New Beginnings: A Druid, a Muslim, and a Christian Walked Into an Ad Agency…

Interesting days bring on interesting observations. This is being written on a Sunday – the day I attend church. Expressions of faith in something I believe is greater than me, shouldn’t scare anyone. The last thing I do at my agency is proselytize because I live my beliefs and let them display in my behavior. Mankind is a creation, not an accident. Believing as I do has never been a job requirement. I must confess I’ve wondered if the work environment wouldn’t be more harmonious if there was same think. Obviously the work wouldn’t necessarily be creative optimally – it’s just that yelling will be at a minimum.

Maybe. Maybe not.

CDM Digital strives to be multi-cultural. The non-proselyting policy is also stressed. Our company culture is idyllic, and can be challenging. I’ve had a team consisting of a druid, a Muslim, and a Christian working on projects. Things were going alone well with this team until loud voices erupted in the break area.

One of them suggested that their belief system was superior to another there was a lot of Alec Baldwin and Will Arnett 30 Rock insults growled under breath. Tension lasted the day.

It placed in detrimental the project they were working on, and needed to be addressed. I invited the staffers to my office to work it out. There were a lot of accusations. “They’re sabotaging me. That’s what those people do,” echoed around the room. I asked myself what the best way to handle the conflict? Several factors had to be considered. These factors became recommendations I suggest a small business owner should have in place.

1. Keep ‘hot button’ discussions to a minimum. People are social, so there is going to be interaction, verbal or otherwise. Open expression is natural, and should be encouraged. A manager cannot put in a rule forbidding conversation because such runs contrary to what we are – social creatures that need to express ourselves. If possible, tactfully include it in a personnel manual under “office decorum.” Negative behavior is disruptive.

2. Evaluate the personnel involved. I’m not talking about judging who is right, or who is wrong. It is always a good idea to take into consideration how qualitative the people arguing are. Determine how cohesive their work is with a team framework.

3. Be prepared to cross train and reassign. We know what works and what doesn’t – it’s evident by the work produced. But, since we have invested in the staffer, and weighing how hard it is to find the “right” personnel, it’s better to reassign them as opposed to taking disciplinary action.

4. Establish clear rules on to what will not be tolerated. Be prepared to act if these rules are violated. For example, invasion of privacy, offensive language, hate speech and name calling, sexual innuendos, physical intimidation, are forbidden. It may be grounds for discipline. Where either of those things exists, you have a textbook hostile work environment. You also are staring at litigation with your business as a defendant.

5. Have a progressive discipline policy. Yes, some people cuss when stressed; some people are ill suited to work with people that are different than they. There is racism where you least expect. Anti-Semitism, sexism exist because people either were fed a steady diet of it as children, or just developed nasty unattractive personalities. Perhaps they need to work elsewhere. The decision should not be based on snap judgement.

6. Have openness. My business is a creative agency. We have to foster the ideal environment for a person to work at their best.

Within the context of advertising, I do consulting with my clients. It is surprising how many scramble madly because there are no rules governing conduct or decorum. We owe it to ourselves to have a cooperative, fun-filled atmosphere so that the conclusion of the work day, we can appreciate each other as people and our collective work.

Catch you later,

Bernard Alexander McNealy

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