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?


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)


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.


Does Your Job Role Affect The Way You Think?

I have recently completed the delivery of a two-day management development programme across two NHS Trusts. The key theme ran through-out the course that I had not previously encountered despite having worked in or with the NHS for the last 10 years: the participants responded differently to the different exercises depending on the type of role they undertook.

The programme was jointly commissioned by two Trusts, but attendance was not mixed. Therefore, one programme had participants who held commissioning, public health or finance roles; the other programme was attended by staff who undertook clinical duties but also were expected to undertake a managerial / leadership role within their designated clinical area.

Commissioners are expected to analyse data, consider the details, ensure that they have the full range of facts in the context of the bigger picture before making any decisions. Clinicians generally see issues at face value. In other words, they call a spade “a spade”, whilst commissioners will call it “a rectangle flat metal sheet attached to wooden pole whilst enables a worker to dig.”

When we came to do some case studies, the reactions from the two types of participants differed. For example: one of the first questions to a case study was “Where does this behaviour take place?”. The clinicians easily responded “The ward”. The comissioners usually asked “There’s not enough information in this case study” or “What does this question mean? Can you explain it more fully?” We adapted how we introduced each exercise to ensure that the participants understood each activity and the questions.

But this has led me to reflect on the issue of does a job role affect the way that an individual thinks? I think that there are three possible conclusions that I can draw:

1) Research has shown that a manager is mostly likely to recruit a member of staff who is similar to them;
2) Certain role roles attract candidates who enjoy using a particular set of skills and abilities
3) MBTI research has shown that certain jobs and organisational cultures make individuals think or behave in a particular way;

These different conclusions can be explained using MBTI types:

A commissioner is more likely to be an INTJ: they look for the bigger picture, are objective and organised. They rely on their thought-processes to analyse issues before determinig what the preferable outcome should be. A Director of Commissioning usually displays these traits and is most likely to recruit similar minded individuals to their team; A junior commissioner is drawn to this role as they enjoy a job where there is analytical data, they can challenge in an objective manner and use their decision-making skills. This junior commissioner who is recruited is an ISTJ: they focus on the detail. As they grow as a commissioner they are encouraged through their 1:1s, appraisals and personal development plan to develop an ability to see the bigger picture and it is highly likely that their MBTI type will change to INTJ.

I have already shared some of my observations from this management development programme with some fellow trainers also working with the NHS: Not only does a job role affect the way that a manager thinks, it also impacts on the successful delivery of any development intervention. So, when next preparing for workshop, bear in mind not only the content of the course to ensure it’s applicable to the audience, but how their role role affects the way the participants think and adapt the exercises accordingly.