Leader Self-Awareness: Averting the Train Wreck

Self-awareness is an important—if not the most important—quality of good leaders.  This newsletter highlights three leadership assessments that pinpoint strengths as well as challenges in personality and behavioral style.  Heightening awareness of strengths allows leaders to diminish the negative impact they have on others. 

After closing my laptop on Walter White for the last newsletter, another angle occurred to me.  What would the outcome have been had he understood himself better?  From our initial perspective as viewers, we saw him as something of an underachieving, mild-mannered chemistry teacher who was utterly lacking ambition, largely because this was the view he had of himself.  Early disappointments had defeated him and, from all we could tell, he had succumbed to the erosion of his confidence.  But the complete range of personality traits is never fully visible until applied under pressure.  This was certainly true for Walter.  Prior to his cancer, he was a mild-mannered chemistry teacher, but after the cancer diagnosis he became the narcissistic, secretive, destructive meth cook that we couldn’t take our eyes off of.  The impending train wreck was fascinating.

What if Walter had come to me for coaching?  An unusual thought I admit, but many leaders have either been referred or have self-referred to me who possessed powerful strengths but who were also struggling in halting the runaway locomotive.  Self-awareness for these leaders is vital and the technology now exists for helping your key individuals improve their strengths while diminishing their weaknesses.  Let me briefly discuss.

The Style of Influence Assessment (SOI)

This simple looking profile actually offers quite a complex overview of an individual’s behavioral style.  Results tell us how an individual will actually behave both now and in the future.  It also gives clear indication of strengths and areas to diminish.  The individual above is a big picture thinker and is most comfortable in a creative role where they are allowed to generate ideas and solve problems in a rapid, fast moving environment.  This individual’s glaring weakness is that they are likely bored with details and will probably fail to follow up on some important projects.  If this had been Walter White I would have warned him that others would view him as a genius initially although most would view him as self-centered in a short while.  Our coaching would have then centered around his resentment in being previously excluded by friends from a successful company.

The Emotional Intelligence Assessment (EQ-i)

 

The EQ-i measures an individual’s ability to build and maintain relationships.  A high degree of emotional intelligence is now widely regarded as more important in leadership success than traditional views of intelligence which is largely based on accumulated knowledge and the ability to synthesize information.  Walter’s scores would likely have shown deficits in self-regard, self-actualization, and emotional self-awareness.  His empathy score would have been low as was his social responsibility score.  Put them all together and we would have a picture of Walter as horribly self-centered and compensating with his view of a life without purpose.

His lack of social responsibility and empathy caused him to see   “empire building” as his path to self-worth.

 

 

 

Extended DISC Assessment

The Extended DISC has been around for some time now and remains one of the best tools for heightening self-awareness around both natural and adapted (pressure reactions) style.

As opposed to the individual in this profile, Walter would have shown to be a “C” style with a long arrow toward “D”.  These results would have suggested that he was a perfectionist leaning toward anal.  Under pressure he would have been grumpy at best and utterly dominating and self-centered at worst.  Intense competition would reveal itself under pressure and he would not have demonstrated appreciation, caring or recognition for a job well done.

The plan of action for Walter:

  • -Understanding profile types of people who work for him
  • -Gain flexibility in his own leadership style
  • -Gain a sense of work on increasing his empathy and social responsibility.
  • -Improve in his emotional expression through greater self- awareness.

Our next article will focus on another very well known leader and how ongoing coaching sessions would help the misperceptions that he has of himself. Hint: Terminus was no sanctuary.

What I Learned From Walter White

There is one vital “skill” that rises above all others for leader success:  self-awareness.  And the one thing that appears to be most lacking is, as you might guess:  self-awareness!  In this article I urge you to increase your knowledge of the impact you have on others because whether you know it or not, your employees probably have a different view of you than you have of yourself. 

Kenny is a success story, but I had my doubts in the beginning.  He was referred to me for coaching last year by his boss and he argued that only one thing mattered:  getting the job done!

“You’ll see, he’s one of the most goal-driven individuals I’ve ever met,” said the manager.  “But he’s like a runaway elephant on the streets:  everybody’s just getting out of his way before they get trampled.  Please understand you need to have a clear picture before you work with him.  His intentions are very good, as least I think they are.  But he’s destroying everyone in his path.”

“Why do you keep him,” I asked, already having a good idea of the answer I was going to get.

“Because he’s very simply the smartest guy in this position I’ve ever seen.  Nobody knows this job like he does.  He would be near impossible to replace.”

If you are thinking that my challenge suddenly got larger, you would be right.  The referring manager was just as much a part of this problem and, as many of you already know, this is often the case.  But a discussion of “who is the real problem” is another newsletter for another time.

Smart must have a limited definition, I thought as I hung up the phone.  Or else it is in short supply on the shelves.  And as I pondered my possible approach, Walter White (yes, that Walter from Breaking Bad) came clearly into view.  Walter was smart too and he was driven much like this supervisor with whom I was about to work.  Walter had one goal and one goal only.  He was driven to make money.  Only those relationships that could benefit him to this end were of use to him, and anyone who got in his way was either ridiculed or dispatched.  Those on the periphery suffered at Walter’s hands also.

If his boss was correct and my assumptions were accurate, supervisors like this fellow are typically focused only on the bottom line and often have very little awareness of the necessity of skills and traits like stress tolerance, empathy, flexibility, optimism, or impulse control.  Others view them as dominant, demanding, blunt, and argumentative, and those are often their most positive characteristics.  Unfortunately that hallowed trait of achievement is the most valued trait in the room, but even that has a limit if good people continue to leave.

