Managing an Office Mess: Go for the Cause, Not the Symptoms

Managing workplace personnel issues is never easy. But trying avoid tough decisions is almost guaranteed to make things tougher for you.

Managing workplace personnel issues is never easy. But trying avoid tough decisions is almost guaranteed to make things tougher for you.

Business owners and managers along with leaders of non-profit organizations know to expect personnel messes. But no matter how well they prepare, most still shy away from going for the right solution the first time.

The reason is simple. The “right” solution is usually not pleasant.

Most managers will want to try the easiest option first. When that doesn’t work, they’ll likely try a slight modification, an adjustment to make the first (lame!) attempt work. Only after these first two steps fail will they be forced to examine the tough choices that are likely to solve the problem.

I have an alternative suggestion the next time you face a difficult personnel issue. Create plans A, B and C, then disregard the first two and go straight to the third.

When you’re faced with a management mess, your first reaction is to come up with plan A. This is usually the path of least resistance and sometimes it will even work. More often, there will be a need for midcourse corrections, which becomes plan B. When this strategy doesn’t work, you are generally left with the most radical or least attractive alternative—plan C.

Plan C is what we didn’t want to face in the beginning, although it was probably a clear solution. It’s not that we want to run from our problems; it’s simply human nature that we hope problems can be solved easily. We really want plan A to work.

My experience has shown me that plan A is related to that flight or fight response. Usually, it’s not thought out well or very realistically. As you begin to see its inherent flaws, plan B emerges. But plan B is often little more than an attempt to jam the round peg deeper into the square hole.

Plan C will almost always be the most effective way to solve the problem. My recommendation for you is to go ahead and make plan A, even plan B. Look at them closely; then be realistic, take a hard swallow, and set aside both. Now draft plan C.

Once you have a realistic plan, identify someone who you respect and trust. Remember, if you take an unpolished idea up to your board or your boss, its flaws will be identifiable, and it will be a poor reflection on your skills and judgment. If you take your ideas to the next level up the organization, you could undermine your position in management.

I suggest that you identify a mentor or, better, several mentors to assist in polishing your ideas and planning your moves. Napoleon Hill, in his landmark book, Think and Grow Rich, urged readers to establish what he described as a mastermind group. Everyone needs an individual or, better yet, a group of individuals to assist him or her in polishing ideas and establishing plans of action.

Personnel messes occur every day in large corporations and small businesses, non-profits and even government agencies. They can be the ruin of all. When you face such a mess, you need to have the wisdom and courage to identify and then implement plan C. As much as you wish plans A and B to work, my suggestion is to go directly to plan C after working with a mentor group to help polish, clarify and perfect it.

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