Y“Oh no, here comes another one of thoseconversations,” you say to yourself.
You know what I’m talking about — we all have to face them from time to time, and they can be the bane of a leader’s existence. Imagine that you’re leading a project and one member of your group has been aggressive and counterproductive in team meetings recently. The first time you saw this behavior, you were stunned. It seemed so out of character that you let it pass. After all, even good people indulge in bad behavior now and then.
But the next week, the same thing happened. Now you’ve just experienced the third outburst, and you can see the rest of the team losing patience. If this behavior continues, you risk losing the esprit de corps that you’ve worked so hard to create. The very idea of confronting this aggressive person fills you with anxiety and dread, but the longer this goes on, the greater the damage. So how can you go about addressing this situation?
Several years ago, I faced a similar scenario that was especially tricky because the person who was disrupting my project was senior to me in the organization. I couldn’t let him continue to undermine my group’s work, but this was a powerful person, and inflaming him further would be dangerous. So I dug deep into my experience and thought of something unexpected that just might work: compassion.
As a student of meditation, I’ve researched many traditions and have always been intrigued by the Tibetan Buddhist practice of compassion, which is based on the recognition that everyone suffers and has a desire to relieve that suffering.
Regarding my colleague, I thought: He wouldn’t be acting like this if he weren’t suffering in some way. He must be threatened, worried, or offended. If I can confront his behavior with compassion rather than confronting him, we just might be able to have a productive conversation.
So off I went to his office. “This project seems to have struck a nerve with you, and you’ve made your discomfort very clear,” I said. “Your support has always meant so much to me personally and professionally. I’m sorry if I’ve done something to upset you. Can we talk about what is bothering you and try to find a solution?”
To my surprise, he began a 20-minute rant about how angry he was with one of his superiors, who had undermined his ability to get traction on a project that he was leading. As we discussed his situation, it became clear to both of us that his acting out in my meetings was really due to his anger with this other individual. As I started to take some deep breaths to relieve the tension from this intense conversation, my senior colleague thanked me for listening and helping him to see that he needed to confront his senior colleague’s behavior. At the very next meeting of my project team, he was back to his collaborative, witty self, and he has contributed productively ever since.
Will practicing compassion guarantee this result? Likely not. But cultivating an intention to reduce a colleague’s suffering and to address the offending behavior as the symptom of a larger problem can create a graceful, non-confrontational way to begin a dialogue that may well result in a workable solution. By contrast, when you accuse your colleague (or friend or family member) of some nefarious intent, you put that person on the defensive, which will likely perpetuate the negative behaviors.
Here’s an action plan:
The word compassion has the word compass embedded in it. Even though, etymologically speaking, there is no linguistic significance to the similarity, I still think it’s wise to use compassion as your guide when dealing with others. What better compass is there to help you navigate your team through the storm of bad behavior and stay on course to reach your destination?
Compassion is also a great equalizer. When you approach others with genuine concern for their well-being, your standing in the organizational hierarchy is less of a barrier to a productive conversation.
Kindness, in other words, is rarely inappropriate.
You work hard to find, interview, and hire the right employees. They have great skills, great experience, and great attitude. So once they're hired, turn them loose, right?
Not so fast.
Knowing how to do a job is certainly important, but approaching a job with the right perspective and right mindset – in short, understanding the why – means everything.
Many companies assume the conversations they had during the interview process were enough. They weren't. Here are four things most companies don't do on the very first day to make sure their new employees get off to a great start:
1. They don't thoroughly describe how the business creates value.
New employees need to learn how to do their jobs, but first they need to thoroughly understand your company's underlying value proposition and competitive advantage.
No matter what your business, one or two things truly drive results: Maybe it's quality. Maybe it's service. Maybe you're the low-cost provider. Maybe it's the personal connection you make with each individual customer, and the true sense of community you've worked hard to create.
Other aspects are important, but one or two are absolutely make-or-break.
Start there and then go farther. Explain how their job directly creates value. Explain how their job directly helps your business create and sustain a competitive advantage.
As a new employee I certainly need to know what to do but more importantly, I need to know why I do it.
Always start with why. Then you can move on to what.
2. They don't map out the employee's internal and external customers.
The new employee may have direct reports. She has external customers, even if she never meets them, and she definitely has internal customers. No job exists in a vacuum; understanding the needs of every constituent helps define the job and the way it should be done.
