When speaking to a friend from church recently, our discussion turned toward relationships. In her full-time work as a Spiritual Director, she mentioned that marriages are beautiful both in the beginning and in the end. However, she said … “The middle can be messy!”

As we continued our conversation, she made a comment that resonated with me even outside of marriage: “The key is working through the mess.”

The Mess

Here are examples of messes that can happen in the workplace:

  • Steve is upset that the promotion went to Stephanie. He felt he had excelled during the past few years in his position, and he even completed an MBA recently.
  • A key customer keeps questioning the level of customer service they are receiving from your company. In some cases, it takes more than a week to resolve issues, and they are now doubting your company as the right solution for the future.
  • Several of your tech team members are frustrated that their recommendations are falling on deaf ears. They have proposed new features to improve the quality of products and services produced by your company. In the past few months, these team members have taken an apathetic approach, and they are now merely meeting the minimum expectations. After all, their recommendations are being ignored.

There are so many different examples we can share here about the messes in every organization, but I think this gives you a good idea.

Working Through It

In my work as a Project Manager, I’ve learned that the best way to deal with messes is to go right through them. They will not resolve themselves.

It is important we conduct what is called root cause analysis. In other words, we must know the underlying cause of any problem or conflict; otherwise, we will be fighting only the symptoms of the situation.

Let’s tackle the example where Steve is upset that the promotion went to Stephanie instead of him. The wrong approach is to make the decision and hope Steve reconciles the issue on his own.

He will not.

In fact, he will be even more upset as time goes by, and eventually he will look for employment elsewhere. Worse yet, he could stick around in the department and possibly sabotage success.

Therefore, one approach to working through the mess is to schedule a meeting with Steve immediately and let him know directly why the decision was made to promote someone else. If he is indeed a strong candidate, we can let him know he is in line for future promotions.

We can say the following: “Steve, we know you are upset about this decision, and we understand. However, you are a terrific employee, and you will have opportunities for advancement here soon. In fact, we are going to work with you to help you realize your goals in our organization.”

As you can see with this approach, it is far better to deal with the mess immediately and provide a solution. Steve will still be disappointed about being passed up, but he now has more information about how the decision was made. He will also appreciate the positive reinforcement.

In sum, do the hard stuff early and work through the mess.