Saturday, July 15, 2006

Speaking Openly… Without Losing Your Job

Footballer Roy Keane's personal handling of his public criticism of Manchester United's operational and team performance was probably not the best one on recent record. In fact it was a complete disaster and it, eventually, cost him his job with the club. Then again, how many of our own employers have an in-house television station through which to air our grievances with colleagues and management?

Lambasting employers without being escorted to the door - as Mr. Keane may be the first to admit - is not an easy challenge; however there are ways to ‘speaking frankly without losing your job’ (although we don’t recommend you try these at home):

Communicate Your Position in Private
Raise your objection confidently, evenly, and away from third parties - if you think your boss is about to make a negative, immoral or, for that matter, outright bad decision. Always act on a one-to-one basis and document your concerns in writing, ideally in a memo and not through the firm’s email system. A face-to-face meeting on the matter will also reduce your odds of the boss discounting any objection you may raise during a staff meeting simply to save him or her embarrassment in front of the group. By standing independently, you avoid the peer pressure of simply going along with your colleagues simply for the sake of ‘going with the flow.’

Establish Policy for Disagreeing
We can’t all work for fun-loving, open door Virgin boss, Richard Branson. So, if your manager is more akin to former Sunbeam CEO, ‘Chainsaw’ Al Dunlap, who once ‘axed’ 6,000 Sunbeam staff in one payroll month, then you will have to establish policy your right to disagree – inclusive of whether disagreements are to be kept firmly private or can be aired during staff meetings. By following this line; at a minimum, you will either be allowed to disagree or you won’t, in addition to being clearer on the ‘how’ (privately or in meetings) and ‘when’ (what’s open to disagreement and what’s not). Furthermore, most forward thinking managers will appreciate knowing you aren’t simply a ‘Yes person’ who will automatically go along with their decisions or opinions.

Practice Makes Perfect
As for most behaviour, standing up for one’s beliefs becomes easier with recurrence. If you never protest when a person cuts in line at the taxi stand or closes the elevator door even though they know you are rushing to get on, start to do so. Also, agree to yourself - without being thoughtless, of course - to take a small risk every so often and do something that would not normally jibe with your usually safe routine. Like saying ‘no’ or ‘I don’t quite agree with that,’ for instance.

Do Not Take Your Issues to Another Level
Thinking of going over your boss' head? Think again. If you’ve ever worked a day in your life, you’ll know this is a career ending idea. Whine all you want to your colleagues on the barstool beside you, but by not respecting the corporate chain of command, you'll alienate both your manager and potentially his or her colleagues.

In the world of work the protocol of communication flows up and down. Manager and staff relationships are based on trust and, as such, by eliminating the boss, you are hurting that relationship.

Even if you ask your boss' boss to keep what’s said confidential, you can’t guarantee the conversation will remain that way. How can they correct an issue without explaining to your boss the issue and how she became involved? Rest assured; if you go above your manager, they will know it… and once your boss knows, the relationship will not be the same and you'll be the one working to rebuild it.

If you have a complaint, be direct and honest with your manager - schedule a time for your discussion, lay it on the table and offer up suggestions for resolution.

Only in rare and serious circumstances should anyone go to their boss' manager, or the Human Resources Manager: (i) if the company is on the line - to save the company; (ii) if a boss is doing something illegal (stealing from the company); (iii) if a boss has a serious physical or mental illness, or drug addiction of which a staff member is aware, or; (iv) if a boss is doing something that exposes the company to a lawsuit (sexual harassment). A word to the wise, however – act cautiously in these matters, as they are quite serious.

Plan Ahead
Carefully plot your plan of action and consider all avenues of potential consequence. Be extremely clear on what you are going to say to your manager and consider all possible responses. Before you cross any Rubicon, ask yourself, ‘what's the absolute worse that may happen?’ Obviously, you could lose your job… and nobody wants that.

We hope you'll never have a manager that you cannot trust enough to speak openly and work together. If you do, and you're unable to talk or work through it you may need to move on.

Then again, if you could get fired for being absolutely honest, do you really want to work for such an organisation over the long term?

We know Roy Keane didn’t.


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