8 Simple steps to creating an amazing Values based workplace

It’s just as important for organizations to have values to guide them as it is for individual people. Values are what provide us with direction; they are necessary to set a moral compass to help us make decisions. They guide us in our relationships, and in organizations, they are the fundamental backbone of trusting high performing teams.

Living values begins with leadership. A clear, commonly held mission and the allegiance to the values that help achieve this mission, starts with leaders who communicate and model what the organization is all about. These are leaders who understand that investing time and energy in being value based generates significant economic and moral returns.

There are some very specific processes that can orient everyone to commonly shared values and help make your workplace a safe, positive, and inspiring place to be.

1) Hire people whose values are consistant with those of the organization. Ask values based questions in the interview. “Tell me about your values and how you live by them in your personal and professional life?” “We value innovation, could you give an example of how you were innovative”

2) Regularly involve everyone in the review and formation of your organization’s values and explain how they will help accomplish your organization’s mission. People are far more likely to follow ideas and standards if they feel they had a part in their creation.

3) Break your values down into observable measurable behaviours. Concepts like “respect” could have many personally defined meanings, but the concrete behaviours you’ve all agreed fit with that value (such as asking someone why they handled a situation the way they did rather than immediately “correcting” them) are what helps the values become real and consistent.

4) Refer to your organization’s mission and values frequently in both internal and external communication. Keep values alive by using value words. Using words like transparency, justice, fun, respect, collaboration, and confidentiality for example, keeps those values on people’s minds and makes it more likely for accompanying value behaviours to occur.

5) “Catch” people living your organization’s values. Look for instances of that happening and point them out. Maybe invite everyone to recommend others whom they’ve caught living a value for awards or fun ceremonies or a mention in your newsletter.

6) Include values in performance reviews. Make it clear that results cannot circumvent values, and tie bonuses, advancement, and even continued employment to an expectation of demonstrated value based behaviour.

7) Invite feedback from others about whether they experience you living your organization’s values. If you say you value “inclusiveness” you might near the end of a meeting ask everyone before they leave whether they all felt their voices were heard and valued.

8) As a leader, you cannot help but have enormous influence either positively or negatively. You can inspire your people to great heights by modeling your organization’s values at every opportunity. Little inspires people more than a leader with integrity. Conversely, few things generate cynicism and value disruption more than a leader who does not “walk the talk”.

Living values as an organization involves far more than merely listing them on a website. As in our own personal lives, living values requires commitment, and an ongoing honest review to ensure that it’s not all just talk.

Living values can be difficult, but there’s no doubt that there’s a huge payoff-both for organizations and for individuals.

Theo Selles, M.Sc.
President, Integrity Works

The Truth about Employee Assistance Programs (“EAP”s)

You recognize that protecting the health of your employees and preventing personal problems from interfering with work performance is good business, and part of a caring Organizational Culture. You’ve decided that your organization needs an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), or you have such a program already, and it’s coming up for renewal. But how do you know which program to buy?

Let’s face it; every EAP company will make a strong case for why they should be your provider. By now, it’s pretty much an accepted fact that EAP programs really can be very effective in bringing down the costs incurred from absenteeism, harassment, accidents, lowered work efficiency, extended use of supervisors time, sick leave, employee turn-over, theft, employee conflict, grievances, and short and long term disabilities claims.

Here’s some behind the scenes EAP information that providers likely won’t tell you: EAP providers will typically provide a quote based on your number of employees and their estimation of utilization rate. A typical “guess” on their part is that about 8% of your staff will make use of the service. If you have 100 staff, they might charge you $60 an employee for a year’s coverage. In this example you pay the provider $6000.00 to provide counselling coverage to all of your employees. The provider estimates that they will only have to cover eight employees out of that $6000.00 at a potential cost to them of $750 per employee.

How does the provider maximize their profits and ensure that the employee doesn’t eat up the whole $750? First the provider will set a session number limit (not one that they will often openly tell you-or one that their counsellors are allowed to tell your employees if they ask how many sessions they are entitled to have). That session limit is usually around five. So, if eight employees use the full 5 sessions your cost is $150 per session, which is above market rate for what you would typically pay if you reimbursed a private counsellor for those sessions.

