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6 Things You Can Do To Prevent EEO Complaints

preventionThere is no magic formula you can follow to prevent an EEO complaint. The best you can do is to take steps to minimize complaints by creating and maintaining a positive work environment. In our last post, we discussed talking managers through their first EEO complaint, but the next question is usually how to avoid complaints. We can all agree with Ben Franklin’s famous axiom, “an ounce a prevention is worth a pound of cure”. To that end, we offer the following strategies…

  1. Treat Individuals Fairly and with Transparency:

Another well-known axiom is that actions speak louder than words. This is especially true for managers. Employees will observe your actions to judge whether they mirror your words. They pay close attention to your interactions not only with them, but also your interactions with their peers. By treating employees under similar circumstances equitably and fairly, managers prevent complaints. Too often managers feel they don’t have to explain their actions and decisions based on the “management’s prerogative” protective shield. While that may be the case, the indiscriminate exercise of that authority, without also exercising appropriate transparency, will eventual sow seeds of discontentment that manifest as complaints. Successful managers find ways to exercise transparency without compromising their managerial authority.

  1. Open Lines of Communication:

Promote open, two‑way communication with your employees. Encourage employees to discuss their problems and concerns before they escalate into a dispute and possibly an EEO complaint. One common example happens when managers become so busy, they fail to take steps to address performance‑related issues when they are minor and only react when the issues become major. Without communication and immediate corrective action, employees may be unaware that they are not performing at the appropriate level. Communication also helps with transparency, if you are communicating with your team, they feel more involved and less likely to think you are hiding things from them or being secretive. No matter how busy you are as a supervisor, communication is time well spent.

  1. Enforce Zero Tolerance:

Clearly demonstrate to employees that illegal discrimination is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. When violations do occur, take immediate action to correct the situation and prevent recurrence.

  1. Support Diversity:

Acknowledge the uniqueness of different perspectives and lead your staff in accepting diversity as a positive, life‑enriching experience. It is also important to appreciate and encourage diversity through personnel actions. Always seek quality and diversity.

  1. Seek Early Resolution and Take Advantage of ADR:

Resolve complaints at the earliest possible moment by bringing parties together to help understand and settle their differences. Keep in mind that ADR is a perfect tool for resolving disputes and avoiding future complaints. While ADR can be offered in response to a complaint, it does not limit a manager from taking advantage of ADR earlier. Employees may approach management requesting assistance regarding a concern. This may be a perfect opportunity to use ADR to resolve the matter‑before it turns into a complaint or grievance.

  1. Hold Subordinates Accountable:

Hold employees accountable for their actions. Employees must understand the expectations of the managers from both a performance and conduct standpoint. Allowing poor performance or ignoring inappropriate conduct will only make your vulnerable as a manager. When managers do not address poor performance or do not address inappropriate or unprofessional behavior, employees will feel that such behavior is tolerated or condoned. Failing to hold employees accountable becomes a feeding ground for EEO complaints, especially complaints of harassment.

What other strategies have you employed, or have advised managers to implement?

 

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I’ve Been Named in an EEO Complaint? Help!!!

SOSAnyone who has been a supervisor in the federal government for more than a few years has likely been named as a responsible management official (RMO) in an EEO complaint.   Many of you in HR, ADR or EEO programs are probably asked for help or advice from managers when they encounter their first complaint.   In this and future postings, we’d like to discuss some strategies for helping supervisors manage how they react to EEO complaints.

Many managers recoil with the prospect of having their integrity questioned. Those are the managers we want to help. Talk them down from reacting on a personal level. We find it helpful to remind them that the EEO process is driven by a complainant’s belief that he or she has been wronged, whether that belief is true or not. In many instances the employee feels the EEO complaint process is their only course of action, while the manager feels the complaint is a personal attack or considers the complaint baseless or even frivolous. Managers are often perplexed as to why an employee would even consider claiming that they intentionally practiced discrimination. They often have feelings of anger, bewilderment, and betrayal when one of their employees alleges that they have discriminated against them. Just as the complainant may have strong feelings that they have been discriminated against, managers are also likely to believe fervently that they have done no wrong. This is when it is important to redirect the manager’s viewpoints regarding the employee’s perspective and the EEO complaint process.

