1. The Problem – and a Free Personal Assessment 

The Problem – Plus an Idea from a Website

One state government organization – let’s call it “StateOrg” – is a service provider responsible for helping people find jobs, getting veterans and others good interview opportunities, relevant licenses and certifications, and appropriate college credits. StateOrg has a staff of 75 people, located in five Regional offices around the state. Regional managers report to Rodd and depending on the size of the Region, each manager has a staff of 10-15 employees. 

Rodd soon discovered that those managers – and even their Employment Specialists and Account Executive staff – all used different processes and procedures, different work standards, and had different caseload sizes for their staff. Even the Employment Specialists didn’t share standards for producing their customer reports from Region to Region.

Rodd had been the manager of StateOrg for only a few months before he realized how difficult it was to manage so many people in a large geographic area, especially when each Region was operating as its own private island. Using phone calls, emails, and video meetings wasn’t as effective as he had hoped. Karen, the previous StateOrg chief had told him that many of the Regional employees were “disengaged” and “not very productive”, but Rodd thought he could make it work. Now he figured that Karen had moved on to early retirement because she couldn’t get this cluster of Regions coordinated to achieve state-wide goals. 

Rodd heard about this website in a government seminar. The site is based on our book, “The Four Conversations: Daily Communication that Gets Results” and includes a free Personal Communication Assessment. Rodd took the Personal Assessment, wanting to learn about which of those “productive conversations” he was good at and which ones he should practice more often. 

The four productive conversations are not unusual – most of us use them whenever we (1) propose ideas, (2) have discussions, (3) make requests, promises and agreements, and (4) follow up on things. We don’t always use them in the right times and places, and sometimes we leave out the important bits, but mostly people use them when they want to get things done. Here’s a quick summary of the four conversations:

  1. Initiative Conversations – We use these to introduce a new goal, propose an idea, or launch some kind of change. Initiative conversations get things started by stating What we want, When we want it, and Why it matters. 
  2. Understanding Conversations – These dialogues clarify an initiative and go deeper to identify Who will do certain tasks, Where the resources will come from – and Where the results will go – as well as How the work could be done. 
  3. Performance Conversations are more challenging because they create agreements to take actions and produce results by making specific requests and promises that clarify What results will be produced, When they will be delivered, Who does the delivering and Who gets the result. Each agreement works best when associated with a stated goal.
  4. Closure Conversations keep momentum going toward the goal by having regular conversations that “close out” the past. That means regular follow-through to update the status of tasks and agreements, as well as solving problems and making any necessary changes to goals, assignments and plans. 

The Free Personal Communication Assessment: Finding “Lack of Accountability”

Rodd learned from his free Personal Communication Assessment that he was good at both Initiative and Understanding conversations, but not so good at Performance and Closure ones. After studying the information on the website, he wondered whether developing new communication practices in his Regions – and between employee specialties – would help his people learn to serve clients more efficiently as well as improve their own work processes. He also wondered if the Assessment could help him pinpoint major issues and find some solutions to having people communicate better, working as teams instead of disconnected outposts. 

He went back to the website and clicked on the Free Workplace Assessment, a list of 56 non-productive workplace situations, that asked only one question: “How often do you observe or experience each item occurring at your workplace?” He took that Assessment too, answering each question by choosing either Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Usually, or Always. At the end, Rodd entered his email address, clicked to submit his answers, and received prompt, automated feedback that included three types of summary reports:

  • The Topline Report showed his assessment on all 56 items, ranking them from the Highest to Lowest frequency of observation.
  • The Bar-Chart demonstrated the frequency of workplace issues, categorized into eight categories of common workplace problems:
    1. Lateness – Work results are not on time, and/or people are late to work or meetings;
    2. Poor work quality – Work results are incomplete, inaccurate, and/or poorly done;
    3. Difficult people – Some people are consistently hard to work with;
    4. Lack of teamwork – People aren’t helping each other or working together;
    5. Poor planning and workload overwhelm – Trying to do too much work in too little time;
    6. Insufficient resources and support – Not having what’s needed to accomplish the work;
    7. Lack of accountability – People don’t “own” their jobs and responsibilities; and
    8. Incomplete conversations – Problems and projects linger too long without resolution.
  • The Recommendations Report gave advice on using one or more of the four conversations to reduce the three most frequently observed workplace issues listed in the Topline Report as well as the #1 category of problems shown in the Bar Chart.

“I was really surprised by the survey’s list of 56 problems”, Rodd told me when he called to talk about his results. “They were very specific and sometimes uncomfortably familiar. One said, ‘There is no scoreboard for tracking progress on group goals, so people don’t know if the group is succeeding’.  I never thought about using a scoreboard as a way of improving teamwork, but now I can see that if I used one, it would help people be better aligned on goals and progress.”

If Rodd was surprised by some of the problem statements, he was not surprised by the resulting diagnosis. The category of issues that had bothered him the most had the highest score on the Bar Chart: it was #7 – Lack of Accountability. He welcomed the advice on how to change his personal communication habits to help improve accountability in StateOrg.

The feedback from the Free Workplace Assessment convinced Rodd that he could use it for his Regional groups to help them improve procedures and standards and strengthen teamwork. If people in each Region could identify their own strengths and their role in non-productive workplace situations, they would very likely be able to work together and come up with ideas on how to create solutions, both within Regions and across StateOrg as a whole.

To be continued…

  1. The Problem – and a Free Personal Assessment
    1. The Problem
    2. The Free Workplace Assessment: Reporting on “Lack of Accountability”
  2. The Recommendations Report and a Group Workplace Assessment
    1. Assessment Recommendations: Resolving “Lack of Accountability”
    2. A Group Workplace Assessment for Managers and Consultants 
  3. The Survey: Invitations and Results 
    1. Invitations to Take the Survey
    2. The Results Are In (Yes, there were Regional differences)
      1. ABCD Regions: Outdated equipment, Poor communication on change
      2. E Region: Quality and Training problems
      3. B & D Regions: Communication problems from staff cuts and restructuring 
      4. C Region: Too many unexpected “emergencies”
    3. Setup for Regional Meetings (Starting with Strengths)
  4. Sharing the Results and Holding Regional Meetings
    1. Sharing the Results: Emails and Attachments
    2. The Results Are In (Yes, there were Regional differences)
    3. Regional Meetings: The “Tackle First” List and the Conversation Groups
    4. Setup for the All-Staff meeting
  5. The All-Region Meeting: Implementation and Impact
    1. Introduction to the ‘Big Three’ Workplace Issues
    2. Introduction to Productive Conversations
    3. Problem-Solving – Before and After Lunch
  6. Problems and Solutions
    1. Work Plans and Next Steps
    2. Three Months Later: Follow-Up