Manager Skills for Inheriting a Poor Performing Team

3 Do’s and 3 Don’ts

Excited to be tapped to lead a new team, your supervisor dampens your enthusiasm by saying, “Good luck, you’ll need it. The previous manager tolerated poor performance, so you better buckle up and bear down, we need results.” This is one of the most challenging and dynamic situations managers will face when inheriting a poor performing team.

“Treat employees like they make a difference. And they will…”

-Jim Goodnight, CEO, SAS Institute

3 Do’s and 3 Don’ts for Success

Do #1 – Have the right mindset.

Specifically – assume positive intent. The team’s poor performance, low trust and moral are the residue of the previous culture. Assume people want to be part of a winning team, led by a competent manager.

Don’t #1 – Make hasty personal decisions.

Your first 30 days should be used to observe, assess, and learn the strengths and weaknesses of the team. Besides, policies and politics may make quick changes onerous.

Do #2 – Build connections, relationships, and trust.

Conduct thoughtful one-on-one and team meetings. Ask questions that invite team members to share their aspirations, goals, and strengths. Servant leadership is built upon trusting relationships, not ego or power.

Don’t #2 – Make changes too quickly.

This is tricky as the clock is not on your side to meet performance goals. Trust the Navy SEAL’s mantra – slow is smooth and smooth is fast.

Do #3 – Quickly, establish new team norms.

Yes, this is contrary to the previous statement. While you’re going slow and smooth with relationship building and learning, the team needs to hear and understand your leadership point of view. Remember, poor management is the root cause of current performance. The antidote is strong, clear, and passionate leadership. Be bold!

Don’t #3 – Be a hero.

You’ve been selected to lead this turnaround because others believe you have the right stuff. However, avoid galloping in on your white horse. Your change leadership approach should be rooted and guided by team dialogue, collaboration, and buy-in.

“Don’t mistake kindness for weakness.”

-Brené Brown, Professor, University of Houston

Leading a poor performing team is daunting, even for the most experienced manager. This is doubly true when the team has developed a toxic culture. However, if you internalize a growth mindset then this tough assignment can elevate your leadership capabilities to new levels. Co-creating a high performing team with other committed professionals is a rare and precious accomplishment.

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

Interested in this topic? Join me on July 8th, 11:30am-3pm at the Illinois Land Title Association’s 2021 Convention. Learn more and register here.

4 Manager Feedback Skills to Minimize Defensiveness and Increase Receptivity

“23% of employees strongly agree that their manager provides meaningful feedback to them.”

-Gallup

Most managers admit that providing inspiring and meaningful feedback that leads to employee commitment is hard. It does not have to be!

Part of the solution is avoiding communication traps that cause defensiveness or confusion. Another part is applying skills that increase receptivity to suggestions.

Avoid these common communication traps:

  • Being too direct and harsh
  • Being too vague and mushy
  • Being overly critical of faults
  • Failing to acknowledge strengths
  • Not establishing a personal relationship (feels transactional)
  • Feedback given is not actionable

“Only 17% of millennials report receiving meaningful feedback. Routine feedback is better than none, but meaningful feedback — the kind that helps individuals learn, grow, and do their jobs better — is how you improve productivity and performance.”

-Gallup

4 skills that minimize defensiveness and increase receptivity:

  1. Ask for permission
    • “Hi Latisha, can I share my thoughts on how we are collaborating on the current project?”
    • It signals that feedback is coming, making them better prepared to receive.
    • Why this works: Employee autonomy is a key motivational driver, gives them a feeling of choice and control.
  2. Provide specifics
    • “The last two updates you provided lacked key data.”
    • Why this works: Our brains crave certainty, ambiguity is the enemy.
  3.  Share impacts of the behavior.
    • “The missing data caused the project to get behind and frustrated me as I had to hunt the data down.”
    • Gives them context, helps to connect the dots.
    • Provides a big picture cause and effect.
    • Why this works: Injects emotion, helping to humanize the feedback.
  4.  Invite collaboration, ask questions
    • “How do you see the situation and what ideas do you have for moving forward?”
    • Builds a trusting, authentic partnership.
    • Empowers them to take responsibility.
    • Why this works: Inspires new commitments.

Start providing quality and consistent feedback by avoiding common feedback traps and applying the four skills above. Your team members will appreciate more meaningful conversations that support their growth, and you will have less stress!

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

Check out my other blog posts!

