Category Archives: Coaching Skills

Outlast the Panic

“So, let’s say the team struggles. You, as the manager, are accountable for the output of the team. You control all the levers. What are you going to do?” I asked.

“Instead of jumping in to fix the problem, which is what I really want to do, I have to get the team to solve the problem,” Miriam replied.

“First, let’s talk about time. As the manager, when will you first know that the team is struggling with a problem?”

“That’s easy,” Miriam chuckled. “I know they are going to struggle before I even assign the project.”

“So, if you know the team will struggle, even before the project starts, when do you, as manager, intervene? How long will you let them twist in the wind? Remember, twisting in the wind costs money and you are accountable for output.”

“Are you suggesting I jump in before the project even starts? I thought I was supposed to let the team struggle with the problem?” Miriam countered.

“When the team encounters its first problem, and begins to struggle, how long does it take the team to start solving the problem?”

“Again, that’s easy. Forever. Faced with a problem, the team will avoid the problem, look to blame someone (else) for the problem, knock off early, work on easier stuff, dump the problem on my desk, complain about the problem, argue about the problem, go into panic mode, go into paralysis, you name it, they have tried it,” she explained.

“Fight, flight, freeze or appease. These are all classic behaviors of a team, faced with a problem, engaged in non-work.”

“So, I am the manager, what do I do?”

“Simple, outlast the panic. Put the struggle on the table and outlast the panic.” -Tom

How to Get People to Use CRM

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
Tom, I remember a few years ago you talked about the effectiveness of negative vs positive reinforcement to affect changes in employee behavior. Here’s my problem: I am responsible for implementing a CRM sales management system affecting over 100 sales reps and 15 regional sales managers. For 30 years, we’ve allowed our sales reps to act without much direction or accountability. Our market was robust so a salesperson’s day was spent taking care of customers, entertaining them, and knocking off early on Fridays.

Then, our market soured, so did our sales.

Over the years, we became a service oriented company with little focus on sales management. As you would guess, there is strong resentment and resistance to the accountability that a CRM requires–assigning prospects, setting tasks and goals, and required reporting to management.

Here is the feedback so far. “Do you want me to sell or fill out these stupid reports?” OR “I’m no good with computers.” OR “I don’t have time.” OR “This is Big Brother micro-managing me.”

I’m experimenting with gamification of the process, creating competition among territories and recognizing successes. The CEO of the corporation is reviewing weekly scorecards and sending email comments to the sales managers on performance.

Here’s the question. What will have the greatest effect on participation, negative reinforcement or positive reinforcement? Should we tie pay to usage of the system?

Response:
This is not an unusual dilemma. Your idea of gamification takes me back to a post I wrote in Sep 2007 (yes, ten years ago), where we looked at how a young teenager learned to play a complex video game without a training course, instruction materials or a tutor. In fact, despite discouragement from his manager (mom), he still managed to achieve a high level of competence at playing the game, would actually go without food or sleep to play.

So, how could you get a group of veteran, grisly sales people to spend time with a CRM system?

First, to the subject of positive vs negative reinforcement. At best, negative reinforcement only gets you compliance. And compliance only works in the presence of the manager and the constant pressure of the negative reinforcement. If the manager is not present or the probability of enforcement is low, the desired behavior disappears. Most negative reinforcement resides outside the individual with only temporary effect.

To achieve commitment (vs compliance) to the behavior, you have to go inside. You have to look for an intrinsic reinforcement. You have to examine the belief. It is not your rules, not your suggestions, not your tracking tools that drive behavior. It is the belief inside the individual.

And your individuals have spoken their beliefs.
Do you want me to sell or fill out these stupid reports?

  • The belief is that only selling creates sales, not filling out reports. Filling out reports is a waste of time.

I’m no good with computers.

  • The belief is that I am good at sales and that I am not good at computers. The belief is that using a computer will not bring in more sales.

I don’t have time.

