Understanding Conversation – Clarifying Ideas and Roles

I took my ideas about an online conversation for “Management is Missing” into several meetings over coffee and lunch in the past 10 days. I had lunch with a man who develops websites: he liked the Performance Circle idea, and we sketched out some thoughts on how to have the kind of interactive discussion I’m looking for. Then coffee a few days later with another man who does photography, videos, and video editing for YouTube and other websites.

Then I talked with several people about learning management systems and how they are used for online learning. One of them creates and manages several online learning sites, another has used online learning systems, and a third has built a business around them. All this was useful to help me see the kind of design work and planning that I need to do, and who I could link up with to get some of the results I want to have.

The last conversation was with a manager, call her Lynne, who is in a really bad situation. Lynne was hired as an “account manager”, to provide services to a large customer organization. The job included some compliance duties (making sure that products and equipment were updated on time and with appropriate vendor support) and collaborating with several other organizations in industry, service, and government. The bad situation started when she pointed out some serious compliance issues to her boss – she noticed several places where the relevant laws were being broken and gave the boss a memo about it. Nothing happened.

The situation soon spiraled downward: Lynne grew impatient with a boss who didn’t seem to care about illegal situations, and she began noticing other places where internal policies were not followed or agreements with partner organizations and clients were unmanaged. She began speaking up at meetings about these things even though it was clear that nobody wanted to hear it. Now she is stuck in an increasingly negative relationship with many of the people above her in the organization. Even some of her peers are hesitant to work too closely with her for fear that the management reaction to being accused of mistakes will taint them too.

Could an “understanding conversation” – a dialogue about what players are involved in the problems, who should be involved in creating solutions, and how to go about putting things right – have made a difference? Maybe, if it was held early and privately with the boss. But maybe not. If Lynne is determined to set things right without building a performance circle and having the dialogues for clarifying roles and responsibilities, she is creating a hard road ahead for herself and others.

All of these conversations were exploratory – they were “understanding conversations” to learn more about where my ideas fit into a possible new future. But this last conversation reinforced the importance of having a place where people – both managers and the people they manage – can look at different ways to talk about management problems they are having. And perhaps we can even create a place where people can create solutions that will be relatively quick and painless.

When I finish these understanding conversations, I’ll move on to the performance conversations. Back soon.

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