Practical Support for the Changing World at Work 
Linda F. Willing
P.O. Box 148
Grand Lake, CO
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Consider This...June/July 2006 Issue Number 83

Is a monthly electronic newsletter which links current events and issues to the daily challenges faced by fire and emergency services managers. Current topics in the areas of leadership development, workplace diversity, change management, and conflict resolution will be discussed.

We hope that you find the information here useful and provocative.
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Upcoming Events  

Fire-Rescue International September 12-16, 2006, Dallas, TX. Linda Willing will be presenting a pre-conference seminar on September 13 entitled “Leading Diverse Teams.”

New York State Women Firefighters’ Weekend September 21-24, 2006, New York State Academy of Fire Science, Montour Falls, NY. Linda Willing will be presenting a workshop entitled “Command Presence.”

In the News

The Coaching Conundrum

Coaching as a leadership skill is one of those things that everyone knows they should be doing, but few know how to do effectively. It is not enough for you as the supervisor to simply give your subordinates information. What you say and how you say it are critical to the message being heard and acted on.

Authors and management consultants Bruce Bodaken and Robert Fritz offer a four-step plan for coaching that both simplifies and illuminates the process:

Step One: Acknowledge the truth of the situation. Get the other person to agree to the facts of the event that took place without laying blame or seeking justification. Establish the "what" of the situation before moving onto the "why."

Step Two: Analyze what happened. Now that the facts have been established, try to understand the thought process and decision making that led up to the ultimate outcome. Ask what decisions were made and why, and how those decisions led to specific outcomes. The main point here is to thoroughly understand what happened, not assign blame.

Step Three: Create an action plan. Every coaching conversation should end with a positive commitment on the part of the employee on how future decisions and actions will be handled differently. Try to be as specific as possible when developing this commitment and have the statement made in positive rather than negative terms ("I will file all required paperwork in a timely way" is better than "I won't miss deadlines again.")

Step Four: Follow up. Develop your own skills of checking in without being overbearing to make sure commitments are kept.

It is important in any coaching situation to make sure that the person being coached knows that the intention is to improve performance rather than to punish. Personal coaching should be done one-on-one and in a positive context. It is important to have a trusting connection with those you are coaching, and to be clear and honest with them about problems that may have occurred on the job. When people are confident that the intention of the coaching conversation is to support personal and organizational improvement, they can handle the truth and will usually appreciate your candor and courage in approaching them.

Source: The New York Times, May 7, 2006

News Brief

The New York City Fire Department (FDNY) has recently begun a recruiting campaign aimed at minorities and women. This program comes in the wake of allegations of racism and discrimination within the department, including a lawsuit filed by two FDNY EMS workers alleging discrimination in the promotional process. According to FDNY statistics, among the city's 11,491 firefighters, 327 are African-American, 590 are Hispanic, 5 are Native American, 66 are Asian-American and 33 are women.

Source: The New York Sun, May 10, 2006

            New York Post, May 9, 2006

Sexual Harassment Update

Balancing Religion and Work

Do employers have a right to restrict religious expression at work? How much freedom do individuals have to represent their religious views in the workplace? A recent 9th Circuit Appeals Court decision sheds further light on these issues.

The plaintiff in the case was Daniel Berry, a long term employee with the Tehama County Department of Social Services. Mr. Berry, a self-described evangelical Christian, stated that his religious beliefs required him to "share his faith, when appropriate, and to pray with other Christians." In 1997, Mr. Berry transferred to the position of employment counselor, which required him to frequently meet with clients in his workplace cubicle. Because of the change in his work circumstances, Mr. Berry was advised that he could no longer display religious items in his work cubicle. He was also barred from holding lunchtime prayer meetings in an office conference room. Based on these actions by his employer, Mr. Berry sued for discrimination under Title VII.

Mr. Berry lost his case in lower court and again on appeal. The courts accepted the arguments of Mr. Berry's employer that he had not been forbidden from maintaining his own beliefs or even talking about religion with his coworkers, but instead could not display religious items in an area that accommodated clients of the agency. (Prior to his transfer to the position of employment counselor, Mr. Berry had been allowed to decorate his cubicle according to his own wishes, but his previous position did not include client contact.)

As for the use of the conference room, the Department of Social Services policy was that no private individual or group could use that room for anything but official department business. In fact, another group that was planning a cancer fundraiser was similarly barred from use of the room. The department wrote in a letter to Mr. Berry explaining its position, "If ANY group is given permission to use a non-public portion of our building for purposes other than that directly associated with the carrying out of our administrative duties as Social Services, then that use opens up the non-public portions of the building to ANY and ALL groups that wish to request usage thereof."

In coming to its conclusion, the appeals court employed what is known as the "Pickering balancing test." This legal principle, which helps courts to balance the needs of public employers with their employees' First Amendment rights, will be discussed in detail next month.

Source: Daniel M. Berry v. Department of Social Services, Tehama County. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 04-15566

© Linda F. Willing, 2006

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