“For weeks, I have been frustrated,” explained Jamison. “I wanted to provide a new data-sharing service to our clients, but I could not get my colleagues to agree. I researched the service, polled our clients, and fully informed myself. I still could not get support.”
Eventually, Jamison asked Bridgette to lead the project. Bridgette, formed a small task force of colleagues and clients, and asked them to evaluate the value of the data-sharing service. After a few meetings, Bridgette gain strong support and introduced the service.
Why did Bridgette succeed when Jamison did not? Jamison operated as an independent expert. Bridgette’s approach mirrored the suggestions in Heidi K. Gardner’s article on collaboration in Success Magazine.
Collaboration is simply working together with others to achieve a result.
Collaborators embrace divergent ideas and learn from them. Experts attack weaknesses in opposing views.
Collaborators seek options; experts come to the table with a solution.
Collaborators acknowledge and appreciate their network of colleagues. Experts disengage non supporters.
Collaborators openly share data on goals, action items, and status updates. Experts play it closer to the vest.
Gardner claims that collaboration is the Number 1 desirable skill for success and few people have it.
“I know I agree to do too many things for others they really should be doing for themselves,” Annette admitted. “It is hard for me to say ‘no’ and I obligate myself to more tasks than I can perform.”
When attempting to influence others, as reported by Dr. Amanda Nimon-Peters in Psychology today, two principles of human behavior emerge. One, when given options, we chose the easiest path to meeting our needs. Two, many feel guilty when refusing a request.
When attempting to influence work peers, make it as easy as possible for them to respond. For complicated requests, appeal in small bites; and only ask for what you really need. Seek involvement of the other party with questions: “How should I handle this?” Make the request in person. Email requests are easier to ignore.
To avoid guilt associated with denying a request, consider responding with questions. “What are you trying to achieve?” “Have you checked with ____?” “What would happen if you skipped this step?” Offer another easier option for achieving the mission.
In short, make it easy for others to do what you want and hard for them to do what you dislike.
“My problem,” explained a manager, “is two of my good performers have dug in their heels against a proposed new service for our customers. Focus groups have suggested the service would add unique value to our product offerings and the financial risks are minimal.”
“Have you visited one-on-one with the two individuals to answer their questions and persuade them to get on board?” I asked.
“Yes, several times. Every time I provide a good answer to their concerns, they bring up another issue. It is very frustrating. They whine loudly and publicly, and I fear they may turn others against the project.”
“So, you want to know how to deal with the two whiners?” I asked.
“My response is ‘Don’t try.’”
For most changes, you can expect prolonged whining from ten to fifteen percent of the members of a team. Efforts to persuade the resisters seldom succeed; in fact, influence attempts will likely motivate whiners to continue.
Many team members will understand and support well-thought-out changes, but they may not be verbal in their support. Effective leaders reduce resistance and increase support by paying more attention to members who are on board while offering scant attention to whiners’ push back.
“They could do it if they really wanted to,” is a common expression of managers who are frustrated with a weak performer.
However, haphazard performance more likely represents a talent void and not a paucity of desire.
I often ask workshop participants to list examples of basic job tasks—responding to inquiries, recording expenditures, coding for compliance, and the like. Then I ask, “Do you recall an experience with a team member who could not reliably perform a simple task after being fully trained?”
Participants quickly list numerous examples of performance failures. “Why do you think they failed to perform?” I ask. Seldom do I hear, “They were incapable of learning the skill.”
From early childhood, must of us have heard, “In this country, you can be anything you want to be.” And we hear numerous inspirational stories of elongated struggles resulting in dramatic accomplishments by seemingly ordinary people.
However, the hard reality is that even the most basic tasks in the workplace require some level of talent—inborn abilities—for skill development. Inability to perform after reasonable training and experience is evidence of lack of talent and not lack of will. Job redesign, transfer or termination may be the answer; continued training is not.
“I like my job,” a high performing contributor said to me, “but I’m getting very attractive offers from other companies.”
“Are you considering taking a position with another company?” I asked.
“I’m torn. Another company has offered to pay me 15% more than I am currently making along with a nice signing bonus. But my company has been very supportive and I get along well with my manager.”
“Yes. The other company allows me to work remotely two days a week. My current company requires me to work onsite full-time. During the pandemic, we did work remotely. My feelings about it are mixed.”
In the months following the pandemic, a record number of employees quit their jobs, causing the writers to label the era “The Great Resignation.”
Job quits caused many companies to increase salaries and adopt hybrid work schedules. When studying individual companies, however, some had quit rates that resembled mass exoduses while quits at other companies were a trickle.
Michael Beer, writing in a Harvard Business Review op-ed identifies company culture as the key for retaining contributors. Leaders who are transparent, accessible and promote employee growth and development have much better retention records. This, by the way, has been true for decades.
“I think it important to treat my team members fairly,” a manager said to me.
“I agree,” I responded. “ Can you give me an example of how you do that?”
“I avoid singling out team members. I praise the team rather than individuals. I recommend similar merit increases for all—we succeed or fail as a group. I rotate the most popular vacation times. Everyone gets the same training opportunities. I ask team members to take turns performing menial tasks.”
“Do you recommend similar rewards, perks, and privileges for all team members?”
“That’s my goal, exactly.”
As we discussed further, I attempted to explain that equality of outcomes is not the same as fairness. Fairness means we apply the same rules and standards of judgements to all team members. That is, policies and performance metrics should be the same for all persons doing similar work.
However, some team members because they have greater skill, experience or internal motivation contribute more to the mission that others. I believe it is unfair to treat high- and lower-contributing team members alike.
I do not judge the less contributing members to be of lesser value as a person; they simply have contributed less value to our team. Fairness is consistent application of standards, not equal distribution of rewards.
A team, working on its mission to reduce the cycle time for their lengthy vendor assessment process, gathered data on several options. Eventually, most team members began to coalesce around the option of deleting two specific steps in the cycle.
Jaron was not convinced and said, “Removing the two steps creates additional risks and doesn’t save much time.”
Most members argued aggressively against Jaron’s position, but Jaron did not back down.
“What do you propose?” the leader eventually asked.
Jaron described a different model for assessing vendors and supported his suggestions with data. Only one member nodded agreeably. Most remained opposed.
The meeting ended with no resolution. However, at the next meeting Jaron again presented his model supported by additional data; and after a lengthy and enthusiastic debate, the team reluctantly agreed to evaluate Jaron’s idea.
Jaron’s model proved effective in three test cycles and management adopted the new way. Later Jaron reflected, “I respect my peers and wanted their approval. I was extremely uncomfortable taking a stand against them, but I just could not agree with a solution that I thought was inadequate.”
It takes courage to preserve in the face of strong opposition from your associates and it is an essential leadership attribute.