When The Right Channels Lead to Dead Ends
In the October 30th edition of Chip Shots, Leading Voices addressed the question of when internal dissatisfaction goes external.
After reading that post, one of our Lead Change Group members shared a time when the only recourse seemed to be taking an issue public within the organization after multiple attempts to bring the issue to management's attention more privately had failed.
I was on an information systems project team responsible for implementing new software. The consultant from the software company was uncooperative with me, and coincidentally all of the other women on the team.
My project leader didn't want to hear it. I asked to get someone to replace this consultant as I could not do my job without a helpful representative from the software company. He said he could not feed that back to the software company and impact this man's career based on something he did not see or observe.
What he implied, without saying it aloud, was willingness to let me flounder and allow my performance to suffer. It seemed to me that my career and well-being as a fellow employee should be put as a higher priority.
It culminated with my project manager saying, "if you and Bridgett and Kathy and Joanna would just give him a chance..."
I said, "You mean, us women?"
He said, "You said it, I didn't."
He didn't even realize his own words supported that the consultant may have a problem with women. That was the last time I spoke with him about it.
I spoke with my boss about this, on more than one occasion, even before this last exchange with my project manager. He told me that maybe it would help me to learn how to deal with this type of situation in the future.
I also spoke with my boss's boss. He told me more than once to tell him when I was up to here with this and he would do something. I told him at least twice that I was up to here and he did nothing.
I was losing sleep. I would stay up nights brainstorming what I could do differently to get my job done in spite of the lack of support I was getting from all of the people who conceivably should have helped.
What are some possible reasons the project leader, boss, and boss's boss were so unresponsive?
Instigator Angela Bisignano suggests that the leaders were having their own difficulty asking for help, leaving them ill-equipped to help their employee. She explores that idea in her article Leaders & Vulnerability.
Instigator Bill Benoist suggests that they were closed to unfiltered feedback, leaving them devoid of the information they need to resolve the situation. For more on this leadership dynamic, visit this article on Leadership Heart Coaching.
When The Issue Came To A Head
Our Lead Change Group member continues...
We had a division-wide diversity workshop. People were encouraged to share stories of how they felt they were not being supported, particularly based on race or gender. I spilled my story in front of 50-60 co-workers. My boss's boss - who already knew the story - came to me afterward and asked me why I didn't tell him it was this bad.
I found it amazing that he only heard me after everyone knew. It made a lot of men related to the project really uncomfortable with me, and afraid I would "out" them for something they were unaware that they did.
I'm not saying I used the best judgment. I was young in my career. I thought I had gone through all the right channels. The facilitators in the workshop encouraged this type of story-telling. HR got involved after that and only made it worse.
Personal relationships were mended through our own initiative, but I'm not sure anything changed in the organization when the dysfunction that led to my revelation was brought out in the open.
Once the mistrust has led to anonymous complaints or complaints in public forums, how does an organization heal?
In addition to the recommendations made by David Dye and Jon Mertz in the most recent Chip Shots:
Care for the employee presenting the issue, and the employee dynamics behind the situation. Instigator Julie Winkle-Giulioni points out that the first four letters of the phrase Career Development spells Care. In Career Development Begins With Care, Julie points out that care is at the very core of authentic and effective development.
Know what your people need. As Instigator Paul LaRue says in his article Why Leaders Should Build The Castle First, that knowing what your people need and meeting that need will make you a more effective leader.
Our member says:
"Ultimately, I left that project and that location as quickly as possible and tried to put it behind me. This happened over 20 years ago and it was the longest 18 months of my life."