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Friday, February 12, 2016

How to Avoid Avoidance

     “I never listen to the readers. All they ever do is (complain).”
     I heard that comment from an editor back when I was in the news business; it’s been a handy start to conversations about customer service ever since.
     In a broader context, it shines the light on a deadlier failure, that of management, in the corrosive practice of ignoring/avoiding problems.

     I got the “benefit” of a double whammy in this regard once. I was working for a man who insisted on keeping decision-making in his own hands, which made his say-so a requirement for any staff response to whatever might come up.
    One morning he didn’t even pause as I attempted to get an answer to a rather minor matter that, if neglected, was capable of disproportionately messing up our day. “I’m going to a meeting,” he said as he walked away.
     He brushed aside both my interruption and the original issue. Any old decision probably would have made it go away; instead, the staff was tangled up for a couple of hours.

     How much of that “management” does it take to destroy productivity and drive away quality employes? And the editor who ignored his readers? The damage from stonewalling your end users that way can be unknowable, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be considerable.
     You can understand how that sort of thing comes about. It’s no fun when things are painfully not the way they’re supposed to be. Avoiding the discomfort is a perfectly human reaction.
     But it’s not management.
     And it can be extremely costly. Avoidance makes the situation worse for the system, for quality performance . . . and for whomever is stuck with the result.
     Often, the manager who is responsible doesn’t have to put up with the consequences. The powerless worker bees do. The incompetent decision-maker might well prefer a flawed system and a sour staff to the perceived pain or inconvenience of engaging the problem.
     There’s a lot of this going around, quite likely in an organization near you. Solving the problems of the system and the processes is a primary management responsibility, but managers and executives often are insulated from the bad situations they create and/or allow.

     So, do you have to have nerves of steel and skin of rawhide to deal with bumps in the road? No. What if the issue is the Number One fear of many people: Personal conflict? Again no.
     Projects are especially stressed to start with, but the same realities apply.
     While the competent project manager will inevitably need courage and firmness on occasion, mature management employs preparation and prevention to eliminate most of the circumstances that spawn problems. It also has the internal capacity to manage the personal issues.
     Managers of lesser skills and commitment just let things lie there.    
     Engaging variances well is both harder and easier than just sailing along and taking whatever lumps you – and your staff and organization – encounter. This is real management.
     How? Preparation.
     In projects, for example, it starts very early, and it starts with the project managers. To succeed, they engage right off the bat – externally with key stakeholders and internally with their own personal skills and attitudes.    
     There is no plan yet, and no team members. At this point, it’s all about intention. And politics, if you’ll pardon the expression.

     They are always ready, and they act on the spot because they equip themselves to do so. A project manager is appointed for a reason. The moment of appointment is the moment for him/her to find out just what that reason is, and test its firmness.
      Is there commitment at the organizational management level strong enough to empower this project? Is there a clear consensus among the stakeholder leaders as to what the project is intended to achieve? What will it take?
     It needs resources, both human and other, and it needs executive muscle to ensure middle-management backing, so people assigned to their projects show up and perform when and as the projects need them.
     It also needs competent implementation of the essentials of project management: Full, thoroughly informed consensus about the circumstances, issues, stakeholders, goal, objectives, assumptions, risks and intended return on investment.
     Anchoring all that in place up front is the prime responsibility of the lead actor.

     In the broader context of business and life, the same holds true. We need to be ready to engage our world and whatever it has to offer.
     This professional level of preparation eliminates many potential sources of problems – leaving a lot less to tempt avoidance – and reduces the severity of the disagreements that do arise.
     There still, of course, will be times when uncomfortable issues must be engaged, and there will be opposition. Voices may be raised and regrettable things said.
     The prepared project manager knows there will be such moments. That knowledge underlies preparation. But the good leader has confidence in the solidity of the plan and the team.
     This leader also has faith in his/her own ability to remain calmly on the ball when emotions are running high. As necessary, you can build such faith through a conscious personal program of study and practice. This is a professional necessity.
     You’re ready mentally. You act decisively, with firmness and flexibility. You provide the way, and you neither fuel the fire nor ignore it.

     While you can rarely handle the entire matter yourself, you have made yourself a good friend and a competent delegator/leader as well as an outstanding performer.
     That kind of behavior is contagious, as is its opposite. You avoid avoidance by engaging and resolving issues. You don’t practice avoidance and you don’t promote it. It never comes up. 

     How about you? What are your anti-avoidance practice (and stories)? Join in with a comment below.

SEE ALSO:
How to Handle Conflict
http://jimmillikenproject.blogspot.com/2013/05/how-to-handle-conflict.html

    

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