Category Archives: Coaching Skills

Do You Think the Race is Over?

“I changed,” Karyn replied. “But the outcome was still the same. Rachel left early and the work was still undone.”

“Do you think the race is over?” I asked. “What will you do this Saturday?”

“Yelling didn’t work, being nice didn’t work. I don’t know.” Karyn was stumped.

“Were you just being nice, or was there a more subtle shift in you? During all the yelling and Rachel leaving in a huff, how did you see Rachel? Was she a vehicle for you to get stuff done, or an obstacle in the way of getting stuff done?”

“Both,” Karyn flatly stated. “She was supposed to get stuff done, and left it all in my lap when she left.”

“And, last Saturday, you had an early conversation during her shift, when things were calm. Who was Rachel to you then?”

“Well, I treated her more like a person, then.”

“She was no longer something you were driving or an obstacle in the way? She was a person?”

Karyn did not respond to the question.

“You changed,” I said. “You made a shift in the way you saw Rachel. Who are you going to be this Saturday?”

Who Will Solve the Problem?

Karyn was in the conference room when I arrived. We only had ten minutes to talk, so right to the point.

“What have you decided that you would say?” I asked. Last Saturday, there was a shouting match that ended poorly. Karyn did not want a repeat performance. At the same time, she wanted the team member to live up to her schedule and complete the work assigned. I suggested that Karyn prepare a conversation that was both sensitive and straight.

“First, the conversation will be early in the shift. I will ask to see her in the conference room, because it is both private and neutral. I am going to start with a twenty second speech and then I plan to listen and ask questions.” Karyn stopped.

“So, what does it sound like?” I prompted.

“First I will apologize.

I am sorry the conversation got out of hand last Saturday. We are both adults and I know better. When I got angry, I should have just called a time-out so we could talk with clearer heads.

It’s obvious to me that something is going on outside of work that is very important to you. It is important enough for you to break the schedule even if your work is not completed. If we could talk about this priority, perhaps we could arrive at some solution. I might be able to help if you could talk me through it.

“Then, I plan to shut up and listen,” Karyn explained.

“So, after you listen, are you going to solve her problem?” I was curious.

“Absolutely not, if there is one thing I have learned, is that I can listen, but she will have to solve her own problem. In fact, she will have to do the hard work of thinking it through. All I can do is give her a platform to solve the problem rather than fight it.”

Getting Your Juice

“What is the hardest part about delegation?” I asked. Matthew winced. The more we talked about delegation, the more he hated it.

“Giving it up,” he said. “I was the best technician in the field. I could handle two more stops than any of the other service trucks. At the end of the day, I put my numbers on the wall, and they were almost always at the top.”

After a moment, he continued, “Now, I have to wait. It is really tough to know whether or not what I do, as a Manager, is really having an impact. Numbers will be down for a service tech and I wonder if it is my fault or is he just having a bad day.”

“You are pretty results-oriented, aren’t you?” I asked.

“I guess so,” Matthew replied.

“It’s more than a guess, Matthew. That is why you really liked being a technician. You got results (your juice) on a daily basis. You could stick your results on the wall and look at them. If you wanted, you could even pull your results off the wall, take them home to show your wife. You are in a different game now. The results are not so tangible. You don’t get your juice every day. The results have to do with growth and development of your team. Welcome to management.”

Never Run a Press Before

Cindy’s assignment was simple. As a successful supervisor in another division, she was transferred to a line unit that was having trouble keeping up. After her first meeting, she wasn’t so sure she was up to the task.

From the back of the room, “So, tell us about your background. Have you ever run one of these presses before?”

She admitted that she had not. “So, how do you expect to be our supervisor when you don’t know the first thing about how we do the job?” She had never been challenged so directly. Worse, it was a perfectly valid question.

Now Cindy was in my office. “Here is the central issue,” I asked, “how can you bring value to their problem solving and decision making?”

“What do you mean?”

“You don’t know how to run the press, but does that really matter? How do you bring value to their problem solving and decision making? How do they know when they are doing a good job? How do they know when they are doing a poor job?”

“Funny, I know the ops manager was complaining that they did not meet the production quota last month. But those numbers were never broken down on a daily basis so the line never had a clue whether they were ahead or behind. The last two days of the month, somebody came out and yelled at them to pick up the pace, but it was too little, too late.”

“So, you can bring value to the work by giving the floor feedback on daily production runs, perhaps accelerating things a bit, but avoiding a hysterical crunch at the end of the month.”

One month later, Cindy’s crew was ahead by 150 units, yet had worked no overtime, even taken the press down for a half day of preventive maintenance. Every morning, Cindy had a two minute huddle meeting and posted the day’s production goal. At ten and two she posted updates with a final count at 3:30 when the line shut down. Though she had never touched the press, she was bringing value to the problem solving and decision making of her production crew. The skills to be a successful supervisor are quite different than the technical skills of the crew.

Next Step

Jeremy was not excited after his first project follow-up meeting.

“Why the long face?” I asked.

“Well, I thought by scheduling follow-up meetings, the project would start happening and show some progress. I just finished the first follow-up meeting and found out the project hasn’t started yet. I am still in the same boat as last week.”

“What do you think the problem is?”

Jeremy’s mind was searching for a directional clue. “I don’t know. Sylvia said she was having trouble getting started, but was sure that by Friday, we would see some progress.”

“What does progress mean?” I continued to probe.

Jeremy was puzzled by the question. “Well, you know, she will have started.”

“What is her first step to getting started?”

Jeremy hesitated. His response was only going to be a guess. I stopped him.

