In the struggle to combat workplace bullying it’s important to admit that we worker bees aren’t always perfect. Weak managers can quickly lose the respect of their team only to watch them spiral hopelessly out of control and even mob up on their leader. In the interesting Businessweek article below, Jeff Schmitt tells bosses how to “kick ass” without being psychologically abusive:
A guide to reading your employees the riot act: Time to lay down the law? Some points to consider before you do
“If I go down, you’re all going down with me.”
Our manager had finally crossed the line with this comment. She had delivered fire-and-brimstone speeches before. But this was different. Suddenly, she wasn’t Vince Lombardi Light, looking to get back to basics. Instead she had degenerated into a narcissistic despot who’d stoop to using us as human shields. She was passing the buck and covering herself. She may have considered it motivation. We saw it as a meltdown.
At some point, every manager must unload a kick-in-the-ass speech. Even the best teams get cocky and careless; they forget what’s important and what got them there. But here’s a reality check: If you have to deliver “The Speech,” you’re probably failing as a manager. Before you let loose with the grand oration, maybe you need a wake-up call. Sure, there’s truth in the adage about tearing people down to build them back up. But getting your team back on track requires more than threats and cursing. Want to really get their attention? Read the following recommendations.
1. Consider if The Speech is merited
Sure, you’re disappointed with performance. Before you go Knute Rockne, consider if the situation warrants an explosion … or coaching. Are you nearing a tipping point where financials or expectations dictate an intervention? Is there a broader motif, such as slow service, that could spill into critical areas such ascustomer retention? Should this diatribe be public and include everyone or could it be handled privately with certain members? Most important, what do you want to achieve? Bottom line: Weigh the offense against your options and the desired response.
2. Come with a plan
You’re probably tempted to graphically challenge their commitment and competence. But you’ll only look clumsy if you ad-lib The Speech. You want your team squirming, stomachs sinking, minds racing. That requires strategy: a bolo-punch opening, unassailable arguments, and a call to action that echoes for weeks. Even more, it demands rehearsing to get tone, pace, posture, and gestures just right. Fact is, you only get one or two speeches before your team tunes you out. Make this one count.
3. Don’t fly off the handle
A loose cannon. That’s how you’ll be labeled if you can’t control your emotions. They’ll snicker and lampoon you to everyone within earshot. Your anger, however genuine, must be calibrated for effect. Before you venture into the lion’s den, step back, breathe, and relax. Remember, an icy resolve often commands more attention than a rant. A pause can be as lethal as a pejorative.
4. Prep them
Surprise! Surprise! No, your speech shouldn’t come as a shock. In fact, it should hark back to previous fireside chats, where you focused on listening and understanding. Back then, you expected that your coaching would establish how important the task at hand was. But the time for such niceties has passed. A hands-on approach is needed. They can’t say they didn’t see it coming.
5. Cite specific examples
The Speech is no time for generalizations. Be specific: What actions and underlying sentiments are creating tensions and why are they unproductive and inappropriate? How has it affected customers and other departments? Of course, outline how these shenanigans have hit the radar of those above you — and what consequences will follow if they continue.
6. Keep it short
Your job is to shake them up and leave a lasting impression. The less said, the better. Let their imaginations run wild; it’ll keep your message on top. Don’t go off on tangents or pile on, either. It will only dilute your message. Cut quickly and deeply, then move on.
7. Set expectations
You’ve identified the problem. Now what? Start by leaving no ambiguity with the takeaways. Specify exactly what you expect, along with when and how. Don’t forget to spell out the repercussions for failing to meet these expectations. Hammer home that the time for second chances has long passed.
8. Monitor your own behavior
Their eyes will probably glaze over during your speech. Why? They’ve been mirroring your behavior. Is it any wonder you haven’t been getting through? Address it in your speech. Accept some blame and summarize how you’ll change. Then hold yourself as accountable as you hold your team for the result.
9. Rebuild bridges
You go to battle with the people you have, not necessarily the ones you want. Afterward, your team will make excuses and entertain mutiny. That’s why you need to quickly reel them back. Reach out, one by one, to tutor, praise, and motivate. You’ve shared what needed to be said. Now convey through action that there are no hard feelings. Don’t let them confuse you with the message.
