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!

Flight Crew in Cockpit

Managers – Build a Culture Like an Aviation Flight Crew

4 Best Practices to Safely Land Your Business Plane in 2019

Analysis of many commercial flight disasters concludes that faulty communication between the flight crew and captain, not mechanical failure, led to tragedy.  In other words, first officers and flight engineers had critical information of concern but failed to communicate that information in a direct and effective manner. CRM (crew resource management), in part, aims to train flight crews to assertively and respectfully speak up when they possess critical data. Averting disaster is achieved at the intersection of quality communications, leadership, and decision-making.

Managers, like flight captains, need to create psychologically safe environments that encourage reps to share real time data and concerns. In a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world, a rich flow of relevant information enables collective sensemaking to occur.

“Business agility is creating a learning organization this is faster and better at learning about themselves and their customers.”

-Jason Bloomberg (Forbes)

Managers – Create a CRM-like work culture by implementing these 4 best practices

  1. Problems First, Solution Forward Meetings. You’ve hired smart people, right? One-on-ones and team meetings should leverage people’s intelligence by solving significant problems. Top of agenda should always be – What are you seeing? What are your challenges? Where are the opportunities? What aren’t we talking about that we should be? What solutions will move positive action forward?
  2. Establish Collaborative Learning as a Core Value. Humble leaders understand that none of us is as smart as all of us. Continuous learning, together, is espoused as a competitive business strategy, not a nice to have cultural element. Agile managers models and embodies a “we” oriented team culture.
  3. Teach and Coach Effective Communication Skills. This is a primary goal of CRM training. Team members learn how to respectively and effectively “speak up” to the chain of command. This isn’t easy for most team members. Leaders recognize that their formal authority often impedes candid feedback. Therefore, ongoing coaching and reinforcement feedback is a preferred management style.
  4. Develop a Tolerance for Failure.  Unlike commercial aviation, a failure in the business world rarely leads to tragedy. Effective managers who reframe failures into forward-learning events foster a team of agile learners.

A fast paced and complex marketplace demands that managers create a feedback-rich work environment where reality is being openly and accurately discussed. Flawed communication may not result in tragedy at work, unlike on an airplane, but it can be the deciding factor between success and failure. Managers who think like successful flight captains greatly increase their chances of landing the plane safely!

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

Check out our other blog posts too!

Manager Skills

7 Manager Skills That Lead to Mastery and Deliver Results

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”                                                                   

-Aristotle

Assuming a person possesses key core traits – initiative, genuine care for others, drive for results, to name a few — then the craft of management is learnable. Mastery of management skills, like any discipline, is built upon mastering fundamentals.

Increase your likelihood of success in 2019 by implementing the following 7 Manager Skills until they become managerial habit. These competencies may also lower your stress and bring more fun into your work.

  1. Be an agile learner. Your current expertise, and your team’s, is insufficient to solve tomorrow’s problems or quickly pivot to seize opportunities. Your ability to be curious, ask questions, engage your team in divergent thinking, and enable organizational learning is today’s critical leadership competency.
  2. Create psychological safety. This culture dynamic makes people feel comfortable speaking up and being themselves. The business case is that team members move beyond superficial nice-talk and engage in honest dialogue that make everyone better. They don’t avoid conflict, they leverage healthy debate to produce improved business solutions. Open cultures create agile learners, the force behind problem solving and continuous improvement.
  3. Have a bias for informed action. A manager’s credibility is built by consistently making strategic decisions that move the business forward. They are proactive versus reactive but are always making it happen.
  4. Manage by expectations, not hope. According to Gallup“only about a half of employees strongly agree that they know what is expected of them at work.”  Most of us know the frustration of working for a boss who fails to set clear priorities, direction, and responsibilities. This management style also fails to inspire because employees can’t see past the daily grind to the company’s vision, mission, and core values. Management ambiguity degrades people’s motivation.
  5. Teach, coach, and grow others. Great managers invest in relationships. They are servant leaders. They simply bring out the best in others. They grow future leaders, not more followers. Be the boss that everyone wants to work for.
  6. Measure, hold accountable, and reward performance. High performers respect managers who demand high standards and build a culture of accountability. There are no shadows to hide in. Great managers reward the doers, without apology. Low performers naturally get weeded out, making room for better talent.
  7. Be upbeat and positive. This is not modeling Pollyanna behavior, that’s being inauthentic. Leaders’ moods are like a cold; everyone around the manager is susceptible to catching it, which in turn affects employee engagement. Management demands significant energy output so why not make it constructive?

Reflect and look ahead in this New Year. Have you developed your manager blue print for success? What are your top development goals that will inspire others, build a cohesive team, and put up big results?

Consider identifying at least two skills, implement them with regularity, solicit feedback from your team, and become the boss that nobody wants to quit.

Keep it simple. Keep it focused. 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!

 

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.