You won’t find Steve Christian hiding in his office avoiding a problem that needs to be rectified. That philosophy wouldn’t be good for anybody and certainly not the organization.
“Don’t avoid confrontation,” says Christian, managing director of accounting and consulting firm Kreischer Miller. “A lot of people don’t like confrontation, but it’s really an opportunity to make an organization better.”
It’s similar to being handed lemons and making lemonade. You take a problem or a mistake, and you find opportunity by breaking it down until you understand what went wrong. You determine how you can fix the problem and how you can avoid it in the future.
Christian says two characteristics of being a good leader are confronting issues and maintaining a constant focus on the good of the organization. Well, those go hand in hand, and that’s how Christian chooses to lead the firm and his 200 employees.
Smart Business spoke to Christian about how to effectively deal with company problems.
Don’t avoid confrontation. Not many people, in my opinion, welcome confrontation. I happen to be somebody who doesn’t mind confrontation because I think it’s an opportunity to make things better.
If somebody has let the organization down, has let me down, they’ve done something wrong, they didn’t serve a client right, well, the easiest thing is just to ignore it. But that’s not what you’re supposed to do. You need to look at it as an opportunity to make that person better, make that situation better, make the organization better.
When you sit down to have these discussions or confrontations, which is sort of a harsh word, it’s really how do you handle it. Do you handle it constructively? Or do you handle it destructively?
If somebody performed less than stellar client service in our business — since we’re a consulting firm, an accounting firm — does it do a lot of good for me to sit there and scream at them, ‘Don’t ever do it again. What were you thinking?’ I’d much rather say, ‘John Doe, what happened here? This is their perspective. Why is it happening? What do you think? What are we going to do differently? We’ve all done that before. Just try to help the situation not recur. We can’t have it back.’
The easy thing for anybody in life is to just ignore it.
Prepare before the conversation. First of all, you have to tell yourself no matter how much I don’t want to have this conversation I have to have it for the good of the organization.
Then you just have to find the best way to communicate. What are you trying to communicate? What do you want to accomplish in this meeting with this person? You have to ask yourself that and then come up with a game plan or an action plan to communicate that.
Take the emotion out of the meeting. Perhaps it’s something that has very much upset me. I may not meet with that person right then. There’s maybe a cooling off period of some sort ... so there’s not a lot of emotion at the end of the day.
But you have to remind people what they need to be doing differently.
Communicate the need to improve. One sign of a good leader is ... you don’t throw people under the bus. When things happen, it’s all about, ‘How are we going to improve our organization?’
The fact that it was John Doe that did it really isn’t relevant to anything. In fact, it’s sort of good that John Doe did this because we’re going to be a better firm for it at the end of the day.
If I see something happening with an individual or individuals and I think it’s something that I worry could be pervasive or I can give people a heads up, be careful of that, I will then communicate, ‘Hey team, we’ve had a couple situations where this has happened. Obviously it doesn’t put us in the best light with people or clients. Just be sensitive to this issue.’
Offer openness in bringing up problems. They have to trust you. I encourage everybody here whenever they have issues or problems, they don’t have to come talk to me, they don’t have to go to HR. But they have to find somebody they’re comfortable talking to because often they have to be part of the solution to whatever the issue is.
If you treat people fairly and they know you have their best interest at heart, and you don’t harm them in any way, make fun of them or criticize them, they’re going to feel comfortable because they trust you. It’s all about trust at the end of the day. You have to be consistent. You have to treat them with respect. You can’t be up and down — up one day, down another.
Admit your own mistakes. We acknowledge that we’re wrong or I acknowledge that I’m wrong. We do two things: We try to right this ship and go another direction whatever that means. What I always do personally is I very rarely dwell on something that already happened. What I want to do is take away from it what can I learn and how could I (make) the process better or my decision-making better the first time around.
I acknowledge it in a meeting, I acknowledge it in writing, if I think we should have done something. I don’t try to justify it. I don’t try to rationalize it in any way. I am comfortable that people make wrong decisions.
You may have evaluated it properly but it turned out to be wrong. If you only look at it, as I said, for what’s the good of the organization — forget me politically in the organization, forget somebody else — but if you only care about the organization and its best interest, it’s easy to admit mistakes.
How to reach: Kreischer Miller, (215) 441-4600 or www.kmco.com