  • The belief is that filling out reports in a computer is not as high a priority as anything else.

This is Big Brother micro-managing me.

  • The belief is that a good salesperson does NOT need coaching. The belief is that tracking activity may surface accountability to a standard defined by someone else.

Ultimately, this is a culture problem. You don’t get the behavior you want (interaction with a CRM system) because you, as the manager, have not connected success (sales) with activity in the CRM system. They don’t believe you.

Culture Cycle

  • Beliefs.
  • Connected behaviors.
  • Connected behaviors tested against the consequences of reality.
  • Behaviors that survive are repeated in customs and rituals.

You started with a CRM system rather than starting with the team. Your team knows how to make sales, they are experts at it. In a meeting, get them to document the processes and behaviors that create sales. Big flip chart. Here is my prediction – they will create a system similar to most sales systems.

  • Prospecting
  • Qualification
  • Needs assessment (preventing objections)
  • Connection of needs to your product or service
  • Customer willing to solve their problem (pay)
  • Closing
  • After closing support

These are activities in a sequence that creates customers and orders. These are likely the same activities you are attempting to document in the CRM system. But, now, it is the team that identified the behaviors, not some stupid CRM system.

Next, ask them to coach each other. They may not trust you, but they trust each other. Ask them to document what a coaching process might look like. Ask them what collected data might be helpful to make the coaching more effective.

Teaching is not nearly as effective as learning. Turn this into a learning process, not a teaching process. -Tom

How Is The Morale?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I am the direct manager of a team of four supervisors. I am working on the agenda for 1-1 discussions with each individual. Based on your suggestion, I structured the agenda using the Key Result Areas in the role description. While it seems to make sense, I feel there is a missing piece to the agenda. I know we are talking about the work in the role of the supervisor, but where many of them struggle is in the soft skills, the interpersonal working relationships between each supervisor and their team members. We often talk about those issues, but I am not sure how to organize my notes from those discussions. What we talk about doesn’t fit any of the Key Result Areas, but I feel like they are dramatically important. Is it possible that there are things we should talk about outside the Key Result Areas defined for the role?

Response:
Welcome to management. You have just discovered that the work of the supervisor is different than the work of the team member. It is not that there are issues outside of defined Key Result Areas, but, there are Key Result Areas that escaped the role description.

A military commander was once asked in all of his experience, what was his biggest mistake, his biggest regret. His reply was “not taking vacation before going into battle.” It was a curious response, but he explained that the most important element to consider before going into battle was morale. What is the morale of the troops?

Is it possible that a Key Result Area missed in the definition of the role description was team morale?

Key Result Area – Team Morale

Context – the most critical work product in our company requires high levels of cooperation and support between team members in collateral working relationships. It is incumbent on the supervisor to create positive working relationships that promote teamwork and high levels of trust among team members.

Tasks and Activities – the supervisor will clearly assign tasks in such a way that each team member understands not only their own task assignment, but the task assignments of those people they work around. Where work product is handed off from one team member to another, or one work cell to another, the team members will discuss the quality standards that each team member needs from other team members. The supervisor will create circumstances where team members provide feedback to each other, in a respectful way related to quality standards, pace of work and safety practices. Specifically, the supervisor will require positive feedback practice during times of low stress using project debriefs, brainstorming best practices, team teaching and cross training, so that during periods of high stress, the team can operate at high levels of cooperation, support and trust.

Accountability – The supervisor is accountable for evaluating the morale of the team, identifying team behavior that promotes teamwork and identifying team behavior that is destructive to teamwork. The supervisor will review this team assessment each month in a 1-1 discussion with the supervisor’s manager, to identify steps the supervisor may take to promote teamwork and discourage behavior that is destructive to teamwork.

Whose Policy Book Is It?

“I have been working on this policy book, documenting our methods and processes so we can use them in our training programs,” Javier explained.

“Outstanding,” I replied. “So what gives?”

