“Without trust, we cannot face the difficult challenges in our world today.” –Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General
When you think of a trustworthy organization, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Do you think of buzzwords like transparency, fairness, or honesty? Maybe you chuckle and think back to a time you worked for a particularly untrustworthy organization. If you’re really on your game, you probably even think about what steps your organization has been taking to ensure its trustworthiness.
In recent events, it has become apparent that misconduct is everywhere: in schools, in law enforcement, in religious organizations, in corporations, and more. The mismanagement of misconduct has created a lack of trust not only within organizations themselves but also throughout the larger community as a whole. Now, more than ever, it is imperative that your organization is taking the proper steps to ensure it is trustworthy.
One of the most critical areas in which you must focus on is that of conflict resolution. Despite the fact that conflict is inevitable, many organizations today lack the capacity to deal with it constructively and collaboratively. Most misconduct or inappropriate behavior can be resolved if the offender and victim(s) engage in an open conversation that is administered by a skilled facilitator or a coach. However, HR and administrators often mismanage these issues–whether it is due to their discomfort, a lack of knowledge/means, personal reasons, or perceived legal consequences–resulting in more problems. In the best-case scenario, there is only a breach of trust. In the worst-case scenario, organizations face huge liability, payouts, mental health issues for victims and offenders, and potential jail time for perpetrators. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary for organizations to examine what mismanaged misconduct looks like and how to properly address it in order to restore trust.
What does this look like?
So often, organizations have processes and procedures in place, but they don’t actually follow them or enforce them. In a desperate effort to avoid litigation, the administration delays addressing issues, becomes dismissive of the victim, and/or downplays and minimizes it. Phrases like “You probably misinterpreted it,” “We’ll look into it,” and “So-and-so would never do something like that” are common. These phrases are often followed by claims like “We investigated the issue but found that there were no malicious intentions” or “There isn’t enough of a reason to investigate your complaint.” When asked to show a report or give a status update, administrators sometimes even tell the victim that they “cannot share the report because it is confidential,” despite the fact that the victim is the one who filed a complaint in the first place. Disheartened and all too aware that they will not receive the help they need, victims often back down and let the issue go.
As complainants are unable to proceed with an honest investigation into their complaint, they clearly see that transparency is lacking. They no longer feel that the organization will help them, and they feel alone; targeted by both the offender and the institution, they have nowhere left to turn. Distrust begins to fester as victims lose confidence in the organization to deliver a just solution to the problem and believe that they are at risk. Understandably, when other members of institutions see this behavior, they begin to lose trust in the organization as well.
Adding to the distrust is the fact that as the offender repeats the misconduct, records are sealed and sanitized or documentation is either limited or nonexistent. All of this only contributes to a less trustworthy organization.
How Does Breach of Trust Impact Organizations?
When there is no trust, the entire organization suffers the consequences. The negativity and lack of trust act like a contagion, beginning with a few people and spreading throughout the entire organization. Eventually, the organization is no longer a safe place to work. Employee morale drops, and people begin to show up only to clock in and clock out. Productivity falters as employees are less incentivized to create the optimal product or offer the exemplary service. As this affliction spreads, commitment and loyalty become unfortunate casualties of the failed leadership. The organization begins to lose employees and turnover rates rise. In certain cases, employees might even go so far as to oust the leader for their inability to properly lead. At the end of the day, however, one truth remains: the organization is failing, headed for increased expenses, and higher liability.
How do we fix this problem?
Leadership Training with Best Practices
This article primarily focuses on cases of low to medium level severity, which includes light touching, inappropriate verbiage, perceived sexual harassment, potential discrimination, racism, mild bulllying. By addressing misconduct from the onset and holding everyone accountable, it is possible to collaboratively mend differences and stop the behavior before the severity and liability escalate. The key for all of this is to follow four steps:
- Establish, inform, and enforce proper codes and processes
- Have a skilled coach, facilitator, or counselor mediate communications
- Properly document and track everything in a system
- Create a relevant project to correct the behavior and promote understanding of consequences
Let’s look deeper into this…
As an HR manager, mediator, or administrator tasked in resolving conflict, there are several steps that you can follow to successfully address misconduct and resolve conflict. You must first begin by collecting everyone’s story. Through listening attentively and empathetically to both the victim and offender, you gain a better understanding of each side’s feelings and misconceptions. Don’t argue with their beliefs, feelings, or interpretations of actions; just listen and focus on empathizing with both parties. It is vital to fully understand why the complaint is being brought forward and to ask how each party sees a satisfactory resolution being reached.
Document everything that each party involved has told you. After you have separated the facts from the feelings and beliefs, log the information into the system or allow them to do it themselves. Next, ensuring that each side still understands your empathy toward them, share the perspective of the other party. Help the complainant gain an understanding of the offender’s motivation and actions and vice versa. Once both sides understand each other’s perspective, offer resolutions, and help them clear any misconceptions that might remain.
The ARC model™ is a proprietary tool developed to achieve satisfactory resolution. ARC stands for Accept, Reject, or Change behavior based on values, intentions, frequency, and injury level. In accordance with your institution’s policy, review the incident with each party and determine whether you will accept, reject, or change the behavior that caused the issue. Then, develop an actionable plan with clear consequences if the behavior is repeated. Once both parties are satisfied, document the plan and have it on record in case any issues reemerge.
If other people experience or complain about similar offensive behavior, then the organization should present the offender with an opportunity to work on a project that is related to the offensive behavior and will educate them about why this behavior is wrong. Alternatively, you can have the offender work together with the victim(s) to repair the behavior and restore trust through a collaborative project. This method allows the organization to mitigate the “risk” to the victims, prevent the offensive behavior, and demonstrate to all stakeholders that the organization is providing a path to treatment, recovery, and support.
If the behavior is repeated and/or intensifies, then a path to more serious treatment becomes necessary. This might include therapy sessions or a prolonged project in which the offender delivers a weekly report demonstrating their understanding of the impact and potential consequences of their actions. If your organization follows these steps and none of these options succeed in remedying the situation, you can then fire the offender with a justifiable claim of acting in good faith backed up by documentation of the behavior. By this point, you have done everything in your power to do right by the victim, offender, and company; the termination is justified, the liability is limited, and trust is effectively restored.
How Can We Help?
As an HR professional or administration member, you can revolutionize your organization’s approach to handling conflict. By actively listening, focusing on the wellbeing of all parties involved, and seeking learning opportunities from misconduct, you can transform your organization into the epitome of trustworthiness.
The key to effectively resolving this sort of conflict is through a strategic combination of technology and training. By documenting the behavior, intentions, and action plan in a centralized system like ICIARA, your company can monitor and track the behavior. Assigning each complaint a Severity and Liability Rating based on AI technology helps to detect and deal with issues in a timely manner when they do arise. Through the reporting module and the personalized action plan for each stakeholder, problems are dealt with constructively and transparently, and you can prove that you acted in good faith to mitigate the problem. In addition to this, it is necessary to implement training to help prevent issues before they arise and get to the root of the problem. Inform both victims and offenders of their rights and the process to mend differences on their own and provide them with the resources to resolve low-level cases. Taken together, training and technology will pave the way for you to build a more trustworthy organization.