Q: Over the last three years, the non-profit organization I work for has endeavored to make a lot of changes very much along the lines of your Building Blocks. In my department, however, the manager has only paid the merest lip service to these changes. Although he is in general a pleasant individual, he still persists in being arrogant, arbitrary, and outright mean to staff. To disagree with him in any way is to end up being “written up” via a memo to human resources, who has thus far intervened in only minor ways. Once HR intervenes in a problem situation, this manager positively guns for the staff member in question, until that person is driven to quitting. In short, he’s a bully.

Thus far, although HR and the president of this organization have worked hard to implement new workplaces practices, they have not really examined or acted on the pattern of abuse and retribution this manager has carried out time and again, even thought they are aware of ample examples of his behavior. The department is now at a crisis point, and none of us has much faith that the depth of the problem will be acknowledged, much less resolved. In our opinion, HR and the president have yet to demonstrate the courage of their convictions.

Any advice? We are trying as a group to begin a serious dialogue with HR. How should we proceed?

A: Your problem is not uncommon among organizations in the midst of changing their culture. It is very difficult for leaders to know what people in the heart of the organization are thinking. Further, it is often difficult to understand how managers or team leaders communicate and lead. Finally, people who are made uneasy by change can often act out in frustration, and normally pleasant people can become ghoulish. Alas, this seems to be your predicament. How can you draw the attention of decision makers to your problem in a constructive way?

Perhaps the most constructive approach that you can take, both for the organization and for individual employees, would be to suggest that the organization gather metrics to assess its progress in developing an engaging workplace. You could make this suggestion to both human resources and the president without concern for implication, for it addresses important issues for any organization that is trying to change its culture.

There are two assessment tools that organizations use to measure employee engagement and understand the effectiveness of their workplace practices, one focused on the organization and the other addressing individual development:

1. Employee opinion surveys and/or focus groups gather data from across the organization and provide feedback on the organization as a whole, with comparative data for specific work groups.

2. Individual 360-degree assessments provide feedback on the performance of individuals within the organization.

Both of these tools would be valuable to any organization that is interested in measuring its progress and are especially valuable during a time of change. Both would draw attention to the issue that your organization faces in a way that could lead to constructive action and, if handled professionally, would not implicate individuals as whistle blowers.

The leadership of your organization may well be aware of the situation that you describe and may be seeking a way to fairly and constructively address it.