Recently I had the privilege of attending a workshop presented by Patricia Latham Ball, a principal at Management Northwest, which is a legal resource for employers. Ball is a former Ada County (Idaho) Deputy Prosecutor in employment law who determined it would be more noble to help companies steer clear of trouble rather than prosecute them for getting into it.
One of the biggest problems in the workplace, according to Ball, is that two thirds of employees say that they are unhappy in their jobs, yet they have no avenue for voicing their concerns or lodging a complaint.
The reasons for employee unhappiness varies, but a primary root is that companies do not adhere to a defined set of standards. Some are too forgiving of employee misconduct, while others are managed by people who themselves overstep boundaries and could care less about rules.
"The result," according to Ball, "is that people have become more rude." And that rudeness is being tolerated within companies due to lax standards. After employees have been surrounded by rudeness for a while, it is quite easy for them to feel like they're being harassed.
Combine that with no clearly-defined avenue for them to complain about what they feel isn't right in their workplace, and their next logical step is to file a harassment claim.
Unfortunately, this chain of events creates even more problems for employers, because harassment claims are required to be investigated by the human rights commission.
I found myself nodding in agreement with Ball's description of this problem, and also with her solution: Managers need to be trained better in their roles and responsibilities as managers. They need to be proactive in training and equipping their own employees, to hold people to accountability, and to discipline employees who aren't performing.
But the responsibility for gaining skills to do those things does not rest with the managers. It's the leaders of an organization who must set expectations, provide the training, and also set the example by doing these very things with their supervisors and middle managers.
At the same time, I acknowledge that getting everyone on the same page and talking specifics about what's needing to be done can be a daunting management task. It requires a functional, user-friendly performance management system.
Unfortunately, most of what we see in performance management is static, annual performance reviews. Rare is the company that uses them, and even more rare is the company that uses them well. It's for this reason I've become a fan of what I consider to be an upcoming trend: Online, interactive performance management systems.
One such system that impresses me is KeyneLink from Keyne Insight (www.keyneinsight.com). It's a comprehensive, interactive approach to performance management that I think will have HR managers and business owners saying "Finally!"
Wayne Nelsen, the man who came up with the idea for KeyneLink, says that he wanted to create something beyond a static performance appraisal. "Most performance appraisals get glossed over and then ignored until the following year. But this system compels people to stay focused and accountable."
After seeing a demonstration of how it works, Nelson is not spouting hyperbole when he says that their "step-by-step implementation guide helps to ensure that no important stone is left unturned."
Nelsen's system is scalable for individuals, teams, departments, and even entire organizations. And, I have little doubt that this new approach to performance management will be commonplace in relatively short order. Systems like this are web-based and use automated email reminders, so they're not only accessible from anywhere, they take all the guesswork out of scheduling meetings and tracking progress.
Remember, the problem as presented by Ball is employees not feeling like they have an avenue to voice their concerns or lodge a complaint.
And her solution is spot on: If employees had regularly scheduled meetings with their managers and the core topics of those meetings covered all aspects of a person's job, wouldn't communication doors be open? And wouldn't employees have an avenue to discuss any injustices they might be sensing?
The problem as I see it is managers and leaders who won't take the time to implement such systems. Unfortunately, such neglect is akin to not doing maintenance on one's car or any other piece of equipment.
Pushing machinery to the limits for maximum production without taking time for maintenance always results (and I emphasize 'always') in worn-out machinery with significantly lower levels of production – or no production at all.
Bottom line, employers can steer clear of a lot of problems if they'll open up the avenues for ongoing, two-way communication. And the decision to do that must be made from the top.