It doesn’t end there, however. Behind the scenes the counsellors providing the EAP services to your employees are often under intense pressure to keep their average session number well below five-usually around three. You, and your employees, are of course never going to be told that! You also aren’t likely to be told that your provider is often paying their counsellors as little as they can-sometimes as little as $40 a session. If a provider is able to limit your eight employees to three sessions and pay only $40 per session to their counsellors their expense is $960.00 in total out of the $6000.00 that you’ve paid them. Another way of looking at it is that they’ve reduced their cost per employee covered from a potential $750 per person to $120 per person. The rest goes to other expenses and profit. That’s how it works.

If you’re selecting an EAP provider, you should be asking tough questions such as these: How can I increase employee usage of the service and insure that they are told how many sessions they are eligible to receive? What are all the additional services besides counselling that are available to us and are they included in the cost? What are the qualifications, training, diversity, and morale of the counsellors who will be working with our employees? What workshops, “lunch and learns”, and training seminars are available? What is the scope of the Trauma Debriefing services available to us in case of a crisis or emergency? What are the counseling offices like in terms of location, professionalism, and safety? How quickly are counsellors available and how much choice do employees have about who they meet with? What are the provider’s response and waiting times before initial and subsequent sessions? (Often new clients are seen quickly but then have to wait a long time before their next appointment). How does the provider take care of their counsellors so that they are paid well and do not experience burnout? (This is very important because too often the counsellors are under intense pressure to see as many clients as possible for as little money as possible, and this directly affects the quality of the service provided).

We know the ins and outs of EAP’s. We can ask the tough questions for you, and we will ensure that you have all the information you need to make an informed choice when it comes to the health and care of your people. And, if you find out (from the reports that we’ll make sure you get) that the average session number used by your employees seems to be low, we’ll find out why and help you address the issue. Or if you like, you can set up a personal EAP service directly with us. We’ll take care of your employees so they can concentrate on the work they need to do. Call Theo at 647-686-0116 to explore your options.

Appreciative Conflict Resolution

It’s become quite the sign of insightfulness these days to proclaim that conflict is healthy, necessary, and even generative of new ideas and energy. Like any truism, this assumption needs to be questioned. After all, if conflict is so great, why do we all want to learn how to resolve it?

By any definition of value, conflict at work is destructive. The only thing worse than conflict, is avoiding it. The best thing to do is prevent it. I should probably explain.

Conflict at work has certain symptoms such as stress, anxiety, strained relationships, grievances and litigation, presenteeism, employee turnover, loss of productivity, increased client complaints, absenteeism, sabotage, injury and accidents, disability claims, and sick leaves. Still think conflict is healthy?

Conflict has costs. A 2005 UK survey by Roffey Park found that “78% of managers are suffering from work-related stress, 52% have experienced harassment, 46% have seen an increase in conflict at work.” (Roffey Park [online], Failure to manage change heightens stress, harassment and conflict at work, survey reveals, Jan. 05). And “The total value of lost work time due to stress is estimated to be $1.7 billion. (WarrenShepell [online], Health & Wellness Research Database, 2005).

One way to understand the negative nature of conflict is to see conflict as war, perhaps on a small interpersonal scale, but war none-the-less. Conflict involves fighting, defending, attacking, winning and losing. By its very nature, conflict is destructive. There is no such thing as “constructive conflict” no matter how euphemistically we’d like to frame it.

Conflict needs to be resolved, but it is worthwhile to understand the conditions from which it emerges. What is it that transforms a different perspective or healthy disagreement into destructive conflict?  After all, upon reflection, most would agree that passionate disagreement, not conflict, is vital to organizational growth and learning. The difficulty may lie in our inability to distinguish between the two.

Conflict is personal. It is not based on what is best for the organization or the relationship, it is a contest based on “you and me”. Conflict escalates and thrives on the assumption of negative intent, blaming others for our feelings, finger pointing, withdrawing and pretending, indirect communication and gossiping. A good rule of thumb to take the personal element out of workplace conflict is to relate all conflict resolution back to your organization’s Mission Statement. “How is this issue preventing us from achieving our mission? It can’t be about us, it has to be about the team.”

