by Darrin Tulley, Founder and Chief of Possibilities at Ignite Happy
A new manager, Cindy, got an assignment to turn around a worksite benefits organization that wasn’t living up to expectations. She was thrown into a tough position where relationships were bruised and battered all around. The service level scores, and business results were even worse and declining. Trust was missing and conversations were often divisive. No one wanted to work together. Blame was being tossed around quicker than the next breath. Nobody could see or find the root of the problem. It seemingly was always somebody else’s fault or their fault with nobody taking responsibility.Take time to ask and listen for other’s perspectives, challenges, and ideas. Click To Tweet
Cindy set out to discover what was really going on over her first 90 days. As she attended meetings and interviewed colleagues from all parts of the business, she welcomed other’s perspectives without judgment. She gathered facts to discern the root causes of the problems. The most common term that she shockingly heard on that journey was “them.” It was used in demeaning ways to pass blame where the perceived problems were. Picture everyone on a team pointing to someone else as the issue and nobody taking ownership or wanting to fix it.
The onboarding process of new client’s process was blurred and lacked accountability. Critical details were missing during the client setup process putting the group and individual policyholder accounts at risk. The incompleteness of information by all departments caused billing errors and benefit fulfillment issues. However, the fault was blamed on the customer experience team trying to provide high quality service. The organization blamed the service teams because this is where the issues were magnified when the cases became active.
When she began to look at the work and peel back the steps in the process, she found the drivers that caused the underperforming outcomes. Surprisingly, everyone had a part in the lackluster results, and nobody knew it. However, the client management and distribution teams would tell Cindy about her group or “how they” are not acting urgently or fulfilling the promised benefits. The missing details caused processes to be fraught with inaccuracies and flaws by the time services were delivered late or inaccurately to underwhelmed customers.Show genuine care and respect for each other rather than casting blame. Click To Tweet
This leader was looking for a way to share her findings in a way that wouldn’t trigger defensiveness and instead foster self-discovery. Early one morning, she was driving by a distribution center in Connecticut. There was this sign out in front of the entryway of this center for all the workers to see, each time they entered. It was a four-letter word on a sign that was about 20’ by 15’. It was hard to miss, even though she probably drove by that sign over 300 times in the last couple of years before spotting it.
The sign simply had the word “Them” with a symbol crossing it out like you would see with a No U-Turn or No Smoking sign. It was a sign for sure and she was open to connecting to it. No, it wasn’t denouncing or challenging pronoun choices and was a sign with greater meaning for her to notice and do something with it.
It was a light bulb moment as she thought, “No more blaming them, and it is our collective problem to solve.” A huge smile came to her face, and it became apparent that this was the core problem to solve before the group did anything else at work. She had this idea to inspire the teams to embrace each other with empathy and learn how each contributes to another in their respective roles. She thought, ‘Each person needs to be open to finding a new way forward to help us all thrive and succeed together.’Take notice of the words that get in the way of team excellence and collaboration. Click To Tweet
Later that day, she asked other leaders to embrace this same slogan with her. “Problems are ours, not theirs to solve.” The team reluctantly agreed to run the experiment with a commitment to work together in an intentional manner. However, everyone heard her and agreed to no longer accept the use of the word “them” in meetings or discussions when used to put blame or fault on others.
The leaders led the way and politely asked others to replace the word “them” with “us.” It was awkward and annoying to many at first. She felt funny having to keep cutting people off in dialogue to try again using different words or to use our actual names in place of the word “them.” Certainly, when we humanize “them” it becomes even harder to throw people under the bus. She decided to commit to this with a purpose to help people see their part and to embrace working stronger together in the long run.See and own your part of the problem to take steps to be part of the solution. Click To Tweet
To her delight, many started to see their part of the problems and take steps to fix incomplete paperwork or address customer data issues directly versus passing it on to someone else. The customer complaints improved with fewer errors and problems while delivering service on the expected benefits they provide their employees. The leader noticed a difference and thought, ‘When we began to see greater results working as one team, we believed and trusted enough to change together.’ She learned that each organization member had formed habits and beliefs focused on the individual self rather than the greater team. Cindy noted that ‘we were stuck and continuing to pile on rather than help each other get up to address the real problems.’
Several months later, with a collaborative focus on “us” instead of “us vs. them,” the group stabilized the business to return as a viable competitor and tremendously improved the customer experience. Advisors selling these solutions regained confidence and began bringing these products back on their radar to offer clients. As errors diminished, customer net promotor scores became respectable, and sales volumes grew again.Seek for a greater purpose and help others for the greater good. Click To Tweet
Expand for a common purpose, if you have a team or work in an area that is struggling with results or are often quick to blame one another. Another watchout is when people with differing teams say, “Our team is doing a good job—it’s everyone else or that other team not doing their part.” Either way, stop and dig into the issues as a team of “us.” Ask the teams to refrain from using the word “them” or to always take part in owning problems holistically with a commitment to help fix and figure out the best path forward together.
When embracing this unified mindset, people begin vulnerably accepting the opportunity for ongoing improvement and change. There is more safety and acceptance of vulnerably owning issues without blame or judgment and with a greater purpose in mind. Trust and common bonds form. Inviting, productive and safe conversations become the norm. As a result, authentic and inclusive collaboration thrive when treating each other with genuine care and respect, regardless of what team you are on or where you come from. Business results can excel, and possibilities become plentiful when the focus shifts from “them” to “us” with a belief our best is being together as one team.Thrive Together: Use words to bind, not divide us. Click To Tweet