Dear Crucial Skills,
Could you please help me understand the practical use of the crucial confrontations skill “CPR” for front-line supervisors on a manufacturing floor? It seems somewhat abstract to them when dealing with specific violations and our progressive discipline procedure.
Dear Real World,
I’d love to help.
CPR is a skill we cover in Crucial Accountability that helps you hold the right conversation. The reason most of us have the same conversations over and over with others is because we talk about the wrong thing!
For example, on a manufacturing floor, let’s say you have an agreement with someone upstream in the process to get you fifty parts per hour. Four or five times a day they fail to deliver and you find yourself having to nag, threaten, or bribe them—or you sit and twiddle your thumbs and slow down the whole production process.
So what’s the problem here? The mistake you’re making is that you’re holding the wrong conversation. CPR identifies three levels of conversation we occasionally need to have:
1. C stands for Content. This is the immediate pain or problem you’re dealing with. In this situation, the content issue is the missed commitment for fifty parts this hour.
We tend to stay at the content level long after the problem is no longer about content. One way to tell if you’re having the wrong conversation is if your level of frustration or emotion is out of proportion to the issue. So if you find yourself shouting at the party in question, “Where are my %^@* parts?!”—this could be a sign you’re holding the wrong conversation. Your real issue is not the fifty parts you’re owed. Your real issue is a level deeper.
2. P stands for Pattern. This is the conversation you need to hold if your real concern is the pattern of you not regularly receiving promised parts.
When people have pattern concerns, they usually fail to raise the pattern issue but talk instead about the content—the most recent instance or concern.
For example, you say to your teammate, “This is the third time today you didn’t get me the parts—where are they?”
And he responds, “We’ve had three power surges in the past hour that have caused us to throw away three full lots. There’s nothing I can do about sunspots that are messing with our transformers!”
Can you see what just happened? Your teammate dragged you into dealing with the special circumstances that resulted in the most recent failure. You could have avoided this by raising your concern simply as a pattern issue rather than one recent instance of problems.
If you need to hold a pattern conversation, do not wait for a specific instance of the issue to arise. Proactively schedule a time to talk only about the pattern.
Now, let’s say you’ve held a pattern conversation and reached some new agreements. Then the other person fails to perform again. You now need to raise the third level.
3. R stands for Relationship. When after repeated failed commitments you conclude the real problem is not the pattern of missed commitments, but something deeper, you move to relationship.
For example, if you’ve decided you no longer trust the other person to keep agreements, that’s a relationship issue. If you decide the other person isn’t competent to keep the commitments, that also calls for renegotiating the relationship.
A crucial confrontation at the relationship level may call for escalation to a superior. If you want to be loyal and direct, let the other person know before it reaches the relationship level that this is the next step. This must never be threatening but must be said in respectful, sincere tone that communicates your intentions to keep your own commitments.
CPR is at the heart of progressive discipline. Good managers hold content conversations immediately when single problems emerge. They also document problems that require progressive discipline.
When the problem becomes a pattern, they document it as a pattern—and detail the data that makes the pattern evident. Furthermore, they communicate clearly to the employee that if the pattern continues, the employee is signaling that he or she is unwilling or unable to keep the agreement—and this necessitates a more comprehensive solution such as reduction of responsibilities, docked pay, dismissal, etc. Effective supervisors never communicate these future consequences as threats. They are respectful, direct and private. They also help the other person understand that these steps will only be taken if his or her actions put the interests and needs of others in jeopardy.
I hope these brief illustrations help. You’re asking a profoundly important management question and deserve to have all the help you need!