Generally the manager is focused more on the employee filing a complaint against them and not about the issue the employee is complaining about. Here is where you need to guide the manager to separating the issue from the employee. Managers do not realize that their words or actions may be seen as manifestations of illegal discrimination. Often it is not addressing an employee’s concern or perception that leads to a discrimination complaint in the first place. Focus the manager on sharing perspectives with the employee, discussing ways for moving forward and exploring possible solutions. Both the EEO complaint process and ADR, not only lend themselves to this type of interaction between management and complaining employee, but actually require it.

While we remain mindful that employment discrimination still exists, those of us in this field know that the root cause of many EEO complaints is poor communication.   Even when no one has intentionally set out to discriminate against another, illegal discrimination can be interpreted from seemingly innocent acts. Because each employee and manager brings a unique set of values to the workplace, misunderstandings abound. The key is in how we handle them. If the misunderstanding manifests in the EEO complaint process, we have to help managers understand that, first and foremost, the employee has the right to avail himself or herself of the EEO complaint process and that the manager can use the complaint as an opportunity to open or improve communication with the employee. This is a far more productive reaction to EEO complaints than becoming defensive. Ultimately, our challenge as EEO, HR, ADR and diversity professionals is to coach managers through their initial reactions with an eye on helping to resolve the dispute.

Please share any strategies you have used to assist managers through claims of discrimination.

So what if a manager asks what he or she can you do to prevent or minimize the likelihood of a complaint being filed against them? We’ll take that on in our next post!

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Improving Your Influence, Part 5: Manage Conflict Effectively (Conclusion)

interestsThis is a continuation of our last post, Manage Conflict Effectively and the conclusion in our series Improving Your Influence. We’ll use the example we started in the last post (link here) to illustrate the next strategy: focusing on interests, rather than positions.

To summarize our example, Jim tells you he’s unhappy that Mike, his supervisor, routinely returns his work for revisions. He claims Mike is unreasonable. You help reframe the problem so that it focuses less on Mike, but more on what Jim can do to minimize the need for revisions by discussing it with Mike. Jim is skeptical, but open to talking to Mike. Reading the following example, think of positions as the “what” and the interests as the “why”.

Jim: Mike, I’ve come to tell you that I’m frustrated with the number of edits you’re making to my write-ups. Your edits seem trivial and unnecessary. I would prefer that you only send me edits that are related to grammar.

Mike: The edits are necessary and my prerogative as the supervisor of the unit. The edits will continue until the write-ups reflect my style.

Clearly the conversion didn’t go anywhere.   What are the positions (the “what) expressed by Jim and Mike? Jim wants less edits. Mike will continue to make edits. What are their interests (the “why”)? In this case, we know Jim’s interest is not having to do more work on the write-ups after he submits them to Mike. We aren’t sure of Mike’s interests, because Jim hasn’t probed to find out.

Jim reports back to you on the conversation, and you decide he needs a little bit of coaching on how to focus on the interests, not positions. You suggest that he approach Mike again, but his time focus on the need for (the “why) the edits/revisions rather than the fact Mike sends the work back. Here is what that conversation may look like:

Jim: Mike, I’d like to talk a little more about the revisions. I’m pretty frustrated with the number of revisions, and I was hoping we could discuss why you are making so many. I’ve brought my last submission with your notes. Maybe you can help me understand them a little better so I can give you what you want the first time.

Mike: That’s a great idea. My overall philosophy is to state things succinctly in the most direct way possible.   Your writing tends to be well-crafted, but I’m looking for it to be more concise. These too sentences are examples of what I’m talking about… discussion ensues.

Jim: I think I get why I’ve been missing the mark. I think you’ll be happy with my next write-up.

Mike: Thanks Jim. I don’t like having to send the work back. It delays the whole process, so I’m hopeful I’ll have no edits on your next submission.

This example demonstrates how moving beyond the position (edits) to the interest (a write-up that is more concise) moved the entire conversation forward. Generally, in any conflict there will be both similar and conflicting interests. In this case, both Mike and Jim didn’t like having to ask for/do edits. That is a good place to start. Once Jim understood why Mike was sending back the work, he was able to see that Mike was looking for a specific style, and Jim can then focus on that with his next assignment.

