Category Archives: Personal effectiveness

The Costs of Conflict

I read a lot about conflict and study business communications regularly.  I came across a couple of studies about the time and resource drain that conflict imposes on organizations.

85% of employees report being involved in conflict at work. What does this mean to you? Let’s find out.

Let’s be conservative and assume only 1 hour a week is being lost to situations where conflict has slowed work down.

1.  How many workers does your firm employ?     _____________
2.  Multiply line 1 by .025  (1 hr in a 40hr week)   _____________
3.  Multiply line 2 by 50 (weeks in a year*)             _____________
* no conflict during vacations (Ha!)
4.  Multiply line 3 by their average annual salary   _____________
5.  YIKES!!! The money you could be saving            _____________

It’s worse than that.

Managers spend 40 – 60% of their time navigating and dissolving conflicts in their organizations.

What does this mean to your bottom line?

1.  How many managers does your firm employ?  _____________
2.  Multiply line 1 by 2080 (# work hours/year)     _____________
3.  Multiply line 2 by 50% (.5)                                    _____________
4.  Multiply line 3 by their average annual salary   _____________
5.  YIKES!!! The money you could be saving            _____________

Conflict is a controllable cost.  It takes time to assess, time to disentangle and and time to resolve.  It requires that the parties are willing to come up with a solution that works.  Often times, much healing needs to occur before productive conversations can even begin.

Many people feel helpless and even hopeless about their ability to proactively resolve strong conflict.  There are several ‘interventions’ available to heal a broken situation.  Here is just one.

In any conflict there might be four aspects of the conflict at play:
1. Content – the ‘what’ of the conflict
2. Relationship – the ‘who’ of the conflict and their history together
3. Self-perception – the ‘ego’ of each party
4. Process – the ‘way’ we’ll solve this conflict.

Depending on the people and issue, one or two of these four might play a bigger role.  It’s important to clarify what the conflict is really about before trying to solve it.  Fixing a process issue when the relationship is damaged, won’t work until the relationship issues are addressed. Similarly, coming up with an agreeable solution when the process is still broken will just create more conflict in the future.

Next time you’re tempted to sweep an issue under the proverbial rug, take a minute to estimate the real potential cost of avoiding it.  Then engage the troops in dissolving the dispute.

Outside help may be necessary to navigate troubled waters, especially if you’re swimming in them yourself.  Unless the conflict completely insignificant, don’t let it fester for long.  Even seemingly innocuous issues can escalate until their are out of control and your profits are languishing with no hard cost explanation to justify poor results.

7 Tips for Work, Leadership & Management Success

I just delivered a two-hour training to executives and senior managers to help build their competence in coaching their staff to achieve results.

It’s tempting for people who have risen to high levels to leverage the wealth of their experience and tell people what to do.  While expedient, it robs others of the opportunity to problem solve, grow and learn.

Here are 7 tips to leverage your expertise while developing the expertise in others.

1. Withstand and encourage differing points of view.
While harmony is easier to deal with in the short term, it robs organizations of the tension needed to spur creativity.  Encouraging every voice to be heard will open doors to possibilities that would die on the vine of silence.

2. Share the credit for brilliant work done by your staff.
Celebrate the genius of your staff.  Provide them opportunities to ‘strut their stuff’.  Let them know precisely how their great ideas and good work contribute to the company’s mission and bottom-line results.

3. Shoulder the blame of subordinates.
When things go awry, let them learn from their mistakes.  Help staff analyze how they could prevent or avoid future incidents from occurring.  Provide them cover however from retribution from on high.  Take the heat and let them grow from lessons learned.  They’ll love you for it

4. Learn on the job yourself.
Don’t assume you know everything there is to know.  Attend conferences, take classes to keep your industry knowledge and business leadership skills sharp.  Try new things. Practice new behaviors that are outside of your comfort zone. There’s always more to go.

5. Be aware of your own weaknesses & hire in your competency gaps.
No human can do everything brilliantly.  Know your strengths and leverage them.  Identify those areas in which you do not excel and hire people who are masterful in them.  No point in having a team that is filled with people who all have the same skills and points of view.  Think of most sports teams: championship teams are composed of players with different responsibilities, skills and goals.

6. Channel anger in positive ways.
Work can be quite frustrating.  Anger and passion have a lot in common:  they’re just expressed differently.  Use your energy for creating change in a positive, collaborative way. Take that thing that makes you want to scream and develop a proposal for a new process for your company.

7. Support staff in thinking through how to solve problems themselves.
Just because you’re the boss doesn’t mean you have to…or even should…have all the answers.  Don’t end up with monkeys on your back that don’t belong to you.  Next time someone shows up with a problem, take a few minutes to ask them how they would solve it.  Have them identify where the breakdowns are occurring and what steps could be taken to rectify the situation. Then empower them to ‘make it so’. They’ll become better thinkers and you’ll end up with less stuff on your plate.

Following these 7 tips will help you surround yourself with more loyal, capable people and make your work life easier to boot.

Focus on the Next Best Thing & Rise Above the ‘Bad’ Times

I heard recently that one of the keys to surviving a downturn in the economy is to focus on the “next best thing”. You may be experiencing a slow down in your sales efforts and, consequently, your service delivery, so take advantage of the break from the mania of the past.

How do you know what that next hot thing will be?

1. You do research.
Read industry magazines. Surf the internet.  Create ‘Google alerts for topics you’re interested in and you’ll be notified any time an article appears on the internet about that topic.  Attend conferences, interview thought leaders. Follow them on Twitter. Scan the horizon for themes.  Study trends.  Then use your imagination.

