The Effective Manager-Coach Follows the 80/20 Rule

Four Vital Coaching Skills

Accomplished managers know small, consistent actions often produce oversized results. For example, implementing disciplined hiring practices increases the odds of landing solid talent, which in turn yields bonanza results for organizations.

Pareto’s principle, or the 80/20 rule, states that 80 percent of desired results is driven by a vital few (20 percent) actions.

Mastering the following four vital coaching skills provides a 1-2 business punch: 1) they help bolster employee engagement, and 2) provide ROI (return on investment) for the organization’s coaching resources.

“The disciplined coach rejects hope as a performance strategy.”

beats out reactive, or my door is always open coaching. Standing 1:1s using developmentally focused processes and documentation is the trademark of the master coach.  ROI:

  • Employee perceives manager cares about them, a key condition of employee engagement, according to Gallup.
  • A single priority development area has been identified, thus increasing employee’s chances of being successful.
  • Prevents manager from going on auto-pilot, or winging it, thus increasing clarity and focus.

“It isn’t effective or productive to force your employees to do anything. Choice empowers people and makes for a more content workplace.”
—Richard Branson, Founder Virgin Group

For many managers this says easy, does hard. Good managers solve problems; unfortunately wearing the Mr. or Mrs. fix it hat during a coaching conversation is a stubborn liability. ROI:

  • Employee learns to analyze and solve problems by learning how to think through challenges, opportunities, and obstacles.
  • Employee is encouraged and empowered to own their problems, thus fostering self-reliance and independence.
  • Employee is more likely to feel motivated, committed, and accountable to measurable actions since they largely crafted the solution.

20% is direct guidance, feedback, and direction. ROI:

  • Builds trusting, respectful, professional relationships.
  • Creates space for rich dialogue and collaboration.
  • Models that learning, growth, and development are dynamic, ongoing, and strategic priorities.
  • Communicates expectation and belief that employee is resourceful and capable of solving problems when manager is not around.

“Managers get what they inspect, not what they expect.”

Results oriented coaching requires rigor from coach and employee. Contracting clear, concrete next steps that moves the action down the field is the DNA of performance coaching conversations. ROI:

  • Builds a culture of co-ownership and accountability.
  • Drives incremental, measured business results.
  • Inspires and encourages employees to perform at their best.
  • Allows management to measure coaching efficacy.

Managers who consistently apply these four vital few coaching skills can expect, over time, surprisingly impressive results, and why not? Talented employees who are supported by helpful and performance focused managers naturally play a bigger game.

At the heart of it, the 80/20 rule helps you work smarter, not harder.

Check the resources page regularly for updated tools and information that will help your business flourish.

Keep it simple, keep it focused, and definitely keep it inspiring! –

Coaching A Tenured Team—The Newer Manager’s Dilemma

Many dedicated managers of tenured teams prefer the exhilaration of coaching a new, enthusiastic and excited new team member. The rookie sponge that hangs onto each brilliant word of wisdom you dispense. If only life were fair. Instead, many managers find themselves coaching highly experienced teams.

Inheriting a deeply seasoned team can understandably be intimidating. What newer manager hasn’t received the professional brush off – “So excited you’re here, I’ll call you if I need anything. And, oh, if I can teach you anything don’t hesitate to reach out.”

While presenting unique challenges, coaching a tenured team offers the new manager a rare leadership development opportunity, if she or he cultivates the emotional fortitude to strategically engage.

The following principles provide trusted guardrails for developing powerful, professional coaching partnerships with your tenured team.

5 Leadership/Coaching Principles And Tips
For Engaging A Tenured Team.

The sacred axiom in the hospitality industry, never lose a customer, applies here. Loyal customers are sacred assets to be guarded. Same for tenured reps. The long-term productivity outputs from a seasoned pro are immense. Deep organizational and marketplace wisdom are not replaceable auto parts.

  • Coaching Tip: Don’t be a quitter! Make a genuine commitment to your organization, yourself, and your team to not easily give up on building trusting, professional relationships. Don’t write off a seasoned employee just because your initial coaching efforts were artfully rebuffed. They want to win. Be patient, consistent, and committed to the relationship. Trust often takes longer to earn with the seasoned performer.

