I am often asked what the biggest challenge in my business has been. I am always embarrassed to admit that my answer is usually related to staffing. Despite the exceptional training I received in United Parcel Service’s Management Training Program, The People’s Workshop, and Human Resources Department, I used to have difficulty finding qualified and committed employees to help me further the Third Ear Conflict Resolution vision.
I have been mediating employment-related disputes since at least 1992, and I’ve been successful at getting people to produce results—for others. But I spent many of the first 12 years of self-employment frustrated by workers who:
- Hid papers they didn’t want to file
- Rarely came to work on time
- Stole from me by over-reporting their hours worked
- Resented that I got work assignments they thought were better than theirs
Sometimes, I got angry about what I blamed on bad luck or bad attitudes. It was as frustrating as it was embarrassing.
Can you relate?
If it’s any consolation, we are not alone. As Delia Passi, CEO of Women-Certified told Business News Daily, “We get emotionally connected, and that can hold us back from making the tough decisions.”
We hope our relationships with our employees will lead to the results we want. That alone isn’t going to do it. Your friend’s unemployed boyfriend on the verge of eviction isn’t necessarily going to show up for work when he’s scheduled. When he does show up, there’s no guarantee he will do the job well–especially if the duties aren’t within his skill set.
That powerful co-worker from a prior project might not be as committed to your vision as she was to being the leader on that prior project. She will certainly be more committed to her wants and needs than yours, regardless. Don’t expect anything else. You are the same way.
Fortunately, these conflicts aren’t inevitable or permanent, especially when we start resolving them before they begin.
The Job Post
I have tried a lot of different job post templates, including one by Basecamp Founder and Inc. Columnist Jason Fried. When I needed quick administrative help, I focused on the skills I wanted or thought I needed and the salary I thought I could afford. I paid at least 30% more per hour than other small businesses or solo law practices. I thought that would attract a higher quality worker. It didn’t necessarily. But it did attract workers who wanted to earn more money.
I abandoned the application process at times, too, assuming that I could train anyone to do much of the work I needed to be done. That was true, but I repeatedly found that I didn’t have the extra time necessary to train inexperienced workers. I assumed everyone had the skills I had when I was early in my career.
I put myself and my employees in no-win situations. That was not at all what I wanted. Here’s what I’ve changed.
In my job posts, I define the conflict in specific terms.
We need a part-time content manager to keep our materials flowing regularly to followers who have workplace conflicts we can help them with.
Before I post all the required and desired skills for the job, I identify my interests in hiring someone to do this work.
I look at my beliefs and expectations about the job and the person who will do it.
I think…I have an inspiring vision and that this is a great job for the “right” employee.
I want…someone who is inspired by my vision and wants to be a part of it, contributing his or her own creativity and success skills.
I expect…people to respect me, Third Ear Conflict Resolution process, and the opportunity to work here with my impressive clients.
I believe…I offer more than most part-time employers and should get “a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay”.
I consider that I might have preconceived notions that limit who I might hire. I clear my mind. If I assume anything, I assume I know nothing about who the ideal candidate is. This is not to say that I won’t still screen for skill and attitude, but this process helps me release unrealistic expectations. The result is a clear description of what it is like to work here and what you’ll need to be successful.
Excellent grammar and editing skills
Ability to work remotely and deliver work within deadlines
Leadership, Legal or Technical Writing, Patience, Project Management, Sales, WordPress
In the job posts, I now play with the possibilities.
I describe, as Fried recommends, what the work would have been like yesterday or last week, if the applicant had already been hired. This helps me see if I am asking too much (or too little). It also allows the applicant an opportunity to see himself here.
If you had been working here last week, you would have edited and shared a few posts about worker misclassification, sexual harassment, and discrimination. You would have posted them on the website and social media sites for maximum exposure. Then, you would have looked for other sites or organizations that discuss related topics. You would have introduced Nance to some new potential collaborators and cultivated existing relationships.
Even before we meet, I ask them to create our future by addressing two key inquiries in their mandatory cover letters.
I don’t accept resumes without cover letters. I invest a lot in my employees, and I want them to exhibit that they will invest in Third Ear Conflict Resolution. Thus, I ask:
Besides your paycheck, what is the #1 asset you could gain from working at Third Ear Conflict Resolution?
If you are hired, what would you like to achieve, experience, or contribute to?
I stay on PARR.
I plan, act, revise, and repeat until I get the results I want.
Admittedly, I skipped some steps with my brand manager, who I also expected to be my executive assistant. I posted the job on several websites and with most of the local business colleges. I only got two applications. Neither offered exactly what I was looking for.
Rather than take the Fifth Action of a Master, I set up an informal interview with one of them—a woman who had been my accountability partner in a leadership development program. She was so powerful in that role that she was guaranteed to bring her best work to Third Ear Conflict Resolution, too. Right?
At that informal meeting, we discussed our reservations about entering an employer-employee relationship. We wondered if we could respect each other’s professional role and produce the results we wanted. The warnings were there for both of us, and we ignored them.
