Bullying can simply be the result of a lack of basic skills
Turning around the performance of a massive and failing chemicals factory required the emotional engagement of its workforce; because there was so much to change. I was the change champion who faced this challenge in Huddersfield some years ago.
Workforce engagement will only happen if everyone feels valued and respected and that they each have a part to play in helping the business succeed. This is not possible in a prevailing bullying culture.
The factory’s senior shop steward, who was a wise and discerning man, gave me an insight one day that was critical in helping to get the non-managerial workforce involved in the turnaround. He told me that people experienced a lot of bullying from their supervisors. It was his view that this was mainly caused by a lack of basic management skills. Well, it was certainly my view that the turnaround would require some carefully chosen supervisory training. I consulted the supervisors’ representatives and their managers and we introduced a programme of short front-line management workshops. These dealt with everyday, basic, supervisory issues such as: giving instructions; handling performance problems; dealing with lateness; reacting to aggressive and rude behaviour; etc. Each short workshop was underpinned by the same core behaviours, e.g. listening; acknowledging contributions, or feelings; seeking others’ views and suggestions; etc.
The results were exceptional with industrial disputes becoming almost non-existent and absenteeism more than halved. We also got a lot of active participation by the operatives in the many task groups that had been set up as part of the turnaround strategy. In five years the energy, commitment and creativity from successfully engaging the workforce in the turnaround transformed the factory from one of the worst in the Group to one of the best worldwide.
Tackling bullying is not just a matter of having excellent grievance procedures. It also requires training managers in the skills they need to get work delivered whilst enabling people to feel valued and respected.
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