5. The All-Region Meeting: Implementation and Impact

Introduction to the “Big Three” Workplace Issues 

The Capitol Conference Room was set up into three sections, each with four roundtables labeled “1”, “2”, or “3”. As people entered, music was playing, and people were told to sit anywhere they liked. When the music stopped, Rodd welcomed everyone to the capital and turned attention to a PowerPoint slide of the “Three Strengths” list he had sent them last week. 

  1. Our meetings start and end on time;
  2. We use measures to track staff and team performance; and
  3. Our assignments include clear due-dates and deadlines.

Everyone applauded, including Rodd, who led a brief discussion about this evidence of their ability to use productive communication. “This is a positive signal we should recognize”, he said. “We’re doing some things right. So as we go through our more negative workplace behaviors, let’s remember that we can make things better by communicating more effectively.

“Now, I’m going to introduce you to the ‘Big Three’ workplace issues we see in our StateOrg teams”, Rodd said. 

 Number One is: ‘Equipment or systems are outdated and/or there are insufficient materials and supplies.’ Here’s what I want you to know about this one. It was reported as a big issue by staff members, but when I talked with the managers and supervisors, they didn’t even seem to know much about it.” The audience laughed and nodded their heads.

Rodd continued, “I personally want to apologize for this one. I think we need to know more about what you see is missing or outdated, and we probably need better procedures for getting these issues resolved. Some of you already have plans addressing this, right?” Hands went into the air and a few shouts of agreement were heard. 

 Number Two”, he went on, “is ‘Changes are implemented without discussing them with the people whose jobs will be affected by the change.’ You should know that this was ranked pretty high by both managers and staff. This appears to be a failure of communication at the highest levels – which means that this one is on me. I look forward to hearing your advice about what kinds of changes have given you problems, what you needed and wanted to know about them, and how much advance notice you wanted to have. I promise my support for making this more workable for you all.

Number Three”, Rodd said, “is ‘There are significant differences in the quality of work people do.’ This issue sounds like some people know what they’re doing, and others don’t know – or care – what the standards are.”  His audience laughed again. “Seriously”, he added, “We need to say what we mean by ‘quality’, and probably also be clearer when we give people assignments, so they know what counts as quality work.” 

Rodd told them he was committed to working with the Big Three issues first and would open the discussion to other items “after we learn to use the productive communications”. He invited people’s questions and comments about where or when they observed those three issues and in what ways they were counter-productive, jotting some of the more useful comments on one of the three whiteboards in the front of the room.

When it was time for the first break, Rodd said, “You can see that we are set up in three sections here, right? Over here is section #1, section #2 is toward the back, and section #3 is over there. We are going to take a 30-minute break. When you come back, I want you to take a seat in one of those three sections. Can you guess what those numbers 1-2-3 correspond to?, Sort of a Big Three, don’t you think?” Again, laughter.  

He said, “No fair moving chairs and tables to another location. Take whatever is best for you – or second-best if there isn’t room in your first choice. Class dismissed for 30 minutes.”

Introduction to Productive Conversations

When people came back to the room, they saw that each group of 12 roundtables in the room now had one of Rodd’s whiteboards next to it, with the name of that group’s workplace problem. Each individual roundtable also had a small empty whiteboard with a package of multi-colored markers. On the table in front of every chair in the room there was also a flyer summarizing the four productive conversations. 

“Now you are at a “Problem Solver Group Roundtable”, Rodd said when everyone was seated. “We are going to talk about how to address your particular “Big Three” issue by changing some of our communication habits. This is new for me, but I know it works. Here’s what I recommend: explore the conversations – they’re on the flyer in front of you, and I’ll also keep this summary slide up for the rest of our day together. Your job is to invent new communication practices that will help resolve your Big Three.”  The slide in front of the room said:

  1. Initiative conversations – Regarding your issue, What do you want the end result to look like?  When do you want that? Why are the benefits important?  Result: A proposed What-When-Why goal-solution to your workplace issue.
  2. Understanding conversations – Based on your answers to those initial What-When-Why questions, move into discussing: Who could do the tasks and produce the things that will be needed? Where are the resources or supports needed for this? Where will our products, services, and communications need to go? How could we get this done?  Result: A Who-Where-How work plan for resolving your workplace issue.
  3. Performance conversations – Translate your “work plan” into specific requests and specific promises that people at your table would be willing to make. What tasks will people perform, and what results will they produce? Also, identify the requests your group could make of others to get their promises and agreements for taking specific actions or producing specific results. Who in your group will make those requests and manage those agreements? Result: A Who-Promises-What-and-When plan for managing agreements that contribute to resolving the workplace issue. These may be agreements for your own work results and/or for ensuring the success of other key players in meeting their agreements. 
  4. Closure conversations – Design a way to track progress on resolving your workplace issue by using the “Four A’s” as part of your weekly meeting agenda. Acknowledge where things stand now and what is next. Appreciate the people – on your team and elsewhere – for their assistance. Apologize for specific mistakes and/or misunderstandings. Amend broken agreements, as needed, to be more workable and appropriate to the current situation. Result: A plan for regular reporting on status updates and next steps in the resolution of your workplace issue.

“Two reminders before you get to work”, Rodd said. “First, make sure you have a team of two or three people who will be responsible for taking notes today, keeping track of what has been proposed or decided at every stage of the discussion. You have whiteboards and notepads at every table now, so plant one or two or your people next to them to support record-keeping.”

“Second, make sure you are staying true to our StateOrg mission to serve our clients in obtaining employment that benefits them personally and economically, and to have integrity in working with our employer-partners. StateOrg’s values need to be represented in every plan to resolve our workplace issues. Just in case you need a reminder about our mission and values, please turn that flyer over and read what’s on the back of it.” Again, laughter and applause.

Problem-Solving – Before and After Lunch

The room buzzed with people talking. Whiteboards were filled, erased, and re-filled. Scribes took notes. This continued until Rodd blew a whistle and announced the lunch break. People filed out to the dining room down the hall and kept talking throughout the meal.

On returning to their big workroom, Rodd asked people to come up to the microphone and share something about what they had learned so far. Here are three observations reported by participants:

  • “We started out practicing the conversations in sequence: Initiative, then Understanding, then Performance, then Closure. It didn’t take long before these conversations became very ordinary, everyday ways of talking. We started moving them around, using whatever conversations we needed without any special sequence.”
  • “At our table we noticed that we have been complaining about our issue instead of ever getting very specific about ways to solve it. This is a really great opportunity to be problem-solvers, and also to have our ideas heard by others and get their feedback.”
  • “We saw how hard it is to make a good request for someone to do something. We usually leave out some of the specifics of What we want, and almost always leave out saying When we want it. No wonder we haven’t been making the improvements we think are needed – we thought someone else should notice the problem and fix it!”

There was about half an hour of people sharing what they had learned – at the microphone and at their tables – before Rodd sent them all back to work. “Please draft up your work plans using the four productive conversations”, he said.

“At 3:00 o’clock,” he continued, “we will have one or two members of each table come up to the microphone and tell us what they came up with to resolve their Big Three issue. Each table will have 10-15 minutes to introduce their work plan and the recommended communication changes. So, pick your presenters and prepare what you want us to know. Now, back to work!”

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