What are you really asking?

An HR colleague (Ian) called me to discuss a new HR case that’s landed on his desk.  An employee and her boss are not getting along:  the senior manager wanted Ian to undertake some diagnostic work to understand the reasons for their conflict and to make suggestions that will lead to improvements in their relationship. 

Although Ian had initially called to ask my advice on what tools I would use as part of the diagnostic process, the conversation moved to the question of what was the senior manager really wanting Ian to achieve?   This is an important question at the start of any new HR case: the expectations of the senior manager need to be fully “fleshed out” prior to delving into the case and giving advice. 

An HR practitioner who’s about to become involved in an informal staff conflict, needs to consider the following two questions:

What is the senior manager really asking me to do?  Is it to:

a) understand the reason for the conflict in their relationship?

or

b) to find a way for the two members of staff work harmoniously and productively together?

 And what will happen once there has been some sort of diagnostic exercise or development intervention?

a) will any report or notes made whilst the case is live be completely confidential? (And will this be possible? The two members of staff will want to have access to the report and will be entitled to at least a redacted report under Data Protection legislation)

or

b) might the report / notes potentially be used as part of someone’s exit strategy?

 The outcome of these answers will drive the form in determining how this case will be managed.  A more in-depth conversation with the senior manager was needed before any work could commence.  Often the senior manager hasn’t thought through these questions themselves so this discussion will help clarify their thinking.

Luckily there are a whole range of tools that are available to support staff in mending their relationship and finding a way to work harmoniously together again:   In our conversation, Ian and I went on to discuss the benefits of MBTI (he’s a qualified practitioner) and I also referred him to an excellent mediator that I use.   But that conversation is for another day…and another blog post.

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