Posted on April 16, 2019 at 9:09 AM by Josh Yaworski
Posted on October 18, 2018 at 9:29 AM by Josh Yaworski
By Melanie Lockwood Herman
Few things are more frustrating in the workplace than feeling unheard, especially when it comes to sensitive matters such as interpersonal workplace conflicts. And according to a survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management, “respectful treatment of all employees at all levels” is the number one contributor to overall job satisfaction. (See www.shrm.org/Research/ SurveyFindings/Documents/2015-Job- Satisfaction-and-Engagement-Report- Executive-Summary.pdf)
Did you know that unaddressed workplace conflicts waste, on average, eight hours of time spent on gossip and other unproductive, mission-draining activities? That calculation was made by Joseph Grenny, co-author of Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High (See “How to Resolve Workplace Conflicts,” HR Magazine, Society for Human Resource Management). And other studies show that non-profit sector employees have especially high expectations of their employers; they not only value fair treatment, they expect it. As stewards of both the mission of the non-profit and its financial resources, non-profit leaders arguably have moral, ethical and fiduciary responsibilities to address inevitable conflicts in the workplace.
The Blame Game
The causes of workplace conflict are as diverse as the people who typically work in an organization. They include:
Misinterpreted intentions—Conflicts sometimes arise when one employee ascribes meaning or intent to the actions of another. From leaving someone off the list of meeting invitees, to assigning a plum project to a new, instead of veteran team member, many staff assume ill intentions lurk behind the possibly innocent actions of their peers or supervisors.
Diverse backgrounds—When colleagues bring different upbringings and life experiences to their work, the potential for creative solutions increases. But the likelihood of conflicting views increases as well.
Varied communication styles—Some team members prefer face-to-face or telephone conversations to ensure clarity around shared goals and the division of labor, while others believe that putting everything in a written email creates a helpful cyber trail of the conversation and commitments.
Differing priorities—It would be a rare day in the life of a non-profit if everyone on staff was in exact agreement about the priorities for the day, the week, the month or the fiscal year. Add to that differences of opinion about how the non-profit should spend its financial resources.
Lack of trust—Some staff are naturally trusting, while others wait until a co-worker has earned their trust. Leaders may model trust by giving staff leeway and flexibility to accomplish important projects, or unknowingly dampen trust by micromanaging their direct reports.
While the issues above should create strength that fortifies a non-profit mission, they too often lead to irreparable breakdowns, missed opportunities to collaborate, and suboptimal workplace morale. Together these issues create a dysfunctional workplace culture.
Collaborative Cultures Reduce Unproductive Conflict
Certainly, a collaborative and open culture can help prevent damaging disputes by encouraging non-profit colleagues to discuss their disagreements directly and productively. So, a logical first step in reducing the risk of unproductive conflict is to focus on fostering a culture that promotes open communication and healthy, well-managed conflict. Nurturing a culture that is good but could be better, may feel within reach. But how can leaders fix a culture that is broken or dysfunctional?
The research of Jay W. Lorsch and Emily McTigue at the Harvard Business School suggests that culture isn’t something leaders ‘fix.’ Instead, “cultural change is what you get after you’ve put new processes or structures in place to tackle tough business challenges… The culture evolves as you do that important work.” (See “Culture Is Not the Culprit,” Harvard Business Review, April 2016.)
Six Strategies to Surmount Conflict
Adopt an on open mind—instead of open door—policy. Although many non-profit executives tout their ‘open door policy,’ many open door policies exist in name only. Too many execs who boast that their door is always open are perceived as disinterested, disconnected and unavailable by the staff who need really them. Instead of posting or boasting about an open door policy, strive to be the leader everyone wants to speak to. Instead of waiting for staff to cross your office threshold, walk down the hall and across others’ thresholds to solicit ideas from everyone on your team. It is human nature to want to be asked: “What do you think?” Be the learning, growing, evolving leader your mission needs, and not the know-it-all boss who tells people what to do and how to think.
Invite dissent and teach your team how to disagree respectfully. The word dissent has an unfair, bad rap. The simple definition is: “holding opinions at variance with those previously, commonly or officially held.” Every non-profit mission needs the fuel and fire that dissent offers. When everyone is on the same page’ or of like minds it may feel good, but there’s a big chance you’re missing an even bigger opportunity. When a staff member dissents in an impolite manner, such as by saying, “that’s dumb,” give them an immediate chance to rephrase, such as “Wouldn’t it be fun if we tried the exact opposite…”
Model trust by being the most trusting boss. Parenting experts say that children take their cues from what parents do, and not what they say. Grown up employees are the same. When a boss lives by the values of respect, kindness and trust, don’t be surprised when her direct reports do the same. To become the boss who trusts and inspires trust, try substituting detailed instructions about how to do something, with guidance and coaching about the important goals of a project. When an employee’s efforts fall short, or the team experiences failure, take time to talk about what was learned and how you’ll incorporate those lessons in the next project.