I assumed she knew some of the Key Performance Indicators (KPI) for her position, even if I hadn’t documented or shared them with her. I thought she knew she was required to deliver complete work on time or communicate her needs. She assumed she was doing an excellent job if she was making progress.
We both knew a few weeks before we terminated our employment relationship that neither of us was operating at our best. We were doing enough to look like we were committed to her employment, but neither of us was taking full responsibility for creating what we said we would.
If I had taken the time—before I hired her—to document the KPI, I might have prevented an awkward change in the ways we see each other. I might have avoided frustration and distraction by having clear, direct conversations about the KPI on a consistent basis. Instead, I was left agonizing for weeks over missed marketing deadlines and wasted resources.
Here’s what I use now.
- I will maintain the highest levels of confidentiality for Third Ear Conflict Resolution’s client lists, client matters, finances, intellectual property, operations, passwords, processes, and strategies.
- I will be on time for calls, meetings, and work.
- Each week, I will submit assignments and timesheets by 5 PM on Friday.
- When I cannot be on time due to something I could not have planned for, I will notify Nance as far in advance as possible.
- When I cannot complete an assignment on time, I will notify Nance and teammates as far in advance as possible.
- I will create contingency plans to avoid repeating mistakes and absences.
- I will do complete work, following agreed upon procedures.
- When I have a suggestion for substantial change to a process, I will discuss it with Nance—after first completing the current process as written.
- I will give others the benefit of my doubt. When I have a concern, I will discuss that concern only with the person involved or Nance.
- I will give my best and ask for Third Ear Conflict Resolution’s best in return. When either of us is not giving or getting the best, I will speak up constructively and make every effort to determine the next best action.
- I will check my assumptions regularly, or assume I know nothing about anything.
- I will be responsible for my success at Third Ear Conflict Resolution and in my life.
Content Manager Monthly KPI
- Consistently keeps the 12 Core Agreements.
- Produces content free of spelling and grammar errors.
- Generates at least the minimum acceptable sales.
- Cultivates the minimum acceptable number of sales leads.
- Maintains excellent relationships with existing clients and contacts.
Unfortunately, my skipped steps in the past resulted in what I call my “Murphy Brown Stage”. Like Candice Bergen’s 1990s sit-com character, I fired several employees.
I wasn’t quite as brutal as the Murphy Brown character. I let one employee stay on an additional six months or more beyond her productivity, and I lived off my credit cards while I paid her instead of myself. I even fed her—again with my credit card funds! I also used the “I’m too busy” excuse for not holding her (or myself) accountable.
The outcome was the same, regardless. Some nice people with exciting potential in varying areas were mismatched and failed because of my failures as a manager. I have since learned that when expectations, goals, and requirements are clear, termination is almost always self-selected. They either figure out how to do what works or they wait for you to notice and decide for them that the job’s not a good fit for them. (They will not come to you with this information until they have a better job secured.)
Even if you skipped steps like I did, the Five Actions of a Master can get you back on track.
Here’s how the situations played out with several former employees:
I defined the conflict.
None was producing the results needed.
I identified my interests, and I tried to imagine theirs—without assuming I was accurate.
(I knew I still had to have candid conversations with each of them.)
I think…I have been more than generous with them.
I want…this to work out for each of us and the business.
I expect…higher quality from them than I am getting.
I believe…they can produce far more than I am receiving.
It seems my employees think…I owe them more than I do or that we are more profitable than we are.
It seems they want…to be paid twice as much, so they work half as hard.
It seems they expect…to get more than they give.
It seems they believe…they should have my job, or that I work for them.
Together, we played with the possibilities.
Once I spoke to each of them, I learned that I was getting the wrong message and assuming the worst. They each cared deeply for me and the business. If they could have had our conflicts resolved in any way possible, they would have been able to pursue their true dreams of performing, writing for the entertainment industry, and working for a large corporation without me losing. I laughed with each of them as we acknowledged that I wasn’t exactly winning when they weren’t producing the work I needed them to! We were all effectively losing on these deals!
We created our futures.
Only one of these employees left her work completely undone. She was so relieved to be free from her job that she just dropped it and started working on other projects. I forgave her, started searching for a candidate to replace her, and kept moving forward on my goals.
The others fulfilled wrap-up plans so I met all deadlines and was set up powerfully for their replacements. They got recommendation letters and my blessings. Another got a folder full of more compatible job opportunities.
We learned some valuable lessons and are back on PARR: planning, acting, revising, and repeating.
The termination process was not fun at all, but where it was executed with insight and compassion, we were all left with skills and courage to pursue what matters to us. I now have film screenings, plays, and other events to attend, too!
In sum, there is always more to a conflict than meets the eye. As you develop your third ear, you will discover the interests on which you can build win-win solutions. That’s great business!
(Originally published in Enterprising Women Magazine, Fall 2015 issue)