The CEO of a general contractor attributes the high turnover rate of newly hired administrative assistants to their inability to learn construction terminology quickly enough to apply it to proposal writing. The new hires quickly fall behind in their work, and the estimators whom they assist are unable to satisfy the needs of potential and established clients. The general contractor (client) has hired an external training and development consultant to help design a training program that will enable new hires to quickly learn construction terms so that they are able to write proposals and keep up with their work load. The four areas of resistance that the consultant is likely to face with the client during the contracting meeting, just before the project begins, during a weekly project status meeting, and very early into the project are rationalization of the problem, phenomenal improvement, forcing resolution, and questioning results of collected data.
Rationalizing the Problem
During the contracting meeting, the consultant begins to formulate action steps to create the requested training program. The client may interrupt the consultant, stating that good help is just hard to find these days. The client may begin to introduce other theories that could be contributing to the high turnover rate. The client may begin to speculate that the new hires feel that they are not receiving fair compensation for the amount of work expected of them. “Perhaps the solution to this problem is simply a salary adjustment”, the client conjectures. “We’ve had to fire many of the new hires”, the client continues. “Perhaps they are not being honest about their work experience, and we should really concentrate on verifying their credentials”, the client proposes. The consultant should not agree with the client that these theories are substantiated, nor should the consultant continue the conversation with his/her own theories of why there is such a high turnover rate. To bring the discussion back to action steps and away from theories, the consultant should say to the client, “Each time we are close to deciding on action steps, you introduce new theories on why the turnover rate of new hires is high.” The consultant should then remain silent. After a few seconds the client may move to a position of choice by saying, “You are right; we must stay on track here. Please continue describing your plan of action.” The client is now engaged in the conversation and is committed to collaborate with the consultant in developing the action plan.
Phenomenal Improvement of the Problem
Just before the consultant is scheduled to begin the project, the client may see that things have improved, especially if new hires aren’t leaving their positions as quickly as before. If the consultant’s initial contact with the client and start of the project are several weeks or months apart, the client may have other findings to report when the consultant calls the client to confirm commencing the project. The client may say, “You wouldn’t believe how much better things are going. The project can begin as scheduled, but the estimators are up to date with their proposals, and three of our new hires have stayed over 30 days.” From the consultant’s perspective, there are several reasons why the client may be seeing an improvement in employee performance; the construction season is slowing down and with it the work load, the estimators have taken on more of the proposal writing tasks, the estimators have come to accept poorly written proposals as the norm, etc. But the consultant shouldn’t comment on theories. Instead the consultant should say to the client, “You seem to be hesitant about beginning the project.” The consultant should then remain silent, anticipating that the client would respond with some indication that he/she is ready to take responsibility and act on the project.
Forcing Resolution of the Problem
The busy construction season is just winding down as the consultant begins the project. Still fresh in the mind of the client are the months of scrambling and confusion that have taken place because of the company’s inability to keep up with the demand for proposals. Very early into the project the client begins to press the consultant for solutions. Although the consultant wants to please the client, the consultant doesn’t think it will do either of them any good to rush into a solution without first examining the problem. The client would probably learn very little from rushing to a solution, and therefore the solution would not be implemented effectively. The consultant should name the resistance by saying to the client, “Formulating solutions at this stage of the project is premature. A determination of the extent of the performance gap still needs to be made.” The consultant should then remain silent. The consultant should also be aware of the client’s body language for clues about the resistance.
Questioning Results of the Collected Data
The consultant will be conducting a front end analysis that will require involved data collection, including the distribution of a questionnaire. During a weekly project status meeting the client may ask for the results of the questionnaire. The consultant should dedicate about ten minutes of the meeting to talk about the results. If the client continues to question the consultant’s collected data beyond the ten minute point, the consultant should recognize the questioning as resistance. The consultant should put the resistance into words by saying to the client, “Your extensive questioning of the collected data concerns me. Are you uncertain of the reliability of the results?” The consultant should then remain silent, even if the silence makes the consultant uncomfortable. By reacting to the resistance in this manner, the client should realize that clarity of the data collection method had been gained from the discussion that had already taken place. The consultant would then move on to focus the discussion on problems and action.
To overcome resistance, the consultant should engage the client in conversations to gain commitment from the client. In this manner, the consultant collaborates with the client in developing the action plan. The consultant should also be aware of the client’s body language for clues about the resistance. Areas of resistance should be acknowledged by the consultant rather than ignored. After identifying areas of resistance, the consultant should remain silent to allow the client to focus the discussion on problems and action.
By Shirley J. Caruso, M.A. Human Resource Development