Take time to explain how the employee will create value for your business while serving all their internal and external customers. Achieving that balance is often tricky -- don't assume new employees will eventually figure it out on their own.
Besides, they shouldn't have to figure it out on their own.
3. They don't set immediate goals -- and they don't start giving feedback right away.
Successful businesses execute. Your business executes. Set that productivity tone by ensuring all new employees completes at least one job-related task on their first day.
Why? Not only do you establish that output is all-important, new employees go home feeling a sense of personal achievement. A whole day (or days) spent in orientation is not only boring and unfulfilling, it makes the eventual transition to "work" harder.
Focus on training, but make sure ever day involves a blend of training and accomplishment.
Your eventual goal is to train comprehensively by breaking large processes down into manageable chunks. That way new employees can immediately see how their role directly connects to creating value for your company, and you get great opportunities to provide immediate, constructive feedback -- which helps new employees do an even better job of creating value for your company.
4. They don't reinforce exactly why the employee was hired.
Every employee is hired for one or two specific reasons, but often those reasons get lost in all the fluff of the interview process. (Be honest: It's nice to find a well-rounded employee, but most of the time you really need an employee who is a superstar at doing X.)
Sit down with new employees and share the primary reason you hired them. It's a great opportunity to praise their skills and experience, and praise their attitude and work ethic. What new employee doesn't like that? More importantly you reinforce the connection between their skills, experience, attitude, and work ethic and the actual job you hired them to perform.
Don't let new employees lose sight of what makes them different. They have qualities and attributes other candidates didn't. Explain what those qualities are and how they helped you make your hiring decision.
Few statements are more motivating and set the stage better than, "We hired you because you're absolutely awesome at developing and empowering people, and we're all counting on you to make a huge difference for our employees."
Now it's your turn: How have you seen companies do a poor --
Albert Einstein once said, “If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it.” While that may sound extreme, it does highlight the importance of defining problems. It also hints at some interesting facts: A well-defined problem often contains its own solution within it, and that solution is usually quite obvious and straightforward. By defining problems properly, you make them easier to solve, which means saving time, money and resources.
Related: 3 Reasons Why You Are Failing at Problem Solving
Every businessperson needs to master the ability to define problems, or challenges, but very few MBA programs, leadership development programs or management training programs teach this indispensable skill. I worked with many groups improvements managers recently and asked if any of them had been taught how to define problems. Only one person raised a hand. That’s common to most business groups I speak with on a weekly basis. Less than 1 percent of the workforce has been taught how to define problems.
During my first year as a lean six sigma BB, I didn’t know how to define problems properly, but in the ten years since, I’ve learned this critical technique. I use it every single day, with every single client. It has transformed how I work with people and has made the work much impact.
Related: Problem Solved
Defining problems is simple and any difficulty that arises is because it requires patience, repetition and thorough examination. It is the most important element of critical thinking.
You can define problems correctly in just three steps I call the Problem Definition Filter:
1. Explore the current situation. Paint a picture in words by including the “presenting problem,” the impact it is having, the consequences of not solving the problem, and the emotions the problem is creating for those involved.
2. Explain. Once you have examined and clearly explained the situation, draft a simple problem statement by filling in the blank: The problem that we are trying to solve is: ___________. Distill the problem to its simplest form possible.
3. Ask yourself. “Why is that a problem?” If the answer is another problem, then congratulate yourself for moving from the “presenting problem” to a deeper problem. Then ask yourself again, “Why is that a problem?” Do that repeatedly until you either land on what is obviously the source of all of the problems you’ve identified or you identify unexpected consequences of not solving the problem. If you land on unexpected consequences, the problem you identified right before that is likely your “source problem.”
Toyota famously created the "five why’s'' technique for their Six Sigma process improvement program. While that number was limited to five why’s, the truth is sometimes it takes only one why. Other times, it may take 17. Ask as many times as needed until you get to the source problem.
This high-level overview of the Problem Definition Filter can help you learn how to define the problems in your department or business and determine if you’re wasting time and resources on poorly defined problems. When it comes to determining whether you have defined a problem well, ask yourself or your collaborators if the solution to the problem is obvious or straightforward. Also, ask if it is a problem worth solving -- many problems aren’t.