You started your business because you enjoyed X and thought you could make a buck at it. And you were right, you've made a buck at it.
So today you have 100 employees all working on X. That’s great, except for one thing. You no longer get to work on X. Instead, you’re now a full-time manager of people.
Those 100 folks represent 4,950 one-on-one relationships. (I shared the equation for this calculation (N(N-1)/2) back in post #40 - Snot Nosed Peers.) So you spend your days trying to keep all this humanity humming along in the same approximate direction.
But there are bumps. Some are well-intentioned bumps. People that hold passionate informed opinions will clash at times. That’s OK. That’s the crucible of feedback we talked about in post #13 - Feedback. Legitimate disagreements that can sharpen ideas and make them better.
And then there are bumps without good intentions. Folks just tend to not get along sometimes.
Which means, as the business owner, you end up refereeing both of these kinds of bumps. And since that role kind of sucks, I’ve created a list of rules for you to play by to simplify your life. And the key point to remember isn’t that these are amazing rules - they’re pretty basic stuff. The real key is jumping on violations immediately and consistently. Snuffing the crap out before it takes hold. That’s the mark of a great manger / business owner.
Rule #1: The owner must not be the one creating the bumps.
If you, the owner, are the drama creator, then I have no advice for you. You deserve the culture and the turnover you’re enabling.
Rule #2: Do not tolerate permanent negative character assassinations.
“You're a stubborn, disrespectful, know-it-all!”
This is bad. It labels the persons character in a permanent sounding way. Rational conversation is now out the window. The attacked person is either going to walk away, get defensive, or come back with guns blazing.
When you hear this kind of talk you have to shut the offender down immediately. Take them off to the side and share with them this better way to express their frustration.
“You're being stubborn and disrespectful and acting like you know it all.”
The conversation is now about behaviors tied to the current event rather than bashing someone’s permanent character. Which is a big difference.
Force folks to play this way or to keep their complaints to themselves.
And after the tension has died down, I’d also suggest you invite the offender into your office for a one-on-one. A quick session to reinforce that this crap must end. And I’d only ask them one question - “How do you win by behaving this way?”
And the answer is - assuming you’re a great manager that isn’t going to allow this crap in the future - they can’t.
Rule #3: One crime, one prosecution.
You can’t prosecute a person more than once for the same offense.
They screwed up.
They sincerely apologized.
They’re now doing good work.
Everyone moves on - happy for the growth.
But wait, they screwed up, let’s talk about that some more.
We know Sarah made a mess in the lunch room and failed to clean it up - 7 years ago. But we've already tortured her for that and she’s now a lunch room clean freak.
There's no value in collecting old missteps and continuing to flog them. The second the accuser tries to re-litigate the past you have to shut them down. The person with the work to do in this situation is the accuser - not Susan. So ask them why they’re unable to move forward.
Make them tell you how they win by behaving this way?
Rule #4: Lashing out is never OK.
Research shows that people who lash out tend to get even angrier.
They don’t blow off their steam and move forward with a cleansed mind.
Here’s a quote on the topic from one of my favorite books - Mistakes Were Made But Not By Me.
“Decades of experimental research have found…when people vent their feelings aggressively, they often feel worse, pump up their blood pressure, and make themselves even angrier.”
So basically they become a more practiced lasher outer - not a skill you want more of in your shop. Which means you need to send their ass home immediately.
Sure, everyone might lose it a few times in their life. We have no idea what kinds of stresses folks are dealing with in their outside world. But you cannot allow this to happen at work. You’re liable for the reactions and repercussions and escalations and it’s too risky.
Let them back in the building when they can explain to you how they win by behaving this way.
And the only acceptable answer is - there is no possible way for them to win by behaving this way.
Rule #5: Outlaw the use of sweeping language.
“EVERYONE knows he’s disrespectful.”
“He NEVER carries his weight on a project.”
“She ALWAYS takes credit for others work.”
This is garbage. Stop the person mid-sentence and ask them for clarification. They must either change their language or prove that reality is really so extreme. In most cases EVERYONE will turn into 1 or 2 people.
And don’t forget to ask them how they win by inflating their language this way.
Rule #6: Lots of smoke does not equal fire.
Certain folks like to keep mental lists of how they've been wronged by a person or department or company.
Don't be impressed by the length of the list. A long list only proves that the person is a great list maker. It doesn't make any item on the list more true.
And don’t let them get away with implying that “where there’s smoke there’s fire”. All you can know for sure is that where there’s smoke there’s smoke.
Take the time - once - to carefully check each item on the list. Address legitimate issues and then agree that the list must die. It’s done. It’s been given attention and now it goes bye bye.
And think about this question. Do your best employees cling to lists of times they feel they’ve been wronged? Don’t healthy employees air their issues in a timely and constructive manner and move on?
How do they win by behaving this way?
Rule #7: Don’t get sucked into arguments that require a time machine to fix.
Per rule #6 above, folks that drag lists with them tend to love the past. Often times they’re fixated on turning back time.
Do not let the conversation turn to what happened at the sales meeting back in 2008. People can’t accurately tell you what they said five minutes ago, but they’ll swear up and down that their memory from 10 years ago is spot on. And remember that frightening book - Mistake Were Made But Not By Me - I told you about back in post #28 - Purge Wrong Stories. Where we learned that folks will go to pretty much any means to make themselves right. That they’ll conveniently forget evidence that refutes their point. That they’ll “accidentally” make stuff up.
It’s frightening and it’s a massive waste of time.
If past management didn’t handle the situation correctly back in the day, that’s not something we can fix today. Make the attacker prove to you that there's something to be gained by going back and discussing past issues without context. How do you win by re-living this zero context experience yet again?
I have even more of these wonderful memories from my past management days, and I’ll continue sharing them with you next time…
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