Joan Lowery Nixon once said, “Life is not easy. We all have problems-even tragedies-to deal with, and luck has nothing to do with it. Bad luck is only the superstitious excuse for those who don't have the wit to deal with the problems of life.” As people leaders, you are responsible to manage people to achieve desired business goals. When you manage people, you are bound to have people problems; and to be an effective leader, you should know how to deal with people problems. As a people leader, you may encounter most of problems related to either behavioral/attitudinal or performance. Some common problems like absenteeism, time keeping, negative behaviors, under performance or ethical violations or any core value violations or any other people problems you come across in day today work life.
Running away from any problem only increases distance from the solution, the easiest way to escape from the problem is to solve it. As a people leader, you cannot afford to ignore or delay to deal with any people problems because you may set a wrong example to others people in the organization and hamper the performance culture of the organization; further, it may impact on people morale and the overall organizational performance. Therefore, it is important for any leader to know how to deal with people problems effectively and more over it makes you a better people leader when you deal with problem aptly in time. Duke Ellington said, “A problem is a chance for you to do your best.” So let’s see below four simple steps approach to D-E-A-L with any people problems:
D - Discuss the problem and opportunities
First step to deal with any problem is to have discussion, great philosopher Dalai Lama once said, “The best way to resolve any problem in the human world is for all sides to sit down and talk.” So have a discussion with person concerned to get the specific facts, figures, evidences, date, time, information, statements related to the problem. It is true that a problem well defined is half solved. Like a doctor who has to take into account all the information, symptoms and diagnose the patient thoroughly before deciding to prescribe medicine to the patient. On other hand, problems are opportunities as Henri Kaiser said “Problems are only opportunities in work clothes." When there are no problems to solve, then there would not be any thrill in working and there would not be any progress or development in our life. One should be thankful for the problems, if they were less difficult, someone with less ability might have your job. Once Deepak Chopra made a comment that “The highest levels of performance come to people who are centered, intuitive, creative, and reflective - people who know to see a problem as an opportunity.“
E - Establish causes and goals to resolve problem
Second step to deal with problems is to establish the root causes of the problem. Every problem is different and every problem has different causes — it may be a personal problem, family troubles or worries about finance or health, it may be problem with people behavior, lack of adequate resources to perform, bitter experiences in the past, demotivation or dissatisfaction because of unfair treatment, subjective appraisal, resentment, harassment, differentiation. It can also be a skill issue with someone or may be will issue with others, it may be interpersonal issues, and there could be a single reason or multiple reasons for a particular problems. Once you establish the cause of the problem, then you need to set clear and specific goals and expectations to work on with clear success criteria, action plan and explain your decision, purpose, clarify the situations, explain the benefits of resolving the problems and consequences of not achieving desired expectations of goals. As Dr. Robert Schuller said, "Again and again, the impossible decision is solved when we see that the problem is only a tough decision waiting to be made."
A - Agreement and appropriate action
A third important step to deal with people problems is to get alignment and agreement with the set goals, get the buy-in on the roles, responsibilities and accountabilities. If there is no acceptance, there will be no achievement. Once you get agreement, then get into action as per the goal plan. Provide regular support, inputs, feedback and coaching to make sure the problem is mitigated and subsequently resolved as Catherine Pulsifer commented “A problem is only a problem if you refuse to look for a solution. If you don't take action to fix it then it will remain a problem.” And rightly remarked that “Once you decide what you want, set your sights and start taking action to achieve it. This "action" is the commitment on your part. And, once you are committed to a goal, really committed, problems are short term.” So have agreement and commitment to action plan, which is crucial to deal with any problem.
L - Look out for improvements and options to resolve
Fourth and the last step is to look out for improvement in behaviors and performance. Continuously monitor the progress to make sure things are going seamlessly as per action plan if; and if you notice any deviations, act immediately to sort out the issue then and there so that they will not become complex later on. Check results if things are going as per plan; appreciate the efforts and encourage people to stay on course. In case things are not going as per plan then look for alternatives options and actions. In spite of support if people do not pick up or change their behavior or in capable of doing the work and no improvement are achieved and all earlier efforts have been exhausted then last resort to invoke the disciplinary procedures. It is normal to go through the formal disciplinary procedure containing staged warnings and finally close the case by seeking support from legal and higher management.
D-E-A-L in a nutshell
Anthony Robbins said, “Every problem is a gift - without problems we would not grow.” So look at the problem as opportunities first discuss thoroughly to understand the problem, get the inputs and then establish causes of the problem, set the goals then get agreement and gain commitment to work on action plan. Finally, look out continuously to make sure implementation plan is on track and check results if you do not see any improvements in behaviors and performance look out for other options to resolve and as last resort, invoke disciplinary action to resolve the problem. If results positively appreciate the efforts, celebrate and be happy. As Steve Maraboli said, “Happiness is not the absence of problems, it's the ability to deal with them.”
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