2.  Train your staff
Once you’ve filtered through the noise and have focused on some up-and-coming ideas, train your staff on them.  (See last week’s article on Maximizing Training’s ROI.)  The more your employees know about the next best thing and the more you encourage innovation, the more likely you are to be able to take advantage of the rising tide by tailoring your existing products and services to meet the new opportunities being created.  You might even be able to create new products and services in the emerging field.

3.  Refine your sales & marketing efforts

I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, ‘The early bird catches the worm’.  Use your insight into the new trends to re-brand and re-position your company in the industry.  Tailor your messages, update your language to demonstrate that you and your company are learning and moving forward.  Position yourself as living on the cutting-edge.  Your prospects and clients will notice, will see you as the expert and a thought leader and want to learn (and buy) more from you.

What ever you do, don’t waste this opportunity.  Study, learn, create and implement.  Those are the keys to rising above the circumstances; creating and living your dreams.

Getting Maximum ROI on Training

When corporate revenues are down, budgets shrink.  Executives look for ways to cut costs and ‘ride out the storm’.

Cutting training altogether can be a risky proposition.  The question shouldn’t be ‘What training expense can we eliminate?” but rather “What training can we provide that would increase our ‘top line’ or reduce our other expenses?”

When one evaluates training from this perspective, the criteria for success and effectiveness become more apparent.  Train sales people to be more strategic or more relationship oriented in their approach and revenues should increase.

Train employees on proper procedures and processes and error rates (and therefore waste) go down improving profitability.

Improve their communication skills and time-draining conflicts decrease.  Various studies show that almost 85% of employees report conflict on the job.  If an employee earning $30K/year wastes just 1 hour a week on a conflict, that’s $721 (assuming no conflict happened during the 2 weeks they spent on vacation.)  How many hours do you think employees are losing each week dealing with conflict in your organization?

Managers spend 40 – 60% of their time arbitrating conflict.  A manager earning $60K/yr is ‘investing’ about $30K of that salary dealing with disputes. Imagine if that time were instead invested in improving processes, uncovering new opportunities.

Communication problems can be avoided or at least minimized with proper training, yet execs somehow don’t recognize the true cost of conflict because they don’t take the time (or don’t know how) to measure it.

Train managers on workplace harassment and future lawsuits could be avoided.  (Avoided costs are harder to measure, but workplace harassment training is required so ignoring it gets even more expensive.)

So, how can money-smart managers and executives continue their training efforts without breaking the bank?

Look for new models to deliver training.

  1. Rather than flying people in for meetings, use webinars or video broadcasts.  Technology is improving and becoming more cost-effective.
  2. Transition to e-learning, just in time, learn at  your desk training.  Employees select (or are given) specific modules to help them improve on the job.
  3. Conduct a workshop using video with a remote speaker/trainer and even dispersed participants saving travel costs.
  4. Host frequent, short teleconferences to impart information and engage masterminding/problem solving sessions.
  5. Use social networking Web 2.0 technology to enable knowledge sharing across departments and locations decreasing ‘ramp up’ time, building repositories of solutions from which employees can draw to solve their problems and improving productivity…and profitability.
  6. Tie learning outcomes to desired business results – and measure them.

Especially in this economy, it is critical that we develop new ways to improve our people, our operations and our profitability.

Training and knowledge sharing are critical roads toward that goal and cannot be abandoned without jeopardizing the future our enterprises.

Don’t squander your upside potential.  Invest today.

How to Give Feedback When You’d Really Rather Not

I spent years in corporate America helping people who were frustrated with other people find the right words to express their disappointment, resentment or anger.

People either explode with rage or sit and simmer until they reach the boiling point or develop ulcers.

How do you get your point across without killing someone or sabotaging your own self esteem and power?

You may need to assess your beliefs about conflict. It’s bad.  It never turns out right.  They’ll hate me. etc.  Your beliefs dictate how you handle feedback.  You must believe that if you handle it well, that it will be well received.

The key is to release your thoughts in the way that steam is released from a pressure cooker…a little at at time.  Don’t wait until you can’t stand it anymore.  It may be OK to let an incident or two go by (if they aren’t major). But the moment you see anunwanted pattern developing, it’s time to address it.

Clearly, there is no guarantee your message will be heard in the way you want, but there are things you can do to increase the chances of that.

1. Make sure the person has at least a few minutes to have a conversation with you. Something as simple as a polite “Do you have a few minutes?” is a good start.

2.  If you’re reluctant to start the conversation, identify the source of your reluctance and start the conversation there.  “I have something to talk with you about but I’m afraid… “I’ll hurt your feelings” or “you’ll be angry” or “this will have a negative impact on our relationship” or what ever your concern is.

3. Talk about the other person’s actions and behavior, not your assessment or judgment about them. Labels like ‘neurotic’, ‘controlling’, ‘irresponsible’ or ‘passive-aggressive’ are incendiary and will almost certainly raise the hackles of the receiver and start a fight.

4.  Get clear yourself about specifically you need from the person that you aren’t getting.  State in as specific behavioral terms as  you can muster what you expect or want to see instead.  “I need to get a response within 48 hours of contacting you” or “I need you to put your files/clothes/equipment away as soon as you’re done with them”.

5.  Thank them for listening and ask if there is anything you can do to help them fulfill the request you’ve just made.  You might actually be part of the problem. (Hmm, imagine that.)

If you practice talking about observable behavior rather than someone’s intentions, motives or character, you’ll be more successful and build confidence in your ability deal with difficult situations.