Category Archives: Coaching Skills

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
_____________________
Today, Wed, Nov 2, 2016 is the last day to register for our public presentation tomorrow –

Management Myths and Time Span
November 3, 2016
8:00a – 12:00 noon

Program starts at 8:30a sharp
Holy Cross Hospital Auditorium
4725 North Federal Highway
Fort Lauderdale FL 33308
Register here.

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.

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.