freeze) that suggests that nothing is sinking-in.

When this fight/flight/freeze syndrome is activated, an employee finds it very difficult to think rationally. As such, Open-Heart Conversations allow managers how to eliminate all the macho and ego thumping conventional approaches. Open-Heart Conversations help managers make the employee’s psyche, not the manager’s psyche, the most protected element of the conversation, while still achieving the manager’s goals of investigating reality, complying with expectations, and enriching the relationship.

Consider for a moment the number of employee relations legal cases filed each year as well as the cost in time and money to defend these cases. If one were to remove the lawsuits that represent blatant discrimination and intentional harm, it is possible that the vast majority of remaining cases could have been prevented by utilizing an Open-Heart Conversation methodology.

In most lawsuits, it is the perceived insult of inappropriate treatment that motivates an employee to seek “justice” via the courts rather than the employer’s specific disciplinary actions. An Open-Heart Conversation can eliminate the insult to the employee’s psyche.

An Open-Heart Conversation is a technique that represents a philosophical approach to performance improvement, behavior change, and disciplinary meetings in which a manager comes out from behind his/her managerial “mask” and interacts with an employee in a manner that protects the employee’s dignity, self-esteem, and independence in order to resolve an issue and improve organizational results.

To learn more about Open-Heart Conversations contact Lukesh Consulting Group http://www.HRcontrarian.com

Rich Lukesh is the President of Lukesh Consulting Group, Inc. a Human Resource (HR) consultancy specializing in HR services for small to mid-sized businesses throughout the U.S. 610-594-9024 http://www.HRcontrarian.com

rlukesh@HRcontrarian.com

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Employee Recruiting

Employee recruiting can be adversely effected if the employer

has Entreprenurial ADD

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is a serious condition
affecting children and adults.  My intention here is not
to minimize this serious condition or make light of it.

However, I have observed situations involving many owners
of businesses where the only logical explanation of an
owner’s behavior is what I call Entrepreneurial ADD.

As I have classified it from a non-clinical perspective,
Entrepreneurial ADD is a condition of uncontrolled
meddling into the jobs of employees and a pattern of
inconsistence behaviors that destroy the morale of
dedicated employees and the hiring process and limit your futur employee selection.

HR CONTRARIAN POINTER: If you are a business owner who has
to jump-in to “save” a job or execute an order, then you
may have Entrepreneurial ADD.

Whenever I have seen an owner jump-in to “help-out,” I
have often seen the owner sidestep the operational
guidelines that he/she has setup and/or make special
deals that everyone else has to live with.  The negative
impact of such owner-behavior can be devastating on the
workforce.

If you truly can’t control yourself and let you hire employees
for, then maybe you have a clinical ADD issue.  Otherwise,

I would recommend hiring a
business consultant that can help you focus on the systems
and processes of your organization.

The true mark of a manager is how well the business runs
when he/she is not around.

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