Tag Archives: coaching

A Remarkable Why

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

In our country, we’re not educated to give positive feedback, not even at school. And it’s so much easier to see faults than to see strengths. Hopefully the next generation of managers gets their people to smile in a more natural embedded way. Out of experience, I know I perform better when people give me positive feedback rather than being a bully.

I don’t believe appreciation is taught in any country, at least not as a subject in school. Yet, positive reinforcement is one of the most powerful management tools.

What gets reinforced, gets repeated.

I often ask, “Who, here, has been getting too much appreciation from their boss at work.”

The Appreciation Rule
Appreciation must be honest and sincere. Honest and sincere appreciation contains two parts.

The first part is to tell the team member specifically what you observed (as a strength, a desirable behavior, a positive attitude). The second part (the sincere part) is to say why. Why was your observation remarkable?

That’s it,
A specific what.
A remarkable why.

A team member shows up for work early. It sounds like this –

I see you arrived ten minutes early for work today. It’s important to be on time. I just wanted you to know that I noticed.

What gets reinforced, gets repeated.

The Tell

Justin greeted me at the front door. His energy level was up and he had that telltale smile.

“Justin, how can you tell the difference between positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement? In terms of response from the team member?”

Justin searched for the answer. He retraced his steps, thinking about interactions he had with his team. I interrupted his thought.

“Let me ask the question differently,” I said. “How can you immediately tell the difference between positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement? What is the immediate response to positive reinforcement?”

Justin was thinking way too deeply for the answer.

I continued my interrogation. “Yesterday, you described yourself as politically incorrect and I said ‘I appreciate your honesty.’ Do you remember?”

Justin cracked a smile. “Yes, I thought you were going to give me a lecture on negative reinforcement. Instead, you started talking about my honesty.”

“See, you did it.”

“Did what?” Justin replied.

“You smiled. The immediate response to positive reinforcement is a smiling face. Many managers think they are delivering positive reinforcement to their team members, but I see scowls in return. Positive reinforcement invites a smile. If you don’t get a smile, you didn’t connect.”

Warm and Fuzzy

“But I am not the kind of person who is all warm and fuzzy,” explained Justin. “If someone does a good job, that is what they get paid for. Why do I have to get all blubbery? It just feels goofy.”

“As a manager, when someone makes a mistake, do you have to correct them?” I asked.

“Well, yes. That’s what a manager does.”

“And when you correct them, do they do it right, or do they just do it well enough not to get yelled at?” I prodded.

Justin smiled and nodded. “It’s strange, in the short run, they do better, but it doesn’t take long for them to backslide, take a short cut on a process, skip a step. It keeps me pretty busy, checking their work.” He wasn’t being defensive, just matter of fact.

“So, it feels funny, giving honest and sincere appreciation, but it feels okay providing a little negative feedback?”

Justin grimaced. He didn’t like the way that sounded. “I suppose you are right, but that is just the way I am.” In a way, he felt justified, even sat up straighter when he said it.

“I appreciate your honesty, Justin.” I smiled.

Justin couldn’t help it and cracked a smile back. “I thought you were going to tell me I was politically incorrect.”

“I am looking for something much more than political correctness. Being politically correct won’t make you a better manager. That’s why I focused on something more powerful, your honesty. Honesty will make you a better manager. Honest and sincere appreciation.”

Who Do You Hang Around With?

Jessica was talking about her boss, Matthew. Matthew is one of those special people who, in the midst of a problem always seems to see a solution. In a meeting, where an idea may be shot down, Matthew reverses the energy. He says, “I know it is impossible, but if it weren’t impossible, how would we do it?”

What she finds interesting about Matthew is that when he walks in the room, she feels an uncanny ability to conquer any difficulties in her current project.

Stay away from naysayers, and surround yourself with people who are pathologically positive. Find the energy to make things happen, to solve the problems around you. Find that person who gives you the energy and the uncanny ability to conquer difficulty.

Nip the Bud

There are many ways to manicure a tree. Unwanted branches can be hacked off or buds can be nipped.

On a team, when performance does not meet expectations, it creates a gap. It’s the performance/expectation gap. In the near term, the gap is short and our options-to-fix are many.

As a manager, the longer you procrastinate the fix, the wider the gap becomes. In the long term, with a wider gap, the dissatisfaction is greater and our options-to-fix are fewer.

Nip the bud or hack the branch.

Shift the Coaching

Arguments pit two people at loggerheads against each other. The interchange consists of declaratory statements that contradict.

Arguments shift to exploration when the declarations turn to questions. You will likely never persuade with declaratory statements. You will likely only influence with exploratory questions.

Declaratory statements can be ignored, interpreted, misinterpreted or rejected.

Questions require consideration, reflection and critical thinking.

Henry’s Feedback System

Henry took the pushpins out of yesterday’s report and tacked today’s report in its place. This was a new initiative to provide statistical feedback to the floor. On the report were numbers indicating percentage of capacity, scrap overages and mean time to complete. Next to today’s number were the accumulated numbers for the month and the year. Each section of the report had a snappy little graph in color.

When Henry told me about his idea to provide daily feedback to his production floor, I was quite interested. When I saw the posting, I had more questions. I asked Henry to identify his three weakest links on the floor. That was easy, Henry pointed them out immediately.

I asked Henry to take the posting and get some feedback from his three chosen technicians. “How are we doing?”

Individually, the three studied the sheet, then slowly shook their heads. “I don’t know, I guess we’re doing okay, my supervisor isn’t yelling at me.”

Henry was disappointed. He worked hard on his charts. I asked him, “In what way could you present something that everyone will understand, quickly and easily?”

Henry finally settled on one number, today’s units produced. If the number was better than target, it was green. If it was below target, it was red. Next to it, in black, was tomorrow’s target. One week later, everybody understood. Henry’s feedback system was a success.

Holding People Accountable is a Myth

The only person who can hold you accountable is YOU. Invite and give permission to others to examine and challenge your commitments, AND understand that you are the only one who can keep those commitments. The only accountability is self-accountability.

We cannot hold people accountable, we can only hold people to account.

This is not a nuance of language. Holding others accountable is a myth. We cannot hold others accountable. We can only examine and challenge commitments. We can only hold people to account, to themselves for the commitments they make with themselves.

Yelling Only Creates Avoidance

“But, I give them feedback,” protested Tyler. “They know how to do it right. Why don’t they just do it the way they are supposed to?”

“You want your team members to work the line in a specific sequence in a specific way?” I replied. “You are looking for very specific behaviors?” Tyler nodded his head in agreement.

“When they do it wrong, do you pay attention to them?” I asked.

“Of course. I am usually right on it,” Tyler replied.

“And when they do it right, are you right on it?”

“Well, when they do it right, they just do it right. When they do it right, I don’t yell at them.”

“Tyler, to get desired behaviors, you have to reinforce those behaviors in a positive way. Yelling at people for doing something wrong doesn’t teach them to do it right. Yelling just creates avoidance from doing it wrong. That avoidance behavior can by very erratic and unpredictable. They don’t know whether to scream or eat a banana.

“On the other hand, if you positively reinforce desired behavior, it becomes repeated and predictable.

“So, Tyler, you tell me. What has more value, erratic avoidance behavior or positively reinforced predictable behavior?”