Power to the people

I wanted today to write about an experience I had recently working with a client. This client is a commercial operator, so in one sense we were also playing in a different paddock, as 99% our work in the past ten years has been with nonprofit providers.

The client is a family owned business with a professional management team. The owners wanted the management team to implement immediate production cuts to ease an overstocking situation. A typical response, attack the symptom and disregard the root cause of the problem.

When invited to provide guidance and advice my immediate response was that it wasn’t a problem; rather an opportunity. Here was an opportunity for the management team to show leadership and engage with staff – in particular those staff most impacted upon by the production cutbacks.

Over a couple of weeks I worked with the management group and guided them through a process of understanding their feelings and emotions (SARA – see much earlier blog), understanding those feelings were normal and moving to a point of acceptance; whereby they could start to contribute to a solution.

Once the management group had worked through how they felt and were united as a team they were able to move forward with their staff. Instead of presenting an angry reaction to staff, the management team presented themselves as balanced, rational and reasoned.

The next stage was to engage the staff. My proposal to the management team was that those most impacted upon by the cutbacks were the ones most able to identify and implement a solution. I also proposed that by engaging staff in the decision making, the management team didn’t have to ‘tell’ staff the bad news and didn’t have to ‘sell’ the solution to the staff.

At a all of staff briefing the staff were bought up to date – honestly and with complete transparency – no finger pointing, no butt covering – just facts on the table, supported by evidence and an invitation to discuss amongst themselves possible solutions. The managers provided support by listening and providing advice in a non-judgmental manner.

Within 48 hours those staff had devised their own solution and begun to offer suggestions on how to attack the root cause of the problem. Each staff member worked through their emotions, in their own way and supported by their manager. Staff were also offered independent mentoring and its a sign of their own capabilities that few required this.

Yes, the management team still have to work with the owners on the root cause of the problem. That process is underway at present. It won’t be easy. Working with the owners of a family owned business is never easy. The owners incentives and motivations are very different to those of their paid employees.

I am confident that that management group have developed some skills and have framework within which to conduct these ongoing discussions and they have had the common sense to engage a neutral external advisor – someone to help take the heat out of things. I am confident the two groups will discover that they all want the same thing and that it is possible to achieve that – even from different perspectives.

There are lessons in this case study for every management group – even those in the nonprofit sector.

Those are my thoughts for the day.

Let The Journey Continue

John Coxon



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
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