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Managers need to hear candid opinions to make the best decisions. But they can’t wait for “dissent to come to them,” says Michael A. Roberto, an assistant professor at the Harvard Business School and author of
Why Great Leaders Don’t Take Yes for an Answer (Wharton School Publishing, 2005). “They must actively go seek it out in their organizations.”
Roberto has found that when people are uncomfortable expressing dissent, they don’t test important assumptions and don’t bring up creative alternatives. The results may be fatal—literally, as NASA found out when it dissected what went wrong in 2003 when the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated while returning to earth. Because key employees didn’t feel comfortable voicing concerns directly to upper management during the shuttle’s space flight, NASA didn’t delve into problems while the shuttle was still aloft. Roberto also examines myths about decision-making, such as the belief that intellect, not emotion, rules decisions, or the belief that the CEO makes the decisions. He looks at the pitfalls of conflict and dissent, including defensiveness, friction and lack of buy-in. He notes that leaders too often seek the right solution when they should back up and seek the right process for reaching a solution. A toolkit for encouraging divergent thinking introduces role-playing, point-counterpoint discussions and giving a formal role to “devil’s advocates.”
Get Them On Your Side, (Platinum Press, 2005), Samuel B. Bacharach, director of Cornell University’s Institute for Workplace Studies, says that even someone who is “not obviously powerful in the organization” can succeed by developing political competence—the ability to see what can and can’t be controlled, to anticipate resistance, to decide when to act, and to identify allies. The first step is to “map the political terrain” by analyzing people’s goals and approaches to help anticipate what they’ll do when you present an idea. Are they tinkerers—people who prefer incremental change? Or are they overhaulers, who go for broader goals and fundamental change? Are their approaches focused on planning, with well-defined roles, plans and statistics? Or do they improvise, assessing what others do and then reacting? Traditionalists, for example, combine tinkering and planning in their cautious, experience-based ways. Adjusters see change as inevitable, and they combine tinkering with improvisation, reacting to change as it comes. Developers focus on keeping operations efficient, and they combine an overhauling outlook with a planning style; they are proactive but keep to specific goals. By unlocking people’s agendas, you can identify potential allies and resisters.
A new training program from VitalSmarts LLC (www.vitalsmarts.com), Crucial Confrontations, is a step-by-step management training program designed to help improve work performance and enhance accountability. Crucial Confrontations training combines 14 hours of classroom time with more than 100 original video clips and examples of work situations that are managed both poorly and well. The course includes frequent role-playing, intense class participation, personal reflection, planning and follow-up resources. Crucial Confrontations joins its counterpart, Crucial Conversations, to offer employers focused training solutions for confronting chronic management and workforce problems that tend to bog down organizations and keep workers from reaching their full potential. The training programs are offered regularly as two-day courses, and VitalSmarts also provides a “train the trainer” program so that in-house trainers can be certified to conduct training courses within their organizations.
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