As I continued to think about my approach, I remembered that the sheer number of blogs over the five seasons of Breaking Bad unofficially broke all records of fan involvement through social media.  A large portion of the audience remained sympathetic to Walter but a much larger portion became increasingly appalled over his continual plea that it was all for the family.   As though Walter was a real person, one blogger wrote:   “It is easy for us to see the tragic ending that is to come for Walter and all those who associate with him.  Why can’t he see it?  Is he blinded by his ambition?”   

In the end Walter achieved his goal and amassed a large sum of money, but he lost all of his relationships including the love of his family.  The beginning of his self-destruction became clear when Walter said the following:  “Jesse, you asked me if I’m in the meth business or the money business.  Neither.  I’m in the empire business.”

In a follow-up conversation prior to meeting with my client, I asked the boss if I had the authority to tell him that his job is in jeopardy unless he changes.  “If he’s never received that feedback, it is only fair.  Besides, it may be the one thing that will get his attention,” I said.  And with that permission, I chose to be respectful, yet blunt and it made all the difference.

Over the next several weeks he took a battery of assessment tools and we covered how his strengths were also his downfall and that, in the end, unless he was careful, he, like Walter White, was going to get the very thing he was most afraid of:  failure.  And it was going to happen because he was neither well respected nor well liked.  “And that will ultimately be your demise my friend.”

Learn to know yourself.  It is a lifelong pursuit and undoubtedly the most important objective.  Understand that the pursuit of goals is obviously important because, very simply, goals funnel an organization’s activities toward a commonality.  But who you are and how you go about orchestrating this pursuit makes all the difference in whether you will have a unified and encouraged staff or whether you will, like Walter White, damage those with whom you come in contact.

An interesting read on this topic:

  • First Things First by Covey, Merrill, & Merrill
  • The Carrot Principle: How the Best Managers Use Recognition to Engage Their People, Retain Talent, and Accelerate Performance by Gostick and Elton

2 Toxic Habits That Can Drain Trust And Productivity Out Of Your Workplace

Wanted:  Plumber with experience who knows which way (fill in the blank) runs and who can communicate same to leaders who are absolutely convinced they are not the purveyors of  (fill in the blank)!!

To a large degree, plumbers unclog pipes and drains, right!  And while vitally important, particularly under certain circumstances, it’s not too terribly complex.  If only leadership issues could be fixed as readily with a plunger!  I would open a specialty store.

Like plumbing, the symptoms that appear in organizations are often caused elsewhere.  Follow the trail and arrive at the source of the problem.  And while it is too simplistic to say all problems start at the top, there are certainly enough to warrant taking a look at some of the most common toxic leadership habits that impact both people and processes down the line.

#1  Resisting Personal Growth 

Examine the work history of many leaders and you’ll uncover hard-driving, responsible people who have always been adept at accomplishing tasks.  This ability to get things done—and done correctly—triggers the higher ups to fix their radars on newly labeled Wonder Women/Supermen and target them for promotions.  As these wonderkinds go higher up the ladder, they get increasingly  busier simply because more stuff of a big picture nature comes across their desk requiring attention.  But something is suddenly different now than it was when they were low on the totem pole. No longer is the individual capable of doing it all with her/his own two hands.  Delegation is the order of the day.  And along with delegation comes follow-up and the ability to hold others accountable.  The world of the leader is no longer small in scope, but bigger in picture and possessing the ability to think in terms of possibilities and shaping the future is a necessary skill.   This is where the trouble begins because what it took to help you get there is not what it will take to get you the rest of the way.  The focused, driven, self-reliant employee—who resists the growth necessary for success at higher levels—is often viewed as an isolated, self-centered, dominating leader.

What should you do?

There are three things that can help you to grow and have success at the next level.  First, uncover whether previous leaders were successfu.  If not, why not?  What mistakes did they make?  What traits did they possess that turned people off.  Perhaps they were too nice and tried to please everyone.  Perhaps they failed to hold others accountable.  Perhaps they were too aloof and saw no value in simple acts of encouragement and recognition.

Secondly, take a couple of personality or behavioral assessments to get an idea of what your strengths are and in which areas you may need to maintain vigilance.

Thirdly, get a good read on the personality characteristics of your team, department or organization.  This will determine, more than anything else, what approach you should take.  If your team is primarily composed of sensitive, risk-averse, accommodating type people, you will need to match that style in your leadership.  If you have the opposite with bottom-line, assertive, demanding individuals, you will need to take on a much more assertive stance.

#2  Avoiding Tough Conversations

Being too nice and avoiding tough conversations is one of the most detrimental leadership qualities one can have.  When leaders say “yes” to differing sides of an issue the invariable result is damaged trust and the diminished delivery of the product or service.  Similarly, when leaders fail to instill a sense of accountability, the result is often chaos and a lack of productivity.  Approximately four years ago I was fortunate enough to get a call from the owner of a manufacturing plant.  A self-described inventor, the owner wanted to devote his time to future products instead of the day-to-day operations of the plant.  For that purpose, he selected a loyal and disciplined individual and gave him the title of VP.  Within a year, manufacturing quotas and on-time deliveries were circling the toilet drain and it didn’t take a master plumber to figure out why.  While loyal and disciplined accurately described this individual, he was also one of the most conflict-averse individuals I’ve ever met.  He told me he stayed awake most nights worrying about whether he had recently upset someone.  When I asked him about setting goals and objectives toward his improvement, he asked if I would lobby the owner to simply give him his old job back.  “I just can’t deal with knowing that no matter what I do, someone is always going to be angry with me,” he said as tears came to his eyes.   He even shared that this was an issue between him and his wife and that he was now aware of just how debilitated he was.  After six months of regular coaching meetings, he shared that he felt more confident and had more of a sense of being in control of his life.

