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Coaching an Abrasive Leader

Joe is a very smart individual working at a tech firm. Joe is widely respected and is definitely the smartest person in the room. Joe can almost see the future – when ideas are shared in meetings, for example, he can see ten steps into the idea and predict with certainty whether it will work or not.

Unfortunately, Joe expressed a lot of frustration towards others, belittled people, publicly shamed them, and more. Many people had transferred to new departments to get away from Joe, and some even quit. After many attempts to help Joe change, Joe’s manager and the VP of HR sought out a coach.

After the first round of interviews, Joe and I reviewed his 14 pages of feedback. Examples of his feedback included, for example (actual feedback from Joe’s peers):

  • AGGRESSIVE BODY LANGUAGE: “It’s his tone of voice and body language – I’ve observed him doing it to others” and, “He raises his voice and hits things and makes crazy big grand gestures and he’s making a stink about it and its over trivial stuff”
  • PUBLICLY HUMILIATES/SHAMES OTHERS: “He’ll send emails telling you that you screwed up and he’ll cc others – it’s like do you really need to do that? And it makes him look bad instead of the person he’s saying screwed up,” and, “He does it all the time – every time this person said anything he’d undercut them – and everyone’s thinking, ‘he’s really trying to make them look stupid’”
  • BELITTLES/CONDESCENDING: “He gets emotional – he gets frustrated – he is emotionally unintelligent and gets snarky and belittling – it’s just a snarky remark that doesn’t add any value,” and, “He has to show he is right – to the point of actually saying, “that’s a stupid idea’”
  • DRIVES PEOPLE AWAY/PEOPLE AVOID HIM: “People say, ‘Joe ran me over, Joe bullies me, I’m too scared to bring this up to Joe,’” and, “Everyone that I work with avoids Joe, all my people have a special process for Joe and this really hurts his effectiveness.”

After three months of coaching Joe, I re-interviewed the same group of people. Feedback was much improved. For example (actual feedback from Joe’s peers):

  • CALMER/LESS INTENSE: “He seems to be more relaxed and there is more of a pleasant environment,” and, “I feel like he’s not intense anymore, I haven’t seen that for a while”
  • NOT REACTIVE: “When we are in large meetings he is not lashing out at people anymore,” and, “He even thinks more before he reacts – those emotions, he channels them much better.”
  • CONTRIBUTES RATHER THAN CONTROLS: “Now he throws it out like “here’s an idea” – and a lot of times they are good ideas and people are more receptive to what he has to say,” and, “He is a smart guy with good ideas but rather than injecting his ideas on everything all the time he seems to be picking and choosing appropriate times to interject his ideas”
  • INTERACTIONS ARE MORE POSITIVE: “He has been emailing the team and catching some bad mistakes across the board and he writes the emails appropriately and respectful,” and, “It seems like he’s trying to just have regular discussions and everything’s pretty smooth and everyone’s pretty happy.”

 Joe continues to use what he learned in coaching to forge more positive relationships. He’ll always feel strongly about his point of view, but he can now more effectively communicate his ideas.

Joe’s change is a triple win: He is more effective, the organization is more effective, and Joe’s manager and VP of HR can sleep much more soundly at night

Culture Change: From Disengagement to Engagement

We were called in to partner with the leader of an organization who supplements the foster care system in California with counseling and education. The organization was experiencing decreased morale, high turnover, and burn out. A recent employee engagement survey showed poor scores.

We conducted our own survey to understand the culture, and interviewed a random selection of employees. Among the 44 survey questions, the average percentage of people who marked “satisfied” or “very satisfied” was 55%. For example, 60% of people said they were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the information about how they were judged for performance, and 52% were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the way conflict among peers was resolved.

With our help, the administrator put together an action team made up of employees from different levels and departments, and together we created a series of strategic plans to change the culture. The plans included a variety of actions, such as creating core values and programs that would bring them to life, training for managers on performance conversations, a process for accepting suggestions and reporting out on their status, quarterly all-hands meetings, and re-creating the onboarding program. The administrator also cleared her schedule for three days to have one-on-ones, and spent much time working closely with the supervisors to improve their management skills.

After one year we conducted the assessment again. The responses improved on 100% of the survey questions, and across the 44 questions the average percentage of people who marked “satisfied” or “very satisfied” increased to 69% (up 14% from the previous year).

Several questions improved by more than 30%. For example, “I get the support and information I need from my supervisor to do my job well” increased from 50% to 87% (a 37% improvement from the previous year), and, “my supervisor creates a motivating and energizing workplace” increased from 37% to 71% (a 34% improvement). Regarding information about performance, mentioned above, scores increased to 81% (a 21% improvement) and scores on the question about conflict increased to 79% (a 27% improvement). Now, the administrator continues to work with her action team to sustain a positive culture.

Culture Change: Turning Around a Toxic Environment Causing Union Activity & a Failed Audit

Problem: A Culture of Bullying Resulted in Failing an Accreditation Audit

At an organization whose mission was to help people with disabilities thrive in the community, the workplace bullying had become rampant. The former CEO had apparently been a real bully himself; his leadership and personality style had dripped downward into the organization, and a culture of bullying and negativity ensued.

