Tag Archives: coaching

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.”

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.

Positive Reinforcement in the Real World

“So, how does that work around here?” Travis asked. Using the analogy of video games and expert levels made the reinforcement process understandable, but we were running a loading dock, not playing a video game.

“Travis, the guys loading the trucks, have you noticed the different colored t-shirts they wear, the ones with the company logo on the front?”

“Yeah, I noticed. We started that about three weeks ago. The new guys get a white t-shirt to start. We had a meeting about it.”

“And when does the new guy get his white t-shirt?”

“The first day,” Travis smiled.

“No, the first day he punches the timeclock reporting for work on-time,” I clarified. “What is the most important first behavior?”

“Showing up for work on time,” Travis said.

“And when does he get his second white t-shirt?”

Travis was catching on. “The second day he punches in for work on time.”

“And when does he get a yellow shirt?” I continued.

“Five days on time, consecutive days on time.”

“And when does he get a green shirt?”

“When he passes forklift training.” Travis stopped. “I think I get it.”

How to Coach Increasing Competence

“Sustained, discretionary effort. That’s what we are after,” I said. “The training period requires more attention and focus from the manager. But as time passes and new behaviors become competent skills, the reinforcement changes.

“In the beginning, the manager has to overcome push-back and fear of failure. But, as the new behavior turns to competence, the issues change.”

“So, what does the manager do differently?” asked Travis.

“Lots of things, but let’s start with the easy stuff. In the beginning, the manager may reinforce good old fashioned effort. But as time goes by and the effort becomes accomplished, the manager changes to reinforce a specific sequence. As the specific sequence becomes accomplished, the manager may reinforce speed or efficiency.

“Let’s go back to our example of the video game. Modern game designers structure training sequences into the lower levels of the game. Leveling up requires certain fundamental skills be demonstrated. Once accomplished, the player is introduced to more complex scenarios where mastery of the fundamentals must already exist. Each level becomes increasingly complex. The schedules of reinforcement change, but the principle remains the same. What gets reinforced gets repeated.”

Performance Improvement Depends on This

“Have you ever watched a parent teach their child to walk?” I asked.

“Yeah. I have a niece that is learning to walk. Her parents go goo-gah regularly, but still it’s a wobbly process.”

“Does a parent ever say – No, that’s not the way to do it, let me show you. Don’t fall down like that?”

“Well, no. They just get all excited, clap their hands and gurgle baby talk.”

“Somewhere along the way, we lose our natural instincts in the training process. Behavior that is reinforced gets repeated. The two elements that were missing from your training last year were practice and immediate positive reinforcement.

“Initial attempts at a new skill or new behavior are usually terrible, but that’s not the point. Your job as a manager is to get excited and encourage. Put people in a place where they can try again and get better.

“Look, Travis. When do parents give up encouraging their child to walk?”

Travis was still mentally drawing lines in the analogy. “They never stop, I guess. Only when the kid learns to walk.”

Twinges in the Stomach

Charlie was in my office yesterday. We talked about mostly nothing for a half a minute, when I suddenly became uncomfortable. Something happened inside of me, mostly with my stomach. I wasn’t in discomfort, but there was a significant twinge.

The twinge in my stomach was caused by a short silence, a white space in the conversation. I asked a question about Charlie’s last meeting with his boss. There was no response from Charlie. Silence in a conversation often causes a momentary awkwardness.

I don’t know where this conversation is going next? I thought I knew, but I don’t know now. I wish I knew, but I still don’t know. I hope this conversation get some direction soon, because this awful silence is killing me. BOOM. My stomach told me we were talking about something more important than the weather.

My automatic (unconscious) reaction was to avoid. Do anything to make this feeling go away. The silence was awkward. The automatic (unconscious) response was simply to “talk.” Make the silence go away. If I talk, the silence will be gone, the awkwardness will be gone and I won’t feel this way. Talking would also likely steer the conversation back to a discussion of the weather.

Channel the reaction. My bio-response to Charlie was a twinge in the stomach. The twinge told me that this conversation had potential to be more meaningful. I could avoid it or I could engage. Avoidance would be easy, simply talk to fill the silence, talk about anything.

OR,

I could engage, and let the silence continue. I could let the silence do the heavy lifting to move this conversation to the next level. Something significant had happened between Charlie and his boss and Charlie needed to talk about it. We could have talked about sports, or we could have engaged in a meaningful discussion that had real impact on Charlie.

The twinge in the stomach gives the Manager a heightened sense of intuition and the possibility to channel the reaction to a more productive outcome. Listen to the twinges, watch for white space in conversations.

Difference Between Winning and Losing

In any sport, there is the game and there are the players. For both sides of the contest, the rules are the same, the playing pitch is the same. The two primary variables are techniques (methods, processes) and people. Methods and processes are important, but you don’t have to watch a sporting event for very long to see that the discussion is focused on the people, the players, the talent.

Most sporting teams commit considerable budget and effort in recruiting. What is the major difference between a winning team and a losing team? It is rarely technique. It’s all about the people.

The most important part of building any successful company is building the team. Often, we see team members as interchangeable commodities, always replaceable. What if that weren’t true. What if team members weren’t replaceable, interchangeable commodities? What would change about our hiring practices as we build this team?

A Remarkable Why

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
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.

Response:
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.”