“Heiko, I know that Pieter (we’ll call him that for now) wants to join my team. But I don’t want him. It’s just that I find it awkward to say so. It’s not even that I don’t want him – it’s rather that I want Alex (who also has a different name in real life) instead, because I really enjoy working with him. He complements me perfectly. And he’s got experience that would come in useful with this client. I know where I am with Alex.”
“Hmm”, I answered, “I understand. But I also understand Pieter’s position. He wants the chance to get his hands on a project like this, and I think he’s up to it.”
“Yes, I can see that,” my colleague replied, “but I’ve already worked a few times with people who had a steep learning curve on the project we were dealing with, and this time I really just want to get on with it without delay.”
“Okay, fair enough, so now the question is: how are you going to tell him?”
Yes, I thought it was a good question. And one that I sometimes have to face myself. For the past few months, our organisation has been working on improvements to project staffing. From the perspective of the client and the task, we examine what the best configuration is for the team. And from the viewpoint of the consultant, we look at how they can contribute while continuing their own development. It’s often a case of ‘two steps forward and one step back’. These days, we share our staffing questions during the Obeya. The Obeya is our weekly office meeting on Friday mornings, during which we focus on our performance and learnings. During the staffing part, you make it known whether you want to get involved in a project or a sales pitch. It’s up to the proposer or project leader to put together a good team. This may therefore also mean telling a colleague that you’re choosing someone else to do a particular job. And we find this difficult…
So what we see happening is that we sneakily try to put a team together without telling the colleague the true reason (e.g. “I don’t think you’re good enough for this job”, or “You and your personality aren’t such a good match for the client’s profile/culture”. We don’t give transparent feedback: “Oh, forgot to mention it to you but the team’s already full, couldn’t get hold of you…”. We find it awkward to receive a message like this ourselves, and we recognise ourselves in the other person. It’s hard to separate what you do from who you are. That’s why we think and act for the other person. To protect the other person. But actually to protect ourselves.
“Okay,” I said, “I think it’s good that you’ve come to me with this question. And if I understand correctly, you’re not going for the easiest option. In this case, we’re dealing with two things. One: Pieter has set his hopes on this project. Two: in your opinion, he tends to take things personally. How can you take both aspects into consideration while at the same time being honest with him?”
Meanwhile, I realised that I should also pay greater heed to the matter myself. I do have an idea of how to do things like this better. In fact, we’ve all learned about it during our coaching training courses. Giving feedback, using the sandwich formula, speaking on your own behalf… and above all, not thinking for the other person. Then you have to just do it – and that applies to me too.