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Management – problem solving and compliance
By Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence AZ
Published: 07/13/2015


Based on my own summary of the many reports I have reviewed regarding problem solving in the workplace, I can deduct a few inferences that may be relevant to the behaviors and interpretations of what appears to be a creation of a confrontation rather than a conversation.

This entire episode is based on different perspectives of what is perceived to be a ‘routine’ procedure that has been complicated with the additional verbiage that is vague and ambiguous in nature while expecting a standard of compliance attached to it creating conflict.

First it must be noted we had two random actions. The asking [inquiry] of a questionable practice, which was not routine and the refusal to comply that was also not routine, but rather based on suspicion of purpose this alteration created.

These random actions serve as a trigger to what led to a confrontation and an assumption of deliberate ‘insubordination’ by those expected to comply while those who make these random changes to policies without a logical justification demand compliance.

However, when you dissect and break apart the random action noted, you will find inconsistencies of past practices and what may appear to be a mindless action or unnecessary action based on policy and how it is written. This kind of impromptu action leads to misunderstandings and confusion.

In many ways, it’s an unnecessary provocation which leads to conflict. One can add or remove elements of a policy but as a result of such action, you may create and engage in tail-chasing behaviors that are imperfections of the designed outcome of the policy.

In addition to the confusion, there comes along with it frustrations. Emotional outbursts or displays that disrupts the workplace. Whenever you add or delete a policy without warning or explanations, you may appear to be ‘nitpicking’ or customizing the intent of the policy thereby creating a harmful situation for friend or foe as there is no winner when there is chaos.

It is true, management reserves the right to change policies and procedures, however, in any culture where there are customs and practices, an adjustment period is recommended and a transition is most beneficial for comprehension and compliance purposes.

Random actions warrant authority – the authority has to be clear and consistent with training, mentoring or on the job training. It cannot be unproductive in nature and personally intrusive or designed to target someone differently from how others are or were treated. These are all legitimate reasons for concern. This authority should not reflect a 'bully style'' approach and should be empathetic in nature.

Such an environment causes hostilities, confusion and discontent in behaviors and conflict resolutions. One can see a vicious cycle of events happening based on one random action that may have been unjustified to begin with as it lacked authority to occur. If it was indeed authorized, it would have been executed repeatedly and consistently with every employee entering this same compliance area.

In today’s workplace environment, however peaceful or hostile it may be, everything is urgent and multitasking in nature. One makes up routines to cover the procedure in its own ways to comply with policies and procedures. However, under these circumstances, there are no consistencies and poor tolerances that lead to error. Errors that may lead to performance or production deficiencies or loss of profits and wasted yields.

The error is human based and humans make mistakes thus leadership allows mistakes to occur to meet certain personal tolerance levels. Inconsistencies are not tolerable acts and must be eliminated to secure the policy intent and purpose.

The approach, the presentation and the demeanor must be consistent and professional, while adhering to all required or mandatory interactions and requirements of both subordinates and leadership. There are no exceptions made for either party.

It is fair to deduct, in any preparation for work but not yet at work or duty station, there are elements of stress and when the approach or change is vague and unrelated to previous practices, a conflict is created.

Some may offer a non-answer as a response. He or she did not want to make a decision to speak or not to speak as the question was vague and appeared to be out of order of customs and practices as well as him being targeted for whatever reasons there were.

Although there may be passive compliance with the policy or procedure, it produced a non-answer as a response to the anomaly of those questions or changes posed.

Basically, this non-answer was devoid of any information but nevertheless, an answer in a responsive mode. That is a reality. Some may employees to respond with a non-answer. It is part of human nature to do so.

Those confronted with the change did not make that decision in haste but deliberately contemplated this response, based on the situation and environment presented to them at the time.

This cannot be a simple situation – it is a unique and unusual situation. It was never presented in such a less than decent decorum before and the employee may take an action that was deemed inappropriate and led up to a conversation and confrontation with the management in place.

They are dealing with humiliation and indignities when confronted with a verbal question not usually asked at this point of an established system or process. It was certainly an exception to the rule and caught the employee completely off-guard and may create a situation of ‘deliberate indifference’ as the employee becomes aware of him or her being treated differently than others.

As a result, he or she may chose a non-answer. This non-answer led up to more random motions and decisions that wasted time and multiplied the problem creating a more urgent matter than it really was initially. Sadly, there were no attempts to create a recovery but rather it took the course of an accusatory tone and demeanor when the situation was not warranted to be escalated to such a higher level.

Management should have recognized the procedure, the random action created a problem and he should have focused on the problem rather than the person who was targeted by this problem. Doing nothing is not acceptable. When nothing is done to provide a recovery process for the problem at hand, it becomes more complicated and escalates quickly.

In fact, if management handled the recovery post-era with a clarification memo indicating the random action was now a requirement and others must follow such requirements. Hind sight serves no purpose for those confronted with the change in real time situations.

When management does nothing to stop the cycle of confusing orders or procedures they create confusion and they appear to be focused on a principal individual rather than the random action taken. One would suggest that to STOP the problem would prioritize chastising the individual who was subjected to the problem.

Due to the vagueness of the random action, there was a bad communication attempt, an unclear vision of expectation by the employee, and nothing done to stop the cycling of the problem until after the fact when it was noticed others were taking the same actions with a non-answer to the question posed. Initially, the way the problem was presented, nothing was clear and nothing was solved.

True leadership requires clear and concise directives either verbally or written but with the appropriate notice of change in hand with the delivery of the random action. Otherwise, it is inconsistent with practice, training and understanding of the procedures at hand leaving it subjective in attitude, and intimidating in nature.

The employee was faced with a non-achievable goal as he or she did not recognize the random action as appropriately delivered, authorized and required at the time of his non-answer.

This points out poor communication, lack of control in policy interpretations, and speaks of ambiguous intentions when posed with a question not normally asked or posed during such a procedure. The main purpose for policies, procedures and employee handbooks are to serve as guidelines and practices in the workplace.

When a change is made, leadership or management, owes it to bring notice to the change and give employees a chance to digest the new information, thus avoiding digression of the change so they can comply without confusion or hesitation

Corrections.com author, Carl ToersBijns, (retired), has worked in corrections for over 25 yrs He held positions of a Correctional Officer I, II, III [Captain] Chief of Security Mental Health Treatment Center – Program Director – Associate Warden - Deputy Warden of Administration & Operations. Carl’s prison philosophy is all about the safety of the public, staff and inmates, "I believe my strongest quality is that I create strategies that are practical, functional and cost effective."

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