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Embracing Positive Friction in the Workplace

Originally posted: December 3, 2020 on TrishMcFarlane.com

time lapse photography of sparklesReady for some HR buzzword analysis? For the past couple years, phrases like frictionless HR, frictionless candidate experience, friction in the workplace, and frictionless employee experience have come into fashion.  And like many buzzwords or catch phrases, HR and business leaders think they need to immediately strive to reach whatever state the new phrase represents.  I beg to differ on this one though, so let me tell you why.  First, let’s look at friction.

There are two main types of friction, static friction and kinetic friction. Static friction operates between two surfaces that aren’t moving relative to each other, while kinetic friction acts between objects in motion.

  • Any time two objects or people interact, there is friction
  • Friction causes energy
  • Sometimes friction causes a result even better than the two parts.

How friction can benefit organizations

A frictionless HR experience can eliminate barriers for the employee.  A completely frictionless experience is also not easy to attain.  Organizations that have IT and HR barriers in the new hire process, the performance review processes, or termination process can cause frustration and disconnection for the employees.  These types of friction are not desirable.

On the other hand,  friction that is a barrier to one person can be a cautionary step, instituted to slow people down on purpose.  The need for approvals on job requisitions, offers, salary increases and promotions are all examples of where this so-called friction are needed to ensure that decisions are fiscally responsible.  The challenge is to ensure that these process steps do not completely derail a process or business objective.

Another way friction benefits your organization is by being the method leaders or employees use to challenge the status quo.  Whether it’s friction about the way a process works, how a program is run, how customers are serviced, or how we take care of employees, these are the very times we do not want to coast.  The only way to get ahead and succeed is to continuously evaluate the way things work, then make them better. A diverse workforce, with different ideas, creates enough friction and energy to positively impact the organization’s results.

The key is for leaders to understand how to encourage friction that will result in something better.

 Ways to promote positive friction

  • Even Better If…. – Create time at the end of every meeting to talk about one process and how it would be “even better if….” something else was done.
  • Innovation Teams– Create a team comprised of employees from various departments and specialties to brainstorm and tackle some of your organizations biggest problems.  Bring highly-educated people together with those less educated.  Include all ages, races, genders, etc.  Have this team meet regularly to discuss potential process, service or product improvements. Have the team meet regularly to build rapport and share some radical ideas.  I’ve witnessed success choosing someone who is not typically in a leadership role taking the reins. It changes the power dynamic of the team and serves as a developmental opportunity for the leader.
  • Acknowledge the other person’s ideas or feelings– Since all healthy relationships involve conflict, the way to manage it positively is to make sure you are listening to the other person.  When your boss, colleague or a customer feels heard, they are more likely to compromise or collaborate on an idea or approach.  If you don’t truly listen to understand them, they will likely dig in and not budge.
  • Embrace time and some amount of tension- Not all problems can be solved immediately.  Recommend that people involved go back and think about their stance and the opposing stance.  Ultimately, how it will potentially impact the business is what’s at stake. Giving people time to think about things and not feel backed into a corner can promote positive results.

So, what do you think about friction in the workplace?  I’d love to hear how frictionless HR is working in your organization. How do you embrace moments of friction to lead to better outcomes?

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