Developing human capital

Mary and her manager, Paul, are meeting to discuss Paul’s concerns about the level of turnover in Mary’s workgroup and the impact this is having on the group’s ability to achieve program outcomes. Paul explains to Mary that he began to notice the number of cases of conflict throughout the organisation appeared to be increasing and as a result he started to look deeper into the situation. Paul explained that he had examined the turnover records and compared the level of turnover for the past eighteen months with earlier periods and that turnover for the current period was almost 50% higher overall and that the majority of staff leaving were leaving programs that are within Mary’s ambit. Paul explained his concerns as to the ability of Mary’s group to achieve their program outcomes and invited Mary to work with him to help resolve the issue.

Notice the first two most important things. Paul had done his homework prior to meeting with Mary. In is way he is presenting Mary with evidence and Mary is left in no doubt as of the validity of that evidence. It means both Paul and Mary are working towards the same outcome. There is no confusion. Paul also explained his concern about the impact the staff turnover was having. Again Paul keeps the focus on what needs to be achieved rather than what has gone wrong. Paul invites Mary to work with him in a collaborative manner. This is leadership. Paul doesn’t waste time pointing the finger of blame at anyone. The past is gone, it cannot be changed. Focus only on the future.  In extending an invitation to Mary, Paul is making it clear he wants the staff to see him and Mary working as a team.

Mary concurs with Paul’s observations and thanks him for bringing his concerns to her attention. Mary also expresses her desire to work collaboratively with Paul on this issue. This is an important part of the conversation. Paul needs to know that Mary understands his concerns and shares his desire to solve the issue. Together Paul and Mary explore their options. They both agree on the need to identify the cause of the problem. They agree that the turnover and low moral  are only symptoms of the root cause. Paul suggests he contact those that have left in the past six months and ask them to discuss what it is that would have lead to them remaining on board. Mary suggests she meet with her existing staff, take Paul’s findings to them and seek ideas from them as to what is contributing to the level of dissatisfaction.

Paul and Mary are focussing on the future. Paul doesn’t want to know why people left, he wants to know what would have caused people to stay. There is a big difference. The things that would have caused past staff to remain may be the things that are missing for the existing staff. Mary is also focused on the future.

Mary meets with her staff in small groups. She mixes the groups up by bringing together people from different programs and functions. Mary continues with the model established by Paul and herself. Mary provides to her work groups the same evidence Paul provided to her. Mary explains the impact of the situation and Mary invites her staff to work with her in a collaborative manner. Mary goes a step further and informs her staff that neither she or Paul are interested in allocating blame; that their focus is on identifying the root cause of the problem and eliminating the cause. Mary then hands out a suggestion form to each staff member and invites them to take some time to consider what it is they need to have in place to ensure they remain with the organisation and to ensure those joining remain also.

Mary has continued the process established by Paul and herself. Mary has provided her staff with information to enable them to become involved in the process and contribute to the solution. By empowering her staff in this manner Mary is enabling them to create the solution for the future. This will achieve maximum buy-in by staff and avoid the need for Mary to ‘sell’ a solution.

Mary is not concerned about staff talking amongst themselves. In fact, Mary wants to encourage this. By providing her staff with the data to support Paul’s concerns Mary has filled in the gaps. Any conversation amongst her staff can only be positive. There will not be any negative rumour mongering as they have the information to work with. There will not be any personal conflicts because they understand Mary’s focus is entirely on removing the root cause of the issue; not on allocating blame to any one person, therefore there is no need to engage in activities designed to cover one’s backside.

Mary’s staff begins to come back to her with ideas. Each idea is written onto a suggestion sheet and after a period of time Mary summarises all the ideas and then redistributes them amongst her staff, for all to see and comment upon. All feedback is anonymous. The focus is on the future of the team rather than any individual person. Mary meets with Paul to compare her feedback with that from recently departed employees. Now Paul and Mary have a wide variety of information to enable them to identify what is at the heart of the problem.

Now we can hear the doubting Thomas’s amongst you saying. This is all too perfect. What if the staff failed to provide any ideas and suggestions? What if the feedback didn’t help identify the root cause of the problem? No one ever said this would be easy, did they? It is the process that is critical at this stage. Consider this. Had you not obtained the original data, had you not sought feedback from past and present staff, would you be any wiser? It is possible, though unlikely, that staff would not provide feedback. They have every reason to do so. In the unlikely event this were to occur then Mary would need to return to her staff, explain there had been no feedback, and engage in a series of one-to-one conversations designed to obtain feedback.

Paul and Mary take time to analyse the feedback. They look for gaps in their knowledge. They seek answers to any new questions. They prioritise what can be done given available resources. They then return, together, to talk to Mary’s staff. They outline the feedback and their understanding of the feedback and they outline what can be achieved with available resources. They then invite staff to read through the findings, consider the options and return for a group discussion on how to move forward.

Neither Paul nor Mary seek to impose a solution. It isn’t necessary to do so. They have engaged all their staff in this process. This is leadership. Paul and Mary are effectively managing the resources available to them. A decision will evolve through the process of discussion and agreement. Again, Paul and Mary have provided their staff with additional information to enable them to help create a solution.

What was the outcome? It doesn’t matter at this point. This is a fictional case study. The outcome is not as important as the process. What we can know for sure is that Paul and Mary would have achieved a satisfactory outcome. There was no other option. When you enable your people to think and participate then the only outcome is a solution that the majority can live with. As a manager you need to be able to overcome your fear of being seen to ‘not be in control’. At no stage were Paul or Mary out of control. They simply interchanged the role of leader and manager. They understood that some decisions, only a few, need to be imposed. Other decisions are best made through collaborative discussion and action. In doing so, Paul and Mary are utilising the social capital available to them while at the same time building the emotional intelligence and spiritual intelligence of the people on their team. You can do the same.

This management tip has been brought to you compliments of John Coxon & Associates. We work with management teams and managers in the health sector and not for profit sector in Australia and New Zealand to help develop leadership capacity and management competencies. We achieve this through consulting, management coaching and professional development opportunities. Telephone Australia (03)5561 2228 or NZ (0210) 541 464. Email or go to our website at or Please feel free to pass this information onto anyone you feel may benefit. Should you feel the need for further help with workplace stress or any other management issue please do not hesitate to contact us to discuss the options available.



About John Coxon

Principal consultant for John Coxon & Associates, a management consultancy working with boards and management teams in healthcare, aged care and not for profit organisations to develop effective strategic planning processes and social enterprise business plans
This entry was posted in Management tips. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s