A tenured team’s experience with the revolving-manager-door, including enduring some pretty bad bosses, naturally endows them with a cautious, if not cynical, world view. Lacing up for your first team meeting, the tenured team doesn’t quietly collude and decide to “sabotage our new manager.” However, they may give you pockets of passive or even open resistance, and you should be prepared for that.

  • Coaching Tip: Model exemplary leadership behavior. Don’t take resistance, or aloofness personally. It’s not about you. In fact, be grateful if the team is willing to be honest with you about their feelings. Model tolerance for diversity of opinion. Be curious. Seek first to understand. Model healthy collaboration by respectfully listening, even challenging, others’ points of view. Be steadfast with your vision while creating an open climate for reasonable disagreement.

This military term establishes clarity for what success looks like for an operation. It’s the antidote for vagueness and uncertainty, or wishy-washy, anemic leadership. Like all mature employees, tenured staff welcome strong managers who know their own minds, possess strategic clarity, and yet are modest enough to leverage the seasoned team’s hard earned business intelligence.

  • Coaching Tip: Strive to be a Level 5 Leader (Good to Great, Jim Collins). Embody a fierce resolve for achieving results, while maintaining a steady reservoir of humility.

Many tenured employees, and definitely the disengaged, desire to work in the shadows, often alone. Almost regardless of industry today, sustainable competitive advantage will be awarded to highly collaborative cultures. Renowned design firm IDEO guides the savvy manager’s thinking with credible processes, such as:

“Enlightened trial and error succeeds over the planning of the lone genius.”

  • Coaching Tip: Your Commander’s Intent should explicitly spell out how the work will be done. Put the lone wolves on notice that not collaborating is not an option. Have a candid conversation about the difference between micromanaging and effective, hands-on management. Many seasoned team members have never had a great manager, so be patient and understanding, yet resolute and firm.

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” —Theodore Roosevelt

Doggedly partner with your tenured team members to identify business and leadership opportunities that leverage their deep expertise. Putting their careers, motivational drivers, and leadership aspirations at the center of coaching conversations is a trusted pathway for building trust.

  • Coaching Tip: Be a talent multiplier. Be resourceful. Find, or create, high-value organizational projects that align with your tenured team members’ skillsets and passions. Create formal and informal platforms for innovative customer-centric solutions. Rotate monthly teach-ins where each team member is responsible for teaching a deep competency of theirs that contributes to the team’s IQ.

Tenured teams may, at first, resist your sincere coaching advances. Your genuine commitment to fostering trusted partnerships, and demonstrating respect for their accomplishments and knowledge, will go a long way to earning their respect.

Seasoned pros respect a leader who has boldness of conviction, clarity of thinking, and most importantly delivers observable results. Establish your Commander’s Intent and back it up by being trustworthy, credible, and caring. Lastly, remember—

“You do not lead people, people choose to follow you.”

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

Enlightened Trial and Error for Busy Managers

(and Their Teams)


I’ve often talked about sense-making as “the ability to make sense of what’s going on in a changing and complex environment.” Today I want to focus on a core pillar of sense-making: trial and error.


“Our world is changing radically. The age of intuition, gut instinct, opinion, and natural creativity is on the wane. These are romantic notions and we love to believe in them, but when the data comes in they are being increasingly proven not just to be wrong, but horribly wrong.”

-Gerry McGovern


Trial and error in today’s workplace takes on a new level of importance because both management processes and their effect on the end-consumer are more measurable than ever. In order to navigate marketplaces that change at lightning-speed, testing results can sometimes be the only way to know what works.

That’s right. All the training, all the consulting, and the best MBAs in the country won’t guarantee you can predict outcomes of your management decisions and product innovations.

The quote above by Gerry McGovern comes from a now infamous blog post about how top website-building experts couldn’t predict the better choice between two simple landing page signup forms for the SIMS computer game. Why couldn’t they come up with the right answer? Because even seasoned experts have to collect data before making an informed decision.

