Tag Archives: coaching

Face of the Boss

“So, when things get tough, in your new role as a manager, the face of your old boss appears.” I repeated, confirming what Nathan had described. Nathan nodded, so I continued.

“Management skills are often passed down that way, for better or worse. Experience teaches, our parents teach, old bosses teach. It’s just that sometimes the lessons learned are not the right lessons. A dog teaches a boy fidelity, perseverance and to turn around three times before lying down. (Credit to humorist Robert Benchley).

“So, what are the right lessons?” Nathan inquired.

“Well, we have the example of your worst boss. So, who was your best boss?”

Nathan had to think for quite a bit. I could see he was struggling. “Yes, I remember. I don’t know why I didn’t think of him. Mr. Johnston, that was his name.”

“And what were the qualities that made him such a good boss?”

“It’s funny, he never yelled, he never got upset, he was always calm. If I made a mistake, he helped me correct it. When I was about to do something stupid, he would stop me and make me think it over.”

“So, here is where we start,” I said. “We start by replacing your worst boss with Mr. Johnston. When you are faced with a management issue, and you begin to hear your worst boss in your mind, I want you to turn your head and think about Mr. Johnston watching you.”

Nathan smiled and nodded. “You mean, I need to kind of fake myself out.”

“Not at all. You already fake yourself out when you listen to your worst boss. I want you to listen to Mr. Johnston.”

The Big Difference Between Training and Coaching

Tyler finally had a question. “So, have we been wasting out time training our people?”

“Training is not a waste of time, it is how you train that determines its effectiveness.” Tyler squirmed. His company spent thousands of dollars on management training the prior year.

“Tyler, let’s take a fun example. Ever play video games?” Tyler nodded and flashed a huge grin. “How did you learn to play that game? Did it come with an instruction manual? Did you go to the bookstore and buy the Insider’s Guide to the game?”

“No way, I just sat down and started playing it.”

“And what is your competence level?”

“Well, I am at a level 40, now, but over the weekend, I think I can get my character to level 50. That’s as high as I can go with the character in this clan.”

“So, you are telling me that you became an expert. Did you become an expert because their instruction manual was so well written? Did the quality of the Insider’s Guide (that you never bought at the bookstore) have a significant impact on your learning this new behavior?”

“No, I just played the game. My character got killed a few times, but I learned how to navigate around the danger zones. I learned how to engage other characters in battle. I learned out to accumulate powers. Every time I did something right, I got points. Every time I did something stupid, I lost points. My points accumulated, my character got stronger, I leveled up. All around the screen are status panels that give me constant real time feedback on where I am in the game and how I am doing.”

“And you did all this without reading the instructions or attending a training class?” I asked. Tyler nodded yes again. “Tyler, you learned to play the game at an expert level because the game was designed to positively reinforce desired behavior. This positive reinforcement was meticulous and frequent. There were established goals and measurement systems to track progress and status.

“Next week, we will get back together and talk more about training.”

Before or After?

Tyler’s curiosity had moved to intrigue.

“What gets reinforced gets repeated,” I said. We had been talking about positive reinforcement and its impact on behavior. “That’s why measurement and feedback loops are so important.

“Here is the insight,” I continued. “Most managers focus their time before the behavior. Most managers provide training and give lectures on the way things should be done and then wonder why they don’t get the desired behavior. Most managers think their biggest influence on behavior occurs before the behavior.

Let’s meet, let’s plan, let’s discuss, let’s show.

“All of this occurs before the behavior and has minimal impact.

“The payoff, the big influence is after the desired behavior occurs. That’s when to pay the most attention. What gets reinforced gets repeated.”

Effective Or Not?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I was fortunate enough to attend one of your in-person sessions. I have a specific supervisor not able to effectively complete some parts in her role description, so we followed your assessment exercise. She and I had pretty similar views and she saw that the higher levels of work was where she was struggling. She has asked for 60 days to make some improvements. In your experience have you found that improvements are possible, and that people are able to stretch to perform higher level functions?

Response:
First, I congratulate you on taking the time to have this difficult conversation with your team member. A sixty day period is certainly a reasonable request, however, it’s not hands-off. I would recommend a weekly thirty-minute coaching session between the two of you. You have already identified the areas of struggle, that’s your agenda (written agenda). Pick a Friday or a Monday.

Specifically, your discussion should revolve around the work. I define work as problem solving and decision making. Your questions should be “what decisions were a challenge this week?” and “what problems were a challenge this week?” Pay close attention to how your team member responds.

Your question is centered around the issue of capability. Is your team member capable of making the decisions and solving the problems embedded in the work? Your discussions about the struggle will give you clarity. Over a six-week period, you should have six clear data points that will reveal a pattern. Then the decision is pretty simple – effective? or not?

Pretending

“I’ve tried everything I know to get Perry to improve,” Susan lamented.

“Everything?” I asked.

“I really like Perry, I just wish he could be more effective,” she said, ignoring my question. “In fact, everybody likes Perry. But, at the same time, he constantly disappoints.”

“When he disappoints, what is the impact that has on the project? What is the impact it has on the team?”

Susan nodded. “Yep, everyone takes a beat, they sigh, they cover up. The project comes in late, but nobody wants to complain about Perry.”

“And, what if you do nothing to intervene. What will happen in a week, another month, a year?”

“People will put up with him for a while longer, but in a month, it might impact morale. In a year, I could lose someone else on the team, someone tired of covering for Perry.”

“What’s stopping you from doing something now?”

“Hope,” Susan explained, thinking I would agree that there was some hope for Perry.

“Susan. What are you pretending not to know?”

Value of Advice

Rory would not be deterred. “But, I am young, and, you are experienced. I have listened to you before and your advice has been helpful.”

