How can you cure employee conflict? Part 3/3
9 February 2022
How can you cure employee conflict?
This is the third post about how to prevent and address employee conflict, which I’ve seen commonly come from three things – misunderstandings between employees (Part 1), unclear job descriptions (Part 2), and processes that don’t work well.
Today let’s focus on process. I know, it’s not very sexy. But process is like the oil in our cars: if we don’t maintain it, our engine is going to die.
Job descriptions and process are intimately related. If job descriptions are the contract between a business and an employee that define what is expected of each, then process is the coordination of those descriptions in order to achieve the business’ goals.
If you made a list of everything in your business that must be done, all of your job descriptions should cover every task on your list.
But think of all those tasks for a minute. They must be coordinated somehow, there must be an order to them, and there is probably a dependency between them. Think also about how complex some of those tasks are, and how those tasks are broken down into smaller tasks and assigned to different employees by specialty.
When we consider something that’s made up of multiple tasks that we do on our own, the order and dependency of those tasks seems intuitively obvious. Fro example, getting dressed in the morning to go to work: of course we will check the weather before deciding what to wear, we will most likely put our shoes on after putting our pants, and we will probably finish dressing before leaving the house.
But if tasks in a multi-step process are separated among different people, in different departments and over time, and we often get the business equivalent of trying to get our pants on over our shoes in our driveway.
And I’ve sat in on many meetings where a frustrated employee says the business equivalent of “no one told me we couldn’t leave the house with no clothes on.”
What can you do?
Like sorting job descriptions, improving and maintaining process is iterative and continuous. Process is not “set and forget,” you need to stay on top of it, watch it, and tweak it as the business grows and your environment changes.
First, look at your problems and realize that “the obstacle is truly the way.” Where are the failures, delays and sticking points in your business? It is very valuable to inquire about process while you discuss job descriptions. Dig into why a task fails when it requires more than one employee.
Don’t ignore the failures, and don’t blame or point fingers. It’s quite unlikely that your employees are intentionally doing a bad job. (I know, I say that a lot – but only because it’s true.)
In order to reduce the chance of employee conflict that comes from faulty processes:
- Figure out how coordinate employee efforts into success, and be transparent that success is your collective goal, and not a version of a witch hunt (like “identifying the weak point.”). You want your employees involved, and feeling safe to participate.
- Normalize suggestions and observations about process failure and improvements in your business.
- Encourage and expect employees to come up with changes or improvements to the processes they are part of. This turns “she never does her job” into “I have an idea of how we can get this done.”
- As a leader, be clear that the current processes are the best the business has right now, and that you expect they will change and improve over time. Try really hard not to use the word “rule,” that cements the process in employees’ minds, and they have to make a big leap when “rules change.”
- Communicate clearly and repetitively that process is plastic and changeable so that employees can be successful in their jobs, and the business can evolve and succeed.
Step back and envision the energy of a well-practiced and coordinated live band or sports team who as refined processes to the point where they flow, individually and collectively. Do everything you can to make your employees perform like that.
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