Tag Archives: office

Influencer QA

Influencing Corporate Policy

Joseph Grenny is coauthor of the New York Times bestsellers, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer.

Joseph Grenny is author of three bestselling books, Influencer, Crucial Conversations, and Crucial Confrontations.


InfluencerQDear Crucial Skills,

Our company has a review policy called the 70/20/10 rule. This means that 70 percent of my staff must be rated “Meets Expectations,” only 20 percent can be rated “Exceeds Expectations,” and worst of all, 10 percent must be rated “Needs Improvement.”

I find this rating system unmotivating and unfair for many obvious reasons. Specifically, at the present, I don’t have anyone I’d describe as “Needs Improvement.” However, I must come up with two people to fit this category.

At the other end of the spectrum, more than 20 percent are exceeding expectations and deserve commensurate rewards—yet I must arbitrarily leave people out so I don’t exceed the quota.

I raised my concerns over this policy but was told I should always be able to find 10 percent who “Need Improvement.” This seems like a losing battle, but I’d like to encourage the decision-makers to rethink this policy.

Frustrated Reviewer

A Dear Frustrated,

I find the performance appraisal system you’re describing to be as unjust as you do. However, I believe it was designed to address an even more egregious injustice.

Forced rating systems have been imposed on managers for decades because managers were failing to manage. The heart of good management is the speed and effectiveness with which managers hold crucial conversations. However, they typically put off holding crucial conversations for many months and, even when holding them, tends to gloss over the most fundamental messages.

I believe that forced ranking systems have been imposed on managers primarily because senior leaders believed that, without the compulsion of these systems, managers would continue to shrink from their responsibility to deal candidly, ethically, and professionally with performance problems. Managers are now being governed by unjust systems because so many failed to exercise ethical and leadership responsibilities in addressing performance problems willingly.

Now, with that said, most system responses to behavioral problems are doomed to fail. They produce unintended consequences of the kind you describe. They are brute force solutions to entrenched influence problems. Those familiar with our work on influence know that problems exist because there are six sources of influence that are perfectly aligned to produce the negative results you’re experiencing. To change those results, you must affect four or more of those sources of influence—nothing less will do.

Okay, soapbox aside, here are some thoughts as you decide how to be an ethical manager, a loyal employee, and a decent human being at all once.

1. Keep the spirit of the law. Given that the 70/20/10 system’s intent is good, first make sure you are not fooling yourself about the quality of your team and are stepping up to crucial conversations scrupulously—both in the interest of your organization and in the interest of your team members. You lose the moral authority to claim there is a “better way” than the 70/20/10 system if you aren’t an example of that better way yourself. For example, if you conclude that 40 percent of your team is in serious need of development, you should acknowledge that just as honestly as when you believe 40 percent deserve a rating of “Exceeds Expectations.”

2. Choose only from ethical options. When considering my options in confronting value conflicts in organizations, I distill them down to three. I can quit, stay and accept, or stay and influence. In other words, I could conclude that I would be a hypocrite to stay in an organization whose practices so conflict with my values. If you take this option, I’d suggest you use your exit as an opportunity to exert influence. In a clear and respectful way, detail what you admired in the company and all of the reasons you are reluctant to leave. Add your concern with this system and the inequities it made you participate in. One strong and clear voice like this can be remarkably effective at influencing change. It may not happen overnight, but it can plant seeds of doubt that spur reflection after you leave.

Second, you can stay and accept the circumstances. The only ethical way to do this is to decide to loyally fulfill your duties, even though you personally disagree with the system. If you stay in your current position at this company, carry out the 70/20/10 system as you are bound to do, and avoid badmouthing the system or the leaders who choose to continue with this program.

Third, you could stay and influence. You could, for example, decide that you are remaining only contingent on your success at influencing the system. If you do so, you must do so under the same ethical terms as the previous option. You must carry out the spirit and letter of your management duties. But at the same time, you can make your best effort to influence change. If this is the approach you take, I’d suggest a time limit to your efforts so you don’t become the angry rebel and waste your professional efforts in a lost cause.

