TLS Continuum Part 51: It is not acceptable in society, it is not acceptable in the workplace

Turn on the news or read the newspaper and you will see stories about teenagers complaining that they are being bullied in the schools, on the streets etc. These stories bring about almost immediate consternation from the public in the form of twitter posts, Facebook posts etc. In every case the predominant message is that this is wrong and needs to stop. The flip side is that we do not see that same outrage when it is management acting in the role of the bully in the workplace.

In this week’s post I am specifically talking about the continuous process improvement area. In Part 43 of this series where we talked about the dangers of collaboration I probably should have included this area as well. So what do we mean by bully in the process improvement area?

Have you ever been in this scenario? You come up with a fantastic idea for improving the organization or a project you are working on only to be told by an overbearing boss, that is not how we do things. You begin to implement a process only to be told by management we can’t do that now. Process improvement is dependent on the full use of collaboration. It means that there is a meeting of the minds as to the best way to resolve an issue or obstacle. It does not mean that the team completes it’s responsibilities and then have management turn to the group and say thank you but we are going to do something different. It does not mean that the manager can impose the edict either you do it my way or nothing. It does not mean that you change the role of consultants you hire from delivering advice to imposing solutions. It does not mean that there is only one way to resolve an issue, the manager’s way.

During my work career I have been in those situations where this has applied. I used to teach middle school science and had a principal tell me that she knew better how to teach science since she had taught science 25 years earlier. So I needed to do it her way or I was out of a job. I worked with a process improvement consultant who laid out a marketing plan for my LinkedIn efforts and got annoyed when I challenged some of the things he did as being inappropriate for the market space we were in. Accused me of being disrespectful and shut off connections to parts of the platform.

GE made attempts to curtail this type of behavior in the workplace with the implementation of the GE workout where the manager could not necessarily impose their will on the organization. The manager in the town meeting had to explain why he was refusing to allow a project to go forward and there was a vehicle to appeal the decision.

Continuous process improvement efforts can be a source of great excitement as the organization brings about dramatic changes to the organization resulting in improvements in revenue that benefit everyone within the organization. This excitement can be abated when one person or one member of management plays the role of corporate bully demanding that it is my way or no way. Pande in his book Six Sigma Way clearly tells us that there is no single six sigma way. The way we approach continuous process improvement is corporate culture based but not bully based.

Bullying is plain wrong. It deflates the belief system of the recipient and can lead to dire results. The Workplace Bullying Institute has outlined reasons why these actions take place. They define workplace bullying as a systematic campaign of interpersonal destruction that jeopardizes your health, your career, and the job you once loved. Bullying is a non-physical, non-homicidal form of violence and, because it is violence and abusive, emotional harm frequently results. You may not be the first person to have noticed that you were bullied. The institute suggests that there are some indicators that you are in a bullying situation:

  • You are constantly feeling agitated and anxious, experiencing a sense of doom, waiting for bad things to happen
  • No matter what you do, you are never left alone to do your job without interference
  • You finally, firmly confront your tormentor to stop the abusive conduct and you are accused of harassment
  • You are shocked when accused of incompetence, despite a history of objective excellence, typically by someone who cannot do your job
  • Everyone -- co-workers, senior bosses, HR -- agrees (in person and orally) that your tormentor is a jerk, but there is nothing they will do about it (and later, when you ask for their support, they deny having agreed with you)

Continuous process improvement requires, no let me make that a little stronger, demands that the solutions being implemented are the results of a team approach. It demands and requires that the probable solutions are the results of input from all stakeholders. It is not the prevue of a single individual to demand or impose their will on the organization in order to resolve issues. That is not teamwork that is bullying and uncalled for in today’s business world.

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