By employing these 2 strategies (separating people from the problem and focusing on interests), you will help your co-workers, peers, or managers more effectively manage conflict. Ultimately, your advice will do a great deal to improving your influence in the organization.

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Improving Your Influence, Part 4: Manage Conflict Effectively

my wayIf you want to improve your influence in an organization, you need to avoid getting caught up with conflict and drama in the office. Being mired in conflict draws your focus away from your responsibilities, and more importantly, your goal to become more influential. While you may do a good job of avoiding conflict, your co-workers may try to pull you into theirs. In that case, you can actually add value (see previous post link here) by helping others navigate through the conflict.

We’ve taken these ideas from the book Getting to Yes, by Fisher and Uri. The focus of the book is on negotiating, but the framework outline in the book is applicable to navigating conflict. We’ll discuss how to leverage two of the strategies for conflict management: separate the people from the problem and focusing on interests, not positions. Today’s post will cover the first strategy: separating people from the problem.

Most conflict is driven by differences in personalities, differing beliefs, backgrounds, and all the other characteristic that make us unique. Conflict arises just about everywhere—at home, work, or even at the mall. Those who can navigate it effectively will have a distinct advantage. One of the ways you can manage the conflict is by separating the people from the problem. Most people have a tendency to state issues or problems in a way that can sound like a personal attack on someone else. For example, how many times have you heard a co-worker complain about their supervisor because the supervisor sent back a work product for more revisions? Rather than focusing on what needs to be improved, the co-worker blames the supervisor for being critical and takes little blame himself or herself. Next time you are confronted with this type dialogue, try reframing the problem in a way that takes the focus off the people (in this case the supervisor). Here is an example of what that may look like:

Jim: I’m sick of Mike constantly making changes to my work. My write-ups are always well written, but he insists on making edits to show me who’s in charge.

You: It sounds like you are frustrated when you get work back for revisions. Have you thought about talking to Mike about it?

Jim. Why bother? He’s totally unreasonable and I won’t get anywhere doing that.

You: If you have a conversation with him about his writing or style preferences, you may be able to avoid some of the frustration you feel when you get the write-ups back with edits.

Jim: I’ll give it try, just to show you how unreasonable Mike will be.

In this example, Jim is still a bit stuck, but by you framing the problem or issue away from Mike, you’re able to discuss a possible solution. If you agreed with Jim that Mike was unreasonable, you are really just allowing the conflict to spiral and feeding Jim’s anger. Here are a few other things to keep in mind when you are employing the strategy to separate the people from the problem:

  • Allow the person (people) to vent. Part of managing conflict is to let the person get their thoughts and feelings out. Let them do that before you redirect or reframe the problem.
  • Acknowledge the person’s perceptions. In our example, you acknowledged that Jim was frustrated when his work comes back with edits. If you don’t acknowledge the person’s perspective, the person will not likely listen to your advice.
  • Keep reframing the problem away from the object of the person’s conflict or anger. This will help you to focus on the solution rather than continuing to talk about the other person.
  • Don’t blame the other person for the Jim is blaming Mike returning his work without any acknowledgment that, as the supervisor, Mike is entitled to send back the work for revisions.

In the next post, we will use our example to illustrate the 2nd strategy: to focus on interests, rather than positions.

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Improving Your Influence, Part 3: Become the MVP

trophyIn the past 2 posts in this series we’ve been talking about positioning yourself to improve your influence.   We’re going to continue the discussion by focusing on what elevates you to the next level in any organization. Think about whom you consider the most valuable players in your organization or other places you’ve worked.   Now think of any player that has been named MVP, received the Heisman Trophy, or the Jim Thorpe award. What do all of these individuals have in common?  They deliver reliable results, consistently and when the chips are down.