Remote Management Skills for High Team Performance

Use the 3-C Framework

We see an incredible 42 percent of the U.S. labor force now working from home full-time…So, by sheer numbers, the U.S. is a working-from-home economy. Almost twice as many employees are working from home as at work.

May Wong, Stanford News

If you haven’t guessed by now, remote work is the new normal. What’s not new is that some teams are high performing and others languish in mediocrity.

Virtual work is not the barrier. The barrier is the “affinity distance”– the perception amongst team members of how mentally and emotionally connected they feel with each other.

So, why should managers pay attention to this soft and fuzzy notion?

Teams that have high virtual distance suffer a 90% drop in innovation effectiveness, more than 80% plunge in trust, and 60% decline in finishing projects on time and within budget, among other negative effects.

Keith Ferrazzi, Harvard Business Review

We know that high trust teams with a clear purpose, roles, and responsibilities, and shared accountability set the context for high performance. There’s actually nothing warm and fuzzy about creating these conditions.

Use the 3-C framework – get your team on track

Connection. The well-known Gallup Q12 survey statement “I have a best friend at work” correlates close interpersonal relationships with engagement and productivity.

Coaching Tip: Create remote buddy duos/trios. Require buddies to meet every week for 15-20 minute check-ins (that’s your management what). Let the buddies determine the how they want to meet and discuss. Rotate buddies monthly (the who changes, allowing for more diverse connections).

Communication. As goes communication, goes the team. Create a cadence of predictable and quality communication.

Coaching Tip: Apply the sturdy triad of communications:

  • Weekly team meetings. Keep it under 50 minutes.
  • Weekly one-on-ones. 20–30 minutes per employee.
  • Daily huddles. At beginning or end of day. Maximum of 10 minutes.

Collaboration. Require your teams to regularly co-develop solutions, action plans, and lines of accountability.

Coaching Tip: Proactively address these common pesky questions to effective team collaboration:

  • What are normal work hours?
    • For example, 9am to 5pm
  • What are common available blocks of time for collaborating?
    • For example, parents may only be available during school hours
  • What are healthy boundaries?
    • For example, are folks expected to answer emails and calls after agreed upon normal work hours?
  • What are designated channels of communications?
    • For example, is it appropriate to call a co-worker’s personal cellphone?
  • What are timeliness expectations for returning communications?
    • For example, emails must be responded to within 24 hours
  • What are the established processes for different scenarios?
    • For example, what decisions require the whole team (decision by committee) and what decisions can be made by individuals (executive action)?

To point out the obvious, there is nothing “soft” about building a high performing remote team. As the management adage goes – the soft skills are the hard skills. Managing remotely is difficult, especially for those of us doing it for the first time. However, by intentionally leveraging the 3-C Framework, your team will lower their “affinity distance,” grow closer, increase collaboration, and elevate performance.

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

Check out my other blog posts!

Giving Tough Feedback Remotely

Six Coaching Skills

We’re trying something new here at Steve Rudolph Coaching: vlogs! Take a break from all of your reports and emails to watch my 5-minute video about giving tough feedback remotely. Learn all six skills you need to practice to improve as a remote manager-coach. After, check out all our other great resources.

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

To Illustrate a Remote Worker

Managing Remote Conversations

3 Distinct Conversations to Drive Engagement, Accountability and Productivity

The remote work environment not only creates a vacuum of human connection but also fosters a blurry view of work performance. Managers, in partnership with their team members, must proactively pursue two prized output dimensions:

  • Increased engagement and collaboration
  • Increased accountability and results

Team disengagement and sub-par performance thrives in the backwaters of ambiguity and uncertainty.

“Clear is kind, unclear is unkind.”

-Brené Brown, Dare to Lead

Communication should provide three core needs for all employees to do their best work:

  1. Direction
  2. Clarity
  3. Support

3 Distinct Remote Manager Conversations to Elevate Team Engagement, Accountability and Performance

#1 Manager Conversations that Provide Direction

Key elements include:

  • Goals / objectives
  • Measurements / metrics
  • Outputs / results
  • Roles / responsibilities

Coaching Tip: These items are commonly known as expectations, or in stronger language, non-negotiables. Effective managers manage around clear expectations, not personalities.

#2 Feedback Conversations that Provide Clarity

  • Frequent – daily
  • Candid + Caring
  • 3:1 ratio of positive to developmental
  • Positive recognition outperforms low recognition cultures

Coaching Tip: High-performing managers create feedback-rich environments and grasp that smaller, sooner conversations are better than larger, later conversations.

