Crucial Conversations QA

Help! I Survived a Layoff

Dear Crucial Skills,

Our organization took a hit last year and many people were laid off. I was lucky to stay but now I feel overwhelmed by the amount of work and responsibilities that I’m required to do in others’ absence. I don’t want to look like I can’t handle my workload and I especially don’t want to lose my job as a result of my complaints. How should I approach this tricky situation with my boss?

The Survivor

Dear Survivor,

You’re right to consider this a sensitive issue. If, when you leave this conversation, your boss thinks you’re ungrateful to be employed or a pain to have around, you have failed. Next time the ax swings, he or she may well say, “Hmmm . . . ‘Survivor’ seems to want a country club rather than a work place—let’s give him or her a LOT more free time.” That is clearly a bad outcome.

However, there is absolutely no reason you can’t have this crucial conversation—provided you approach it in a way that ensures your boss feels comfortable. In fact, if done right, this conversation will demonstrate even more powerfully why you should be at the bottom of any layoff list.

I highly recommend a new book called Indispensable by Monday written by Larry Myler. Larry’s research suggests there are fourteen behaviors that bosses prize highly in employees and that make them terribly reluctant to let these employees go. The good news is that the list of fourteen does not include sucking up, maintaining appearances, or “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” While these advantages may make a marginal difference, the most prized behavior for any employee comes when . . . drum roll . . . they bring in much more money than they cost.

Now, I’m not going to go into all the details of how any employee can have profit impact—irrespective of whether they are in a direct revenue role or a back office job. But I will suggest that the brilliance of Myler’s point is that if you frame the conversation with your boss in a way that shows your intention is to maximize your impact on your team and your company, you’re likely to find the freedom to raise any concerns you have.

So, here’s the question you must answer before you speak to your boss: What three to four things am I doing now as a result of layoffs that are distracting me from making my best and highest contribution to my team and company?

If you’re not careful, you’re likely to come across as a bureaucrat rather than a business person. If you come into the conversation with your list of gripes, complaining that you’re doing work that’s not in your job description, or that staffing levels are too low to keep up, you’re adding to your boss’s headaches without any compensating payoff. This isn’t about mutual purpose, it’s about your purpose. Unless your boss is a saint, he or she will likely feel put off and put upon by your approach. After all, your boss’s life probably got more complicated in the past year, too!

So, make a list of all the big tasks that fill most of your time, ask yourself the leverage question, then think about your team and the company’s best and highest use of your expertise. As you consider this question, you may want to take a peek at some of Myler’s fourteen suggestions for how you can make a more significant profit—or if you are in a government or nonprofit role, how you can make a more significant mission contribution. Use these fourteen behaviors to assess what your best and highest use is to the organization. Then prepare a proposal showing the benefit to the company if you decrease time in some lower leverage tasks—and how you might deal with the consequences of minimizing these tasks. For example, propose ways to free up time by any of the following approaches:

· Simplify
· Outsource
· Delegate
· Re-engineer
· Delay
· Eliminate

Now, don’t be disingenuous. Be honest that this will be good for the company and for you. Sympathize with your boss and others who are feeling the same pressures while candidly acknowledging that the added burden has distracted you from things that should be first priority.

My assistant, Joanne, approached me in exactly this way a couple of years ago. She was clearly distraught because quality was slipping in some areas due to her ballooning responsibilities. I knew from her work habits that this conversation had nothing to do with her looking for a serene and contemplative work life. It was about survival—and quality. She carefully detailed the tasks she thought made the biggest contribution. I was putty in her hands because she understood my needs so well that I had no disagreement with her list. Then she continued, “If I continue to do X, Y, and Z—I won’t be able to improve my response time and quality in these areas. At least that’s how it appears to me. If you can see something I’m missing, please tell me. I don’t want to shirk my work.” I couldn’t say a thing, other than, “We’ve got to either eliminate those tasks, or find other ways to get them done.”

She let out a sigh and said, “That’s my proposal too.”

We implemented all of her ideas, and she walked out of my office having convinced me that she was worth far more than what we pay her. Hopefully, someday, we’ll catch up on that!

Best wishes!

Trainer QA

How can I help participants connect Sucker’s Choice to Start with Heart?

Barbara HauserBarbara Hauser is a Master Trainer.

Q How can I help participants connect Sucker’s Choice to Start with Heart? How would you explain how to take the concept of Sucker’s Choice back to proper motives?

A Start with Heart is a powerful principle that encourages participants to do some deep reflection, and at the same time it provides handy thinking tools to use in the heat of a crucial conversation. To link the two, I like to suggest that we really want to take what’s buried beneath a veneer of defensive behaviors and attitudes—that is, our good motives, long-term objectives and desire to work and live collaboratively with others—and make it visible. That way we have a better chance of acting on our best motives, especially when the stakes are high. Working to transform the Sucker’s Choice into a creative new way of looking at our options is also a way of clarifying our motives and seeing the real essence of what we want.

