Seven Steps to Take You out of the Red Box

Here are seven steps towards making the workplace safe for people to be honest about what they’re feeling — and still get the job done.

Getting an organization out of the red zone is a long, gradual process, requiring a dedicated effort not only to change management practices but also to understand how emotions govern everything that happens in an organization. This isn’t welcome news in most businesses. The standard attitude is: Get tough. Get over it. Get it done.


Peter Naylor and Claire Crittenden say this mentality slowly cuts people off from their actual daily feelings about their work — and ultimately makes it harder for them to get in touch with their feelings when it would make a real difference. Put a lid on red feelings long enough, and the green ones won’t be there when they could contribute as a positive source of fuel. The answer, say Naylor and Crittenden, is to make the workplace safe for people to be honest about what they’re feeling — red or green — and still get the job done.

The program offers helpful steps for managers who want to move in the right direction. It involves a substantial amount of paperwork — the dreaded symbol of bureaucracy — but it’s essential. The lasting physical evidence of design and validation is essential to the program’s implementation. Here are seven practices that make it work:

1. Don’t give advice, explore emotions. According to their teachings, when managers reach an impasse with an employee, the correct step is to ask, “How do you feel about this?” Keep asking it, adding only, “Gee, that’s interesting, tell me more.” They should refuse to give advice or engage in problem solving. Instead, they should just listen and express interest — making it safe for the employee to express any feelings. Later it’s appropriate to return to problem-solving mode — even if it’s only 15 minutes later. This takes immense patience and practice.

2. Don’t set goals; design outcomes. Envision a “product” for every project, something tangible. In the center of a sheet of paper, describe or picture this product. Surround it with action steps for achieving it. On the back of the sheet of paper list the benefits to the customer and the organization. Clarify at all costs: the product, the actions, the benefits. Get them down on paper.

3: Never criticize, only validate. Do it on paper, in tangible, solid form. Recognize achievement, let the numbers speak for themselves. When there’s shortfall, it will be clear. Track it, but don’t emphasize it. Call attention to the achievement, no matter how small. Then redesign the next “outcome,” the next iteration of the product. Move on from there.

4. Watch what you say. When it comes to emotions, words matter. Define terms carefully and explicitly. Don’t use vague language — clarify, clarify, clarify.


5. Make lists. A simple list is a powerful tool. It sounds obvious, but it’s unbelievable how many organizations don’t keep written lists of every single project currently open for every single employee. A project is defined as any organized campaign to change/improve an ongoing situation. Get them all written down on paper.

6. Establish agreements, don’t rely on expectations. Don’t leave any room for ambiguity. Have written agreements that cover all designed outcomes.

7. Don’t try to manage what you can’t measure. Establish what you intend to measure in your improvement effort, and then track it on paper. When possible, graph it with a fever chart. Put it where people can see it.

Peter Naylor
Integrative Performance Technologies, Inc.
311 Alexander Street
Rochester, NY 14604

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