While this example may be a bit extreme, conflict-averse people think the situation will magically resolve itself and that the pain of having a difficult conversation is greater than the pain of not having it. As a result, we employ denial, avoidance, resistance, rationalization or plain ole blame as a way to place responsibility on the other person.  Suffice it to say that the end result is that the problem never diminishes and, in fact, gets worse—especially as it relates to relationships.

What should you do?

1. Seek coaching or counseling and begin tackling your fears.  The fear of conflict can have some deep-seated roots sometimes that impact all areas of life.

2. Get the book “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes are High.” This is an excellent source with practical hints for how to say the tough stuff and do so in such a way that relationships with others are maintained.

Raise the Red Flag! Concerns over Gender and the Tech Industry

Recently I read an article in USA Today entitled “Danger of Digital Divide….Lack of Diversity could undercut Silicon Valley.”  It spurred me to think about what appears to be a growing divide between men and women in not only the tech industry but tech-type jobs in general.

First of all I would like to make a disclaimer here.  I am not a tech expert.  I still don’t understand “the cloud” in its totality, and I am one of those folks who take advantage of all of the intro classes that the Apple store has for its Mac users. My IT go-to person is my 16 year old son. What it takes me an hour or two to grapple with takes him mere seconds over my shoulder.  “Really Dad?” “Okay, whatever.”

What I can hopefully claim as an area of expertise – that my brilliant son has obviously not yet mastered—lies in the old concept of treating people the way you want to be treated.  At work, it means not only treating people fairly but assigning jobs according to their talents, not their gender or race.  And right now I’m seeing the mistreatment of women at a rate I’ve never quite seen before.

After reading the USA Today article, I decided to do a bit more in-depth research. I couldn’t help but think that we have regressed in our endeavor to not only bring diversity to the workplace but to treat people with both equality and respect.  My online search using the terms gender and tech got me enough articles to keep me busy for the foreseeable future, a future that may not welcome women “into the elite boys club” that the start up tech industry seems to foster…unless we intervene now to stop this practice.

Before we go any further, let me say that self-disclosure is warranted here if I am to keep this newsletter honest.  These articles grabbed my attention in the first place because of something that happened to someone personally close to me.  Being one of the most creative people I know, this Generation Y’er brings a unique skill set to her job in the robotics industry.   Blending her talents in photography, art, event planning, social media marketing, and project management puts her in somewhat rarified air for leading the marketing efforts in emerging new technologies, but it has been a battle the entire way.

Her newly formed marketing department recently moved to a larger office space to accommodate growth and the influx of new employees.  Like shoppers lined six deep for the opening of a new department store, so were the employees lined up to choose the ideal location of their desk.  Just like the gold rush of 1849, those who staked a claim to their preferred area and desk had certain inalienable rights.  One person however was excluded from this fun little free choice, and it happened to be the only woman in the group.

“I have you assigned to a desk already,” said the director of the department.

“Oh?”

“Yes, I want you to sit next to the door.”

“Why so, if I may ask?  I was hoping to “pitch a tent” next to my marketing peers.”

“You are our office manager aren’t you?”

“I’m not sure I know what you mean.  I’m in marketing and event planning.”

“No, I think you should sit near the door.  You not only look good and make a good impression to visitors, but we need you to sign for packages as they come in the door.”

“But this is not what I was hired for and not what I’ve been doing the past six months.”

“Nevertheless, this is what I need you to do.  You are organized and detail-oriented.”

“I’m treated differently because I’m a woman,” she told me over the phone.  “It has nothing to do with the quality of my work.  It’s as though they just want me to smile and wave.  How can they dismiss my contributions and re-assign me to a job that I wasn’t even hired for?  Yes, I could probably be a good office manager, but I love what I’m doing and I’m good at it.  Why should I do something I don’t love just because I’m a woman.

By all the articles and accounts this is not an isolated incident.  The tech industry is clearly under fire.  And it surprises me that young men in their 20s and 30s are the ones most often exhibiting bias, not the older baby-boomers who entered the workforce before gender bias was ever uttered.  The tech gender gap is pervasive.  There is simply not a great deal of gender diversity to be found.  Frankly, I have had a fair number of well-intentioned employers tell me that they are having a hard time getting female applicants at anywhere near the same rate as men.  But this is not an article imploring you to do a better job of recruiting.  More to the point, shouldn’t we be treating the women we have with the same respect and professionalism they are due?

So, what should you do?

-For those of you in start-ups, get your HR infrastructure in place early!  This is a no brainer, and yet in my work as a consultant I am still coming across those young companies scurrying about to get the work done, but with no sight of HR on the premises.

-Go out of your way to ask people how things are at work.  Ask both men and women.  Sometimes it is the men who will open up about the treatment of women first.

-Have the courage to call out the things that are wrong.  Don’t think that unequal treatment will just go away

-Talk about inclusiveness.  Make it a priority and a value. Dialogue about this issue is the first step.

-Make sure women are not given tasks simply based on gender stereotypes.  Help everyone do what they do best every day.  If you do, you will more likely have happy and productive “campers.”

Fortunately most of the people we work with are already doing these things, and I applaud you for your good work. For all of the rest of you, well, you know what to do.

From Control to Cooperation: Changing the Performance Appraisal System

(Third and LAST article in a series on transitioning from performance appraisals to coaching)

As I wind up my series on using coaching as a means of boosting employee performance, I have a question for you:

“What is the actual effect created among your employees by your appraisal system?”  Metrics could help answer this question.

Ask yourself……..

