2018 may go down as one of the most divisive periods in recent U.S. history. A bitter political climate and clashes of ideologies have created a tribalism that flares up in the streets. Businesses are not insulated from this environment. Most employees recognize the need to tamp down conflict at work, but in a hyperpartisan atmosphere, riled-up emotions do spill out in the office.
HR professionals are used to dealing with company politics and workplace factions. Differences of opinions that begin as small sparks can become raging infernos. When a Google engineer was fired in 2017 for criticizing the company’s diversity policy, it became a public matter. Google CEO Sundar Pichai, in a memo to employees, wrote that the engineer was dismissed for violating Google’s Code of Conduct. This move may have had HR departments across the country reviewing their own codes of conduct. Should you write out specific policies on acceptable workplace speech? Is it possible to screen for agitators when recruiting talent? Should employees bite their tongues?
“I do not have any formal written policies that prohibit certain types of speech in the workplace,” says Nicole Wipp, founder and CEO of Wipp Enterprises, “partly because I’m very cautious to only hire people that are value-aligned with what we do.” Wipp’s Detroit area firm provides consulting services and training for entrepreneurs and corporations. She specializes in “people problems,” workplace conflict. Wipp describes her work as being “about building a better team; capturing the best energy, mentally and emotionally, of each individual team member so that as a whole, the team works better together.”
Successful team building begins with recruitment
For Wipp, value-aligned doesn’t mean employees are carbon-copies of each other. “We have a value in differences,” says Wipp, “It’s embedded in our culture. In my firm, we have very disparate points of view, particularly in politics, and it has caused, I would say, some heated conversations for sure. But, in the course of that kind of thing, we always revert to the idea that everybody in our company is good people.”
Hiring good people for Wipp Enterprises begins with a pre-interview assessment. “Specifically,” says Wipp, “the Kolbe A Index. The Kolbe A Index is a tool that we use to determine somebody’s natural energies and where they’re most likely to be successful in doing specific types of tasks in the company. For example, if somebody is working in an administrative role within the company, we want to make sure that this is somebody that is very high energetically, on what we would call ‘follow through’ — the kind of person whose instinct is to dot the i's and cross the t's — not somebody that can do it, but somebody whose literal instinct is to do that kind of thing.” A mismatch of an employee’s natural proclivities and the energy requirements of a specific position wears on the employee and creates workplace friction. “I don’t want to work with team members, nor do I want people to work on my team that are getting worn down by the tasks that they need to do on a day-to-day basis,” says Wipp. Only after an assessment shows a candidate is suited to a vacancy does Wipp conduct interviews.
Interview for personality
“The interview is really the cherry on the top,” says Wipp, “and is only done after we’ve determined whether somebody is skill and energetically aligned with the actual position.” Wipp interviews to discover a candidate’s values and what matters most to them. “Is this the type of person that we really want to work with?”
Emphasize the value of different viewpoints
“Our team feels very much empowered to speak up,” says Wipp. “The way that we create an environment that encourages the expression of opinions is, once again, falling back on this idea that we have a value in differences embedded in our company culture. We want, when people see things from a different viewpoint, for them to speak up because real innovation and excellence, in my view, only occur when all viewpoints are taken into consideration. Now, that does not necessarily mean that a direction that somebody wants to take is what is going to happen, but certainly we are going to have that conversation, we’re going to respect that, and we’re also going to value the fact that somebody speaks up. When people do not speak up, but then are dissatisfied, that is a much more negative, and perceived as a negative thing, because you are empowered to speak up in our company.” “The whole idea behind what we do at Wipp Enterprises is to have value in diversity, value in differences,” says Wipp. “When we can see what the differences are in our coworkers and our teammates and value them properly, we’re actually going to be a much better, cohesive team and be able to get a lot more done.”