Michelle Vincent, call center manager at Weather Tight, in Milwaukee, wanted to be helpful. That's why, when employees came to her with gripes and complaints, she stopped whatever she was doing and listened to them.
Then Vincent noticed three things: The complaints usually were about other employees; they were taking up more and more of her time; and, she says, “they were becoming increasingly petty.” The issues were “things they should have been talking about with one another, not with me.” So insignificant had the complaints become, in fact, that it seemed to Vincent as if employees were coming to her just as an excuse to get her attention. So she gathered the call room staff together and explained the company's “pinch” meeting procedure.
PINCH ME Fortunately for Vincent, Weather Tight has a policy when it comes to resolving interpersonal conflicts. Employees who have a dispute or a disagreement with another employee can request a “pinch” meeting with that person specifically to address their concern. The meeting can be on the company premises, or elsewhere. It can take as long as it needs to take. And it can be about anything.
Weather Tight co-owner Todd Colbert says the company initiated the policy — it's in the employee handbook — 10 years ago in an effort to halt destructive and time-wasting gossip. Gossip can quickly get out of control, resulting in factions and feuds. “It can damage the morale of a company pretty quickly,” he says. That translates to lost sales, lousy employee retention, and the dissolution of team spirit. The absence of a policy for dispute resolution also means employees will dump their gripes about other employees onto managers.
Colbert says that when the pinch meeting concept was introduced at a meeting of company managers, gossip and interpersonal rivalries had gotten so bad “you could cut the air with a knife.” He put the procedure into written form and had employees sign it. Since that time it has been incorporated into the company training program. The policy statement includes a flow chart illustrating the path that disputes should take within the company.
MANAGEMENT TOOL Pinch meetings, Colbert says, provide managers at all levels with a tool; a concrete system for employees to resolve differences by meeting on what he calls “safe ground.” Vincent says she found that, once implemented, the policy freed up her time. It also resolved a lot of internal feuding and rivalry. The result? Higher productivity in the company's call room. “Whenever people work together, they're going to have problems,” she says. “For my sanity, this policy is the best thing ever.”