If you choose to stay and influence change, here are a couple of options you could consider:

1. Invite study. If you have influence with HR or senior leadership, attempt to invite them to study the effectiveness of the 70/20/10 system rather than simply criticizing it with anecdotes. Honestly share your concerns with some of its effects, but also express openness that further study may convince you it’s the best approach. Encourage HR to declare what “dependent measures” they believe will be positively affected by the employment of the system, then study over time whether or not better results are following. It’s likely you’ll find that the system did produce some worthwhile effects—which will help you make recommendations more useful than just “throw out the bad system.”

2. Teach influence. As I mentioned earlier, the intent of the system is to influence managerial behavior. Our research into the six sources of influence is often a very effective way to help leaders see the limited success of their “single source” influence strategy. Share copies of Influencer: The Power to Change Anything with key leaders and attempt to engage them in reflecting on its application to managerial behavior in your organization.

I applaud your desire to do right by your people and your company and wish you the best as you make this crucial decision.


Crucial Conversations QA

How to Address Workplace Bullying

Dear Crucial Skills,

I just left a job I loved because I am older and the young team I worked with never seemed to accept me. Unfortunately, even when the manager said I was a victim of new employee hazing, the problem was not addressed. Since I made the choice to leave, would it be appropriate to write a letter to the administrator? I don’t want to be seen as a disgruntled employee but it is a hostile environment and some of the young girls working at this office are scared. Do bullies always win?

Feeling Bullied

Dear Bullied,

I have to admit that when I hear the word “bully” it makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck. Like many boys growing up (I was small for my age), I faced bullying at every turn. I had friends who didn’t take a single shower after PE during their high school years because bullies would snap them with wet towels and otherwise harass them.

Clearly, bullying has found its way into the corporate vernacular. While the government continues to enforce harassment laws, many employees are beginning to wonder if certain actions that aren’t necessarily inspired by gender, race, or belief biases, but still seem highly inappropriate, should also be prohibited at work. These “below the waterline” behaviors include actions such as making false accusations, glaring, discounting others’ ideas, backbiting, gossiping, constantly criticizing, giving people the silent treatment, making impossible demands, etc. All are examples of not treating people with the respect they deserve.

As leaders, it’s important to make it clear that all forms of disrespect, dishonesty, and lack of teamwork are not permitted at work. Perhaps it’s time for companies to begin talking not only about harassment, but social abuse in general—giving specific examples of unacceptable behavior that fall under the rubric of bullying. To get a feel for various forms of bullying, visit the Workplace Bullying Institute.

So, what’s a person such as yourself to do about the bullying you experienced—and in a letter, no less?

Start by thanking the administrators for giving you a chance to earn a position at the company. Explain that you’re sorry it didn’t work out but are grateful for the opportunity you received. Point out what you enjoyed and admired—the leaders need to know what’s going right as much as what is going wrong. Then, tentatively bring up your concern. You’re not calling for action in your case—you’ve moved on. However, you are concerned about others’ experiences at the company. Explain that, at first, you wondered if you were simply being hypersensitive to taunts and insults, but when you mentioned it to your supervisor, he or she confirmed that you were experiencing common hazing.

Now you’ve laid the appropriate groundwork that allows you to talk about the actual hazing and bullying. Present your information, as if talking to a jury. Stick with the detailed facts. Realize that statements that contain your judgments or conclusions—”I was hazed and bullied”—provide a framework for the discussion but not the details required to make the destructive practices go away. While your conclusions let others know how you felt, they lack any information about what your coworkers actually did. To help others eliminate bullying, you have to describe the exact behavior you saw and experienced.

Think of yourself as a novelist and describe several poignant interactions—complete with the script. Include the verbiage along with the tone of voice, posture, body language, etc. Describe the insulting words and expressions that were leveled at you. Then, once you’ve detailed an instance or two, thank the administration for taking the time to review your concerns and wish them the best when it comes to their efforts to eliminate a problem that, in your view, is still causing grief to lots of people.

In closing, I hope by now you’ve found a healthier place to work—one where employees treat each other with dignity and respect—maybe even take special care to help new people feel welcome. And thank you for having the courage to talk about a problem that often goes unmentioned and consequently continues to plague thousands of people every day.

Best regards,
Kerry Patterson

Crucial Conversations QA

Addressing Inappropriate Work Attire

Joseph Grenny is coauthor of the New York Times bestsellers, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer.Joseph Grenny is author of three bestselling books, Influencer, Crucial Conversations, and Crucial Confrontations.

