Hal, a manager in a south-western electronics plant, found himself in just such a situation. Hal felt that he and his staff had reached a higher level of communication and that his learner/employees would acquiesce in any request he made of them. So their opposition to his announcement that the staff had one month to install and go onstream with new production equipment left him annoyed. The greater the opposition, the more he lost control of his temper.
“How could you commit us to something like this?” Doris asked stridently. “We need at least two months to master use of the equipment.” Doris was informal leader in the group, and after she spoke the doubt among crew members developed into outright opposition.
Hal found that his efforts to tell the group how it would be possible to implement the plan were drowned out by vociferous team-member resistance.
Rather than try to restore order and discuss his plan coolly, he raised his voice and angrily told the learner/employees to shut up. “You have no choice,” he told the group. “The equipment will be installed in March. You will have it on-stream by April 1.”
“Sure,” Doris said, “April Fools’ Day. Which is exactly what Hal is if he thinks we will do what he wants.”
Hal overheard. Later in the day, he had words with Doris about her attitude, which only further solidified opposition to the plan. There was talk in the department about going over Hal’s head to discuss the plan with the plant’s manager.
Identify the mistakes……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….
Hal’s Basic Mistakes
Changes in an organization never come easily, and this was a major one at the plant.
Hal wrongly assumed that his time spent as coach made it unnecessary to consider how best to tell his team about the change, which as a manager, faced with a major operational change, he should have done.
Coaching is not a cure-all that will make all situations you encounter a breeze. But Hal’s bigger mistake was to revert to a dictatorial manner when his group questioned his judgment. He violated some key responsibilities of a coach, from listening to staff members’ opinions to involving them in the decision and its implementation.
While Hal had made a commitment to senior management, after explaining to his staff the reasons for having done so, he could have asked the group for its ideas about how the changeover might be handled in the tight time frame given them.
As a manger as well as coach, Hal should have thought through the announcement. AS with getting support for any changeover, he should have considered the kind of opposition he might run into and should have tried to build support even before the announcement.
From his coaching, he knew his learner/employees well and he could have used this knowledge to predict each member’s reaction to the news. He should certainly have talked to Doris, who, as informal team leader, could have helped him get buy-in to the plan.
As coach, he could have made her project leader; since the position represented a growth opportunity, Doris would hen have had more reason to give vocal support to the plan.
At the very least, a conversation with Doris would have clued Hal into the kinds of responses he could expect. This would have allowed him to anticipate what to say in response to the resistance.
He could even have practiced his responses before the staff meeting to ensure a calm reaction to the learner/employees.
In this instance, he could have told his team why the equipment changeover was so important to the plant. Once his learner/employees understood its importance to their work and, more germane, the capacity of the plant and consequently its continued operation, their attitudes very likely would have changed dramatically.
He should have also have considered what answers to give to questions that the group might have had, for example:
What steps would be taken to acquaint the crew with the new equipment?
What would be done during the interim to ensure that work on the old system continued until the changeover?
What team rewards, if any, would be associated with a successful changeover?
Even recognition by plant management would have been a persuasive factor in building support for the idea.
Hal got the changeover completed in a month, but it took him a lot more time to repair the rift in his relationship with his crew that his angry reaction to its response had created.
And One More Mistake
Hal hadn’t considered how his crew would respond, and he lost his cool, but he also made another mistake. He began to talk at them, not to them, about the change.
He said, “I want this done,” and “I expect you to make it a reality,” and “I promised you would do it, and you will do it.”
He even went so far as to practice a little fear management, implying that failure to achieve the transition in the time allotted might force management to make some reassignments of crew members in order to place on the crew those who would be quicker learners.
Instead of this heavy-handed response, Hal could have shifted pronouns and adjectives from I and you to we or our, thereby reinforcing the sense of team that likely would have made even the one-month deadline less threatening to the crew.
Undermining learner/employee’s self-esteem
When giving feedback, beware of correcting behavior using words like always or never, or other adverbs that could undermine a worker’s self-esteem, suggesting that he or she never does anything well.