Conflict emerges from feelings of insecurity due to perceived threat. It can come from a perceived need to stand up for values. Conflict may also arise from opposing needs such as time or work priorities and of course it can come from misunderstanding. It’s important to remember as well that not everyone is well-intended; there are indeed some people who do thrive on conflict and seek to create it.

Conflict always has an emotional component to it, and that is why one can never truly win a conflict with people they care about or even just need to work with. You may “win” your point, but in the process you may hurt the other person to such a degree that they no longer trust you or care to be with you. It’s been said that there are only three outcomes from a conflict: Win & Win, Win & Lose, or Lose & Lose. I would say that the only positive outcome is Win & Win where both parties walk away feeling they have gained something. Lose & Lose is a process associated with compromise, and though many people value that as a solution it really does not help for anyone to feel compromised. And as I mentioned, there truly is no such thing as Win & Lose because you lose what’s important through winning your point.

Conflict resolution is much more than a cognitive process of determining solutions. Since conflict is emotion based, the resolution process must include a strong emphasis on what people need when their emotions are aroused. Think of what you need in the midst of a conflict. If you’re like most people, you need to be heard, respected, valued, and appreciated. If you receive all of that you are much more likely to be able to de-escalate your part of the conflict and then, and only then, proceed to the solution stage of the process.

So what exactly is resolution? It is not an agreement/consensus. It is not a result.

Resolution is a process which leads to a solution that all parties can live with in such a way that your organization’s or relationship’s productivity is enhanced. Again, it is important to take the personal component out of the conflict and make the process of resolution about the bigger picture.

Here is my Appreciative Conflict Resolution Process. It is “appreciative”, not of the conflict, but of the people who are trying to resolve it. Follow these steps and you will both resolve conflicts and prevent them in the future:

1) First ask for time. Too often we rush into someone’s face because we’ve now mustered up the courage to do so and of course that would set anyone on edge.

2) Identify the perceived issue and why it must be resolved. Remember the “big picture.” “Exactly what is the issue and how does it relate to our mission?”

3) Express own perspective about issue. “I” statements work well as they emphasis the presence of multiple realities.

4) Express own feelings about the issue. Without blaming, acknowledge the emotional component. Are you hurt, angry, afraid, frustrated?

5) Ask about the other’s perspective. Too often we just get things “off our chest” and forget to invite dialogue.

6) Ask about the other’s feelings. Demonstrate empathy and caring.

7) Take responsibility and apologize if needed. Many of us struggle with saying “I’m sorry”, but it’s a vital skill to have.

8) Brainstorm solutions. Way down the list is collaborative problem solving. You’ve earned this place through doing the above. A great tip is to do so sitting “side by side” looking out at a flip chart. It’s very hard to fight with someone while you’re sitting facing outward in the same direction as it emphasizes an experience of partnership.

9) Settle on a solution. That’s not always possible, but going through the above steps will make it much easier to “agree to disagree.” That in itself can be a solution.

10) Thank each other for caring. This is often overlooked, but very important to do. People respond well to appreciation. Thanking them for caring enough to work through things with you will set a great tone for your ongoing relationship.

11) Set a follow-up check-in. It’s important to do this to ensure that everything continues to be well, that there aren’t any left over pieces, and to send a strong message about the value of the relationship.

Conflict is not necessary at work. The freedom to express passionate differences is. Creating a work environment true to the Voltaire saying, “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” will transform the energy behind conflict into creative exchanges of views and ideas by people who feel safe to differ. A diverse workplace does not just refer to such variables as ethnicity, culture, gender, ability, sexual orientation; it includes inviting diverse perspectives.

Adhering to organizational values helps create a safe environment where people can passionately yet respectfully disagree. Valuing direct communication, genuine “open-door” policies, transparency about organizational issues and decisions, on-going expressed appreciation of colleagues, inviting passionate dialogue and playful debate, challenging the idea not the person, and establishing a team-first culture all will contribute to preventing conflict and encouraging creative differences.