“We finished the book three months ago, but I can’t get the team to take it seriously. We have a meeting, everyone agrees and follows the process for the better part of a morning. But, as soon as there is the slightest hiccup, they go back to the old way and trash talk the policy book. Then I have another meeting where I sound like the critical parent.”

“Maybe you are the critical parent,” I nodded.

“Maybe so, but someone has to be the adult in the room,” Javier pushed back.

“Says who?” I asked.

“Well, I’m the manager, so I guess – says me.”

“You just told me the team doesn’t listen to you.”

“They don’t!” Javier pushed back.

“So, when the team abandons the policy book and goes back to their own experience, who do they rely on for guidance?”

“Well, they are hiding from me, so, they rely on each other and their own judgement.”

“Tell me, Javier, who wrote the policy book?”

“I did. I stayed late every night for a month. I am pretty proud of the thinking behind it. Some of my best work.”

“But none of your team’s experience, none of your team’s judgement is in the book. So, where do you think the problem is?” -Tom

Listen for What?

Listen.

If you are in sales, listen. Your customer will tell you how they want to buy.

If you are a manager, listen. Your team will tell you how they need to be coached. Listen for what is said and what is not said. Listen for what is confronted and what is avoided. Listen for context. Listen for what people believe to be true. Listen for what people believe is not true. Listen for assumptions.

The most effective managers are those that ask the most effective questions. Then, listen. -Tom
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How to Deliver Negative Feedback

“But they suck!” Rita explained, a bit frustrated.

“And, that is what you told them?” I asked.

“In so many words. My team needs to hear the truth, the whole lot of them. If their performance is sub-standard, who is going to tell them, their mother?”

“And, how did they respond to you?”

“You know. It’s like they stopped listening to me,” Rita was calming down.

“I am shocked that they would behave that way, not listening to their manager,” my eyes directly on Rita’s eyes. A small crack of a smile, then a chuckle crossed her face.

“Look, if they need to tie their shoes, so they don’t trip, who is going to deliver the negative feedback?”

“Indeed, because they aren’t listening to you.” I paused. “So, who is the one person in the whole world they would accept negative criticism from, wholeheartedly? You, for example, who is the one person you would listen to about the negative way you are handling your team?”

“Well, I am talking to you.”

“Yes, but, you won’t take criticism, even from me. The only person you are listening to, right now, is yourself. Negative feedback is not to condemn, but to observe. So, let me ask you some questions –

  • If you had it to do over again, with your team, what would you do differently to get a different result?
  • What behavior, as a manager, could you do more of to get a different result?
  • What behavior, as a manager, could you do less of to get a different result?
  • What shift could you make, in the way you see the problem, to get a different result?

The most effective managers are not those who tell people what to do, but those who ask the most effective questions.” -Tom

Feedback Loops

Marion’s bottom lip protruded. If she was eleven years old, I would have sworn she was pouting.

“I think I know who said that,” she announced.

“Is it important?” I asked.

“Well, I think they have a chip on their shoulder and this evaluation was just a chance to vent, to make me look bad.”

“Marion, there are positive things in this evaluation, and there are negative things here. You like the positive stuff, but you don’t believe the negative stuff.”

“Well, I think this person has an agenda. I don’t think it’s me,” she continued to protest.

“Do you think that is part of the problem?”

“I don’t think it’s me,” Marion repeated.

“You are angry at the person who gave you the negative feedback and you would like to ignore the feedback,” I confirmed.

“Besides, even it were true about me, I can’t change, that’s just not me. I couldn’t do it. Out of the question. I don’t see how anyone could do that.”

I looked at Marion. Without a word. Silence.

“But if you could change, what would you do first?”

Testing a Person Prior to a Promotion

“You told me, before I promote someone to a new role, that I should test them, with project work,” Maryanne surmised.

“So, how will you test this person?” I prodded.