#3 Coaching Conversations that Provide Support

  • Monthly (or more frequent) one-on-one meetings
  • Largely based on employee’s agenda
    • 80% focused on their development + 20% on business and performance outcomes
    • Employee does 80% of talking, manager does 20%
  • Accountability – Concludes with a SMART action plan

Coaching Tip: View a disciplined coaching process as a strategic, competitive advantage. High-performers want to work for a manager who will grow and develop them, and sponsor them for next-level leadership opportunities.

“The meaning of a word is the action it produces.”

-Ashley Montague

Managing a remote team can be a confusing, and often, stressful experience. But this new world of telework also presents an excellent opportunity to elevate your leadership communication skills!  Pierce the fog of remote work confusion by regularly engaging your team in these three distinct and powerful conversations.

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

Remote Work from Dining Room

Special Issue: 5 Skills for Managing a Remote Team

Plus 5 Coaching Tips!

Managing Remotely Webinar Series

The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically shifted work from the office to your employees’ living rooms. For many managers, the challenge of coaching a remote team is vexing. How do you ensure high productivity while maintaining a positive and collaborative culture?

Here are 5 Core Manager Skills to create an accountable, engaged, and healthy remote team:

Skill #1 – Elevate Engagement by Stepping Up Yours. The lack of daily in-person interactions creates an energy vacuum. Your team doesn’t need a cheerleader. But they do crave intentional leadership that provides clear direction, facilitates esprit de corps, and brings a positive outlook during uncertain times.

Coaching Tip: Communicate regular appreciation to your team for their energy, collaboration, and results during these challenging times.

Skill #2 – Be Vigilant About Tending to Your Culture. Passionate and unified cultures are strongly correlated with improving performance across a host of key business outcomes (Gallup). Complacency or business-as-usual is your enemy. Cultures, like gardens, are healthiest when receiving attentive care.

Coaching Tip: Begin your weekly team meeting asking each member to quickly share A) what success they had the past week, B) where they are struggling, and C) what help or input they need from the team.

Skill #3 – Establish Sacred Meeting Schedules. It’s vital to understand that “employees whose managers hold regular meetings with them are almost three times as likely to be engaged as employees whose managers do not hold regular meetings” (Harvard Business Review). Clear routines, like meetings, provide team members with structure that fosters certainty, lowers anxiety, and enables high productivity.

Coaching Tip: Three meeting examples that drive Kevin Kruse’s, CEO LeadX, team’s remote work.

  • Weekly One-on-Ones
  • Weekly Action Review (WAR)
  • End-of-Day Check In

Skill #4 – Clarify RRA (Roles, Responsibilities, Accountabilities). Gallup’s research found that high employee engagement was most strongly correlated with a positive response to the statement – I know what is expected of me at work. Further, the ultimate prize of effective collaboration is enhanced when each team member understands how everyone’s part fits into the big picture. Ambiguity is a remote manager’s worst enemy.

Coaching Tip: Post everyone’s RRA to a project management software or a Google document for high visibility.

Skill #5 – Focus on Growing Talent. Telework is an excellent opportunity to engage your team members in career or skill development conversations. The International Coaching Federation reports that “83% of employees indicated career support positively impacts their engagement.” The same study showed “85% of individuals agreed, or strongly agreed, there is nothing wrong with staying in the same job if they can try new things or develop new skills.”

Coaching Tip: Your weekly one-on-one meetings are the mechanism for providing effective feedback. These deeper conversations strengthen your relationships and send a sincere message that you care about each team member.

Managers who are intentional about prioritizing relationships, collaboration, and accountability will engage their teams in healthy and productive remote work!

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

Managing Remotely Webinar Series

Two Women Meeting in front of Laptop

Managers – Focus on Routine Communication

Elevate Your Team’s Performance

“Nothing decays employee moral more than a leader who doesn’t know his or her own mind.”

Peter Drucker

A manager’s primary goal is to bring out the best in people and inspire positive, accountable action. A manager’s words reflect her clarity of thought, or not. Vague, muddled, contradictory communication crushes initiative and invites cynicism and confusion.

The antidote is purposeful, redundant over-communication that can end up sounding, well, routine, yet potent.

Examples of routine, yet focused, leadership communication:

“Number one, cash is king…number two, communicate…number three, buy or bury the competition.”

Jack Welch, Former CEO, General Electric

“We put customers at the center of everything we do. We listen intently to our customers’ needs.”

Mary Barra, CEO General Motors

“Fewer things done better.”