“I am flattered,” I replied. “But, better to clarify your own understanding of the problem than to take my word for it. My advice is worth no more than you are able to make of it.”

Easy Now, Hard Later

From the Ask Tom mailbox –

Question:
I often think, especially in my coaching and team development but also in personal goals, about the hard part. I recently read another blog post about getting to the hard part in anything we undertake and how at times we can have the tendency to want to avoid it. How do we continue to enable or encourage the people around us to focus on the hard part. I want nothing more than the success of the people in my life.

Response:
This is a classic addiction curve. What is easy now, gets hard later. What is hard now, gets easy later. This is also the procrastination curve. The busy curve.

David Allen, in his book Getting Things Done, provides a model to work an INBOX (or a to-do list). Work down the list, anything that takes less than two minutes, do now. If it takes more than two minutes, schedule it, delegate it or put it into a project loop. It’s a sucker punch model. It’s too easy to knock out all the two minute tasks and too hard to work on the stuff in the project loop.

Easy to understand, we know what we (and our team) need to do. We just don’t do it. It’s too hard.

Embedded in David Allen’s model, down in the bottom right hand corner is a piece of brilliance. It’s called next action. I call it robust next step, or robust first step. When I encounter anything that looks hard, I just ask, what is the robust next step? And, if I can do that step in less than two minutes, I do it now. Even if it’s hard.

Instead of a Confrontation

Cheryl emerged from her team meeting, eyes wide in partial disbelief.

“So, how did it go?” I asked.

“I expected a big confrontation, didn’t sleep last night worrying, but I think we solved the quality problem with the incoming plastic parts,” she replied.

“How did that happen?”

“I knew how I wanted this problem solved, but, instead of telling the team what to do, I just asked questions and listened. At first they were going off a cliff, so I asked the question in a different way. It was like magic. They gave me the solution I was looking for. Before I could say anything, they volunteered to fix the problem.

“It seems the burrs on the plastic parts were all from the same lot number. Sherman volunteered to run the defective parts over a grinder to remove the burr, but it was Andrew who surprised me.

“He volunteered to call the molding company and find out what was causing the burr. In fact, he left the meeting for five minutes and had the answer. The molder knew there was a problem with that lot, but didn’t think it would matter. He has since fixed the problem, sending a short run over for us to inspect. Andrew said he would be standing by.”

“So, why does this surprise you?” I asked.

“Instead of a confrontation, turns out, all I had to do was ask two questions.”

“So, what are you going to do the rest of the day?”

“I was thinking about taking a nap,” Cheryl said with a smile.

My Favorite Subject

From the Ask Tom mailbag:

Question:

I am a Regional Manager, responsible for seven locations across the Midwest. I feel I have the ability to manage effectively without talking to my team on a daily basis. But, at times, I feel as if I am not in touch with their issues, challenges or daily routines. In fact, some are not even “available” for lunch or dinner when I am in town. Have I lost touch? Can you recommend a book to read, symposium to attend to improve my management skills? What has been your experience in managing people in multiple locations?

Response:

Thank you for your question. Reading a book will not solve your problem. Staying in touch with your location managers is tough when face-to-face meetings are not frequent. It’s tough, but not impossible.

First, create a master schedule of all the touches for the next six months. This includes face-to-face meetings, conference calls, 1-1 coaching calls, birthday cards and handwritten notes that are snail-mailed.

Ask your location managers what interaction is the most helpful, how you can provide the best support for them. Each person is different and may require a different frequency and kind of touch.

Next, my question. When you do meet with your managers are you bringing real value to the conversation, or would they just as soon skip it? If you are bringing real value to their thinking and their work, your managers will look forward to these meetings. They will not miss these meetings for all the tea in China.

So, what does that conversation sound like? How do you, as their manager, bring value to their thinking and their work?

Most managers think they bring value by providing direction and advice. Of course, there are times when direction and advice are helpful, but please, don’t ask me to dinner so you can tell me what to do.

Instead, ask me questions. Ask me how I am doing. Really doing. Ask about my challenges or difficulties. Ask how I am solving problems. Ask how I feel about my job. Ask how I feel about my life. No advice, just ask and listen. I would love to tell you how I am doing. I would love to tell you how I feel about my life, the things that are important to me. I will not miss the opportunity to talk about myself. It’s my favorite subject.

Whose Problem is It?

“Tomorrow is Saturday,” I said. “Rachel has an 8-hour shift. For the past two weeks, she left early, with work undone. The first Saturday, you were furious. The second Saturday, you were calm, but she still left early. What will be different tomorrow?”

“Lots will be different,” Karyn replied. “I took what you said about seeing Rachel as a person, instead of as an employee. As long as I saw Rachel as an employee, her leaving early was my problem. Only when I saw Rachel as a person, did I realize it was her problem. I also realized, if I saw Rachel as a person, why would I wait until Saturday to help her, when I know that is the day of something going on, in conflict with her schedule at work. So, I asked her to lunch on Friday.”

“And?”

“At first, she thought it was a trap, but she agreed to show up. And, we just talked about her. She is in a custody battle with her ex, and she is losing. Three weeks ago, she was late to soccer practice because we made her stay over 15 minutes. So, her ex took the child and she missed the one night a week she has with her kid. She vowed to herself never to let that happen again. She was embarrassed to ask for the time off, but the tension on Saturday, knowing if she was late, that she would not see her kid for another week, it just came out.”

“And?”

“I am the manager. I control resources and scheduling. I asked Rachel, if I could schedule her to leave a half-hour early, if that would help? Turns out, Rachel’s behavior had nothing to do with me, or respect, or authority.”

“I know this conversation seems to be about Rachel and what we learned about her, but what did you learn about yourself?”