That phrase, “Stand your ground,” has been big in the news lately. Let’s take a look at it from a professional position. A little background first will help. Consulting can create a love-hate relationship with clients – both management and employees. In fact, that is the norm and it should be unless working with an abbey of Zen Buddhists.
One scenario goes something like this:
- At first the employees are hesitant, wondering how long the engagement will last and if it will have any effect. They are skeptical, believing senior management comprises “breathe-holders” who will wait until I leave and then go back to their old ways;
- As progress is being made delineating what is going well and what is going poorly the tone of the conversation in the gossip mill changes. Employees are seeing more clearly what their situation is and appreciate being able to succinctly state such. A hope beings to rise;
- After a while, though, a skepticism surfaces (the roots of which we’ll look shortly) and the challenges begin, “When are you going to get senior management to change?” Increased pressure is placed on me, the consultant, to get THEM, senior managers, to conform to what is right in the situation. In other words, the employees want a short cut. What is going on is they want the change but are afraid to put skin in the game. Instead of the consultant being a conduit for their voice in the situation, they want the consultant to lead the charge in their battle for sanity.
“This is when confronting the employees is critical. They need to be pushed on an uncomfortable truth – they have to stand their ground regarding the reality of the situation.”
I will eventually be gone. They need to decide what they will do as a unit to help improve the situation in a sustainable manner.
So, what does this “stand your ground” mean? First, let me say, it is anything but aggressive. That goes nowhere. (Well, actually it does – downhill.) It is about standards and ethics. It is about what it takes to get the job done right the first time and respectfully serve the client and one’s company. What does that mean?
We all work to some set of principles with some choosing the light side and others choosing the dark side. Sticking with the “light side” approach, standing your ground means stating the real limits of the situation without emotionality. Each profession on a project has guidelines by which it works. These are anything but arbitrary. The guidelines were created because they work.
Let’s move away from the theory and look at an example, a very common example. As a question it can be stated as, “What does ‘done’ mean?” This can get very dicey. If a manager sees a quarterly bonus looming on the horizon how much will he push the team to declare the project “done” knowing that the team’s future is being mortgaged and the client will not be happy when they find out work performed is less than what the spirit of the situation (or the contract) call for?
When a project manager or team member stands their ground they bring up the shortsightedness of the approach in a business-like manner. In other words, stick with behaviors and consequences.
When the project starts working outside the principle sets important for success; disaster is sitting there licking its chops just waiting to munch on the project.
This confrontation process is anything but easy. It is essential, though. Employees are hired for some form of expertise. It has real limits since an employee is not a CEO. So, my advice is speak your truth clearly, taking it to the point of putting it in writing, and do it respectfully rather than with your jaw sticking out daring the boss to take a swing. Leave out references to the senior manager’s bonus. That is speculation and gets to attacking character. Just state the truth of the situation. Answer the question:
If everything were okay I’d see _______________ .”
Do a variance analysis between what is and what should be based on the principles involved and run it up the chain of command.
Now, before you go off thinking organizational difficulties are only the responsibility of the employees and they should be falling on their swords every time a paper clip is misplaced, keep in mind next week we’ll look at this from senior management’s position and the real limits of what can be accomplished
—Through his firm, Center for Managing Change, Gary Monti has over 30 years experience providing change- and project management services internationally. He works at the nexus between strategy, business case, project-, process-, and people management. Service modalities include consulting, teaching, mentoring, and speaking. Credentials include PMP number 14 (Project Management Institute®), Myers-Briggs Type Indicator certification, and accreditation in the Cynefin methodology. Gary can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or through Twitter at @garymonti