“Jeremy, don’t feel bad. This is typical of projects not laid out clearly. She hasn’t started the project because she doesn’t know what the next step is. Heck, you don’t know what the next step is.

“Have you ever had a project that you found difficult to get started. But once you got rolling everything was fine. What caused you to stutter is that you had not defined the next step. Understanding the power of the next step will give you a clue on how to get project rolling. For now, you need to have an interim emergency meeting with Sylvia to lay out the next step. And remember, since she will be doing the work, she needs to participate heavily in the design of this next step.”

Training Does Not Create Competence

The training wasn’t working, but Crystal was looking in the wrong place.

The skill was simple. Enter the data into the computer during the phone call, not after the call. The software was in place, the training program was clear, with exercises and interaction.

The problem wasn’t the training, the problem was AFTER the training. Once training was complete, the operators were literally abandoned. They were introduced to the skill, performed the skill two or three times during the training, but afterwards, NOTHING. Only one day later, all the operators abandoned the new process and were back to taking notes on paper during the call.

“Crystal, I want you to develop some practice sessions following the training. Create some scripts based on the ones used in training. Then have the operators practice, practice, practice.

“And you are going to have to take off your training hat and put on your coaching hat. Your training is only intended to get this process started. Before you let them go, you have to bring them to a level of competence. Competence comes through practice and coaching. Training comes before the behavior. Coaching comes after the behavior.”

Endorphins in the Brain

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
Do you think the time span for an individual changes depending on their passion for the task they are working on? I observe some employees who seem to have a hard time effectively planning some specific shorter time span tasks (1-2 weeks out), while at the same time they are able to effectively plan out personal “work” over a year in advance. I have observed this with more than one employee and was curious if you had contemplated this or come across research related to this.

Response:
There is a distinct difference between maximum capability and applied capability. Maximum capability is the stuff that we, as managers, cannot see…but it’s there.

Applied capability is the stuff that we CAN see. Applied capability is observable, there is evidence of output. The longest time span tasks are most observable based on these conditions –

  • The team member has the necessary skills (technical knowledge and practiced performance).
  • The team member has interest or passion for the work.
  • The task or behavior is consistent within the context (culture) of the work environment.

So, it’s that second condition you are asking about. Interest or passion drives focus, attention and duration. Applied capability (what you see) gets pushed further out whenever there is interest around the work.

So, what you are seeing is an attitude (lack of interest) related to shorter term tasks. Your role, as a manager, is to tie things together, make the connection between interest and the task. Sometimes it is not intrinsic interest, but connected interest. I may not have interest in the project, but certainly have interest in the reward of the project that allows my to purchase the boat (home, car, lifestyle) of my dreams. Connect the work with interest, you will see higher applied capability.

But, here is the hat trick (three goals in a single game). Intrinsic reward comes from challenging work. Any work. Successful completion of challenging work creates endorphins in the brain. There is some work that is simply not challenging, yet has to be done. It is likely that work is a candidate for delegation. You are the manager. What is your role in accurately assigning challenging work and coaching people through work they should delegate to other team members?

People, Asset or Liability?

I had a couple of minutes in the lobby, so I was looking at all the teamwork posters on the wall.
–Our people are our most important asset!!–
For the first time, it struck me as odd. I was working with the management team to find a new Senior Project Manager. The last one didn’t work out so well and by the time they figured it out, they almost lost their biggest customer. I was having difficulty getting them to spend the right amount of time on the job description, defining the management skills necessary for this position. The last guy had the technical skills, but none of the management skills.

I entered the conference room, asked the management team if they agreed with the poster in the lobby. Being politically correct, they were quite enthusiastic in their support.

I asked them again, “Are people our greatest asset?”

This team has been around me for a while, so they know when I ask a question a second time, their first response may need some rethinking. I could see the wheels churning. Finally, someone took a stab at it.

“Our people may not be our greatest asset. The right people are our greatest asset. The wrong person may be our biggest liability.”

“Good,” I replied. “Sometimes it takes a bad hire for us to realize how important this up-front work is. So, let’s get to work. What are the skills, knowledge and behaviors necessary for success in this role?”

Smartest Person?

“I’m not trying to show off,” defended Alex. “I have the answer, it’s quicker, it solves the problem. I know it looks like I am a just being a glory hog, but I call it a touchdown!”

I waited. Alex was in no mood to listen, not even to himself. So, I waited some more. Finally, I spoke.

“Alex, three months ago, as our best technician, did we expect you to have the answers to the biggest decisions on your projects?”

“Absolutely, that’s why I got the promotion.”

“Yes, three months ago, we expected you to be the best, the smartest person in the room. That’s why we promoted you to manager. Do you think this is a different game now?”

“I suppose it is or I wouldn’t be sitting here in front of you.”

“Alex, the game is different. Before, we expected you to have all the answers. Now you are a manager. We expect you to have all the questions. Instead of being the smartest person, you may have to be the dumbest person. I want you to ask,

What if? By when? Why did that happen? When do we expect to finish? What could we do differently? How come that happened? What is stopping us?

“Just a few simple, dumb questions. It’s a different role you are playing, now.”

Playing Catch

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
In other words, plan, organize and catch employees doing things right?

Response:
Accurate AND easy to miss the point. Catching people doing things right requires planning and organization. I don’t want to simply catch them as if it were an accident.

I want to catch them as if I am “playing catch.” I want to be at the ready, glove in hand, waiting, anticipating AND even if the ball is off target, make every effort to field the throw. Yes, I want to catch them doing things right.

I have my uniform on, hands on my knees. Poised to move right or left. As a manager, I am ready. Play ball.