Copyright of the U.S. National Archives via Flickr

Copyright of the U.S. National Archives via Flickr

As an OD consultant, I’ve found that firms many times have their heads in the sand. Even after receiving third party feedback, they sometimes engage in denial, blame, and share a disinclination to act. Blaming employees for being “problems” (and subsequently refusing to acknowledge contrary evidence) is insanity – the definition of which is doing the same thing and expecting different results.

Before you decide to designate “problems,” take a step back and consider why there are occurring. What are you doing/failing to do that’s creating the unwanted result? Controlling what’s under your purview (e.g., your thoughts, attitudes, and resulting behavior) is probably a good starting place. Problem resolution must be a multiparty, fact finding approach, instead of an ambush that leaves employees holding the bag.

When issues arise, the first thing to investigate is an institutional cause. People want to do a good job, and typically perform their best within organizational constraints. Could there be better procedures, more frequent communication, hands on seminars, “expert” presentations, solicitation of feedback, and in general, what’s considered an atmosphere of “community?” Problems in many cases radiate outward from the person stating there are sticking points.


To prevent “problems” from occurring:

  • Be present. Sam Walton rode with drivers, learned their issues, listened to their stories, and created camaraderie. They felt comfortable sharing with him – which is not how workers feel who dread punishment. People don’t do their best when they feel shame-faced. Keep the lines of communication open by appearing approachable.
  • Don’t feed workers to the wolves. Championing someone’s cause (and running the opposite direction when things awry) will not spark new invention. Going to bat (a primary component of consideration) will be appreciated by the recipient.
  • Look at both sides of the story. People (especially complainers) approach issues from their personal agendas – which can include retaliation. Launching into panic mode when someone says “peep” is an ineffective mode of governance. “When you do not speak, other people presume you to be deaf or feeble-minded, and promptly make a show of their limitations” [The Poisonwood Bible].
  • Provide training. Punishment following a proclamation of “go forth and do” (absent reinforcement), will squash innovation. Breakthroughs result from incremental, trial and error methods that should be nurtured to fruition.
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All viewpoints expressed by Jackie Gilbert are her own, and not of her employer.

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One Response
  1. In an effort to encourage listening as a way to hear all issues and angles involved, each employee was recently given a small desk sized sign for their office. The sign reads, “Be Here Now”. I have mine to the left of my desk so that any time someone enters my office, I must turn around to see them. And, in that action, I can see my reminder to take a step back, be still and listen.

  2. Paula Mansfield on February 11th, 2014 at 10:21 pm