Surviving Friendly Fire
5 tips for dodging bullets when dealing with internal employees
Within virtually every organization, employees from different departments will have to interact with one another without having direct authority over them. That can easily create conflicts and bruised egos. That’s why, when I coach teams on how to enhance internal customer satisfaction, I remind them that it’s not just what they communicate to other departments, but how they do so. To ensure you and your team are seen less as interruptions, and more as value adding assets, keep in mind these five tips…
1. Talk in person
Too often, we initiate communications to other departments in writing when we should opt for face to face conversations. When you have a new request or procedure that requires explaining, begin by talking in person to that department’s key influencers. Ask for their advice – literally. That word lowers their defenses and helps generate buy-in. Ask who else you should be talking to on their team – including any naysayers. Finally, when you decide upon the most likely to be accepted course of action, send a short written summary; more as a confirmation than as a proposal or directive.
2. Be a straight talker
Write the way you speak. Your communiques to coworkers should sound like a conversation; not a press release, essay, or legal document. Occasionally, sprinkle in some self-effacing humour. That makes you sound more like a real person and less like a bureaucrat.
3. Make your communications RACI
An engineer client of mine explained that on every construction project, team members from all departments agree upfront how the communications will be handled using the acronym R.A.C.I. The only people who will be copied on emails about the project will be: R – the one person who is Responsible for overseeing the project, A – the senior person who will be held Accountable for the project, C– people outside the project who may be Consulted for input, and finally, I – who should be Informed throughout the project. By clarifying how communications will be handled in advance, you reduce confusion and prevent others from becoming annoyed when you copy them (or don’t copy them) on a message.
4. Nix the self-promoting
Any announcement that remotely sounds like patting yourself on the back is going to be met with scorn and derision; the exact opposite of what you’re trying to achieve. Instead, take the generous approach when announcing a success, and go to lengths to recognize others who helped make it happen. Ironically, the more you heap praise on others while leaving yourself in the background, the more likely you are to be appreciated and respected for your generosity and humility.
5. Forget becoming a BFF
It’s sad and slightly pathetic how some employees try too hard to fit-in with co-workers in other departments. A boomer-aged accountant in a suit will have a hard time being seen as “just one of the guys” with young millennials clad in coveralls out in the field. Nor should he try. He’d be better off viewing his role as the field department’s Trusted Advisor from accounting. He should be quick to express admiration about the amazing things that operations folks are doing in the proverbial trenches. His colleagues in the field will appreciate that he respects them while he’s also comfortable in his own skin. In fact, they may even become protective of him, especially when he arrives on site to talk to them in person. Sure he’s an accountant; but darn it – he’s our accountant.
Providing support and advice to internal employees requires not just competence, but also some street smart communication skills. The good news is with just a bit of training, co-workers can avoid preventable battles and instead become valued – literally, as trusted advisors.