Do you have indicators that people are more motivated as a result of the appraisals or are you more fearful of what would happen if you didn’t require them?

Do your supervisors actually use appraisals for coaching purposes to boost performance, or do they merely “pencil whip” the appraisals in order to comply with HR’s mandate?

Do your appraisals actually improve communication between supervisors and employees, or do you think those effective relationships that do exist are more likely established in informal meetings as supervisor/employee pass each other in the hallway?

By the way, with regard to the common use of appraisals to support termination and legal documentation, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that ultimately they work against the organization as much or more than they help support the termination decision.  So what’s a good organization to do?  How do we hold people accountable?  How do we motivate people?  How do we decide who deserves a merit increase?  How do we give people feedback about their performance?   How do we evaluate who should stay and who should go?

Most of us ask these questions and— in all honesty—it may be that these very questions are part of the reason we are having a hard time letting go of the appraisal process.  Why?  Because they reflect our basic belief that we need to control the activities of our employees, otherwise they won’t be motivated or responsible.  The sad disconnect is that our need for tighter controls communicates a lack of trust.  This, I suggest, is the crux of the problem.  It is not that our intentions are bad.  As stated before, the intent underlying performance evaluations is good.  We want people to communicate better.  We want supervisors and employees to have good working relationships.  But the very nature of performance evaluations as a forced and judgmental act presents a divisive element between supervisors and their employees; between department heads and supervisors.

Tom Coens and Mary Jenkins, in their book “Abolishing Performance Evaluations:  Why They Backfire and What To Do Instead,” provide an interesting list of unsurfaced beliefs inherent to performance evaluations:

Belief:   Without control, people will withhold their best efforts

Counter evidence is that people perform better when they experience appreciation, the opportunity to do what they do best, and choice in how to go about their work.

Belief:   People will not, of their own volition, take responsibility to develop and improve their performance.

Counter evidence is that people want to do a good job and be a part of an effective work system.

Belief:   Holding people accountable with a written formal process is an effective form of control.

Counter evidence is that people will behave in a responsible, effective manner if they have a good relationship with their immediate supervisor who outlines clear expectations and who is congruent between what they say and what they do. 

Belief:   Documented processes…will motivate people to improve their performance

Counter evidence is that employees experience documented processes as judgmental and subjective.

Although your supervisors may be the most well-meaning people on the planet, good intentions will not supplant the control message of appraisal.  So what should you do?

TRANSITIONING FROM APPRAISAL TO COACHING

The transition from a control-oriented appraisal system to a voluntary coaching system is neither fast nor simple, but if you have evidence that supervisors procrastinate in conducting the appraisals or that a majority of employees express both fear and loathing then you may be up for a process that increases trust and creates a greater sense of interdependency between the various levels within the organization.

While there is no cookie-cutter outline for making this transition, the following list can give you a basic idea of the progression that may get you on the road toward an alternative to performance appraisals.

1.  Assess the need for change – consider whether you have plenty of evidence already or whether an anonymous employee climate survey would give you information on not only how people feel about appraisals, but what particular issues are troublesome.  Would the loathing exist regardless of how you try to improve the appraisal system or is it simply that a few supervisors are on a power trip?

2.  Get the blessings of upper management first– making this change is difficult enough without heading down this path only to have a cease-and-desist order put a halt to things.  Have a sit down with management first and inform them of your findings.  If possible, ask for an official charge in written form regarding what the design team is charged to do.

3.  Form a design team – select a team that represents the entire organization.  In discussions, ask the team to review these questions:

A.  What are the purposes, goals, and objectives of the current appraisal system?

B.  What results and outcomes have we seen and experienced?

Example:

Focuses on weakness and deficiencies

Standards are inconsistently applied from one supervisor to another

People are not listening; preoccupied with the bottom line

Outcome:

Causes fear and apprehension

Ratings seem arbitrary and subjective

Demoralizes people, creates resentment

Supervisors just go through the motions

C.  What are the characteristics and features of our appraisal system?

Example:  

A once a year event

A mandated/forced activity

Feedback is documented, receiver has to sign it

Performance is rated

Rating is based on a time period

If all of the above is true, then pursue this path:

1.  Design a new process– Discuss what you are trying to accomplish.  What are the goals and objectives and how will you know when a change has occurred and whether it is successful.  The following are some elements to consider in the change from an appraisal to a coaching system:

A.  Train supervisors on coaching and feed-forward methods rather than feedback.

B.  Frequently encourage all employees to get the instruction and coaching instruction they need when they need it.

C.  Frequently coach the coaches (supervisors) by instructing supervisors to focus on exceptional performance and to offer recognition and appreciation on the spot.  The change to a coaching system does not exclude reprimands or termination.  Reprimands should be on-time and at the time of the infraction.  Remember that using the appraisal process at the end of the year is a poor method for increasing motivation.  The book “Crucial Conversations” is an excellent book by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler is an excellent source of training for supervisors in how to say what needs to be said while preserving the relationship.

D.  Train employees also.  Train them in how to receive coaching.  It is just as important to be able to receive coaching in an effective manner as it is to deliver coaching in an effective manner.  Let them know that the old appraisal system has gone bye-bye and that it is partially up to them to request coaching.

Please understand that I have provided you with merely a skeleton of the change process.  Several elements would be beyond the brief intent of this newsletter.  If you would like to discuss further, please feel free to contact me.  I will enjoy hearing from you!

Having Cold Feet about Replacing those Performance Evaluations? Ask Yourself these Four Key Questions

In the last newsletter I mentioned an immensely popular, seldom pursued, and extremely controversial subject:  the elimination of performance appraisals.   Why have so few of you eliminated them?  More importantly, why should you?