There are many who can talk a good game, but those who have the ability to influence an organization, do more than talk. They deliver. They are the people who get called upon when things get tough. You know you are an MVP when you are called in on a high visibility project with a tight deadline or to give a critical presentation to a client. A lot of times, the MVP employees get criticized for being a “teachers pet” or “golden child”, but in most cases, these employees are delivering – making the boss look good. Make no mistake, being an MVP isn’t easy. Generally, they end up with the lion’s share of the work, but they can leverage this to become an influencer in the organization.If you are an MVP who is looking to leverage your status to improve your influence or if you are looking to become an MVP, here are some ideas for you to consider:

For the MVP:To Become an MVP:
  • Make sure your boss knows you’re interested in to advancement.   If you don’t say anything, they may assume you’re content with the status quo.
  • Continue to stretch. Take an assignment outside your comfort zone.
  • Mentor someone.
  • Look for a mentor.
  • Look for meaningful training opportunities
  • Never turn down an assignment. No assignment is “beneath” you. Say no too many times, and they’ll stop asking you.
  • Volunteer for high visibility projects.   Don’t wait to see if others volunteer first. Be the first.
  • Look for a mentor. 
  • Stop looking at others and focus on delivering.
  • Become an expert in your area.

There is no magic formula to becoming an MVP, but your efforts to deliver results consistently and reliably will put you in a much better position to improve your influence in the organization.   What do you believe are key characteristics of an MVP?

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Improving Your Influence, Part 2: Creating Strategic Alliances

This is the second in our series How to Improve Your Influence. In our last post, we discussed assessing where you are. Today we’re going to discuss how to create strategic alliances as part of your strategy. In essence creating strategic alliances is the ability to build coalitions internally and with external organizations to achieve common goals.

handshakeThis ingredient is a component of political savvy. There is often a negative connotation with being “politically savvy”, but really, what about it is viewed so badly? After some quick research, we found a short survey to see how savvy we were. Curious? Here is the survey http://www.politicalsavvy.com/docs/quiz.html.

If the results surprised you, you’re not alone. Political savvy gets a bad rap, but it is an essential part of creating strategic alliances. Without alliances, you cannot improve your influence. So how do you go about building alliances? The first thing you need to know is that it takes time. You can’t decide tomorrow to start building strong alliances if you haven’t laid the groundwork. However, here’s some advice for wherever you are…

  1. Always Be At Your Best. You never know who is looking at you, so always try to be the person known for being a great team player. If you have a reputation for always complaining when someone asks you to do something, you are really starting at a deficit. Those with strong alliances are known for doing whatever it takes to get things done. Those who are always at their best attract others to become one of their allies.
  1. You Are as Good As Your Word. If you are known for keeping your word, then your ability to attract quality supporters will be easier for you. If not, you’ll have to work on standing by your word. Who wants someone in their corner they can’t count on?
  1. Quid Pro Quo. If you want someone in your corner, you need to be in their corner. You have to show your value to the person with whom you are cultivating an alliance. Don’t keep tabs on what you’ve done for others. Instead, do the right thing and people will notice. They’ll be there for you when you least expect it but need it most.
  1. Treat Everyone Respectfully. This one is related to number 1. We’ve all seen people who ignore or treat people poorly who are “lower” in the organizational food chain, and it is bad business. People who have strong strategic alliances treat everyone respectfully. Consider alliances at various levels. There are those who are your peers; there are those with superiors; and then there are people who may be lower than you in the organization, but can be valuable allies. Treat them right and they’ll be in your corner throughout their career.
  1. Work on Relationships. Alliances are all about people. The advice we’ve discusses throughout this post are all relationship-based. This will be easy for those of you who love to network and collect friends wherever your go. If you are not great at establishing new relationships, start by strengthening the relationships you already have. The more you practice your interpersonal skills the easier it will be for you to grow your network.

We hope these ideas have made you think about building strategic alliances in order to improve your influence. If it’s something you want to do well, it’s something you grow and cultivate. We’d love to hear your ideas on building strategic alliances. In the meantime, take a look at someone who is known for ruthlessly creating strategic alliances. While we don’t agree with his methods, it’s fun to watch him work… Frank Underwood

 

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57,000 Federal Employees on Paid Administrative Leave? Five Basic Steps to Keep You Out of the Headlines

The numbers reported in the October 20th Washington Post article of federal employees placed on administrative leave after leavebeing accused of misconduct are staggering:

  • More than 50,000 on leave up to three months;
  • 4,000 on leave three months to a year; and
  • Several hundred on leave from one to three years.

This is probably not a shock to those who work for the federal government. It wasn’t a surprise to us either – we saw this a lot when we worked in the government.

