Category Archives: Coaching Skills

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.

How Supervisors Get in the Weeds

“I am looking at your training chart. I see you have periodic S-II supervisor training and periodic S-III manager training. What about your S-I production teams?” I asked.

“Well, production around here is relatively simple. I want to spend most of my training budget where I think it will have the most impact?” Riley defended.

“But I noticed that Sam, one of your supervisors, was actually working the line yesterday. How did that happen?”

“Oh, happens all the time. It’s not unusual for my supervisors to spend half their time doing production work,” Riley explained.

“Is that why the work schedule posted in the lunch room is for last week? Isn’t Sam supposed to post a 2-week look ahead so the crew knows what is coming up?” I wanted to know.

“Yeah, he is supposed to, but sometimes we get behind on our production work, and Sam can get stuff done faster and defect free, no re-work.”

“You mean your team members each have higher re-work than Sam?”

Riley was proud. “Yep, Sam is a great guy.”

“If you spent some of your training budget with your S-I production people, would their re-work come down? Would Sam be able to spend more time in his supervisory role? Every time you have disruption at the S-I production level, you will drag your S-II supervisors into the weeds. And while your S-II supervisors are in the weeds, your S-III managers have to cover your supervisors. Everyone gets dragged down a level of work. Why do you think your teams are always behind?”

Riley stopped. “I guess I have to think about training, and competence, even at the production level of work.”

Making Progress, an Inch at a Time

“I don’t get it,” Kerry said. “This time, instead of solving the problem, I asked questions, to get the team to solve the problem. They still responded just like before. They wanted me to solve the problem for them.”

“Perhaps they didn’t believe you,” I replied. “You did something new, to solve the problem. Perhaps the team didn’t take you seriously. Progress is seldom made, in leaps and bounds, because you tried something new. Progress is more likely made an inch at a time, repeating things that work. Success seldom comes by doing the right thing once. Success comes through your habits, those grooved behaviors repeated time after time.”

“So, what should I do?” Kerry baited me.

“I don’t know, what do you think?”

“I guess, next time, I will ask questions again, put the problem back on the team. I have to make it a habit.”

The Disabling Manager

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
You say that one of the primary roles of a manager is to bring value to the problem solving and decision making of their team. Just exactly how do you do that?

Response:
Most team members, once they have completed their orientation and training, can handle most of the routine stuff. It’s the difficult decisions, the difficult problems they need help with.

How does a manager bring that help? How does a manager bring that value?

Some managers make themselves indispensable by providing all the answers, solving all the problems and making all the decisions. Yet, every time a manager solves a problem for the team, the team is disabled from solving that problem for themselves. Over time, the team is reduced to a helpless group that is crippled by its own manager.

The most effective managers are not those who solve the tough problems for their team. The most effective managers are those that ask the most effective questions.

People can only learn what they are capable of learning. The most effective managers are sensitive to that gap and fill it with questions. Real learning requires real change. The most effective managers anticipate that change and meet their team in that crucible.

How Does Hierarchy Promote Cooperation?

From the Ask Tom mailbag -

Question:
I recently attended one of your Time Span workshops and want to know how hierarchy promotes cooperation?

Response:
The short answer is accountability.  Inherent in the structure of hierarchy is accountability.  Unfortunately, most managers misunderstand the purpose for hierarchy and where accountability is appropriately placed.

Most managers believe that hierarchy is a reporting structure.  Even our language misguides us.  “Who is the new guy going to report to?”  This is not the central question.

The definition of a manager is, that person held accountable for the output of other people.  The question is not “who should the new guy report to?”  The central question is, which manager can be held accountable for the new guy’s output?”

When managers begin to understand accountability, the whole game changes.  Hierarchy provides us with a visual representation, of which manager is accountable for the output of the team.

When managers begin to understand that they are accountable for the output of their team, attitudes change and behavior changes.  Behaviors change from controlling and directing to supporting and coaching.  Every employee is entitled to have a competent manager with the time span capability to bring value to their problem solving and decision making.

The purpose of hierarchy is to create that value stream, where managers, one stratum above (in capability) bring value to the problem solving and decision making of their team members.  For ultimately, it is the manager who is accountable for their output.

How to Deliver Corrective Feedback

Patrick was curious. “I think I understand,” he replied. “When I say you, I sound like a critical parent, no matter how good my intentions are. The word you triggers an emotional response.”

You didn’t do that right.

I nodded, “The word you positions you as the critical parent (ego state) and invites the rebellious child (ego state) to respond. But when you change the word to I, you invite a different person to the conversation.”

I need help with this.

“Who does that sound like?” I asked. “Does that sound like a parent or a child?”

“It sounds like a child. Children always say I want this or I need that,” Patrick replied.

“Exactly. And when you, as a manager use the word I, it positions you differently. More important, who does it invite into the conversation?”