Crucial ConversationsQDear Crucial Skills,

I need advice on how to have a conversation with a subordinate about her provocative attire. It’s tricky because her clothes are clean and very nice—just more revealing than is appropriate for our office. To make it more complicated, I’m a man and I’m wondering if that should make the conversation any different than if she had a female supervisor. Her attire is holding her back from progressing and limiting how management can use and develop her skills. I’m nervous about discrimination and harassment accusations that could result if I handle this wrong. And yet, I know I need to have a conversation with her.

Revealing Conversation

A Dear Revealing,

Since you’re in a legally sensitive area, I asked Jaclyn, our HR Manager, for some advice. Between Jaclyn and myself, we’ll give you our best thoughts.

1. This is about policy not preference. The first thing you have to do is ensure your company has a clear dress and grooming standard in place. If they don’t, you are on shaky legal ground if you approach a specific employee and make this an issue of personal judgment. If the policy was implemented correctly, it should already have been communicated to all employees, and even signed by them to acknowledge their understanding and commitment. If this step is done right, your conversation will be much easier to hold. So, address any gaps in the policy deployment before opening your mouth with your employee.

2. Just the facts. When you sit down with her to explain where she’s out of compliance, be sure you scrupulously avoid mixing any of your judgments or “stories” into your description of the problem. For example, if you said, “Some of your clothes are a bit more provocative than appropriate for an office setting” you would cross the line into judgments. Rather, refer factually to the gap between what she wears at times and what the policy says. For example, “Our policy says ‘clothing should not be form-fitting or revealing of large portions of the legs, chest . . .” After sharing the relevant excerpts, you could ask how she thought her outfit yesterday, for example, compared to the requirements. Once again, the focus is not on judgments but on facts.

3. Make It Motivating. Mention that part of your interest in holding this conversation is a concern for her potential in the organization. Be sure to mention that. Let her know that a key reason for her to comply is to keep doors of advancement open. Using her career as motivation could help her to keep her commitment while also ensuring she understands your goodwill toward her.

4. Make It Safe. You’re likely to feel uncomfortable in the conversation because it is an area of sensitivity and you’ll be worried she’ll be offended or hold a grudge against you. That’s where make it safe skills come in. I’d encourage you to use contrasting after having shared your concerns to help her understand your motives and respect for her.

For example, you might say, “You and I have worked well together in the past and I want you to know that I do not want that to change. I have a great regard for the quality of your work and have no concerns in any area other than this. This is an uncomfortable conversation for me just as it is for you. I was nervous that you would misunderstand my reasons for holding it and hope you know it is only to ensure I’m doing right by the company while contributing to your development as well.” Using contrasting in this way can help her understand you are not simply doing this to be a prude or to make life hard for her.

You also asked about whether the conversation should be any different given that you are a man speaking with a woman. Jaclyn and I agree that it should not. Your mindset in this conversation is that you have an employee who is out of compliance with a clear policy. Period. You should describe the gap between her current practice and the existing policy factually and respectfully. Then conclude by both confirming her understanding and asking for her commitment to comply in the future.

On a personal note, as I wrote this to you, I reflected back on my first really sensitive conversation with an employee. I was an entrepreneur in a small company and had a half dozen people working for me. One had a tremendous hygiene problem that was offending customers. Sal was 25 years old. I was 17. He was a good friend. I hardly slept for a week as I obsessed over whether and how to deal with the problem. When I finally had the crucial conversation, my stomach was in knots, so I know how easy it is to turn inward when these challenges face us.

And that’s the idea I want to leave you with. The reason we do so poorly in so many of our crucial conversations is that we’re more concerned with how the problem and conversation affect us than we are with how they affect the other person. My selfishness in the situation with my employee made me more worried and less effective than if I had kept my attention on what I really wanted to do for Sal, my customers, and my colleagues.

At last I had the conversation. I don’t recall well enough what I said to be a judge of whether or not I was skillful. But I do remember what happened. Sal began bathing. He bought some new clothes. He got some badly needed dental care. His circle of friends increased. In the next year he got married—something he had longed to do for some time. Now, I don’t take credit for all of that. But in my quiet moments when I deliberate about whether or not to talk to someone I care about, I try to get outside of myself and focus on what I really want for those I care about.

Best wishes,