The fact is that it doesn’t matter what you think the best option is when facing innovative decisions— it only matters what actually works. Data is truth. Luckily, we live in a world where every single workplace action and effect can be measured and analyzed.


“Incremental success is better than grandiose failure.”

-Winston Churchill


COACHING TIP: How can you apply this to your team? When looking to innovate, you need to pilot new projects on the market— quickly. Implement an imperfect but well-formed idea, and then rapidly gauge results. Did the customers respond how you thought they would? If not, how did they respond? What worked? What failed? Make changes based on the data, and test it again.


“Enlightened trial and error succeeds over the planning of the long genius.”

-Peter Skillman, President, IDEO


Next Steps: Everything here is all good and well, but applying innovation practices can be tricky. Oftentimes teams are pressured to be entrepreneurial while still hitting performance metrics -the incentive to try new things dissipates. Here’s a fix: try to implement a new idea in a highly segmented situation. Take one small task for one client and try the change there, even communicate with the client about the decision. They might welcome the fresh approach, and you can implement a new practice in a low-stress environment.

Example— A sales manager and her team were committed to differentiating themselves from their competitors by bringing high value to each sales call, and measuring the impact on the customer. For six weeks each sales rep initiated every sales call with a current, and targeted, piece of marketplace or business data, followed by an insightful question that generated a much deeper conversation about the customer’s business. After six weeks the team initiated a simple customer satisfaction survey that bumped up their overall satisfaction scores from 84 percent to 96 percent! Crafting a discreet, well designed, trial of a new product or service is a low investment way of innovating business practices.


“We must learn what customers really want, not what they say they want or what we think they should want.”

-Eric Reis


Taking this approach of enlightened trial and error, of targeted experimentation, will help your team validate or invalidate the assumptions made when trying new things. The X factor then is speed. How quickly can you measure results and react accordingly?

I hope that this post inspires you to take a scientific experimental approach to innovative decisions. Remember— keep it simple, keep it focused, and definitely keep it inspiring!


Connect with me on Linkedin for more management best practices and ideas!


4 Distance Coaching Tips for Managers

Many managers express concern about their ability to be an effective coach from a distance, or “between field rides” so to speak.  Learn how to effectively utilize distance coaching techniques today.

When you cannot directly observe your team member’s behaviors, interactions with customers, and their collaboration among their peers, how does the effective coach bridge this gap?

“Among the important skills all good leaders share, the ability to establish an environment of healthy, productive teamwork, nurture collaboration, and encourage the team to challenge the status quo is essential.”

Bruce Jones (HBR)

4 Distance Coaching Tips

Tip # 1Foster and expect a culture of collaboration.

Your team’s growth and development should not be solely dependent on your coaching efforts. Proactive collaboration, teaching, and training among the team are the primary vehicles for on-going learning and sustained performance. Hierarchy, cliques, and lone wolf mentalities are the enemies of high performing coaching cultures.

Tip # 2 — Schedule 2–3 coaching “check ins” (about 10–15 minutes each) in between face-to-face visits.

Priorities live on calendars, or at least they should. Micromanaging is a sin and so is under-communicating. Many great managers resist this practice saying, “I have an open door policy and speak with my folks all the time.” Do not abolish this noble practice. However, scheduling brief check-ins ensures that high-value and timely communications flow through your team.

When you schedule, and execute, these check-ins you broadcast three powerful messages to your team:

• Coaching and developing is a core value of your organization.
• Retaining and growing people are central to your organization’s talent management strategy.
• Growth leads to results, not the other way around.

Tip #3 — Create clear, focused, 10 or 15-minute agendas.

Value creates future desire. The effective distance coach does not wing these sessions. She provides active guidance, direction, and brings valuable marketplace and business data. Her communications are on-point, incisive; enabling her team members to co-create strategic and tactical plans.

Warning! These are coaching sessions, not business plan reviews or performance management conversations!

Tip #4 — Create a culture of accountability and performance (inspect what you expect).

During your last interaction, the team member committed to 2–3 SMART actions, right? Scheduled check-ins are primarily meant to be accountability milestones. How is your team tracking against their development goals? What support, encouragement, or insight can you provide them?