Jeff Weiner, CEO, LinkedIn

Engage your team in these three routine, yet potent, communication techniques:

#1 Unified Purpose – Conduct a rich conversation about your organization’s, or department’s, reason for existence. Or, answer your big “WHY.” Passion and alignment are predictable outcomes when clarity of purpose is identified and committed to. Contrarian leaders appreciate that this routine conversation is often, paradoxically, inspiring and motivating.

#2 Roles and Responsibilities – Nothing frustrates employees more than vagueness surrounding who is responsible for what and how performance is evaluated. Work ambiguity is a productivity killer. Often, one routine conversation to understand causes of misalignment and a forward path of action will result in big performance payoffs.

#3 Autonomy – Once lanes of authority are agreed upon, shift the conversation to empowerment. Autonomy is a primary driver of employee engagement, and is a highly prized condition for attracting and retaining a talented workforce.  Progressive managers are vigilant about inviting team members into routine conversations about how work can be organized to bring out each individual’s greatest contributions.

The quality of managers’ communication directly affects employee morale and performance. Commit to speaking with more clarity – be purposeful, be redundant, and be just a little more routine.

Keep it simple. Keep it focused. Definitely keep it inspiring. -Steve

Check out our newly redesigned resources page for more great manager-coaching tips!

Coaching Group Meeting

Be Tough on Expectations, Gentle on People

Two core capabilities for creating a high performance work environment that is psychologically safe

Inspiring and effective managers embody a paradoxical leadership style. They relentlessly drive business results while equally expressing care and concern for their people.

The following descriptors are commonly shared by many to describe the “best boss” they’ve ever had, while highlighting the seemingly contradictory dimensions of effective managers:

  • Tough yet fair
  • Demanding but caring
  • High expectations with focus on employee development

It’s important to note that striking this balance is often challenging for female leaders; through no fault of their own. These complexities are beyond the scope of this article but the following quote reveals one dimension why:

“When a man is tough, there is the underlying implicit belief that he is tough and fair and that that’s acceptable. But when a woman is tough, it seems as though there is no option that she is being fair because it’s unreasonable for any women to be tough.”

Soraya Chemaly

So how does a manager deal with this dichotomy? By developing and embodying the two core capabilities below.

#1 Communicate clear direction while inspiring people.

An early mentor of mine often said, “Steve, I expect perfection but will settle for excellence. I have confidence in you and our team that together we will deliver a distinct experience for our clients.”

Note the three key elements driving this statement: Clarity of expectations, ensuring I felt valued, and communicating core values (e.g. teamwork and collaboration).

Paradoxically, this boss created a productive and safe workplace by consistently holding us accountable, being candid with feedback, being very approachable, and being open to our ideas. She equally emphasized the task and the relationship.

Gifted leaders embrace what Jim Collins coined – genius of Yes/And thinking and reject the tyranny of the Either/Or.

#2 Manage less and coach more.

Good managers are clear and fearless in setting specific expectations, monitoring results, and providing quality feedback that fosters trust and engagement. Great leaders coach people to be their best.

Effective manager-coaches are skilled at:

  • Setting regular one-on-one meetings that are customized for each team member
  • Expressing authentic interest in other’s perspectives and aspirations
  • Asking great questions and are attentive listeners
  • Growing people by delegating stretch opportunities
  • Holding others accountable to specific actions and commitments

New managers will experience early success if they internalize that being firm and strong does not conflict with being caring and kind.

Tenured leaders need to appreciate that strong company performance is correlated with workplace psychological safety. A reminder that the soft skills are the hard skills to master. Building a collaborative, results focused culture is also smart for attracting and retaining top talent (a ubiquitous source of manager stress today). Being tough yet kind is simply good for business.

Keep it Simple. Keep it Focused. Definitely Keep it Inspiring! -Steve

As always, check out my other blog posts for even more great manager-coaching tips!

Hero Manager

How to Transition from Hero Syndrome to Distributed Leadership

With 4 Leadership Skills for Managers Making the Transition

Carl, a very seasoned and capable production manager recently shared, “I’m going to retire early because I can’t take the stress anymore.” Business volume and complexity had overrun Carl’s traditional top-down management approach. When I pressed Carl for why he feels like he must make all the decisions his answer was revealing, “I’ve always been the go-to guy and senior management expects me to solve every problem.”

Carl suffers, in part, from hero syndrome, the strong need to be right, to be Mr. fix-it, to be chief firefighter. Additionally, a traditional control management structure reinforces team members to be order-takers, not co-owners of accountability and outcomes.

