One of the most common reasons why I am asked to come into an organization that I have not consulted to in the past is people issues. That is my reputation; I help people unsnarl the very gnarled up people issues in organizations. It’s true. However, the result does not imply the method. The way to get results varies and it should vary according to the circumstance. There is however, a conceptual process that works. Here it is:
First – we take a look at what the organization or the team or the individual is doing. What are they accountable to achieve? Asking this question results in a plethora of comments and discussion about everything from organizational structure to methodology to who is in what role. Even very smart people have to be encouraged to step back and talk about the WHAT. It is really about what you trying to do and getting clear about that.
If you have more than one person in the room you will almost always find that people don’t agree about goals, or how to measure whether or not they are achieved. This happens with people in a call center and in the boardroom. Assuming alignment on this is a big mistake.
Second – Who is doing what? A more academic way to say that is we have to clarify the roles. It somehow is easier for people to grasp if you say, “Well who is doing what?” We are trying to get the ball across the finish line here so who is the quarterback, who is the running back? You can change it up, of course – who is the architect and who is the builder? It sounds like a simple thing to do and it is but it is important because you’ll often find misunderstandings or disagreements. You often hear things like, “But that is in my area” and this is where you start to see the tension and what people commonly like to call turf wars. I prefer not to diagnose it that way because it implies some motive on people’s part to grab turf or to build a fortress and all the language that people use in organizations. It is really often based on misunderstandings or some historical way that the people in the organization have operated without really talking about it and getting clear.
So once you are in agreement about what you are trying to do and who is doing what to get to the aforementioned goal you have now solved roughly 60% of the issues. Most of the time when you get to this point, people start to feel a lot better. They feel so relieved in fact, that they often want to stop there. That’s why I’m there to keep things moving. If they resist, I might say something like: “Now, wait a minute. I am going to run the ball and you are going to kick the ball but how are we going to decide when we are doing which thing?” Ah – more work is needed.
Third – Now you need to talk about how to do things – what processes will you use? Let’s take a staff meeting for example. What is the frequency of the meeting? What is the agenda? Who is setting the agenda? What are the follow-up steps and when are those going to be done? This is the stuff that keeps the discussion of goals and roles from being academic. This makes it real.
At this point, you’ve aligned, focused, agreed, and discussed very substantive matters and so far, no psychoanalysis has been needed. If someone or more than one person has a personal issue, it will have shown up. Unless you have the worst hiring practices ever seen or the most destructive culture imaginable, these issues will be few. They may be notable and very annoying but they won’t be numerous. Once any personal problems or miscast people are evident, the leader should take the appropriate action.
The key to successfully using these ideas is to start at the bottom of the ladder. If you want to get on top of the roof of a building you don’t start at the top of the ladder, you start at the bottom because it gives you more stability, leverage and a way to the top.
Same goes for organizations – it’s much more difficult and far less accurate to deal with the “people issues” first and it could turn out they aren’t what you thought.