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Annie Ward


Editor, HR Zone

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Trainer’s Diary: Attack Isn’t Always The Best Form of Defence


Byron Kalies
What do you do when you’re faced with a room full of people who either don’t want to be there, or, even worse, really, really do want to be there because they can’t wait to give you some direct feedback on the new system?

Yes. We’re talking about introducing a new performance management system.

This is a facet of training where experience is vital. If you’ve been through it all before and know how the people are feeling you are way ahead.

You need a top attitude, a huge amount of empathy, balance and a thick skin. You need to realise that you are not the system. People aren’t attacking you. Really they’re not, although I admit the distinction can get a little blurred at 3:30 pm on a Thursday afternoon when you’ve run 23 of these sessions and you’re just about halfway through the organisation.

A digression. I once attended a seminar run by an eminent management guru, Gerry Egan. His first question to a room of senior managers was;

“Would you like to save £1 million?”

There were puzzled looks all around.

“At a conservative estimate.” he added.

“Of course we’d like to know.”

“Get rid of your Performance Management Systems.”

“But ours is different….”

“It costs a fortune to maintain. Your staff hate it. It causes more grief than anything else in the organisation. It takes too much time.“

“What can we replace it with?”

“Managers doing their job.”

Back to performance management. You’ve worked with these people before so you know how much they hated the old system. Don’t lose sight of that. You’ve had this on change, policy and management courses and now they’re getting rid of this system, so it should be good news, right? Ah, not quite.

If you’re familiar with the ‘coping cycle’ (Adams, Hayes, Hopson) which looks at how people cope with change, this is classic, ‘use it as an example on the next course’ behaviour. If you’re not familiar the model basically looks at the stages people go through when faced with change:

  • Defence

  • Denial

  • Discarding

  • Adapting

  • Internalising.

When there’s an imposed change people tend to get a little stuck in defence and denial mode. This is all these people are doing. They’re resisting change. They’re not bad people. Unfortunately you’re the one that’s got to ease them through the defence, denial stages. It isn’t easy but it’s your job.

This is where your top attitude comes into play. You need to realise that it’s not personal and that these people are vulnerable. You need trust, patience and genuine empathy.

Don’t show the ‘coping cycle’ as a form of defence, attack or retaliation. If you are going to use it – use it early to illustrate how the process works. Otherwise it can be seen as a way of slapping people down with a ‘I know better than you attitude’.

The top tip, however, is to keep that top attitude going. This takes great skill and patience and I’m delighted to have come across it this week. I was observing a session by Catherine Conn and was really impressed. Top attitude Catherine.

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Annie Ward

Editor, HR Zone

Read more from Annie Ward

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