During an annual audit by the industry’s accrediting body the negative culture came to light – the organization failed miserably and was given two years to turn things around in a major way. Staff, providers of services, families and the community were devastated. Morale was low and union activity began.

The board of directors asked the CEO to step down, and they replaced him with a new CEO who was charged with ensuring the audit would be passed, and that the organization could be restored to its original glory. The CEO listened to her managers when they asked for help, tools and ideas for resolving the problem of bullying, and she knew culture change was the ultimate solution.

Solution: A Five-Step Plan for Change

The accrediting body’s timeframe for change was a lot of pressure for the CEO, and she decided it was in the best interests of the organization to bring in an expert to help her. She called upon Civility Partners, and together, they devised a five step plan:

  1. Train the leaders, managers and supervisors in driving culture change
  2. Create a culture committee made up of people from all levels of the organization
  3. Create a social vision that would drive the new culture
  4. Update the core values so that they resonated with the employees
  5. Develop a strategic plan around the new values

After a four-hour training on culture change, a committee was indeed created by asking for volunteers as well as assigning some key organizational champions. Using input gained through various exercises with employees, the social vision, “Enhancing Lives” was eventually created, and the old core values were replaced with new ones: Integrity, Communication, Accountability, Respect, Collaboration, Professionalism.

The CEO knew that culture change couldn’t stop there, so with coaching from Civility Partners in the background, she worked with her departments to develop action items around these new values. Ultimately a strategic plan was created so that the organization would stay on track for culture change.

Key Results: Passing the Audit with a Better Place to Work

Results of these initiatives included:

  • Passing the audit with flying colors
  • Union activity ceased
  • The two worst “bullies” quit six months into the initiative, meaning the worst of the resistance to change was out of the way
  • A new, more positive work environment could be felt throughout the organization

According to the CEO, “people are smiling and looking at one another. Laughter is heard in the halls. People are able to problem solve and reach a good resolution. It has taken over a year and we are becoming, once again, a good place to work.”

Training: Giving an Emergency Room the Tools to Resolve Bullying & Gossip

Problem: A Culture of Bullying and Snitching

The Emergency Department at a hospital in California was struggling, like many in the healthcare industry, with workplace bullying among nurses. Nursing is so rampant in the nursing field, in fact, that in the 80’s the term “nurses eat their young,” was coined and is still widely used today.

In addition to the culture of bullying, a culture of gossiping with others, and snitching on each other, had come to the surface. Anytime there was an interpersonal issue, nurses felt helpless to resolve it, so they reported it to the Head of the Emergency Department. Already stressed for time, the Head didn’t have time to counsel every single incident that was reported to him. He needed his staff to learn to stand up for themselves and each other, and to be able to resolve issues on their own. This would free up the Head to take care of his other responsibilities, and focus on resolving only the escalated complaints.

In addition, the union had become somewhat of a “bully” itself, in that the union representative often threatened union uproar.

Recognizing that the bullying was disrupting teamwork and could even put patients in danger, the CEO, Vice President of Human Resources, and Head of the Emergency Department collaborated to come up with ideas for resolution.

Solution: Training on Communication Skills That Had Been Lost in the Weeds

Desiring a positive outcome for all, and knowing that bullying can be a complicated tenuous problem, the hospital called on Civility Partners to bring their expertise and help them determine the best course of action. Together, they settled on running a training program that could instill some of the skills the staff had clearly lost as the negative culture had crept in and taken over.

It was decided that two different training programs would be offered – one for managers and one for employees.

The employee training program was two-hours, and covered the following three topics:

  1. What bullying is
  2. How to stand up for themselves and others
  3. Tools for positive communication (e.g., listening skills, giving feedback, conflict management, etc)

The employees were also charged with creating a set of ground rules for behaviors that they could hold each other (and themselves) accountable to. Each employee was also required to define a personal action plan for improvement in their own communication, and to turn that plan in to their manager. The manager and employee could then collaborate to solidify the plan, determine resources needed for that employee, and define key indicators of success.

The department head and his management team received a four-hour training on the following topics:

  1. Setting expectations with employees about behavior
  2. Coaching “bullies” in order to help them change their communication style and behavior
  3. Standing up for their employees and for themselves
  4. Holding employees accountable for this new behavior, and collaborating with the employees to ensure success on their individual action plans.

In addition to working with each employee on their individual action plans, the managers were charged with developing action items around the new ground rules the employees had developed in their own trainings.

These trainings were offered all throughout the day so that nurses from all shifts could attend.

Key Results: Improved Patient Care and a Change in the Environment

Results of this training initiative included:

  • Decreased union activity now that nurses were feeling more positive about their work environment
  • Increased job satisfaction due to a more positive culture
  • Increased trust in leadership; the nurses felt heard and that their concerns were being addressed
  • A more productive work environment as less time was spent on resolving conflict and bullying, and more time could be spent on patients and offering excellent care

The change in the work environment was so drastic, that the hospital invited Civility Partners back to offer training in two other departments where bullying had begun to take hold of the culture.

Countless Clients

Our work is often tailored to the exact needs of the business we’re partnering with. We can’t get all of our case studies online, so if you’d like to discuss your situation and learn more about how we can help, give us a call.

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