Difficult Conversation

Managers, the Goal for Difficult Workplace Conversations is not Personal Comfort…

It’s action and commitment

 

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“An object at rest remains at rest until acted upon by an outside force.”Newton’s First Law

 

Grant is a steady performer; an overall solid team player. Ellen, his supervisor, has given Grant feedback several times that his work lacks attention to detail and the quality is often marginal. Grant’s behavior has not changed, so it’s time to have a difficult conversation that gently provokes him at his edge.

Ellen’s untiring feedback attempts to get Grant to improve have failed. Ellen needs to amplify her expectations and become the outside force. Intensifying one’s tone while being prepared for the consequences naturally stokes levels of stress and anxiety, both for Ellen and Grant.

A critical challenge for Ellen is to appreciate that tension is a resource to gently increase and manage, not avoid. Why? Tension and struggle are the universal energy sources for human growth, change, and transformation. The chick embryo must work and struggle to break free of the eggshell to become a healthy chick.

Grant must experience constant, gentle pressure to understand it’s in his best interest to change. Tension, when harnessed appropriately, creates awareness. Ellen must develop a *safe learning container to leverage the tension in pursuit of Grant’s development. It’s a classic manager’s paradox.

*If managers have not created trusted working relationships with their direct reports, these conversations are often emotionally difficult with messy outcomes.

 

“The challenge for leaders is to disturb or disrupt the movement at the edge to provoke the desired outcome.” -Per Bak, author of How Nature Works

 

Two Outcomes of Turning Comfortable into Uncomfortable

#1 Ideal Outcome: Grant takes 100% responsibility for his sub-par performance and sincerely makes a commitment to change. Most managers report a mere 10-20% success rate with this highly desired outcome. When this level of spirited partnership is achieved, managers call that a great day at work!

On the other hand, being overly attached to this outcome is often driven by the manager’s need for comfort and control. In order for the outcome to be ideal, this need should be relinquished.

#2 Acceptable Outcome: Ellen is leveraging her personal relationship with Grant to persuade him that it’s in his best interest to change. She’s selling, he’s not buying. Now she must pivot from expecting an ideal outcome to an acceptable outcome.

Grant commits to taking concrete and specific actions, including changing his behavior, and understands the consequences if he does not do so. This uncomfortable condition is known as agree to disagree. Ellen must be okay with the fact that he doesn’t share her belief. Her goal is to demand expectations that serve the company, not for her or Grant’s comfort levels.

 

So What Now?

Monitor, Measure and Provide Feedback

Ellen’s previous feedback attempts were based on hoping Grant would change. The Situational Leadership Model instructs Ellen to apply a much more direct style until Grant has made observable behavior changes. Being more direct is not Ellen’s default leadership style, but that’s not important. Ellen’s primary objective is to help develop Grant’s full potential. This is Servant Leadership at its core – the sincere desire to help others be their best. This leadership style says easy, does uncomfortable.

 

Sometimes Acceptable is…Acceptable

Few management situations are more frustrating then having a difficult conversation, especially when the employee digs in and says, “I disagree with your assessment.” Managers must develop the emotional fortitude to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Tension is not a condition to be avoided, but instead, constructively managed towards an acceptable, not perfect, outcome.

 

Keep it simple. Keep it focused. Definitely keep it inspiring! –Steve

 

Manager Skills Boot Camp II: Improve your Difficult Conversation skills and more!

 

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Managing a Tone-Deaf Boss Can Feel Like Riding a Cow…

The cow doesn’t want to be ridden and the ride is rough

 

Watch the complimentary webinar: Difficult Workplace Conversations

 

Growing up next to a farm with a tribe of reckless boys, I had lots of painful and failed attempts at riding cows. If you’ve ever tried this, you’d know that it feels pretty similar to “managing up” a tone-deaf boss.

 

Like cows, tone-deaf bosses:

  • Don’t enjoy be ridden (e.g. “managed up”).
  • Ensure the ride is very uncomfortable and possibly risky for you
  • Purposefully attempt to rub you off the fence
  • Will throw you off (Falling off a cow is like falling out of favor with your boss: Bruising and dangerous for your career)

Inversely, in-tune bosses are on high alert for shifting workplace discord and proactively engage team members in sincere two-way dialogue. These bosses are engaged, hands-on, approachable, and biased toward democratic action.

