Sunday, June 14, 2009

Managing Conflict

Interestingly in one of my recent leadership sessions the discussion centered around managers inability to deal with conflict. I must admit, early in my career, the process I used was not very effective. I would tell the other individual(s) why they were wrong and what they should do differently. Understandably, that approach didn't work so well. I didn't understand why they wouldn't follow my advice.

Fortunately, I soon learned that my approach was all wrong. I came across an model that dramatically changed how I helped others solve problems and more effectively manage conflict. This approach uses the acronym A.C.E.S. Easy enough for even me to remember.

This approach showed me how to get others involved in solving their own problems and effectively dealing with conflict. No matter what the problem or misunderstanding the ACES model provides the right questions to ask that allowed others to feel they had the power to solve their own situation. Interestedly enough, they even started to take action, because after all, it was their own solution.

This model helps in so many ways but most importantly, the first step ACCESS the Situation deals with not only the specifics of "what happened," but also the individuals feelings regarding what happened.

The second step of CLARIFY takes the time to consider other extenuating circumstances, or factors, that may have caused the problem. It also asks the question "What was the intent?" This is a powerful question because most often our emotions don't allow us to take the time to consider this question.

The third step EVALUATE asks the individual(s) with the problem or conflict, to determine what options THEY have to resolve or eliminate the problem. Many times, individuals don't want to take the time and effort to solve their own problems or resolve their own conflicts. They want to take the easy way out and so they respond "I don't know what I can do". Here is where we need to resist the urge to again tell them what they need to do. Most importantly, make them go through the process themselves by suggesting they take the time to think about what options they have, and then agree to get back with them later to discuss what options they have come up with. Remind them of the consequences if they don't resolve this problem or conflict. Show them the value in spending the time and effort to think about their options.

Lastly, SOLVE the problem. Ask them which option they will try first, and when will you get back together with them to review their progress. The ACES model is a powerful tool to help managers and leaders at all levels learn to help people solve their own problems. As the old proverb says "Give them a fish and they will eat for a day. Teach them to fish and they will eat for a lifetime." The ACES model teaches managers how to solve day-to-day problems and conflicts by engaging others in the process of resolving them.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Setting Expectations

I'm preparing for an upcoming session for some Senior Managers and one of the topics of discussion is a common management process for their organization. One of the critical management practices in this process, is the ability to set expectations. This is a difficult task for many managers, because it is time consuming and really challenges the manager to think about what is important and how they will evaluate the accomplishments of the employee.

Consequently many managers don't do it. They assume the employee knows what is expected of them, and then wonder why they don't get the results they are looking for. It all starts with understanding the power and value of expectations. Managers today are so rushed with their own priorities and "to do lists" that they don't put the time and effort into ensuring that their employees understand what the priorities for them are.

Setting expectations can be a powerful tool to build trust with an employee, when the manager gets the individual involved in setting the expectations. Of course, new employees don't have the knowledge or awareness of what is appropriate, but once they have the knowledge and experience they prefer to be involved in the process.

Often times employees will set even higher expectations for themselves, than the manager and this increases the employees motivation to acheive the expectation. After all they set it. This process also provides a great opportunity for the manager to discuss what the priorities are. In this constantly changing business environment priorities can often change on a daily basis.

One of the critical aspects of expectations is that they need to be in writing. This eliminates the chance for confusion and misunderstandings. Again, due to the managers busy schedule, getting the employee to document the agreed upon expectations can save the manager some valuable time. It also confirms that the employee understood the conversation. It is important, however, that the manager read the documented expectations and provide encouragement and confirmation of the agreed upon standards.

Obviously this is only the first step in an effective management process but without this foundation all the potential feedback is generic and un-inspiring.

What are your thoughts about expectations?