Begin shaping a more rigorous and disciplined virtual-coaching plan by implementing these four practices. Remember to practice good change leadership skills by explaining to your team members the “what’s in it for me (WIIFM)?” reasoning and openly address any concerns or resistance.

Finally, remember the primary goal of coaching is to help your people self-coach when you’re not around. The above best practices are meant to help your people be successful and win!

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

As always, contact me with any of your burning manager-coaching questions!

The Hero-Manager Complex and 4 Tips on How to Avoid it

The townspeople are in trouble, the enemy is at the gates. There is only one who can stop the threat, it’s superman(ager).

The drive for accomplishment, to be the champion for your team, and win the day for your organization are traits of excellence. However, when these traits are coupled with frenetic leadership, crisis addiction, and overstretching, you end up working against yourself.

The impact on the organization can feel like you are pushing the accelerator with one foot while simultaneously braking with the other.

“In addition to having a commitment to a mission or a desire to establish a meaningful legacy, heroic stature is just one of several hallmarks of transformational leaders. But this particular quality is most often distorted and poorly managed.” –Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, Fortune

If you chase every shiny object, your people will burn-out. When you create a constant state of crisis, your team will lack development. If you manage based on individual personalities, your best people won’t get the recognition they need… and underperformers get by on a smile.

If anything above looks like you, you might be suffering from hero-manager complexgreat for your own ego but bad for developing your people’s capacity.

4 Tips for Avoiding the Hero-Manager Complex

Tip # 1 – Ease up on yourself. Really. The rewards for being the go-to gal or guy, whether internal (self-esteem, confidence, pride) or external (compensation, promotion, recognition), are powerful forces. Giving some control away by empowering others can be scary, but well worth it. Have patience with yourself as you learn to delegate and collaborate. The rewards of growing your people outweigh the risks of feeling a little bit out of control!

Tip # 2Don’t be afraid to fail. You can’t plan on failure, nor should you. Dare to assign novel, challenging projects that invite failure. The athlete or musician who never fails is most likely not pushing his or her limits. Be tolerant of “tolerable mistakes.” Follow Gore-Tex founder Bill Gore’s principle of action – “Never make mistakes below the waterline.”

Tip # 3 Coach up, coach into a position of strength, or coach out. High performers hate being on a team with laggards. Laggards, however, love playing with high performers; all the benefits, none of the sweat. Great managers aren’t fooled. Or look at it another way, effective talent managers, like dedicated gardeners, are always weeding out low performers and toxic attitudes to create more room for their top talent flowers to bloom. By tolerating low performance, you risk sending signals to high performers that perhaps they should jump the fence to more fertile ground.

Tip # 4 – Delegate. Delegation is so important that it merits repetition. Strategic delegators match individual strengths to project demands, thereby enhancing the whole team. Weak delegators can actually handicap an organization’s future performance. Effective delegation is an insurance policy against tomorrow’s marketplace uncertainties.

The key to overcoming the hero-manager complex is to trust and invest in your people, and to lift them up to face the challenges of your business.

Keep it Simple. Keep it Focused. Definitely Keep it Inspiring. –Steve

As always, check out the resources page for tons of great content that can help you improve your manager-coach skills today.

Coaching Skills Teaching

7 Highly Effective Performance Coaching Skills

Talent is at the core of every business’ success.  Talented team members not only know how to do their jobs well but they also know how to collaborate and cater to customer needs.  These team members will increase customer loyalty thereby improving your bottom-line and alleviating workplace tensions.

It’s always an ideal time for managers to recommit themselves to top talent recruitment, development, and retention.  Central to any talent management strategy is a dynamic coaching culture led by managers who possess a range of coaching competencies.  If your business isn’t already employing coaching strategies then you’re working from behind the competition!