Safety is your #1 goal while riding a cow. The same goes for managing up: The psychological and political perils are many and often hidden.

 

Cow-riding tips and parallels to managing a tone-deaf boss:

Rule #1 – Try to minimize surprising the cow. Cows, like bosses, possess a survivalist brain that easily spooks into fight or flight.

  • Boss Rule: Schedule regular 1:1’s with your boss. I recommend at least 20-30 minutes every week. Provide a clear agenda in advance that is solution-oriented, sensitive to tight budgets, and demonstrates your clarity around key priorities.

Rule #2 – Never attempt to change a cow. A cow has gotten to where it’s at by being a successful cow; bosses too. Nothing yields rigid thinking and outsized egos more than historical success.

  • Boss Rule: Show that your riding attempts will be a win-win. Point directly to the green pastures on the horizon. Your boss needs assurances that your obvious persuasion attempts consider her best interests.

Rule #3 – Cows are stubborn negotiators.  An armful of freshly cut hay usually provides leverage.

  • Boss Rule: Most bosses can be swayed by strategic solutions that support her objectives and the organization’s priorities. Complaining without a clear business plan promotes resistance to your ideas. Just like cows, bosses will simply ignore you, stare you down, or become agitated by your anemic advances.

 

A tone-deaf boss is a major source of frustration for many dedicated employees. There is no ‘grass is greener over the fence’ strategy, but take it from an experienced cow rider: There are trusted rules for what and what not to do.

 

Keep it simple. Keep it focused. Definitely keep it inspiring! –Steve

 

Watch the complimentary webinar: Difficult Workplace Conversations

 

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5 Key Performance Dimensions to Mitigate Manager Frenzy

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“Management by drive, like management by ‘bellows and meat ax,’ is a sure sign of confusion. It is an admission of incompetence. It is a sign that management does not know how to plan.” -Peter Drucker

 

Many managers are heads down, hard chargers all day long. Their relentless pace can exhaust their team and often causes widespread confusion. As the leadership proverb goes: Do not confuse frenetic activity with progress. There can be an addictive rush in being the hero manager; the feeling of being important and needed (who else could do this job as good as me?). Letting go of the need to control is imperative to organizational health.

 

These 5 Key Performance Dimensions (cascading in importance) offer a steady leadership path out of the frenzy

KPD 1 – Over-communicate the WHY vision. Clarity is the antidote to uncertainty, a common root cause of workplace anxiety. Managers who master communication foster meaning and purpose, a key dimension for attracting and retaining top talent.

KPD 2 – Be tough on performance expectations, gentle on people. The only employees who like wishy-washy managers are slackers. High performers are repelled by cultures where everyone wins a trophy. Be kind and caring, but let people fire themselves.

KPD 3 – Coach and develop. Make people better each day. These 2 tools support, stretch, and ensure accountability: 1) Regular 1:1’s, and 2) Delegating. Building the organization’s leadership pipeline ought to be every manager’s legacy.

KPD 4 – Build a safe and collaborative culture. Fostering psychological safety is a prerequisite for team performance, according to Amy Edmonson, author of Teaming. Great teams will always outperform a culture of individual stars in the long run.

KPD 5 – Recognize achievement and have fun. Workplace stress continues to be a top complaint for most employees. Chronic stress, as we know, is literally a killer. Create regular rituals of renewal that will benefit the company in the long run.

 

“Discern the vital few from the trivial many.” -Greg McKeown

 

Think of implementing the above 5 dimensions as utilizing the 80/20 rule. Allocating your time to a few vital areas (20%) assures the busy manager that her focus yields outsized (80%) results. Executing these high-leverage activities helps managers regain a sense of healthy control while providing team members increased clarity and direction – a win-win!

 

Keep it simple, keep it focused, and definitely keep it inspiring.–Steve

 

FREE webinar: Identifying and Promoting the Right People

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~Facilitate High-impact 1:1’s in 2018~

3 Performance Outputs and 4 Guidelines

 

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Note: This is a two-part blog post meeting series. This post strongly advocates and will focus on the power of 1:1’s. The next post will give attention to the architecture for team meetings; both standing and ad hoc.