“All failure is failure to adapt, all success is successful adaptation.”

–Max McKeown

Distributed leadership, as opposed to a control management style, is partially defined as, “Leadership activity as a whole is stretched, or distributed, across many people.”

Accountability for results, quality, and decision-making gets distributed to team members. Through its 14 Lean Management Principles, Toyota embodies distributed leadership by empowering teams to solve problems, accept accountability, and make localized decisions.

4 Skills for Building a Distributed Leadership Structure

  1. Build Shared Cognition. This is a vision + mission statement on steroids. Team members must clearly understand, internalize, and commit to a renewed way of working. Leadership communicates the Why and What but not the How. Team members will learn to accept greater accountability for decision making, with formal leadership serving as guidance. CRM (crew resource management) offers a blueprint for transitioning from a command structure to a distributed leadership matrix.
  2. Clarify Expectations. This includes new team structure – roles, responsibilities and agreed upon approach to achieving results. Example: Beginning Monday morning we will have daily huddle-ups. The first 10 minutes will be business status updates, the second 10 minutes we will surface issues or challenges and create action plans with individual accountability distributed among team members.
  3. Continuous Improvement. Conduct on-going After-Action-Reviews or PDCA (lean manufacturing) cycles. The guiding adage – never confuse ceaseless activity with progress – instructs leaders and her teams to engage in regular reflection and learning loops. The opposite is a culture that hides its problems, rejects fresh ideas, and slowly stagnates.
  4. Psychological Safety. Trust does not exist without agreements and agreements do not exist without trust. The backbone of a distributed leadership structure is strong, positive, and committed relationships. Gifted leaders pay equal attention to relationships as they do tasks.

“A successful company is one that can learn effectively.”

–Ariel de Geus

Managers who suffer from hero syndrome will also quickly suffer from burnout. A single person can’t possibly put out all fires. That’s why firefighters come in teams. By following a distributed leadership structure, the hero-manager can help shape a hero-team, which lessens the burden on any one individual.

Keep it Simple. Keep it Focused. Definitely Keep it Inspiring! -Steve

As always, check out my other blog posts for even more great manager-coaching tips!

Active Listening

Active Listening: One of the Most Important Manager Skills

With 4 Great Tips on How to Improve Active Listening Skills

Listening is the simplest “soft” skill that a manager can have, but it may have the most impact. Workplace communication is the key to understanding your people and your organization. Often, the difference between success and failure will be determined by if your employees feel comfortable talking to you and if you listen to what they say. To ensure that your employees communicate, be an active listener.

“The human brain discloses information in layers, therefore our questions should match this biology.”

The Science of Selling by David Hoffeld

4 Tips to Improve Your Active Listening Skills

  1. Ask Questions. Questions are a fantastic way to show people that you’re listening. When you ask a question, people see you as engaged in the conversation. Ask “what” and “how” questions to expand the conversation and get at the root of the topic. But be careful to never ask a question that the person has already addressed. And, try to avoid “why” questions unless absolutely necessary. People get defensive when they are asked to justify something.
  2. Maintain Eye Contact and Positive Posture. Eye contact is essential to show that you’re actively listening. According to Michigan State University, eye contact shows that you’re alert and interested in the conversation. Body posture is just as important. Sit up straight, keep your hands uncrossed, and don’t fidget.
  3. Use Visual and Verbal Cues. In addition to the cues you give with proper eye contact and body posture, don’t forget to be active in the conversation. Positive visual cues include nodding your head and smiling. They’ll put the speaker at ease and assure them that you’re listening. Likewise, use simple phrases like “right” and “go on” to encourage the person to keep talking.
  4. Paraphrase, Summarize, and Clarify. Paraphrasing and summarization are perfect to show that you’ve been listening after the speaker is done with a particular point. Something like, “What I’m hearing you say is…” shows the speaker that you’ve processed their information and gives them a chance to clarify their meaning. But, clarification goes both ways. If you aren’t quite sure about what the speaker means, then get some clarification by using Tip #1! Asking questions is the best way to make sure you understand everything.

Active listening can go a long way to help your business run smoothly. Not only will your team members trust you to communicate, but active listening will trickle down your organization. In due time, you’ll find that your team will actively listen to customers more. And, customers love to be listened to!

Keep it Simple. Keep it Focused. Definitely Keep it Inspiring! -Steve

As always, check out my other blog posts for even more great manager-coaching tips!