Never, ever let hurt feelings fester. Wounded egos and hurt feelings never heal when they are buried or hidden. Feelings soon turn into actions, from ignoring a co-worker to deliberate sabotage. An employee who harbors resentment against others is incapable of doing their best work. No matter how they try, those feelings interfere with everything they do at work, and worse, those feelings accompany them home and may cause medical issues and sleep disturbances. As a leader, if you sense or hear about hurt feelings in the workplace, bring the parties together without delay. If necessary, explain that disagreeing about a substantive issue may be ok, but professionalism and being kind and respectful are required 100% of the time and it is never acceptable to ignore or sabotage a co-worker.
Bring resource-related conflict to the forefront. Jealousy about the allocation of resources is the source of many workplace conflicts. Funding, office space, and new positions are sometimes unfairly allocated. Sometimes, it is due to complaining parties simply not making a case for additional resources.
Coach, train and repeat. Few employees are naturally equipped to deal with the myriad conflicts that arise in the workplace. And if you’ve ever witnessed a poorly handled disagreement (employees yelling at each other or being openly disrespectful), it is hard to imagine that was anyone’s intent. Just as we learn job skills by doing them, we also need practice to learn how to face up to conflict, nip hurt feelings in the bud, and reach common ground together.
The next time you sense conflict brewing at your non-profit, bring your team together for a candid chat about nurturing productive dialogue. Your team may love the strategies described above, or they may bring other ideas to the table that better suit the cultural nuances of your non-profit. Either way, address conflicts directly, in a timely fashion, and with respect to all the minds around the table.
By Donna Lockhart
Finding volunteers is hard enough for most organizations these days, and keeping them is equally challenging. Most organizations do not track volunteer retention rates. They seem to know, however, that volunteers appear to be staying for shorter periods of time. Most do not ask why volunteers leave. Research shows that volunteers are indeed staying for shorter periods of time, as well as committing fewer hours when they are volunteering. This "episodic" phenomenon has become commonplace. Is your organization responding to this in your job design? Or are you ignoring it, hoping that those dedicated long-term volunteers are still out there but just hiding for the time being...they will resurface, won't they?
I get constant questions from many organizations about keeping or retaining volunteers. We need to pay attention when we consider engaging new volunteers so they stay beyond the orientation, as well as nurturing the existing volunteers. "I spend all this time recruiting, orienting and supporting volunteers...but they are just not staying with us. Sometimes they don’t show up for their first shift, or if they do, they do it and then we never hear from them again." Or this scenario: "I spend all this time getting volunteers, only to have other volunteers or staff say something/mistreat them and they are gone."
In the last article, I talked about recruitment, which is a process. Although recruitment and retention are very clearly connected, retention is an outcome, not a task, like recruitment. Retention happens when successful recruitment strategies - fitting the right person with an opportunity - align with internal supportive strategies. What does it take to make this happen?
Three ideas to improve volunteer retention
Number one. Keep a list of the reasons your volunteers leave so you know whether it was something you could or could not control. There are many things we cannot control. Retention is a very individual and complex thing. Volunteers leave for a variety of reasons, such as moving away and job changes. They don’t stay forever no matter what you do, and they are staying for shorter periods of time anyway. They may lose interest or quite simply their commitment is finished, such as community involvement with youth (40 hours completed). Volunteers are always going to leave and they may be leaving faster than we are used to/want them to.
Number two. There are factors that you can control, so take control over what you can. Retention is related to the right volunteer doing the right work in the right organization. In the key question above, where the volunteer does not show up for the first shift or never comes back after completing the first shift, I believe this is a question of both commitment and match.
Number three. Short-term commitment is different from long-term commitment. In order to gain long-term commitment, we have to be successful in the short term. Doesn’t this make sense? Short-term for me is that they are coming in to do their volunteer work where all the steps have been taken to ensure a good match, skills to work, orientation, etc. How to move this to a longer term engagement requires additional support. Recent research indicates four top retention strategies:
After spending lots of time recruiting volunteers, it is heartbreaking when they leave shortly after they start. This is an organizational issue. You need to examine the volunteer work that is being offered, the climate where it is being offered, and the support given to volunteers. Take control and change those aspects that negatively impact on volunteers. Keep track of why volunteers leave and make changes to eliminate those reasons that are within your control.
Understand and expect that volunteers may stay for shorter periods of time. Celebrate whatever time/talents they provide. A happy volunteer is a happy customer who may provide referrals to others looking for volunteer involvement.