“Her assembly work is good, but to keep everyone on the line productive, we need an ample supply of raw materials. There is a lead time of three weeks from ordering and we can only keep so much in stock. I could ask her to put together the next order from our supplier.”

“And, you will check her order before she places it?”

“Of course. But after she does it couple of times, I can likely trust her. Then I will give her another project to do related to the preventive maintenance schedules on some of our machines.”

“And, what will be the trigger point for the promotion?” I asked.

“Good question. I think I should sketch out an overall plan for this promotion to include a sample project from each skill required in the new position.”

Outbound Air, Levels of Work in Organizational Structure, by Tom Foster, is now available for Kindle, soon to be released in softcover.

Outbound Air

Move a Team Out of Its Mediocrity

“Why the long face?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Julia replied. “I have been working here for six months as a manager. And I feel like I have a mob on my hands. It’s almost like I need to dis-empower the team to get them to stop fighting me. I have a group of long time employees, comfortable in their mediocrity. They work together, almost as a team, to try to stop effective change or create resistance to it. They are very powerful for several reasons. First because we can’t fire them all and second because they have become a fixture in the organization and the idea of eliminating them is almost not an option.”

“Are there things that need improving around here?” I probed.

“Without a doubt. But, every time I suggest something, I get stiff-armed. Or they agree with me, and do the opposite behind my back.”

“Perhaps you should stop suggesting things,” I wondered out loud.

“But, we need to make changes in our processes, to become more efficient,” she protested.

“Who is going to execute those changes?” I wanted to know.

“Well, my team has to.”

“Then, who has to come up with the ideas and how to implement them? Here is a hint. The answer has nothing to do with ideas and execution. The answer has to do with your role as a manager.”

Open Door Policy Has Nothing To Do With The Door

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
A bit frustrated. My role dictates longer time span strategic projects, but I continue to get pulled into tactical issues on smaller pieces of that project, or tactical issue on other people’s projects. I find myself often saying “what does our process say the next step should be?” or pointing back to our documentation to find the facts. I have to stop, interrupting focus on my own project segments. How does one balance these interruptions without coming across as “that’s not my job” to address tactical daily activities?

Response:
Two things necessary. First, you have an interruption problem. Second, as a manager, you have a coaching problem.

1. Interruption problems. Do you remember when you were a student in school and had to take that final test on Friday morning? So, late Thursday night, you settled down to study for the test? You know, right after Thursday Night Football? Because you procrastinated to the last minute, you had to make sure you got in some quality cram time. And you did some things that you can adapt to today’s situation.

  • You asked your roommates to take the keg of beer down to the other end of the dorm so you would not be tempted.
  • You told your other roommate to take a hike.
  • You took your phone off the hook (remember when phones had hooks).
  • You hung a shoe on your doorknob, a signal to all that you were busy and not to be disturbed (usually a signal for other activities beside studying, but a signal nonetheless).
  • You went to the library because no one would ever think to find you there.

These same strategies can be adapted to make sure you capture large (enough) blocks of uninterrupted time.

  • Put a sign on your door that you are in a meeting, not to be disturbed.
  • Communicate with your team that they need to cover all phone calls and visitors for the next three hours.
  • Relocate, find a spot where no one will find you (temporary, of course).

You might think that might communicate your inaccessibility (it does), but remember that an open door policy has nothing to do with the door.

2. Which brings me to your second problem, coaching. In a managerial role, it comes with the territory, get over it. And, yes, you can manage it. Set aside specific blocks of time for “office hours,” and specific appointments for 1-1s for each of your team members. This dedicated time can be controlled by you to prevent interruptions when you are working on your projects.

It may seem painful to help a team member walk through documentation, but it won’t take long before the team member knows how to walk through the documentation without you. This is not a “not my job” attitude, this is mandatory for all managers to bring value to the problem solving and decision making of the team member. And you don’t bring that value by providing all the answers. You bring that value by asking effective questions.

Now, close your door and get back to work.