Strive to become a talent magnet by mastering these 7 Coaching Skills

  1. Be consistent. Standing, sacred 1:1’s are just that. Due to natural workplace conflicts, coaching sessions may get nudged around the calendar, but they happen with religious conviction.
  2. Expect and model dynamic collaboration. Think and say “we.”
  3. Build trusting, transparent, and supportive partnerships.
  4. Be goal focused. Each conversation has a clear outcome that’s mutually beneficial and measurable.
  5. Insist on action. Accountability is built upon agreements that move the business forward.
  6. Don’t feed their monkeys. The employee must own the path forward; change comes from within.
  7. Follow the 80 / 20 rule. 80% of coach communication is open-ended questions (implicates you for being a deep listener), and 20% is teaching (not telling or selling) the employee something of value to them, not you.

Hopefully this quick coaching primer energizes you to create the vibrant and focused workplace that today’s top talent seeks.

Keep it Simple. Keep it Focused. Definitely Keep it Inspiring.   –Steve

Want more key insight to managing talent and becoming a talent magnet? Head over to the resources page to download the eBook Managing Talent is Talented Management, the PDF document Coaching High Performers, and the Performance Accountability Cycle model.

Why Recognition is Critical to Success

My boomer-buddy and business owner recently said, “People just need to shut up and do their job. I give people enough rope to succeed or hang themselves.” Having grown up in the Darwinian world of restaurant kitchens, I get it. But does that approach get results?

My reply to his assertion: You can either manage people according to the way you think things ought to be, or the way they are. Leadership is the ability to accurately name reality and act upon it. Effective recognition implies talented managers must be skilled communicators. Specifically, they must have the ability to provide daily, constructive feedback (yes, daily!)

“…80% of Millennials said they want regular feedback from their managers, and 75% yearn for mentors” -D. Schawbel (Forbes)

There is no such thing as negative or positive feedback; it’s all just information. All feedback should be constructive and developmental in nature. This requires managers to develop high levels of emotional intelligence and invest in skilled communication.

Two Likely Reasons your Feedback is Misconstrued

1) The receiver doesn’t trust your intention

2) They receive so little feedback that they are not conditioned to process the information constructively

Either way, you, the manager, are on the hook for improving the partnership!

How much company resources does a “thank you” cost? None. Conversely, reflect on this sobering finding:

“…actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. $450 billion to $550 billion in lost productivity per year.” -Gallup

Business economists conclude that managers who master the skills necessary to attract and retain top talent help position their organizations for sustained market victory. And that is why recognition is critical to success.

Keep it Simple. Keep it Focused. Definitely Keep it Inspiring.      –Steve

Team Around Table

3 Reasons You Must Pay More Attention to Company Culture


Company culture has been a very prominent focal point of popular business analysis for half a decade. From the laid back beach-side offices of Snapchat to the rigorous high-performance culture of Amazon, thousands of articles have been written about how to make company culture work for you. But the need to cultivate culture goes beyond making your organization a place where people feel good. Creating a strong, purposeful culture is the talented manager’s trusted strategy for fostering fierce employee loyalty.


“The best companies, in terms of long-term financial performance, are the ones that are able to combine profits, passion, and purpose.”

–Tony Hsieh, Delivering Happiness


Three Reasons that Company Culture Needs More of Your Attention

#1 Hedging Against Headhunting. Headhunters luring top people away are currently catching organizations and their managers off guard. The best defense is a good offense. Cultures that are tightly knit with purpose, strong social bonds, recognition, and achievement help repel external threats to your talent pool.

#2 Engaging Millennial Team Members. News for us Baby Boomer managers!—Millennials do not care about our title or the company’s organizational chart. However, Millennials are attracted to leaders who are inclusive, provide appropriate autonomy and rewarding job assignments, and give regular coaching and feedback. Creating an environment where these points are nurtured will ensure that Millennials stay on the team and develop into top performers.

#3 Company Culture Happens With or Without You. Culture is created with or without intentional leadership. All cultural elements—orientation, on-boarding, community-building events, recognition and rewards programs, and business planning sessions should promote a coherent message about the values and expectations of your enterprise.  Managers who are cavalier about culture building might as well just give the keys to the business away.

Cultures that value training and leadership development are talent magnets. Whether your culture is quirky, or conservative, a clear development pathway should be integral to your organization’s employee value proposition.


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


Want more high-impact coaching tips on company culture and managing talent? Check out my other blog posts.