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August 2013

Managing Leadership Turnover

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While there are some variations in the translations of the quote by Greek philosopher Heraclitus  “nothing endures but change” or “the only constant is change,” one thing is certain: workplace relationships and productivity suffer when changes are clumsily introduced.

Among the most difficult changes for employees to handle is a change in their manager. Whether the change is due to a transfer of duties, promotion or departure from the company, reporting to a new boss is worrisome to most employees. Some may even see it as job-threatening. How your employees deal with this depends to a great extent to how safe they feel in their current role.

Generally, employees whose performance has been assessed and for which feedback has been provided are in the best shape. They know their standing in the company and will use that knowledge to help them if they become insecure. Employees who don’t know, or who are on performance improvement plans are often more insecure. They tend to fret more and their fear may compel them to engage in unproductive behaviour such as speculation or gossip.

Fear of change is natural, but there is a lot that owners and managers can do to help their teams during management transitions:

  1. Let staff know of the change as soon as possible. Provide information about timeframes.
  2. Let staff know what they can expect in the immediate future. Be as open as you can be given the circumstances. Consider holding a live five-minute meeting with local staff and sending out an announcement email confirming the information.
  3. Communicate the anticipated impact of the change on the business, customers and suppliers.
  4. State your expectations that team members will continue to work to their usual high standards during the transition.
  5. Explain how you will go about finding a replacement. If you will be recruiting, let staff know the timeline and any interim arrangements that will be made.
  6. Check in with employees frequently. This is especially important during the first few weeks. Just because you haven’t heard anything, doesn’t mean your employees aren’t worried.
  7. Provide periodic general updates on the status of the recruiting process.
  8. When you’ve made your decision, prepare an announcement to introduce the new manager. Whether he or she is from inside or outside the company, use this communication to provide a brief summary of the new manager’s professional background and anticipated contribution to the company in the new role. Some employers use this communication to share some personal information, such as the names of the new manager’s partner and children. This is optional and if you are considering this, be sure to have the new manager’s full consent to do so.
  9. Conduct a thorough on-boarding. Even if the new manager is transferred from within the company, there will be distinct differences in expectations and responsibilities.
  10. Be sure to set goals to ensure that the manager is adapting well to his or her new role. Consider setting a goal related to getting to know the team and ensuring that your employees receive the attention they deserve.

The early days in any new position can be hectic and potentially overwhelming for the manager. Help both your employees and your new manager succeed with open and frequent communication. No matter what kind of business you’re in, this is an important practice. It encourages employees to share their concerns and ideas and helps keep management and frontline staff on the same side.

12 Ways to Tackle Difficult Conversations

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As a business owner or manager, there are times when you need to have a conversation with an employee that you don’t want to have. The topic might be awkward, such as body odour, gossip and poor timekeeping, or a game changer such as unsafe work habits and performance gaps. The cost of avoiding these difficult conversations and leaving these situations unresolved is likely higher than you think. If you’re noticing the problem, chances are other employees and perhaps even your customers are noticing it as well.

According to a 2008 study conducted by the executive development firm CPP Inc., workplace conflict is a nearly universal occurrence, with 85% of all workers spending more than two hours per week dealing with conflict. What does this mean to your business? In financial terms, if you have 24 employees, 20 of them claim to spend at least two hours a week dealing with conflict. That’s 40 hours per week or 2080 hours per year! You’d have to hire one more full-time person just to make up for the productivity lost due to conflict. Given the fact that workplace conflict can also lead to stress, illness, absence from work, harassment, violence, labour complaints and failed plan execution, what is it doing to your customers, your profits and your company as a whole?

One of the keys to preventing and reducing workplace conflict is to deal with situations when you first become aware of them. Taking immediate action often is enough to change an outcome, show leadership and create positive and lasting results. Waiting until the problem is so big that it has to be dealt under unfavourable conditions, such as in response to a complaint or when an accident occurs, puts you at a real disadvantage. By then, you may have become emotionally charged, perhaps full of frustration or anger. In this case, risk is increased and the chances of a positive outcome are reduced.

It doesn’t really matter why we tend to avoid having the conversations we most need to have. The real issue is how to deal with the difficult issues with the least amount of pain. Here are 12 tips for tackling difficult conversations:

  1. Deal with the matter as soon as you become aware of it.
  2. If the topic is sensitive or emotionally charged, prepare the person in advance by letting them know that a meeting is planned and what you will be talking about.
  3. Be gentle. No one likes to be scolded, so be professional and keep your composure.
  4. Be sure to ask questions to clarify the facts of the situation, unless you have first-hand knowledge.
  5. Listen carefully and hold your judgements until you understand all angles of the situation.
  6. Be as direct as possible while using empathy to engage the other person.
  7. Steer clear of small talk. It can minimize the importance of the conversation.
  8. Stay on target and discuss only the matter at hand. Dragging up old gripes and grumbles will divert you from the purpose of the conversation. If the employee brings up other matters, consider scheduling a separate meeting to address those issues.
  9. Share with the employee why the matter is important to you and the business, and what effect their behaviour is having on other employees and customers, as well as the potential employment impact.
  10. Clearly state your expectations. Be specific about what you the person to start or stop doing.
  11. Document the meeting, have the employee acknowledge the content and and provide a copy for their records.
  12. Follow up. This is an important, often overlooked step. It’s tempting to think, “Whew… I’m glad that’s done with,” but you likely won’t know if your expectations have been met until some time has passed and you’ve asked for feedback from the employee and others.

Even in workplaces that boldly encourage engagement, difficult conversations are often avoided. This works to everyone’s detriment. Do yourself and your company a favour and create an environment of early conversation, before difficult enters the equation.