I was working with a woman recently who was having trouble reaching her goal of having an organized, clutter-free home office. It sounded like a reasonable and even simple goal. Having tried and failed many times, though, she was stuck! As she worked through this principle she realized that she had two objectives: On the one hand, she wanted a space that reflected the best of the work she’s capable of doing. On the other hand, she wanted to avoid confronting her husband—a self-proclaimed pack rat! When she reframed her situation to refuse the Sucker’s Choice, she found out that her real motive was to have a smooth, uncluttered working relationship with her husband where they could talk out things that were bothering them and reach decisions they would both support. She found that by just acknowledging the Sucker’s Choice she got much greater clarity for herself—and she could have the right conversation for the right reason.

Crucial Accountability QA

Confronting a Sick Colleague

Dear Crucial Skills,

With the recent H1N1 scare, I would appreciate any advice on approaching colleagues in a healthcare institution—usually managers and MDs—to stay home when they are sick rather than feel obligated to come to work. I would also appreciate any advice on motivating them to get immunized against the flu without having to force them.

Fighting the Flu

Dear Fighting,

The recent H1N1 situation illustrated the importance of motivating someone to do something they don’t want to do.

What can we learn about motivation from looking at the situation where people are sick but feel obligated to come to work? As we discuss in Crucial Accountability, there are a few key concepts that provide the foundation for this discussion.

Consequences Motivate. There are consequences that occur naturally, and there are consequences that are imposed or enforced by others. People make decisions to act based on the consequences they anticipate. As a result, motivation is personal because people see and anticipate different consequences. Almost subconsciously, people assess the positive and negative consequences that are most likely to occur and then they act based on those assumptions.

Help Others See Consequences. We can motivate others by helping them see both the obvious and the more obscure consequences. In your situation, this includes consequences to self, to coworkers, to patients, to coworkers’ and patients’ families, to finances, to reputation, and to the quality of work. When we help others see and feel the consequences, people can change their desire to act in certain ways.

So let’s separate some of the issues in this case. For example, the manager is aching and coughing and trying to decide if she should go to work. What are the consequences of staying home? Positive consequences are that she will feel better physically. Sipping hot chocolate and lounging around the fireplace sounds pretty good. Also, she won’t get anyone else sick. However, she’s not sure she’s that sick and she assumes the probability of getting someone else sick is fairly low.

Negative consequences include not getting paid because she has exceeded her paid time off. This is particularly glaring because she has several bills that are due. She will also miss two meetings because delaying them is impossible. Catching up when she returns will be next to impossible. And while some people might have bad thoughts about her coming to work sick, she can probably avoid these people. Even if she doesn’t avoid them, they probably won’t speak up any way.

The combined value of the anticipated consequences makes the decision easy. If she goes to work, she will get paid, get important work done, and it is highly unlikely she will get anyone sick. More importantly, no one will say anything to discourage her decision. Take note that for a doctor, the financial and productivity consequences might be even more costly and the likelihood that anyone would speak up to the doctor is almost nil.

So as someone who cares about the consequences of spreading germs, what do you do? Here is some advice.

First: Manage expectations as a group around not coming in when sick.
Excellent performance begins with clear expectations. When we make agreements, we often agree on the who, the what, and the how; but we would improve motivation if we focused on the why. Have a discussion about the reasons you are making this agreement and clarify the possible positive and negative consequences. Why should people not come to work when they are sick? Why should they get immunized? Look at it from the perspective of the sick person. What will they lose? What will they gain? What will happen to colleagues and patients?

In addition to sharing the facts, share real stories of what happened in your hospital. Share the story of the nurse who picked up a virus at work and passed it on to her mother who was now in the intensive care unit. Where did the problem start? Usually with colleagues who came to work when they were sick.

Also, talk about the financial consequences or about the trust that might be lost if a colleague makes a commitment. Helping people understand and feel the weight of both clear and obvious consequences helps them make more balanced decisions.

Second: Agree to hold one another accountable.
As a part of your discussion, agree to hold each other accountable and speak up to individuals who come to work sick. Part of that agreement should be that everyone will talk in a way that is safe and professional; they will try to understand and help. Speaking up and holding others accountable is not just the boss’s job; it is everyone’s job.

When we make agreements, clarify expectations, outline natural consequences, and feel able and motivated to speak up, we reap the benefits of having a crucial confrontation. The difference between good teams and organizations and the best teams and organizations is how rapidly and respectfully problems get resolved. Individuals in these teams don’t let issues fester and they don’t let issues destroy relationships. They quickly and respectfully put them on the table and reach a resolution.

Best wishes,