What Workarounds Have You Created?

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  • Case study: The making of a workaround (1:25)

  • If only he’d known… (5:35)

  • Why we create workarounds (6:30)

  • Why we shouldn’t create workarounds (7:50)

  • Getting rid of workarounds: START HERE (9:10)

  • Your turn… (10:45)

What Workarounds Have You Created?

Are you someone who creates workarounds to avoid having tough conversations?

Read on to learn why we create these workarounds, how they cost your organization, how your staff or team is affected (directly and indirectly), and how YOU hold the keys to a productive solution.

Case Study: The Making of a Workaround

A few years ago, I visited a small business to meet with the owner, who had called me for help with the company culture. In our initial call, he’d told me that there were frequent flare-ups between staff, and some of the long-term staff even refused to speak to the others.

He wanted to know if I could help turn things around because, frankly, he was burned out. He had tried staff offsites, he had tried pizza lunches, he had even tried an employee-of-the-month incentive for a parking spot. None of those worked, and he was sick and tired of trying to be the peacemaker.

When I arrived for our meeting, I walked into a lobby where a woman was busily working away behind the reception desk. She looked up at me and then … looked away. I knew she’d seen me, but she didn’t speak to me and turned back to her work.

Then a door opened to my left, and some other woman rushed into the lobby asking, “Can I help you?”

“Yes, thank you,” I said, “I’m here for an appointment with Mr. So-and-So.”

“Okay, okay, I’ll let him know,” said the woman who had appeared from behind the door, and then she disappeared just as quickly as she had arrived. During this exchange, the woman behind the reception desk continued to shuffle her papers.

When I was seated in the owner’s office a few minutes later, I said, “Hey, explain something to me. What is the situation with the receptionist?” He sighed and then said—

“Oh, yes, that’s Camille. She’s been here a long time. She used to be great, one of my greatest employees. But over the past few years, she’s had some struggles at home, and about four years ago, she just stopped being good with people. So, I decided that the workaround was to install a monitor on Lena’s desk – Lena’s a woman over in accounting – and whenever someone comes into the lobby, Lena gets a ding, sees them on the camera, and runs out to greet them. Lena is so much better with people than Camille and, for the most part, she’s a really good sport about it.”

With that, I was in absolute amazement. I couldn’t even get the words Hmm, that’s fascinating out of my mouth. And, obviously, the look on my face gave me away, because the owner said, “I know, I know…” in response to my expression, and he went on to say—

“But you’ve got to understand Camille. Every time I try to talk to her about her being better with the public, she just gets really angry and ends up crying. She then goes on to tell me how she’s been here the longest and how no one on the staff cares as much about the company as she does. And honestly, I feel so bad about the trouble she’s had at home that I just don’t want to add any more stress.”

I interrupted him to ask, “You mean the trouble that happened five years ago?”

“Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, it’s been awhile now, and things at home are better for her, but honestly, I just cannot deal with her crying and ranting and raving every time I try to bring up her performance. It’s just easier to have Lena greet new people.”

Easier for who? I thought, but it was a little early for me to be that direct with this new, not-even-yet client.

If Only He’d Known...

It was not surprising to me that the other members of his staff were feeling bitter and resentful.

If this business owner had already learned the skills of Navigating Challenging Dialogue, let me tell you something: He would have been able to hold Camille accountable instead of allowing her to create a time-wasting, drama-filled response AND he would’ve saved his organization time and money by not having to create these workarounds for Camille.

And had he been able to speak his truth with empathy, compassion, and a focus on what’s in the best interest of the whole, the rest of his staff would not have been experiencing poor morale.

Why We Create Workarounds

Business owners – like this particular now-client of Beth Wonson & Company – want to believe that they create workarounds to protect their employees. But actually, here’s the truth—

We create workarounds to protect ourselves.

None of us love the idea of making another person feel uncomfortable, and Camille would probably experience discomfort if spoken to truthfully with empathy and compassion, particularly with the idea that: “Hey, Camille, you have to perform the duties of this position, because when those duties are fulfilled, it supports the success of the entire company.”

However, it’s only through an honest, fact-based conversation that someone like Camille can make a choice about how she wants to show up in the position, and also realize how the choice she makes to show up in the position, or not, will have natural and logical consequences.

Why We Shouldn’t Create Workarounds

In addition to the loss of time and money through drama, redirected tasks, interruptions, and convoluted workflows, there’s the impact that those things have on the rest of the team or organization.

When a leader chooses to create workarounds to avoid having tough dialogue, the impact on the rest of the staff is significant, and I can see the symptoms:

  • Sarcastic comments get passed around with an “Oh, I was just kidding.”

  • A lack of sharing important information

  • People feel left out when they’re not offered invitations to events

and the worst one, which I see time and time again, is when…

  • Jokes are made behind the person’s back, and all the other kinds of insider-clubby stuff

As you can imagine, the jokes being told in the accounting department about Camille’s lack of showing up in her position were pretty … significant.

Getting Rid of Workarounds: START HERE

All of these things – and more – are ways that anger and resentment get expressed indirectly and feed the negative office culture.

There’s not much I can do to help with the culture of a team or organization UNLESS the owner or team leader…

  • Is willing to look at how they avoid discomfort

  • Establishes a no-workarounds norm

  • Learns to navigate challenging dialogue with clarity, in a clean way, and with fact-based communication

  • Is willing to become vulnerable so they can build the skills to be empathetic while still requiring that employees show up and do their work in ways that support the greater good

  • Is willing to rebuild the reciprocity of trust – which is built one positive communication at a time, and one action at a time

And ultimately, unless the leader…

  • Understands that they must first manage themselves in a way that models the behaviors they desire in others

Your Turn...

Take a minute right now to ponder and consider where in your life you have created complex workarounds because what you really want to do is avoid the discomfort you might feel when you have a direct, honest, open, and empathetic conversation.

I look forward to connecting with you in the Navigating Challenging Dialogue online community on Facebook or seeing you in one of the three levels of workshops that we have coming up!

Until next time!

- Beth