10. Follow up
You’ve thrown down the gauntlet. But the weeks following The Speech will ultimately determine its success. That’s why you need to stay on the issue. Address it in interactions and meetings and constantly collect results. And when the time is right, celebrate. You may have devised the plan, but your team will ultimately win the battle.
I had a chance to attend Susan Harthill’s presentation at the recent Int’l Conference on Workplace Bullying & Harassment held last month in Cardiff. Her academic article (“The Need for a Revitalized Regulatory Scheme to Address Workplace Bullying in the United States: Harnessing the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Act”) suggests that OSHA may be able to help victims/targets of Workplace Bullying: “OSHA’s existing regulatory scheme should incorporate workplace bullying because OSHA is a singularly appropriate vehicle for such efforts and because prevention of workplace bullying through an existing scheme complements efforts to enact new legislation specifically addressing the problem.” Continue reading
While researching my documentary on Workplace Bullying, I have often heard people say that it’s impossible to know whether or not a boss is actually a bully or just a tough manager. The definition and list of examples is often so vague and all encompassing that it’s really not unusual for this to be followed by something like, I mean I have to manage people and I suppose I could be considered a bully boss. Which, I suspect, gets to the root of the problem. Finding the right words to convey that seemingly common actions in an office can be devastating when used to demean and humiliate. I recently came across a great series of FREE Powerpoints created by Acas [ http://www.acas.org.uk/elearning/ ] which has a section on bullying & harassment. Here are some things we all need to keep in mind when working with others:
Know your employees?
Do you know everything about the opinions, beliefs and lifestyles of your employees? As the answer to this question will inevitably be ‘no’, is it possible that you might be using language or expressing opinions that effectively amount to harassment?
Too much of a perfectionist?
Do you sometimes feel frustrated by your employees? Do you find yourself getting irritable at what you consider to be their lack of competence or initiative?
If so, are you, perhaps, a true perfectionist unable or unwilling to accept that not everybody will work to your exceptionally demanding standards?
Passion and commitment
If you are the owner/manager of a small business, are you perhaps failing to recognise that your employees can never share the passion or commitment that you will have?
Speed of learning
Are you an exceptionally fast learner who can pick up new skills and carry out new tasks with a minimum of effort?
Remember, this may not be true for all your employees. Perhaps you are forgetting to see a situation through the eyes of someone who needs a little more time to assimilate new information.
Is your organisation selling into a fast-paced, ever changing market? If so, are the requirements you have of your employees constantly shifting?
Is it possible that this could be creating an environment of fear and uncertainty?
Too much change?
Are you simply asking your employees to deal with too much change? Is it possible that they feel they spend their working lives in a permanent state of flux? Have you considered how unsettling this could be for some people?
Keeping the business afloat
If you are the owner/manager of a business, are you constantly struggling to bring in enough revenue to cover all your overheads?
If yes, is it possible that you are constantly communicating your concerns about this in a way that makes your employees just worry about job security?
Could you communicate this information in a way that emphasises a team-spirit and encourages a desire to work together to improve profits and job security?
Are you often tetchy and irritable during the working day?
Do you fly off the handle when faced with the smallest problem or challenge?
Are you inaccessible to your employees when they need a decision from you?
Are you constantly changing your mind?
Do you explain why decisions might need to change or do you simply communicate the change?
Just as your language and opinions could unwittingly be causing offence, so could your body language.
What distance do you stand or sit from employees? Might some of them consider that you stand or sit too close when giving instructions or explanations? Might some of your employees interpret this as being intimidating?
A touch on the arm
Do you sometimes touch people lightly on the arm or shoulder during conversation. You may feel this is a warm and friendly gesture. Is it possible that some employees may see this behaviour in a different light?
Do you avoid making eye contact with people during conversation or perhaps you make an effort to maintain eye contact. Your reasons for doing this are perfectly innocent. Could they be misinterpreted by someone else?