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The Art of Compromise

It's an essential tool for the mid-level manager.

by Kate (November, 2003)

(Note: Kate is a mid-level manager for a major industry company.)

The print media dedicate pages to it, talk shows chat non-stop about it, and news broadcasts view it from all angles. What is it? Gay marriages. Everyone has an opinion, the loudest of which are black and white, either for it or against it. If you listen carefully though, you will find a gray area where a small group is pushing civil unions instead of marriage. This last group is practicing the fine art of compromise, offering each party some of what it wants rather than winning or losing everything.

Every office debate has two viewpoints. Actually, there is a third Ė compromise Ė which is often forgotten or worse, not even considered. The "winning side" is often that of the employee in the most senior or supervisory position. At times it is the most knowledgeable viewpoint, but just as often it isnít.

The people who are charged with actually doing the work, rather than supervising it, are intimately aware of what is and what isnít possible. They know their products better than anyone else because they have created them from the ground up. They know the limitations of their computer programs and the available staff time. The further up the corporate ladder an employee progresses, the more removed and less knowledgeable he becomes about the nuts and bolts of getting the product out the door.

If you are a supervisor...

In less than six months the intricate computer programs you once worked with have been upgraded and your knowledge of them is rusty. Now some tasks can be done quicker while others have been slowed by the upgrades. Within 12 months many new products have been developed and your knowledge of how they made it through the product development system is cursory. You know what steps were taken and who took them, but the intricacies of how that was accomplished escape you. After 18 months, the knowledge of who did what, how long it took, and what steps were done in order for the process to be achieved is foggy.

You have a knowledgeable, competent staff that does not require micro managing, so you have been able to give your full attention to your new responsibilities while your staff has done their job and kept products moving. Life is good; products are being developed and moved through the system with only minor hitches. Your bosses are generally pleased, as are those whom you supervise.

Then "Murphy" and his laws enter stage left. A product new to your company is being developed. You meet with your staff and review what needs to be done, the deadlines to be met and the outside resource people to hire. Everyone is upbeat about the new challenge, and you leave the meeting confident and proud of your staffís enthusiasm.

Within a week grumblings and problems start surfacing. Before you can even meet with your staff, the grapevine has reached upper management which is not pleased with the costs, the deadlines, or something.

As middle management, you are firmly stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place: two black-and-white viewpoints Ė the goals of the company and the realities of the process. Itís your turn to find the gray area and mediate a compromise that will achieve the best for both sides.

You have to be willing to admit to your staff that you are no longer familiar with all of their issues (and upper management is even less familiar), and you should consider spending time observing and learning about the hurdles they have encountered. You need to work with them to arrive at solutions to these hurdles. This may include outside sources, overtime, or changes in project priorities.

Next you need to bring not only the problems but also available solutions to your superiors in an informed, professional manner. They in turn need to examine the entire situation and weigh the solutions you have proposed on behalf of your staff. It's their turn to move into the gray area and make a decision for you to pass down to the staff.

In an ideal world, all company employees, from upper management to production staff, will be able to shift from being adamant about their viewpoint to being realistic about what can and cannot be accomplished. In the real world, this doesnít happen as often as it should as a willingness to listen and compromise is often seen as backing down. Or "worse", it is admitting that the other viewpoint has merit and that one doesnít have all the knowledge necessary to make the best decision.

Itís unfortunate more people donít realize that compromise is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength Ė that everyone is strong enough and confident enough to examine what is best for all involved and are willing to compromise to make that happen.

(Note: You can read Kateís previous columns by clicking on the titles in the right-hand column. Have any comments about stolen designs or products? Email Kate at katescollagecln@aol.com.)



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