Most leaders have had some formal training on conflict management in the workplace. The discussions generally focus on techniques and strategies when working one-on-one with a difficult employee or colleague.
This training is essential, but I have found that leaders also benefit from a broader perspective on conflict management when dealing with teams.
Early in my post-Navy professional career, I was asked to lead a task group to determine how the high school at which I was teaching could improve the overall discipline in the school. Our school had been singled out for declining academic performance and improved classroom discipline was determined to be a critical need.
We started with a review of classroom discipline statistics and found that 25 percent of our student population of 1,600 students had disciplinary infractions in the past year. However, only five percent had multiple infractions.
It’s amazing the impact this five percent had on the entire school. I’ll explain here, so you can use the results to your organization’s benefit.
Every day we go to work and 75 percent – three quarters – of the people we deal with are absolutely a pleasure to be around. Let’s call them “The Team.”
Unfortunately, another five percent – about one in 20 – are difficult to get along with. Let’s call them “The Toxic 5.” Their actions pose a risk to morale and they are constantly contributing to a toxic work environment. They may be frequently tardy, unresponsive to correction, disinterested in the performance of the team or, plain and simple, constantly grumbling and dripping with sarcasm… you name it. You probably have seen it in your workplace.
Now, the subtle key to the morale of the entire organization is how you handle this small number of interlopers. If you continue to accommodate their behavior and give one warning after another without consequences, their behavior will not change. We see this in military units, classrooms and industry.
Worst of all, how you handle these few is quite visible to the 20 percent of the group that are not necessarily The Team and not quite The Toxic 5. That 20 percent is waiting to see what you will do. Let’s call them “The Fencers.”
If you continue to be lenient, they may ask, “Why should I strive to be like The Team, when I can get away with how The Toxic 5 perform? What’s the use?” Now you have a real problem on your hands – 25 percent of your organization could begin under-performing. You are doomed to failure.
If you meet the challenge head-on and deal with the under-performing Toxic 5 in a professional manner, such as explaining your expectations, counseling, providing a performance improvement plan and proper disciplining, they may respond positively.
But, don’t count on it.
Experience and statistics show more than likely they will relapse and continue their previous disruptions. In business, separation from the organization becomes a viable option after you have given them a chance to improve. Check with your HR.
Is this heavy-handed? Not if you hold the welfare of the team as a priority.
I had a business associate that had just taken over as a plant superintendent in a failing operation. Production and quality were poor, and morale throughout the union work force and management was low. He was searching for ways to energize his work force when I explained to him the need to first address those few poor performers that make up The Toxic 5.
He called in two floor supervisors who had been a constant drag on the operation and gave them the option to get on board with improved performance or move on. They opted to quit, apparently thinking their actions would be supported by rank and file. They made a bad assumption.
After hearing of the departure of The Toxic 5, other labor leaders, rank and file, and managers streamed into the superintendent’s office the rest of the day saying, “Those guys should have been let go a long time ago!” The plant soon became profitable, with production and quality showing significant improvements.
As leaders, we should always be on the lookout to identify good performance and provide proper recognition. But when you sense that there are poor performers impacting your team, be prepared to take immediate action.
How you handle that five percent will determine whether the “on-the-fence” 20 percent will join the 75 percent. You will be much more successful when you have 95-percent buy-in.
Ron works with emerging leaders, execs, entrepreneurs and managers who want to sharpen their leadership skills and inspire their teams to achieve a level of performance beyond their imagination. He does this by providing high-impact, energizing programs that give the participants an opportunity to learn and practice the guiding principles of leadership that are crucial to establishing a success-oriented environment. You already know a lot about leadership, Ron helps you to amp it up and put it all together so that you use your abilities in a disciplined fashion every day to achieve results?! His course participants are unanimous in their feedback, "I wish I had attended earlier in my career." He has also brought his Leadership Excellence Course to the Battleship North Carolina, where participants learn in a most inspiring environment how to motivate people, the power of integrity, the reasons for good feedback and many other defining leadership principles that help leaders and teams get to the next level and achieve results. You can check out some other course opportunities at AcademyLeadership.com. Look in the Raleigh, Greensboro, Charlotte and Wilmington areas.
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