Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys

Dig, if you will, this picture: You’re sitting at your desk, thinking about how to improve information chunking, and you notice the walking, talking embodiment of workplace drama rapidly moving towards you. You immediately imagine John Quiñones lurking somewhere nearby and prepare to respond appropriately to the hidden camera test about to start.

Cheese Whiz

“We really need training on several things.” they begin. “For starters, we need: how to be professional in the workplace, how to communicate between departments and how to properly use TPS reports. Some people here are so clueless and have no professional etiquette. For example, Blair from marketing broke up with Kelsey from sales and now they are both looking for other jobs while making means faces at everyone. None of us in sales can focus and it’s costing us money. Someone needs to teach them how to act. You know what else? Jordan keeps squeezing Cheese Whiz* into the DVD player. That’s right. You know I like my cheese, but…” You get the idea.

How many of us find ourselves in the middle of interdepartmental dysfunction? The Polish saying used in the title loosely means: “You have your own issues, do not get involved with other peoples drama.” Generally speaking, that’s sage advice. However, there are a couple reasons learning professionals are unable to avoid workplace politics. One is because we’re often viewed as a solution provider, regardless of scenario. So anything and everything falls under the “We need training” umbrella. Second, depending on our level of influence, we are uniquely qualified to facilitate changes in an organization. At the very least we are able to analyze root causes and determine if performance or behavior gaps are a lack of knowledge, skills, or something else. As much as we may want to deny it, this is our zoo. These are our monkeys.

We’ve bumped our idealistic heads into too many realistic walls

Veterans of learning and development may scoff. We’ve bumped our idealistic heads into too many realistic walls. The idea that we can impact company culture to such a degree that workplace telenovelas are a thing of the past is great in theory, but impractical in real-world situations. “Our entire team of trainers in one room with four desks. We share a phone. We can barely produce content fast enough for each department. No way we’re going to fix inter-department squabbles. Meaningful change has to come from the top down.” Like water, some of us take the path of least resistance, dust off our “How to be a Professional” workshop, for the second time this year, and schedule it on the company calendar.  It is a popular session.

So, what’s the solution? Learn from past experiences and give up. Just kidding. Here are a couple of ideas.

Start small

It may be true the organization is too big and our role too small, to tackle a company-wide issue all at once. And yes, real change is ultimately driven by top stakeholders in C-suites. But the development request did land on our desk. For our own sense of accomplishment, we must do something. How about starting small? We do have control over the next session request brought to us by our cheese-loving guru.  Our goal could be to create change advocates within teams and departments. Success, once taken root, can spread over time.

Working with leaders and members of a smaller group, say just the sales team, we limit the scope of the learning objectives and resulting change. Stakeholders, for our purposes, are direct managers. Our audience, their team. We can turn the professionalism session from “How to be a Professional” to “How to Spread Professionalism.” We’ve not completely wandered into the drama pit of warring and siloed departments. Instead, we’ve created an oasis of results with the potential to grow from the bottom up.

Full Jerry Maguire

Write the memo. We’re talking large scale project management with a direct sales push to senior executives. Whether they like it or not. They hired us for a reason, right? Open and honest communication takes guts. We know in our hearts, this is the right thing to do. We reach out to different department heads and C-Suite members. We conduct a complete examination of why HR policies like “No Cheese Whiz in Video Equipment” are followed inconsistently.

Keeping it 100, I have attempted both of these options, with varying degrees of success. Starting small was wildly successful and spread as intended, going full “Maguire,” less so. Wasn’t awful, just not as successful. This post is a discussion. Each of us has unique situations and our solutions will reflect them. 

How do you handle the workplace development drama? What do you do when your root cause analysis goes ignored?  Leave a comment below and be entered in our monthly giveaway.

*Not it’s intended use.

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