Two Worlds Collide

Updated: Aug 27, 2019

I may or may not have landed on Rocky IV during the most recent snowstorm. It’s funny what sparks inspiration.

Today, Burning Heart by Survivor struck a chord.

Throughout my career, I’ve meandered down roads and found myself in two different worlds.

The first world I discovered was in the area of business. I worked in retail, worked in sales in arenas from real estate to water pumps to direct marketing lists, I’ve designed websites and dabbled in sales management. Then one day, I decided to actually use my degree and become a teacher. Not being satisfied in that role, I earned a master’s degree, then another and took on a leadership role in a large school district. From that role, I was promoted to a district level leadership role. I’ve always felt that my

experiences in the business world added so much value to the way I lead in my education role. I also believe that my experiences in education influence the way I run my business. This stands to reason, of course, because as humans, we don’t experience events, or stages in life, in isolation. Experiences mold and shape our attitudes and future actions.

In education, we spend a lot of time discussing behavior. Why does a child behave this way or that? What are they getting out of behaving a certain way? How can we give the student what he needs proactively so he will cease the negative behavior? We know behavior is communication. A child’s specific behavior is communicating a message to the adults around the student and it’s our job to figure out what that cryptic message is. All too often, when we look at behavior, we realize that the child is communicating a need for control or power. How do we address that behavior? We give the child control or power in acceptable ways within our parameters.

In business, we also see behavior from our employees. However, the difference is that in a corporate environment, many leaders fail to see behavior as communication and possibly, an ill effect, of management style and decision making. When we are building our business with a growth mindset, we look to hire innovators. We seek employees that are strong, confident and willing to solve problems within our

parameters. We seek individuals that can work independently and are good team players. We look for leaders. We look for people who are willing to push the boundaries of current practice to help us grow to the next level. After all, we are in business to grow, right? No one starts a business with the hope of flat lining or failing.

What happens when the people we hired because of their strengths and abilities, change and display undesired behavior? Well, typically, an employer begins the termination process through disciplinary consequences or changes the employees work environment and expectations until they are so miserable that they quit (after all, we would rather an employee quit than us fire them, right?). What if we approached the situation differently?

What if, in corporate, we approached the undesired behavior similar to how we approach it in education?

Look at the following scenario:

Jack was a superb salesman. He could talk to anyone and everyone and build rapport almost instantly. Clients loved him and colleagues enjoyed working with him. When he was hired, he was given autonomy. He grew his territory and set the company for the next year. He was prompt with targets weekly and was always right on with his CRM. He had independence because he had shown he was worthy. No one had to micromanage Jack. He was a sales manager’s dream. Somewhere around his second year, things began to change. The company had changes in management. The new management team had different styles and wanted to know Jack’s every move. Jack used his PTO and never left a day on the table. He requested to work from home often and seemed disengaged. He still produced and hit his targets, but something had changed. He was merely doing his job. How would you handle this situation with Jack?

Most employers would let the situation run its course and let Jack make the decision to leave and they’d replace him with a younger rep that they could pay less. But, what if Jack was behaving this way because of changes made in the company? What if Jack’s change was a direct response to the company’s behavior? How could the company save on the bottom line by approaching this in a way similar to education?

Let’s take a look at a different way to handle the employee’s behavior.

Jack’s direct manager scheduled a 1:1 meeting, weekly, and called it their Coffee Chat. At this first meeting, the manager notes that he has seen a definite decline in Jack’s attitude over the past few months. He also notes that, although, his numbers are still in the lead, he is concerned that Jack isn’t happy in his role. Jack shared that the company has changed its focus and he is no longer able to do his job effectively. He shared that this was frustrating and he had some ideas, but in the new structure felt he wouldn’t be heard. He felt that he was no longer trusted even after his years of service and positive track record. His manager shared that, as a valued member of the team, he would like to hear Jack’s concerns and talk about ways to improve his

position and relationship with the company. Their weekly meetings continued for 4 months. At each meeting, Jack shared the ways he felt the company could grow, ideas for innovation and change. Several of his ideas were taken to higher management, implemented and credit given to Jack. When Jack was hired, the team felt he would be motivating and forward thinking, qualities they were hoping to engage and hoping would be contagious. But, changes in structure stifled those qualities.

Imagine if Jack’s manager had taken a different route. What if he had dealt with Jack’s change in demeanor in a disciplinary tone? Eventually, one party would have terminated the relationship and the company would have lost all of their investment into this employee. By approaching the situation differently, the employer not only saved money, they created a stronger relationship with a star employee who continued to help grow the organization.

How can you work with and strengthen your team?

Value the people you have invested in and hear their concerns. This doesn’t weaken the authority of a leader, it, frankly strengthens it.

Be a leader, not just a manager.

Recognize changes in attitude or performance and attempt to address these changes in a positive, relationship based way.

Let people know they are valued by listening to their thoughts.

Ask for ideas from your team on how to solve problems. Chances are they have ideas and people are always more invested when they are a part of the solution.

Implement ideas where possible. Are there ways for you to be flexible without affecting the integrity of the company?

Remember, relationships are key in any organization. Your first interaction when dealing with a challenging employee should always be a relational approach. If a resolution cannot be developed, certainly move forward with what’s best for your company.

But, maybe, just maybe two world can learn from each other!

Happy leading…