Except for the few people who regularly receive perfect evaluation scores, everyone loathes the annual evaluation in much the same way that we loathe maggots, cockroaches, and the muddy river leech.  But why?  Are appraisals really the problem or should employees simply get a grip and work harder to get the kind of evaluation they believe they deserve?  These four key questions can help us sift through the performance appraisal issue.

1.  Why do you really use performance evaluations?  What type of work culture do you really want to create?

2.  Do they accomplish your intended goals?

3.  What are their real effects?

4.  Do you really need any kind of performance appraisal system at all?

As you may be aware, steam is building around the country for getting rid of the annual performance appraisal; Texas Roadhouse is but one example.    One of the Roadhouse VPs, Mark Simpson, said the senior leadership team had been trying to figure out for some time how to separate the performance appraisal process from merit increases. “When performance and pay are tied together, it creates an emotional conversation,” he said.  “We wanted to change the performance discussion to become more productive and constructive.”

Roadhouse calls the new performance appraisal process GPS (growth, plan, support).  “Its purpose is to be forward-looking instead of backward,” he said.  “Managers already had regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings. That’s the time to talk about current performance. The new GPS process focused on the future”:

GROWTH:              What career opportunities would you like in the future?

PLAN:                      How do you prepare for those future opportunities?

SUPPORT:              What resources do you need to be successful?

Just in case you’re wondering, at Roadhouse, any regularly scheduled pay increases are based upon cost-of-living. But discretionary increases can happen at any time and are based upon three factors:

1.  Taking on additional responsibilities

2.  Exceptional performance

3.  Promotions

The interesting thing about the Roadhouse approach is that it tends to give employees more choice and control over pay increases rather than control being wielded by supervisors who, for the most part, don’t relish that responsibility anyway and who are almost never perceived to be fair or unbiased under the current connection of appraisal and merit increase.

So, Why Do You Use Performance Evaluations?

From what I can tell, there are five commonly identified reasons for using appraisals including:

1.  Compensation (who deserves a merit increase?)

2.  Staffing Decisions (who should be fired or laid off?)

3.  Feedback/Communication (a tool to improve understanding between supervisors and employees)

4.  Coaching (a method to motivate employees so as to improve both internal and external service)

5.  Termination and Legal Documentation (CYA in preparation for disciplinary and discharge decisions)

Do They Accomplish Your Intended Goals? 

That is a question you will have to answer for your own organization.  And I hope you will mull it over.  But if your hope is that you can create a work environment of inclusion, partnership, honest and caring two-way communication, cooperation, and trust then what I can say is that appraisals are an interference, and there is absolutely no evidence that it motivates people or leads to meaningful improvement.  Frankly, it is my experience that appraisals create a barrier between many supervisors and employees.  Why?  Because it is a single tool intended to accomplish the five major business functions noted above.  Lost are voluntary interactions like:

-On time coaching

-Just in time ratings/rewards

-Employees taking the initiative to ask their boss for feedback or suggestions

-Feed-forward instead of feedback that focuses on effective methods for future endeavors rather than corrections over past “screw-ups”

-On time recognition and appreciation during and following a project or endeavor

The Real Effects

One hundred years ago the performance appraisal was probably better than nothing and may have even been useful.  Henry Ford’s assembly line was revolutionary.  People were parts of a large machine and they needed to be controlled in order to enable the machine to operate efficiently.  Reducing jobs to identifiable, repetitive tasks made it easier to control what people did.  The performance appraisal was ideal for ensuring that people stayed in line.  Thus, the “machine-model” organizations came into being and top-down organizations became the blueprint.  But simple, mechanistic tasks no longer accurately describe the job functions of today’s employee. A myriad of certifications identify expertise.  Job postings list specific levels of education, experience, or require nationally recognized certifications.  We are working in an era of experts who have valuable information and knowledge to be shared.  Along with this knowledge, training, and accomplishment comes pride and the need for freedom, not an environment of control that is created through the annual performance appraisal.  The result is very simple:  discouragement, frustration, and apathy.  But we don’t have much turnover, you say.  Perhaps not, but the mental and emotional “checkout” means that you may not have engaged employees

So in ending, ask yourself this question again, “Do I really need performance appraisals at all? What kind of culture am I trying to create?”  This discussion to be continued in our next newsletter.

Skeptical about that Annual Performance Evaluation? Consider replacing it with Future Oriented Coaching!

Part III. Coaching up your Employee with Three Skills

Managers and supervisors who embrace coaching skills have a powerful tool at their disposal.  More and more, leaders in all industries are starting to see coaching skills as a vital addition in managing and influencing their people.  In fact, coaching has become so effective—as a method in facilitating employee development—that organizations are beginning to abolish [that utter scourge of the universe] the annual performance evaluation and replace it with positive, future-oriented, empowering, coaching skills and strategies.

So what are the key skills that you need to develop? Of course there are many, but below I discuss my three favorite.

 I.  Contracting

One the most important skills is one that does not get much attention in the literature.  Contracting means establishing an agreement with your employee on what is the specific nature of the desired change needed in their performance.  It is particularly important that supervisor and employee agree on who, what, when, where, how, and how much of the new behavior is expected and required.  This skill is important so that both supervisor and employee are on the same page with regard to expectations including desired outcome.  It might look/sound something like this:

Manager:  “OK John, as you know, as a part of your supervisory status you have been given some new responsibilities which are likely to tax you somewhat.  No doubt, you are going to be multi-tasking even more than usual.”

John:  “You’ve got that right!  But I’m ready for the challenge.”