 

“A meeting is nothing less than the medium through which managerial work is performed.” -Andy Grove, High Output Management

 

Workplace meetings have a bad rap. Why shouldn’t they? Busy managers often run meetings on default or fire fighting mode.

Many team members perceive meetings as a “waste of time.” However, high business output can be accomplished by combining the structure of 1:1’s with intention. This creates a powerful communication medium.

The common sentiment – “1:1’s are unnecessary, I work along-side my people all day and they know I have an open door policy” is a common and noble management behavior. However, a crucial dimension is missing: The failure to prioritize the development, engagement and working relationship with each team member.

Here’s an analogy: One can work side by side with their spouse every day raising kids…but if you fail to regularly connect with your spouse, what’s the quality of that relationship?

In work lingo it’s called, “high task, low relationship.” Lots of important stuff gets done but the quality of the relationship quietly, and often dangerously, erodes.

 

“You don’t build a business. You build people who in turn build the business.” –Zig Ziglar

 

1:1’s drive three vital performance outputs

  1. Builds the working partnership with the manager and her direct reports
  2. Grows the unique capabilities of each team member so they operate at their peak performance, which in turn
  3. Helps ensure the organization achieves its performance targets

Four guidelines for facilitating 1:1’s in 2018

Guideline 1 – Schedule regularly. Shoot for every two to four weeks. Avoid more frequent meetings because individuals might feel micro-managed. The exception is the chronic under-performer, where a direct style of management is required. Don’t wait more than a month or the coaching relationship will lose momentum and engagement.

Guideline 2 – Mostly stay on individual’s agenda, not yours. This is about optics. The effective manager-coach prioritizes the team member’s growth, concerns, and ideas. Focus on developing the necessary capabilities that will support their success in achieving business metrics, not the other way around.

Guideline 3 – Ask great questions and be highly collaborative. Nothing builds trust faster than asking useful, sincere questions and listening deeply to team member’s career aspirations, motivational drivers, concerns, and ideas for continuous improvement.

Guideline 4 – Have a strong bias for action and accountability. Every 1:1 should be book-ended by commitments and action plans. The high output manager-coach always asks, “Who is doing what, by when, and how will we measure progress and success?”

Keep it simple, keep it focused, and definitely keep it inspiring.–Steve
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Investing in Your People is Investing in Your Business

5 Tips for Establishing Your Talent Pipeline

 

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If you’re a small business owner or manager the chances are that you don’t have a clear management talent pipeline. You probably hire and promote solely based on how hard-working and good at their job a team member is. Big mistake! But don’t just take my word for it, Harvard Business Review demonstrates how being an expert in only one area is one of the biggest reasons that managers fail. Managers have to be talented in all areas to be successful in the long-term.

 

Great vision without great people is irrelevant.” –Jim Collins, Author of Good to Great

 

To accomplish this hefty task, your organization must have a talent pipeline. HBR recommends the following 5 Tips for establishing your talent pipeline:

  1. Focus on Development: Invest in management training, use events in the workplace as learning opportunities and don’t fall into the trap of pure succession planning.
  2. Identify Linchpin Positions: Focus your efforts on positions that are vital to the health of your organization. If a manager quits today, would your business still be able to run effectively? Always be ready with a list of qualified individuals to fill vital roles and consistently train them for those roles.
  3. Make it Transparent: Let your team know how your talent pipeline works, what they should expect, what they need to do to successfully navigate the pipeline, and what training programs are available to them. Also, don’t be reluctant to receive feedback from your team; especially if your pipeline is newly established.
  4. Measure Progress Regularly: Monitor your talent pipeline. How many positions are being filled internally? The more qualified internal promotions, the better your pipeline.
  5. Keep it Flexible: Don’t be afraid to change your talent pipeline. Periodically update your procedures based on feedback, observation, and the latest management research.

 

Develop talent for tomorrow, rather than just hire for yesterday.” –Pearl Zhu, Author of IT Innovation: Reinvent for the Digital Age

 

The 5 Tips from HBR outline the general areas to begin developing your talent pipeline but your organization is dynamic. Constant devotion to improvement is the hallmark of a successful business. Read and download the free asset below, and contact me for more specific skills, real-world examples, and tailored content devoted to making your talent pipeline work best for you.

 

Keep it simple, keep it focused, and definitely keep it inspiring.

–Steve

 

Download the New Manager Promotion Playbook for FREE!

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