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  • Sophie Clifford Eva Edel

HR: 3 key strategies for the ghostbusters of internal strife

This blog is based on research we did across different organisations where participants were mainly HR people and senior leaders. The aim was to inform us on the type of conflicts organisations are facing, the impact it has on them and the strategies used to address them. Our first conclusions can be found here. Here is our second set of conclusions focused on the role of HR.

Who gets the call when a performance management conversation has turned sour, when there’s infighting within a team, when two managers are working against each other? HR. The ghostbusters of internal strife in organisations.

Is it easy to be a HR Ghostbuster? We all know it’s not. We researched what works best from a HR perspective to avoid those headaches / resolve them and found 3 key solutions.

1. Diagnose early and strategise

We all know that the earlier we get to the issues, the better. The earlier, the more chance of preventing them from ever becoming real goblins (to pursue my ghostbuster theme). There are 2 ways to do this:

Use engagement data. Having run a detailed engagement survey that revealed a feeling that performance issues were not being visibly addressed, this HR head was in a much better position to intervene before it became a real ER issue. She put in place a whole training plan and support for managers. Contrast that with the partnership that only heard about their staff’s discontent after a formal grievance was issued by 6 of them. They lost 3 of the 6 valued staff in the months that followed despite their best efforts. There’s a multitude of tools out there that make this easy such as Peakon (you can pulse every 2 weeks) and Culture Amp.

Getting managers to flag issues early. Managers are often the first to know there’s a problem. But whether they flag it so things can be nipped in the bud seems to depend on what role HR plays. Read on for more insights on this.

2. Identify sounding boards

Managing people has its fair share of tricky issues: the disengaged employee, the one who only wants to do the fun work, the one who’s pretty invisible now we are remote only etc. Even managing high achievers has its challenges. When it goes wrong, the impact is huge (100% of respondents said that unresolved frictions between people have a real impact - with 55% saying a significant impact). To get it right, we all benefit from a good sounding board and managers are no exception. Who can managers turn to for help in your organisation?

In some companies, we found the Head of People or an HRBP is managers’ trusted partner; someone they can run their headaches by and who is well equipped to help devise (and sometimes implement) the best approach. This is particularly true in companies under 50 people (and especially in tech), but harder as companies grow. HR may no longer have the luxury of spending time with managers on individual issues that are not yet catastrophes, as the board wants HR to focus on handling growth, big change programs or other strategic plans. There are also managers who prefer not to expose their perceived failings to HR. And sadly, there are some managers who see HR as overly focused on process and unhelpful.

If HR can’t be that support, it’s about identifying other sounding boards. Our research shows people are most comfortable with internal solutions - it is extremely rare to call upon a mediator or external coach, so whatever is put in place needs to feel easy to access and low risk. Here are some ideas: a helpline for managers to access coaching specific to these kinds of challenges at their point of need (like our sounding board service), a formal buddying system for managers, nominated management champions.

3. Make sure the sounding boards are up to the task

When managers do not have access to professional support, we found they rely either on their experience or on loved ones for advice. Experience can work but at best it is a lonely place. How many times has a friend asked you for advice on how to handle a tricky workplace situation? Typically managers ask their friends or family, and that can be patchy, because who’s to say their advice is any good.

Whatever you put in place to support managers, it needs to be from people who are well equipped to advise and troubleshoot. Our research shows that over 90% of organisations use some kind of internal coaching, facilitated or mediated conversation to resolve the problems. But only 25% were very effective. Then again only 9% of those intervening to help were trained as mediators or coaches. So why not take the approach of one large tech company that chose to train all its HRBPs in how to conduct a facilitated conversation. We have years of experience in facilitating such conversations so let us know if we can help.

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