Manager:  “Excellent!  I’m glad to hear your enthusiasm.  So before you and I both get too far into this thing, let’s talk about those skills and behaviors that are going to be important for you in your success.  I really want your input because I’m in this with you, and I want us to both be on the same page about what skills you want to work on, and what success employing those skills will look like.”

John:  “Well, I’ve given this some thought and I think there are two skills that are going to be really necessary for me, but are not exactly my strengths:  One is delegating tasks to the appropriate individuals, and the other, which is then holding them accountable for producing the results required.”

Manager:  “Yes, I couldn’t agree more.  And I want to add one more for your consideration:  praise.  I think you already do an excellent job of goal setting so I don’t think we need to add this to the queue.  But as you add strategic delegation and accountability along with praise for those people who do a good job, I think you will be on the road to creating an engaged group of people.  What do you think?”

John:  “Yes, I like it.  It’s the foundation for any supervisor.”

Manager:  “Tell me if you think that working on three skills at once is too much.”

John:  “No, no I like the combination.”

Manager:  “OK, so if we are in agreement that this is what we are aiming for, let’s start breaking down what these skills look and sound like and where you might first begin to utilize them.”

As you begin to work with your employee to construct those targeted skills and establish your own expectations for them, it is often a good idea to model the use of questions.  This not only helps them build upon their vision for development, but also serves as excellent modeling of those very same skills you hope they will embrace in their own supervision of people.  Thus, the powerful use of questioning is my second vital coaching skill.

II.  Questioning

Not all questions are good questions.  It’s is important to learn how to ask not only the right questions, but questions that help shape the way your employee thinks and learns.  With proper questioning you will be teaching your employee to fish rather than giving them a fish.    And the method that may teach fishing quite well is through the GROW model.

Establish the Goal

As indicated above, you and your employee might benefit by agreeing on the behavior that you want to gain, and then structuring this gain as a goal that he/she wants to achieve.  Make sure that this is a SMART goal: one that is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound.

In your role as a coach, it’s useful to ask questions like:

-How will you know that you have achieved this goal? How will you know that the problem or issue is solved?

-Does this goal fit with your objectives? And does it fit with our team’s objectives?

Examine the Current Reality

Next, ask your employee to describe his/her current reality.

This is an important step: Too often, people try to solve a problem or reach a goal without fully considering their starting point, and often they’re missing some information that they need in order to reach their goal effectively.

As your employee tells you about his/her current reality, the solution may start to emerge.  Useful coaching questions in this step include the following:

-What is happening now (what, who, when, and how often)? What is the effect or result of this?

-Have you already taken any steps toward your goal?

-Does this goal conflict with any other goals or objectives?

Explore the Options

Once you and your employee have explored the current reality, it’s time to determine what is possible – meaning all of the possible options for reaching the objective.  Help your employee brainstorm   as many good options as possible. Then, discuss these and help them decide on the best ones.

It’s OK to offer your own suggestions in this step. But let your employee offer suggestions first, and let them do most of the talking. It’s important to guide them in the right direction, without actually making decisions for them.

Typical questions that you can use to explore options are as follows:

-What else could you do?

-What if this or that constraint were removed? Would that change things?

-What are the advantages and disadvantages of each option?

-What factors or considerations will you use to weigh the options?

-What do you need to stop doing in order to achieve this goal?

-What obstacles stand in your way?

Establish the Will

By examining the current reality and exploring the options, your employee will now have a good idea of how he can achieve his goal.

That’s great – but in itself, this may not be enough. The final step is to get your employee to commit to specific actions in order to move forward towards his goal. In doing this, you will help him establish his will and boost his motivation.

Useful questions to ask here include:

1.  So, what will you do now, and when? What else will you do?

2.  What could stop you moving forward? How will you overcome this?

3.  How can you keep yourself motivated?

4.  When do you need to review progress? Daily, weekly, monthly?

Finally, decide on a date when you’ll both review his progress. This will provide some accountability, and allow him to change his approach if the original plan isn’t working.

Goal Questions

1. What must you accomplish in the next 12 months?

2.  What would you like to focus on today?

3.  What’s important to you at the moment?

4.  What are you working on at the moment?

5.  What challenges are you struggling with at the moment?

6.  How can you word that goal more specifically?

7.  How can you measure that goal?

8.  How can you break down that goal into bite-sized pieces?

9.  How can you word this goal using positive language?

10.  What do you want to be doing in five years’ time?

11.  What’s your ideal future?

12.  Where is your life out of balance?

III.  Encouraging and Supporting

Finally, an often overlooked yet powerful skill for facilitating engagement is the simple act of encouragement and support.  Sometimes this can be the difference between someone continuing on or giving up. Acknowledging another person is an incredibly powerful way of keeping them motivated.  And if you want to read more about how to create engaged employees through encouragement and support, read The Carrot Principle by Chester Elton and Adrian Gostick.

The Foundation For Coaching: A Philosophy of Human Nature

This is Part II of a three part series on Coaching

Recently I asked several people to tell me about their favorite boss.  “What was it you loved about them?” I asked.  Here are some answers:

“My favorite boss is the one I have right now.  He makes time to have quick conversations with us.  He is a good listener who recognizes employee achievements. He is always honest and transparent with all the staff and never favors anyone.”

“My best boss, although knowledgeable, was not an expert in my field.  He relied on me and often expressed his appreciation for what I brought to the table.  I noticed that he treated everyone this way…as if they were valuable.  I’m not trying to make him sound like he was a push-over or always in a good mood, but he never brought his problems to work like some of my bosses have done.” 

This one was interesting!

“My worst boss was arrogant, rude and acted superior.  She seemed to look down on us and didn’t listen to our opinions.  She made us feel like we didn’t count and got angry if we dared challenge or contradict her.”

