Tag Archives: coaching

The Team You Deserve

“Ted, your team is functioning exactly as it was designed to function,” I started.

“What do you mean? You make it sound like it’s my fault,” he defended.

“Exactly, as the manager, the team you have is the team you deserve.”

I could tell Ted was getting agitated. It is easy to look at someone else to blame. It is tough when the responsibility is ours.

“The team you have is the team you deserve,” I repeated. “As time goes by, you will find that your team will be no better than you are. The speed of the pack is the speed of the leader.

“If you find that your team is not what you want it to be, if you find that you are not able to bring out the best in that team, to bring them to higher levels of performance, then, as the manager, you are not the leader who deserves better. At least not yet.”

Ted was quiet.

After a minute, I broke the silence. “So, what do you think we need to work on? Where should we start?”

Ted took a breath. “I guess we have to start with me.”

The Difference Between Coaching and Mentoring

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I was in your workshop last week and suddenly realized why I feel frustrated in my position. In the course of a project, I solve problems and make decisions, submit them to my manager for review, and then, he sits on them. People who depend on those decisions, one way or the other, ask me, “what gives?” The decision sits on my manager’s desk in a black hole while the project gets delayed. In the end, my decision survives, but the project is late, time and again.

Is it possible my manager is in over his head? He gets credit for my decisions, even though the project is late. I am worried that I will be stuck here under my manager for the rest of my career.

Response:
There is always more to the story and I cannot speculate on the capability of your manager. I do know that your manager’s goals and objectives set the context for your work. Keep your head down. Keep making decisions and solving problems on your assigned projects. Continue to give your manager “best advice.” That’s your role.

Your biggest fear is that your career may be in a dead-end under your current manager. It likely appears that your manager is, indeed, not focused on your professional development. Not his job.

Look to your manager’s manager, your manager-once-removed. Your manager is specifically focused on a shorter term set of goals and objectives. Your manager-once-removed is focused on a longer term set of goals and objectives. Some of that longer term focus is the professional development of team members two levels of work below.

Manager-once-removed
———————————-
Manager
———————————-
Team member

The working relationship with your manager is different than the working relationship with your manager-once-removed. The relationship with your manager is an accountability relationship filled with task assignments, checkpoints and coaching. The relationship with your manager-once-removed is a mentoring relationship filled with discussions about professional development, career path, working environment, challenge in your role.

It is likely that your company does not recognize the importance of the manager-once-removed relationship. It is possible your manager-once-removed has no awareness of this necessary managerial relationship. You do. You are now aware.

What to do
Pick two or three professional development programs that you find interesting and that could help you bring more value to the company in your role. Don’t pick something that pulls you away from your current role or something with an unreasonable budget. It could be something as simple as three different books you would like to read that will bump up your skill level.

Ask your manager-once-removed to schedule a short fifteen minute conference to ask advice. Don’t ask for advice, ask for a short fifteen minute conference. This is not a casual conversation in the hallway. You want undivided attention across a desk or a table.

This fifteen minute conversation is your first of several meetings with your manager-once-removed to talk about longer time span issues related to your professional development. This is not a time to talk about the accountabilities in your current role, those discussions should be with your manager. This is the time to talk about your long term development and contribution to the company over time.

Take baby steps and build from there. A reasonable routine to meet with your manager-once-removed would be for 30-45-60 minutes every three months. Keep in touch. -Tom

Classic Pairing Behavior

“But, what if I am being overly dramatic?” Miriam continued to question. “What if the team’s inability to work together is just my own projection of insecurity, and that when the going gets tough, they will put their differences aside and cooperate with each other? What if I am just afraid of a little water cooler talk?”

“What do you mean, water cooler talk?” I wanted to know.

“You know, two people at the water cooler, complaining about the third person,” Miriam replied.

“Always the same two people, ganging up on the other?” I asked.

“Heavens, no,” Miriam chuckled. “There is equal opportunity pairing at the water cooler. Depends on the issue to determine who is at the water cooler and who is thrown under the bus. Scapegoat of the week.”

“And, how do you know what is discussed at the water cooler?”

“Oh, I hear. The rumor mill is much more effective at communication than the company newsletter.”

“So, you have your own little birdies who pair off with you?”

“Yes,” Miriam nodded. “And, that’s what has me worried. These are the issues that could blow up the team in the middle of a high pressure project.”

“Miriam, the reason I wanted to hear the details of the water cooler talk, is that this is classic pairing behavior. A group, faced with an unspoken issue will splinter into pairs, often at the water cooler, to avoid confronting the issue in the group. It is a collusion, between two people to find allies in a struggle to avoid the issue.”

“Is that what they are doing?”

“Not just them, you have your own little birdies. You have engaged in pairing​ behavior yourself,” I described.

“My goodness, I didn’t​ even realize. I was doing it, too.”

“Not to worry,” I smiled. “Pairing is an unconscious behavior. You didn’t know it was happening, neither did your team.”

Weasel Wisdom

“This is a team problem, not your problem to solve. Understand, you are accountable for the output of this team, but only the team can solve this problem. Your role is to name the problem, put it on the table, in front of everyone, and outlast the panic,” I repeated.

“I don’t know if I have the courage,” Miriam replied. “Besides, I always heard that you should praise in public and scold in private.”

“Weasel wisdom,” I nodded.

“I heard you say, there are weasel words, but now you say there is weasel wisdom?”