Patrick was quiet, then his face brightened. “A child always asks the parent. When I use the word I,

I need help with this.

“I am asking for help from a parent. I have invited a parent (ego state) into the conversation.” Patrick smiled. This was making sense and now he knew how to go back on the floor and talk to his team member.

States of Mind
Rebellious Child vs Curious Child
Critical Parent vs Nurturing Parent

Never criticize, it invites a rebellious child to the conversation.
Ask for help, it invites a nurturing parent to the conversation. It is still corrective feedback, just speaking with a different person.

How to Deliver Negative Feedback

Patrick shrugged. “I have tried that sandwich thing where I start with something positive, then criticize the person, then end with something positive. But, my team knows I am making up the positive parts just so I can slide in the criticism. They are smart. They know the game. Sometimes, it just makes the person angrier.”

“Is it necessary for a manager to give a team member negative feedback?” I asked.

“Absolutely. If someone continues to do something wrong, they could develop a bad habit, hard to break. There may be a safety consideration. Even if it just wastes time, the team member needs to know,” Patrick replied.

“So, let’s talk about words. You and I understand the intent of negative feedback, and we have to find the words. Words mean things. I want to change the pronoun. Criticism uses the pronoun you.

  • You didn’t do that right.
  • If you would do it this way, it would be better.

“To a rebellious child (state of mind), you sounds like a critical parent. Even if it is a statement of fact or said in a nurturing tone of voice, you sounds like a critical parent and invites more rebellion.

“I want to change the pronoun to I.

  • I need help with this.
  • I am seeing this process a different way.
  • I want to speed things up here.
  • I would like to change this.
  • In what way can we make this better?

“This one simple change invites a different person into the conversation. Do you know why?”

When to Give Positive Feedback

Charlie was coaching the operators, I was coaching Charlie. Actually, I was training Charlie. Our first subject was Sonja.

“Good morning, Sonja,” I took the lead. “You completed the training for our real-time data entry screens and then we threw you back on-line with real customers. I don’t know if that is fair, so today, we have you off-line for an hour. We will do the same work, but the customer won’t be real. In fact, I am going to be your customer, so if you need to stop and slow down, all you have to do is smile and we will slow down.

“Since, I am the customer, Charlie will be your coach. Every time Charlie sees something he really likes, he is going to stop you and tell you about the element you did well. Ready?” Sonja smiled.

“You smiled,” I said. “So, let’s take it slow. You have your phone script, let’s start at the top.”

Sonja started through the script. Twenty seconds in, I stopped her.

“Charlie, we just finished the first few seconds of the call. What were the elements that Sonja did well?” Charlie stared at me, intently. Though I had briefed him before we got started, he was still focusing on mistakes. In the first twenty seconds, Sonja had made no mistakes, so Charlie didn’t know what to say.

“Charlie, in the first few seconds, did Sonja stick exactly to the script?” Charlie nodded. “Then, tell Sonja what positive element she accomplished by sticking to the script.”

So, Charlie talked about consistency. And we went on, stopping every few seconds, so Charlie could make a positive comment about Sonja’s performance. The first call took 15 minutes. The second call took 12 minutes. The third took 8 minutes. The fourth took 7. Then 6 minutes. The last two calls hit our target at 4 minutes, and then we had coffee.

The Value in a Manager’s Role

“What do you mean, bring value?” Joan asked. “Sounds easy to say, but I don’t know what you mean. How does a manager bring value to the problem solving and decision making in the team?”

“Do you bring value by telling people what to do?” I asked.

Joan sat back, looking for the odd angle in the question. “No,” she replied.

“You and I are sitting here talking,” I nodded. “And in our conversation, am I directing you, telling you how to be a manager?”

Again, the answer was “No.”

“And would you say that our conversations are valuable, valuable to you, in your role, as a manager?”

Joan followed the nod. “Yes,” she said slowly.

“I am not telling you what to do, yet, am I bringing value to the conversation?” I could see Joan making a leap in her mind to follow. “How am I doing that? If I am not telling you what to do, what kinds of sentences am I using?”

“Questions,” she responded. “You are not telling me what to do. You are asking questions and listening. And your questions are bringing value to the decisions I have to make and the problems I have to solve.”

Open Door Policy

“I just can’t seem to get anything done,” lamented Ralph. “It seems that, all day long, people just line up at my door with questions and problems they cannot solve. I spend more time working on their problems than my own problems.”

I asked Ralph how accessible he was. “Oh, I have an open door policy. In fact, I cannot remember the last time I closed my door.”

An open door policy sounds like an admirable leadership trait, when, in practice, it can create unintended results. An open door policy can actually train your team members that you are the fastest way to solve a problem. As the manager, you can become the shortcut that prevents independent research, arriving at new ideas, or formulating original strategy.

On the wall, behind the swivel chair of one of my favorite clients, is posted the following phrase, “What are you going to do about that?”

You see, an open door policy has little to do with the door.