After the Webinar: Management by Committee. Q&A with Diana Knapp

Webinar presenter Diana Knapp answered a number of your questions after her webinar, Management by Committee: How to Improve Engagement, Inclusivity, and Retention without Breaking Your Budget. Here are just a few of her responses.


Audience Question: After being shut down over and over again, once suggesting new and innovative approaches, I have to admit that I’m one of those who’s now just biding my time and doing the minimal. So, how can I regain my motivation to innovate despite no progress in my agency? Or is it maybe time to leave? 

Diana Knapp: I wouldn’t say it’s time to leave. I would say for at least a season pick up a new hobby, do something that ignites your passion outside of work. And maybe that will give you some insight into yet new ways to manage or at least be less frustrated with what you’ve got and where you’re working. There are so many factors about changing jobs. Do you have enough time to build equity or build tenure, where you would be going? You need to think about the impact that many of us in public service and the math toward retirement. So, I would encourage you to bring all those conversations into any discussion about a change. Also, the leaders change, too. As I said, I’m the seventh director one of our veteran staff members has had since he came on board, and he’s managed to weather them. But my advice would be, go find a new hobby. Throw everything you’ve got into that, have a lot of fun with it, and give yourself an opportunity to disconnect from what’s frustrating at work. Then take a look at work again. And maybe that will renew you and restore you.

And maybe then you’ll find that it is time to move on but give yourself a chance to get a breather from it by really focusing your enthusiasm on something that makes you feel like you’re winning.


Audience Question: I have a staff member who gets very defensive every time I try to correct them. Do you have suggestions on effectively communicating with people who tend to get defensive? 

Diana Knapp:  We actually wrote a rule for it. That sounds ridiculous, but we actually did this in my last position and brought it here. We have a code of conduct, rules of conduct that say: You’re not going to get over-familiar with the resident population. You’re not going to become financially involved with the family of inmates. You’re not going to be insubordinate to the supervisor. There’s a very long list of do’s and don’ts. But we added one, which is rule number 10, and it says, your failure or inability to contribute to satisfactory working relationships with co-workers is a disciplinary issue. So, I’m not saying that the individual you’re dealing with is in that boat. But there’s a good chance, that if they’re not receptive to constructive criticism, they may not be the most open-minded employee. And it’s, actually a rule violation here, to be somebody who refuses to talk to other people, who can’t have a dialogue. When we have folks who are in conflict with one another, our go-to is, where we can and we’re not violating confidentiality to do it, is to get people in a room to talk it out. Sometimes people’s feelings get a little more hurt about that, but it seems like, for the most part, they get past it. So, I would encourage you to continue to give that employee ideas for wins. Don’t be thwarted by the resistance, continue to provide feedback. Sometimes it has to take the form of a performance appraisal and documentation. But one of the best ways that we have here to get people in the saddle, I’ve found, is to get them a win. We also are really focused on that, especially right after a disciplinary issue, because that happens. Sometimes people have a bad day, and they make a mistake, and we try to find an opportunity for them to get a win right away, because they’re still wearing your jersey, right? I use football analogies a lot because it just makes sense. They’re still wearing your jersey; you want them scoring touchdowns. And so, I don’t want somebody working here feeling like they’re not a part of it, feeling like they don’t belong on the team. So, sometimes the best way to turn somebody’s ship around is to find them something to be successful at, and then celebrate it.


Audience Question: How do you handle situations where the supervisor is younger and doesn’t appear to appreciate the knowledge, experience, education, and seniority? 

Diana Knapp: Oh, that’s a tough one. Oh, I have a training partner, I wish was on the call. He could tell you how to do that. I don’t know. Does anybody in the audience have some good feedback on that one that they could put in the chat bar? How do you get the younger folks to appreciate the older folks? I don’t know. Maybe, an organizational history lesson? But what have we got anybody out there?

Host: It usually takes a couple of minutes to get some of those. If we get some ideas, some suggestions, will go back to that question. And, William, thank you for submitting the question.


Audience Question: Can you expand on the idea of putting people in the room together who are having a conflict? Do you just hear one employee out on an issue and decide to bring them together immediately? Interested in the way that you tackle that.