I continued to nod. “Yes, weasel wisdom. If it is an individual’s issue, you speak directly to the individual, and if it is a team issue, you speak to the team, in front of the team. Yes, you are right, it takes courage.”

“And if I don’t have the courage?” Miriam questioned her own confidence.

“What does that say about your belief? Remember, what we believe drives behavior. What is your belief?”

Miriam struggled. “If I don’t confront the whole team with the team problem, it says we don’t believe the team can solve the problem. It says the team cannot talk about the problem. It says the team can only deal with the problem behind closed doors.”

“And every time you, as the manager, take the team problem behind closed doors, you participate in a grand collusion that cripples the team from solving ANY problem.” -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.

How to Bring Value to Decision Making

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I was just promoted to a new role in my company, as an S-III manager. Every working relationship is now different. All these years, I avoided my manager because the only feedback I got was criticism, my task assignments seemed like barked orders. The less we talked, the better we got along, at least from my perspective.

As time went by, my manager moved on and I was tapped to take his place. So, now, I have a new manager. In your workshop, you said it is the role of every manager to bring value to the decision making and problem solving of each team member. While this is certainly advice for me as I work with my new team, I am more curious how I might kickstart things with my new manager. I refuse to stand by the same dysfunction I had with my old manager. How can I get the most out of the working relationship with my new manager?

Response:
First, congratulations on your promotion. I can see from your question why your company selected you. I assume your new manager is in a role at S-IV.

  • Clarify expectations
  • Organize expectations
  • Define the output
  • Schedule a recurring meeting
  • Set the agenda
  • Don’t skip the meeting

Clarify expectations
The central document to clarify expectations is a role description. The tendency is to assume understanding without a written agreement. Write it down.

Organize expectations
In your new role, you will be accountable for a range of outputs. An S-III role is a big role. You will have a long list of tasks and activities. Some of the things you do will go together, but some things will be separate and distinct from the other tasks and activities. All are important, none can be overlooked. Find the things that go together and collect them (in the role description) into a Key Area, a Key Result Area (KRA). Go back to your list and find the next things that go together, separate and distinct from the other tasks and activities. Collect them (in the role description) into another KRA. By the time you finish this exercise, you should have defined approximately 6-8 KRAs.

Define the output
In each KRA, based on the tasks and activities, define the output. What is the accountability in each KRA? Each Key Area must have at least one, no more than three defined outputs.

Schedule a recurring meeting
Schedule a recurring meeting with your manager, two hours, once per month. This meeting is just the two of you, 1-1. This is not a casual meeting, but a formal meeting with a start time and an end time. You set the agenda.

Set the agenda
Your agenda will follow the Key Result Areas (KRAs) you defined. Your role description will give you a general idea of the tasks and activities, as well as the defined output in each KRA. Your agenda will identify the specific actions and short term goals for the next thirty days. In the meeting, as you describe your intentions to your manager, you will make notes and commitments.

Don’t skip the meeting

There will always be something that seems more important at the appointed time of your meeting, but it’s not. The event that gets in the way of your meeting will be more urgent, but never more important.

This is the meeting where your manager will bring value to your decision making and problem solving. -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

Replace the Reprimand With This Question

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
Our culture is the worst. It is based on fear. Everyone walks around here on eggshells, tip-toeing around the CEO. We try our best, but there is always something wrong. We can take the truth about the screw-up, but the load that comes with it makes the person feel small and worthless. Even if I am not the target, I stand by and watch a co-worker on the receiving end of a scathing reprimand. It just makes me feel bad.

Response:
All crumbs lead to the top. Always. You have an accountability problem that shows up as a culture problem.

Many managers tell me they have to hold their people accountable. If an output goal is missed, the manager feels the need to bring it to the team members attention through a reprimand, warning or a scolding write-up in the employee file. (Oh no!) If the manager can muster an emotional, red-faced dressing-down, all the better. The manager must have truly held the team member accountable.

Understand, in all this froth, nothing changed. The output didn’t change. The behaviors that created the output didn’t change. Oh, wait. Something did change. The manager feels powerful and effective. But the only effect is that the team member feels bad.

People don’t perform better when they feel bad. Their breathing becomes shallow. Fear drives them into four unproductive responses –

  • Fight (the boss is an asshole)
  • Flight (I will hide, I will hide my work, my contribution will no longer be detectable)
  • Freeze (Paralysis that freezes all decision making, including appropriate decision making)
  • Appease (Sycophant behavior that never questions anything, the perfect “yes man”)

Accountability for output is misplaced. If an output goal is missed, it is not the team member I hold accountable. It is the manager. I hold the team member accountable for this one thing. I hold the team member accountable to come to work each and every day, with their full discretionary attention to do their best. That’s it.

It is the manager I hold accountable for their output. It is the manager who controls all the resources. It is the manager who selected the team member for the task. It is the manager who trained the team member in the necessary skills. It is the manager who provided the tools and equipment necessary for the task. It is the manager who controlled the working environment, the start time, the end time, the quality of raw materials. It is the manager I hold accountable for the output of the team member.

And, most often, it is the CEO I hold accountable, for the CEO is accountable for the output of the entire organization.

A reprimand is counter-productive to output. Output is made up of a number of variables –

  • Who?
  • Skill-level?
  • Tools?
  • Equipment?
  • Working environment?
  • Target completion time?
  • Quality of raw materials?

Replace the reprimand with this question. What could we do differently to get the output we want? This is the only question that impacts output.

And, now, I am talking directly to the CEO. Your people can take the truth, not the load. Replace the reprimand with a question.