Why are these numbers so high?   Because it’s easier to get the accused employee out of the office rather than deal with the issue head-on. The problem is once the person is removed from the equation, it’s easy to lose the sense of urgency, and so a person remains out of the office indefinitely. The cliché -out of sight- out of mind fits here. A second reason is that despite the practice being contrary to numerous Comptroller General decisions and OPM guidance on the appropriate range for administrative leave, there is no consequence for the agency. It’s likely that government officials will be doing a quick assessment to see who they currently have on admin leave and work on a plan to get them back to work. It’s also likely Congress will come up with something in the area of accountability given the level of outrage expressed in the Post article.HandlingMisconductIn the meantime, here are basic steps management should follow when faced with allegations of misconduct:

  1. Develop a plan of action. Immediately assemble the right team of advisers to investigate the allegations with firm deadlines. The key is to do this quickly. Your team should include whatever subject matter experts are necessary (HR, LR, EEO, OGC). Notify management and obtain approval if necessary.
  2. Advise the accused employee of what to expect. It’s important to communicate with the employee accused of misconduct of the plan of action, and what s/he will be expected to do during the course of the investigation. Here is where many supervisors are making the easy call of placing the employee on administrative leave until the investigation is done. Exercise extreme caution when authorizing admin leave. Consult with your legal counsel, but generally, you only need to take the person out of the workplace if they are a danger to themselves or others; if there is an issue of trust of the employee continuing to access their files or the agency network; or there’s a concern the employee will cause a disruption in the workplace.
  3. Conduct an inquiry into the allegation. The scope of the inquiry depends on the allegations. You may just need basic fact-finding, or you may have to convene an administrative investigative board.
  4. Stay on top of the team conducting the inquiry. Inquiries performed by internal teams often take longer because of conflicting priorities or lack of investigative expertise. Communicate regularly with the team to ensure they will meet the deadline you’ve given them.
  5. Review the findings of the team and take the appropriate action. Either there is evidence of misconduct or there isn’t. If there isn’t evidence, communicate that to the accused and other interested parties and get back to business as usual. If there is evidence of misconduct, work with HR to craft the appropriate corrective action and take action

Dealing with misconduct is never easy. You’ll stay out of the Washington Post if you deal with the issue head-on and promptly.

What steps have you taken when faced with allegations of employee misconduct?

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Improving Your Influence in an Organization… Step 1: Determine Where You Are

This is a part of a series of how you can improve your influence in your organization. Today’s post focus is on assessing where you currently are.Untitled

Whether you work in the federal government or private sector, your image and reputation is everything. This is true whether you are an employee or a manager, although being a manager creates an even bigger burden because you have to worry about your personal reputation and image, as well as that of the unit or group you manage. In order to improve your influence, image or reputation, you must first take an honest of assessment of where you stand today.

An easy place to start is to see how you were rated in your last performance review. Did you manager tell you what you were excelling in and what you need to work on? Take that advice as a starting place to improve. Many times employees discount the review believing the manager doesn’t understand how hard they work, but frankly, you have to take it seriously unless you already have another job lined up. What if you weren’t given anything specific to work on? It never hurts to ask your manager for specific feedback, and it is almost guaranteed your manager will appreciate your initiative. Here are some ways to approach the conversation:

 

  • For those who haven’t been giving specific feedback on areas for improvement. I’m always looking for ways to improve. Based on your observations of my (or my unit’s) work, what’s an area I can work on?
  • For those who already know what they need to work on: You’ve told me I need to work on my writing skills. I did some research, and there is a writing course being offered next month that I’d like to attend. What do I need to do to be considered for the class?
  • For the superstar who get’s consistently high ratings. I think it is important that I work on skills that will help position me to take on more responsibility. What do you think is one area that will benefit our work unit and help me to develop my leadership skills?

 Develop a plan to work on the areas identified for improvement. If you think you have no need for improvement, you are likely to stay exactly where you are. In addition to asking your manager for feedback, you can ask friends, mentors, colleagues or work with a coach. The point here is the get an honest assessment of how you are viewed.  

Here are the keys to Step 1:

  • Find out how you are viewed by your manager and colleagues.
  • Select at least one area for improvement or growth.
  • Develop a plan to improve in that area.
  • Consider a career coach.

Just by engaging in Step 1, you will already begin to improve how you are viewed.   Next time, we will talk about Step 2: creating strategic alliances.

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