I shared with him that I had asked for comments about his favorite boss, but instead he told me about his worst.  He hesitated and said: “Hmm, I guess I needed to get that off my chest.  She really made my life miserable!”

And finally, one of the most poignant answers came from a woman with whom I had a long conversation.  She had worked for two municipalities for a total of 51 years and was only a week away from retirement.

“Most of the bosses I’ve had have been mediocre,” she said 

I asked her if there was anything they had in common.

“Yes, I think so.  They didn’t rely on us the way they could have.  I don’t believe down deep they really saw us as valuable.  Oh, they were all good people.  It’s not like they were mean-spirited or abusive or anything, but when I think about my best bosses, they had a different attitude from the ones who weren’t as good.  The best ones seemed to believe that we were to be trusted to do the right things, and to give it our best.  So, for these bosses I believe we did.”    

I believe these comments pinpoint something that is unique among outstanding bosses:  a positive philosophy of human nature that serves to guide their actions and interactions with others.   With no doubt some variation, I believe these individuals believe in the power of encouragement, trust, integrity, and interdependence.  Perhaps their philosophy can be summarized by the following three beliefs:

1) People are fundamentally good and desire to make a difference in the bigger scheme of things.

2) People respond positively to feeling valued.

3) If valued, people will rise up to meet the challenge and do what is right.

Every great organization lives by a mission on the way to a vision of something for the future.  So too do great bosses have a philosophy of human nature that guides them in their interactions.  Without this philosophy, their leadership—including coaching skills—will be shallow or inconsistent depending upon their mood or what is happening around them at the time.  It is our premise that leaders who embrace this philosophy will naturally employ the vital coaching skills we discuss in Part III.

 

More than Just a Boss: Using Coaching to Cultivate a Learning Culture

“Like Tyrannosaurus Rex, old style bosses are a prehistoric relic.”

This is the first of a three-part series presenting the 12 most important coaching abilities and skills required of today’s supervisors.

Part I:  Climate Change:  From Old-School Leadership to Coaching

To this point, a leadership coach has usually been an outside vendor who has received training in coaching methods and techniques.  We outside coaches are hired for many reasons including:

-Helping someone get better at something

-Helping one or more individuals improve their communication including conflict management

-Onboarding a new employee, including new leaders

-Improving communication

-Improving leadership skills and abilities

-Seamlessly transitioning into a new role

-Improving relationships with business associates

-Improving team functioning and performance

-Diminishing undesirable leadership traits

-Increasing strategic thinking

-Setting personal , team, or organizational goals

While coaching is a popular and vital approach because of the positive ROI and the speed at which “change” goals and objectives can be accomplished, tight budgets don’t always allow for an outside coach.  Furthermore, sometimes coaching needs to occur on the spot rather than waiting for the vendor to be contacted and scheduled.  But before we get to specific coaching skills, it is important to lay the foundation for why a coaching approach is necessary.  There are four reasons:

#1:  Employees Cite Their Immediate Supervisor as the Reason for Leaving

In a recent study by MSW Research, respondents reported on the essential role immediate supervisors play in their engagement.  Results indicate that an employee’s supervisor has a direct and determinate impact on the engagement level of the employee.  Overwhelmingly, employees who were dissatisfied attributed this lack of engagement to their relationship with their immediate supervisor.  The often quoted people don’t leave organizations, they leave their manager appears to be true.  In a 2006 Rowlands International Survey the perceptions that managers had of themselves was overwhelmingly disputed by their employees.  For example, 81% of surveyed managers say they welcome suggestions while only 43% of their employees agree; 88% of managers say they encourage teamwork while only 40% of their employees agree; and 76% of managers say they give positive feedback while only 28% of their employees agree.  These results highlight the need for supervisors and managers to examine their style in light of current employee expectations.

#2:  The Old Style Boss is No Longer Effective 

Like Tyrannosaurus Rex, old style bosses are a prehistoric relic.  Their power was based on sheer dominance and the threat of destruction, and everyone accepted it.  One’s title and role offered punch and employees followed orders post-haste.  T-Rex didn’t put up with much guff and employees capitulated by going along and getting along.  Flying under the radar was modus operandi and employees made sure they didn’t draw notice by screwing up or making waves by saying something stupid.  It was all pretty simple and it used to work.  Not anymore.  So if you believe your management repertoire mimics the old school approach, take heart.  This piece could be the kick-start in helping you craft a more effective approach for the changing personality of today’s workforce.

#3:  Knowledge Experts Know More Than You Do

Another fact of past organizational life lay in the focus on task and technical proficiency.  Any city employee who was at a lower rung on the ladder—but who was proficient—was placed in the queue for promotion.   Once promoted then, the newly appointed supervisor’s job was primarily one of repeating the cycle by teaching new employees how do what she/he used to do.  Promoted machinists taught new employees how to be proficient machinists, promoted welders taught new employees how to be proficient welders, and so on.  Promotions and rewards came about through teaching and acquiring task-specific expertise.    That too is changing because cities now seek and employ knowledge experts—employees who possess specific knowledge or expertise that their supervisors do not possess.

#4:  Rewards and Motivation Have Changed

The old style reward system that motivated people with money and longevity is no longer effective.  For the most part, people no longer expect to just make a living.  Using that well-worn pyramid we all know as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, it is easy to see that we have gone from an employee base with unmet safety needs (health, employment, money, and property), to fully met esteem needs (achievement, respect of others, respect by others, collaboration, inclusion) and even fairly well-met self-actualization needs (creativity, problem-solving, spontaneity, lack of prejudice, volunteerism, social-responsibility, and giving back to others).   What this means is that employees seek collaboration, inclusion, and a voice in decision-making.   And those at the highest levels of the pyramid seek a productive and achievement-oriented environment that provides creative challenges.