Diana Knapp: No, I think it’s important that you hear both sides of the story. Because no matter how logical the first story you hear is it’s going to be incomplete because it’s only that one side, that one perspective of the issue. A lot of conflict is about misunderstanding. It’s about misunderstanding. Party A thought Party B felt some kind of way about something, and Party B hadn’t even thought of that. A lot of our conflicts here at the Detention Center are just that. It’s a miscommunication, some misunderstanding of who did what and why they did it, why they did what they did. And so, if you just hear the first version, and then you go act, you’re really missing out. And you may find that that the second person really has been unjustly accused, has really been mischaracterized. So, it’s important that you hear both sides and then you get people in the room because you need to know before you navigate this communication session. You need to know what the motivations are of the people in the room, right? Why this conflict matters? What they’re upset about?

Not just what appeared to happen, but what is this really about? Is it about the incident that happened just now, or is this something that’s been brewing for two months and has its origins in who got to bring the seven-layer dip to the Super Bowl party at the office? So, you need to know is it about what happened at this moment, or has this been brewing? Is there history? And have that information because that allows you then, in the middle of navigating that conflict,to say, “Party A, I hear what you’re saying, but did you realize that Party B was feeling X when you do this? When you do this, you are making Party B, feel like their voice doesn’t matter or that you didn’t want to work with them.” We just had a recent conflict in a unit about who’s working overtime. One party thought it was because they didn’t like him, that they were trying to edge him out of overtime, but it was really more economics than it was a personality conflict. But the second person was newer, and, and was kind of missing that extra piece of information. So, mediate, almost too formal a word for what you’re trying to accomplish there, but you want to make sure that, before you go into that dialogue, you really do understand where both people are coming from.


Audience Question: Several people are submitting suggestions for that question about younger supervisors maybe not appreciating older personnel. So, Amy has suggested it’s the fun times talking, during lunches, potlucks, meetings, and icebreakers to talk about the old times, whatever they may be, how we grew up, or what work was like when we started. So, they just know how it’s different, and then listen to their sharing, too. 

Diana Knapp: That’s a great answer.

Host: Tiffany had a very interesting and kind of a similar suggestion. She said, that by building cohesion and rapport, work to build connections, and similarities between different age groups, make it more personal. Not just that they’re like my dad or that they’re my kids’ age. I really appreciated that one.


Audience Question: Any suggestions on how to handle a supervisor who refuses to handle conflict among their staff? 

Diana Knapp: It’s really hard to force people into leadership, who are reluctant about all the parts of leadership. So, I would encourage you, as that next level in the organization, to do what you can to tackle conflict directly. So, if you’re saying to co-workers, you can be that bridge, you can say, “Hey, Larry, and Joan? I just wanted to talk. I’m feeling some tension and I’d like to clear the air. You know, I think it’s affecting our work.” I would encourage you in whatever capacity you are in your organization to really be willing to take that bull by the horns and try to tackle it in the absence of a supervisor who is willing. It’s really hard to force the reluctant supervisor because you usually don’t have the leverage. Of course, it’s always good to go talk to that supervisor and say, “Hey, here’s what I’m seeing.” Maybe they don’t realize that conflict exits. I know one of the things that happens here, we’re a large organization that is open 24 hours a day, and line staff can sometimes think that the front office knows everything that goes on here, and we don’t. We don’t have the foggiest notion about a lot of the ins and outs of interpersonal relationships and things like that. And so, the supervisor may not know that there is a significant conflict or that that conflict is causing a problem.


Audience Question: One more thing I’d like to share from that earlier question comes from Michael. Michael says having older folks listen to me and genuinely take the time to improve and teach through my ideas, makes me significantly more likely to return that respect and appreciation. I really like that comment, too. 

Diana Knapp: Oh, yeah, that’s terrific. Thank you, Michael.


Audience Question: When are you going to write a book on leadership on the line?

Diana Knapp: Oh, thank you. That’s very kind of you to say that. Well, right now, like I said, it’s a six-day-a-week job, so I’m just trying to make sure that I have a good work-life balance and that I get plenty of rest, exercise, and eat well. It’s not something I’m honestly really good at. I’m working on that. I’ve got to do some things for myself first, but I appreciate that feedback. That was very kind of you to ask.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of Management by Committee: How to Improve Engagement, Inclusivity, and Retention without Breaking Your Budget.


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