Welcome to week four of my 13-part series for FURNITURE WORLD Magazine on employee retention. In the past few weeks we have looked at the all-important topics of employee orientation, and igniting loyalty. . This week we will move on to the topic of employee conflict, and what to do about it.
We’re all familiar with the term “mutiny” in the context of such popular stories as “Mutiny on the Bounty.” The mutinies of the late centuries occurred because of savage and inhumane conditions. Lack of food, terrible living quarters, outright torture and abuse and appalling work conditions all led to dissatisfaction and grumbling in the foc’sle and escalated to many an uprising.
So times have changed, and while your employees are unlikely to be complaining about maggots in their sea-biscuits, it is important to watch for the warning signs of discontent because it could spell disaster for you and your company.
Even the smallest of mutinies begin with conflict. Wait, you say, conflict can be good, can’t it? Yes, in fact, healthy organizations and successful businesses do not avoid conflict. To avoid conflict invites a brewing of sorts - an opportunity for the conflict to grow and fester until participants lose sight of the root cause altogether. A wise business owner will create forums for intentional communication to bring conflict out in the open.
Captain Greg Sager, owner of the successful Victoria furniture store, Sager’s Home Living, explains how he listens in order to understand the issues his employees may have. “It doesn’t always come out the way you think it might. Sometimes a grievance can be masked in humour, and I have learned to listen very carefully to what staff are saying to get to the heart of what it is they’re really telling me.” Capt. Sager knows the value of being a good listener, and his staff reaps the benefits as well (They also stay on board, with the average at over 20 years!). The first rule of thumb to avoid mutiny is to listen more than speak, and to ask questions more often than to give answers.
The second way to manage conflict may be to manage the rumour mill! Rumours can destroy goodwill, good intentions and good crews if they go unchecked. In a business that encourages open communication, where the leaders are trusted and respected, rumours have a more difficult time taking hold. A surefire way to open up communication is to encourage staff to bring the rumours to the forefront. You can accomplish this by trying what I did - creating a whole new section in your company newsletter. Call it “Rumour Buster” and allow staff to bring in what “they’ve heard” and as leader, you can then address each of the rumours. I heard of a rumour brewing once, surrounding an experiential outing, staff thought that the physical outing was actually a test in disguise, and that the mountain hike was designed as part of a performance evaluation! ( It wasn’t and I had to do some clear side-stepping and communication with all staff to allay this rumour!) If you don’t know they’re there – how can you manage or dispel them?
Avoiding mutiny is another of those tasks that is easier said than done – but every effort at increasing good communication with your employees will smooth the waters and create trust.
With no grumblings of mutiny onboard, your crew is now sailing along smoothly on productive and happy seas… what could go wrong? Now you just have to watch out for pirates! What? Yes, the pirates are your competition, or modern-day headhunters, and they are after your top employees. Next week we’ll explore some tips on how to be sure your best employees are not lured or stolen away by these pirates! Until then, keep the lines of communication open, and don’t turn a blind eye to conflict – it can be a vital opportunity if you can recognize and take advantage of it.
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Keeping Good Employees On Board
Furniture World is the oldest, continuously published trade publication in the United States. It is published for the benefit of furniture retail executives. Print circulation of 20,000 is directed primarily to furniture retailers in the US and Canada. In 1970, the magazine established and endowed the Bernice Bienenstock Furniture Library (www.furniturelibrary.com) in High Point, NC, now a public foundation containing more than 5,000 books on furniture and design dating from 1620. For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org.