So there you have it!  In the next issue, I will discuss what coaching is, how it can be utilized by anyone with supervisory authority, and what groundwork you should consider when coaching one of your own employees.

 

Organizations Must Stop Looking For Perfect Leaders

Or…….How to Care for a Three Legged Dog

Do a Web search for ideal leader and you will get a treasure trove of results including Five Must Have Qualities of the Modern Manager,  Fifteen Qualities a Manager Should Have, Top Ten Qualities of An Excellent Manager, or 25 Qualities and Characteristics of a Good Manager.  While all well written, articles like these reflect our belief about leaders and create unrealistic expectations.

There is No Such Thing as An Ideal Leader/Manager 

Those of you in positions of hiring must come to grips with this and shift both your thinking as well as your expectations.  The reason why the ideal leader is nonexistent is due to the nature of change; change is constant and change creates challenges.  Change means that a revolving array of leadership roles, skills, and functions are required at any given time.  Take a Mount Everest expedition for example.  Someone on the team is usually best at planning the expedition, another at determining and procuring the proper equipment, another at keeping the group moving through difficult conditions and circumstances, and yet another at maintaining morale and teamwork.  Different individuals are required to step up and take charge, at least temporarily, at different junctures in the journey.   No one leader can consistently do all of these things extremely well.  Why?  Because the traits required for these functions are inherently inconsistent with one another.  A driven, dominating style of individual is not simultaneously warm and sensitive.  An extroverted, entrepreneurial type is usually not going to be an analytical perfectionist.  And the integrative, team-oriented person is not often adept at driving the group toward the ultimate goal.

Why You Must Shift Your Expectations? 

Unrealistic expectations of the ideal leader not only sets up certain failure, but creates a hierarchical, unidirectional, elitist management approach that does not fit with the very type of culture most organizations desire.  If the goal is to create an atmosphere that exhibits inclusion, partnership, cooperation, input, the upward flow of information, and teamwork then it seems obvious that the culture, from top to bottom, must facilitate this.

What Is The Nest Step?

The first step in fixing the damage done within the “ideal leader syndrome” is to revisit your vision of the type of organization you want.  In all honesty, most organizations have not given this much thought beyond lip service.  We say we want inclusion, but we have not prepared a foundation with the type of leadership that can facilitate this.

The second, and equally important step, is to examine what the organization needs.  Much like people, organizations experience life-cycles and are at different places at different times and thus, require leaders to fulfill different roles.  Each role is best fulfilled by an individual or set of individuals with corresponding traits.  For example, we have found that there are four functions/roles that need to be performed for organizations to remain healthy, and healthy organizations are those that possess key individuals with the following traits who also have an active voice:

Producers answer the question:  what should be done?  This individual produces results and satisfies what service or product people need

Entrepreneurs answer the questions:  by when/why it should be done?  What is the purpose?  This individual is a visionary who can foresee the direction the organization is going to take, someone who can be proactive and will meet the needs of future clients

Administrators answer the question:   how should it be done?  This individual sees to it that the organizational processes are systematized, that the organization does the right things, in the right sequence with the right intensity

Integrators answer the question:  who should do it?  This person builds a climate and a system of values that will motivate the individuals in the organization to work together so that all are valued and no one is indispensable

This doesn’t mean that some leaders will not possess some minimal proficiency in several areas, but the leader who can do everything well is absolutely non-existent.  Thus, a constantly changing business environment requires a diverse executive team/command staff that engages in fluid dialogue and healthy debate, and a team whereby various team members are encouraged to step up and take over certain functional requirements as necessary.

In the neighborhood of my youth—and prior to leash laws— lived a friendly pack of free-roaming dogs. Largely mutts, this rag-tag group led the most amusing, unsettled, irresponsible, and disreputable life.  Most of our neighbors had a dog in the pack.  So did we; his name was Fred, and he had three legs.  Some of the dogs were fast, some were slow, and some were more athletic.  It was easy to see that none were perfect, but they each had certain strengths.   Our Fred could not keep up very well, and he couldn’t jump the neighbor’s fence to get at the cat, but he seemed to have intelligence about his condition.  We never saw him hang out with just one or two other dogs.  He only left our yard when the gang was gathered.  It was as if he knew there were strengths in numbers, as if one or two other dogs were not enough to compensate for what was missing.  He seemed to know how to take care of himself.

The Third Step is to Identify the Characteristics of Members of the Leadership Team

There are a variety of predictive assessments on the market today, all of which can identify the traits and thus the role where your leader is most likely to be most effective.  Take the DISC assessment for example, the Producer role is most likely to be filled by the Dominant (D style) personality.  The Entrepreneurial role is most effectively filled by the Influential (I style) personality.  The Integrator role is ideally demonstrated by the Steady (S style) personality, and the Administrator role is nicely enacted through the traits and qualities possessed by the Conventional (C style) personality.

Does your leadership team reflect a diversity of strengths?

A Diverse Leadership Team

Successful organizations have taught us that change requires a diverse leadership team.  The archetype of the charismatic leader who charges up the hill, oblivious to dangers, has become something of a relic.  People are less likely to follow the old-style leader who doesn’t want to communicate about purpose or who doesn’t give thought to who is the best fit for a particular task, or who doesn’t believe in inclusion, partnership, cooperation, input, the upward flow of information, and teamwork.  While this type of leader may yet exist, organizations are discovering that succession after their death or retirement is extremely difficult.  There is no mentoring or coaching under this type of leader.  The skills and abilities of others are not developed.