Don't Wait For A Crisis!
Have you ever sat in a meeting when someone bought up a concern you judged as small and insignificant? Sure, you listened, but quickly dismissed the issue with some type of acknowledgment, and moved right back to your own agenda, or worse got upset with the person for stalling the project and making more work.
Okay, maybe you haven’t, but I have. It’s likely that I never even knew the full impact of my dismissal. Too often the impact only gets addressed when it goes beyond simply a ‘people’ problem, and results in a business crisis such as the current situation that GM has landed in.
This is taken from a New York Times article: A Vow To End Hallow Nods and Salutes, about the current GM recall issues:
AFTER THE RELEASE LAST THURSDAY OF THE INTERNAL REPORT ON GENERAL MOTORS’ FAILURE TO RECALL THOUSANDS OF DEFECTIVE CARS FOR MORE THAN A DECADE, MARY T. BARRA, THE CHIEF EXECUTIVE, ADDRESSED THE COMPANY’S EMPLOYEES. IN HER REMARKS, MS. BARRA PROJECTED AN EARNEST AND URGENT DESIRE TO REFORM THE COMPANY’S CULTURE, WHICH SHE SAID WAS PERMEATED BY “BUREAUCRATIC PROCESSES THAT AVOIDED ACCOUNTABILITY.” THAT CULTURE MEANT NO ONE TOOK RESPONSIBILITY FOR FAULTY IGNITION SWITCHES IN CHEVROLET COBALTS AND OTHER CARS THAT WERE ULTIMATELY RESPONSIBLE FOR AT LEAST 13 DEATHS.
The report documents many meetings where issues were bought up, yet nothing was done. Now, it is so easy to think of GM as the bad company or Ms. Barra as providing poor leadership. Much like we did with Enron and Arthur Andersen, a ways back, when those companies got caught doing some very suspect activity. However, these behaviors of avoiding accountability, and agreeing to look away from problem areas that might impact the bottom-line, are not uncommon. Does it really reflect, dishonest and greedy executives? Maybe, but we think it is more a reflection of a fear of conflict and inability to give real-time feedback on unproductive behaviors at all levels of an organization.
We have worked in large and small businesses, with seasoned leaders and new mangers, and the common thread is a tendency to avoid conflict and accountability, not because of greed, but because of discomfort, and fear of being scapegoated, or worse fired. When we dive deeper into the root cause, it is equally related to a lack of skill and comfort in handling group dynamics when differences are expressed. These are the most common issues that come up when we ask leaders and team members what the barriers are to engaging in healthy conflict or giving real-time feedback about unhealthy behaviors.
There isn’t an easy quick way to develop skills in navigating conflict. Sure there are books, tips, and tools, but the truth is people dynamics are fluid, unpredictable and demand a high level of authentic, vulnerable courage on the part of a leader. Building vulnerability muscles are not often considered part of a leadership development program. Usually vulnerability is discouraged when evaluating a fast rising corporate superstar. So it is no wonder, leaders don’t know how to invite their people to speak up and address weaknesses or problem behaviors.
Too many leaders look to Human Resources to solve these ‘people’ issues. As long as ‘people problems’ are not part of the executive table dialogue, there isn’t going to be a significant change in behavior or skill set on the part of the leader, their direct reports or the company culture. It is time leaders learned that human dynamics aren’t the ‘soft’ side of business. No, in fact, it’s hard. It takes discipline and courage. However, it has both the greatest ROI, and as evidenced in situations like GM, and the greatest potential for a disaster, if left unaddressed!
CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke
Coaches, Business Consultants, Speakers and Authors of The Beauty of Conflict
CrisMarie and Susan work leaders and teams, couples in business, and professional women.
They help turnaround dysfunctional teams into high performing, cohesive teams who trust each other, deal with differences directly, and have clarity and alignment on their business strategy so they create great results.
Check out their website: www.thriveinc.com. Connect with CrisMarie and Susan on LinkedIn. Watch their TEDx Talk: Conflict – Use It, Don’t Defuse It! Find your copy of The Beauty of Conflict: Harnessing Your Team's Competitive Advantage here.