Be Compassionate Without Destroying Consistency
The other day, “Joe” reached out with a genuine dilemma. Throughout this crisis, he’s encouraged his supervisors to be compassionate. Because, like you, he knows that everyone is dealing with their own set of challenging circumstances.
Like you, he’s focused on doing the right thing for the human beings on the team. Which, of course, means an extra dose of flexibility.
This compassionate, flexible approach worked great—at first. But, now, half a year into this work-at-home reality, with no end in sight, people are complaining about consistency.
And frankly, a few folks are taking advantage of the loosened expectations. The results could be better. The supervisors who try to reign things in look like the bad guys. Frustration abounds.
How to Calibrate Compassionate Consistency
So what should Joe (and you) do? How do you reset expectations without being a jerk? How do you create compassionate consistency within and across teams?
It starts with setting parameters and calibrating with specific examples.
We find it helpful to think about decisions in three buckets: hard lines, soft lines, and your lines.
These are areas where employees don’t have much discretion. Think compliance, ethics issues, or even brand standards. Your people can’t bend a rule like that without coming to you.
And, you’re not likely to budge either. Being really clear about your hard line parameters saves time and frustration—for everyone.
Soft lines are decisions that have more discretion. People are free to make the call, within certain boundaries. This is where calibration is vital.
For example, suppose you will bend your attendance policy, giving people an extra chance for extraordinary family circumstances during this time. What does that actually mean? It’s likely that your managers will have different interpretations of what constitutes “extraordinary.”
Start by identifying what decisions fall into your “soft lines” bucket, and then play with some imaginary “what if” scenarios, and help the team collaborate and discuss what they would do. It’s far easier (and way less emotional) to calibrate on what compassion looks like in “pretend” situations. And, having already had a similar discussion makes it easier to be consistent when the time comes to make the tough call.
And if there are areas where your team truly has discretion, be very clear about what those are. For example, if you only need people in “the office” (working synchronously) during certain hours, say so. And give them the flexibility to manage the rest of their schedule around their life. Or, perhaps you’re requiring every manager to hold a weekly one-on-one with each member of their team, but exactly what that looks like is up to them.
It’s surprising how often people feel overly constrained in areas where they actually have discretion.
The antidote to uncertainty is clarity. The more clear you can be about who owns the decision, and calibrate on what a compassionate response actually looks like, the easier it will be for your managers to make the right, and more consistent, call.