Stop the Rot – Managing Poor Performance ~ Part 2

Managing Poor Performance, Think OakIn part 1 of this two-part post I covered the potential impacts of poor performance, the causes and your responsibilities as a manager. In part 2, I’ll be guiding you through a seven-step process to help you deal with a poor performer.

Tackling Poor Performance

Many businesses do have policies and procedures around performance management and I’m not suggesting you don’t follow them. However, I’ve found a more informal, coaching approach to improve performance works in the vast majority of cases. Only once this approach is exhausted would I move down a more formal approach and this is normally the exception rather than the rule.

1. Prepare

Before you engage in a meeting with your poor performer, ensure that you have a detailed understanding and examples of poor performance as well as the impact that this under performance has had on the team, your customers, the business, yourself and the individual. Also, think about examples of good performance and behaviour that the person has shown in the past.

By spending some time preparing for the meeting,  you will have had a chance to gather your thoughts, examine the evidence, think about the evolution of the relationship and mentally frame the meeting in broad and flexible terms.

2. Set up a meeting with context

You should set up a meeting with at least a couple of days notice. You should be very clear in explaining exactly why you are arranging the meeting, that you will be discussing their recent performance and that you would like to have a discussion around how you can work on an improvement plan going forward.

To help your employee prepare for the meeting, you could suggest s/he gives some thought to a few questions, for example:

• How successfully do the two of us work together?

• How good are our communications and overall relationship?

• Which aspects of your job do you find easiest?

• Which are you most comfortable with?

• And which do you find most difficult?

• To what extent do I help you perform?

• Are there things I do that make life more difficult for you?

• Overall what can we do to improve your performance, my performance, our joint performance and our relationship?

The Performance Meeting

3. Agreement with your employee on the symptoms of the problem

It’s really important that you and your employee agree that there is a performance problem and agree the specific examples of when performance has been poor, the impacts that this has had and the importance of getting back on track. Try not to get into the why’s and wherefores at this stage. We’ll come to that. Just get agreement that behaviours or deliverables were not at the desired standard required for your team and business.

4. Understanding the causes of underperformance

Together, you and your colleague need to arrive at a common understanding of what might be causing the weak performance. This step assumes the person will be willing to participate in a genuine discussion of his/her strengths and weaknesses. Very few people will see themselves as perfect and in no need of any improvement. However, some people do overestimate the quality of their work performance and are unaware of their weaknesses. A major reason for this is likely to be that their previous managers have been reluctant to confront the employee’s shortcomings. In the absence of past negative feedback an employee could be genuinely shocked by your feedback and tempted to reject it as biased and personal.

It might be useful at this stage to review the answers to the preparation questions you gave them in step 2 to tease out some possible explanations. Ensure that you also point areas of performance or behaviours that are good, or have been in the past and spend some time on these also.

This stage of the process can be emotive. Keep calm and spend time working through the detail if necessary. Don’t forget that you already have agreement that there was poor performance. If you can’t agree on the why at this stage, you may need to move on to offering some suggestions on a way forward.

5. Creating and agreeing an Improvement Plan

Find out what motivates the individual: People are motivated by very different things.  Find out what’s important to the individual and shape and ‘sell’ the development plan accordingly.

Fit development action plans to learning style: Different people learn in different ways and this should be considered when planning development.  Understand which is the best learning strategy for that individual and shape the plan accordingly.

Focus on development priorities: Don’t overload people with too many things to focus on.

Use a range of development techniques: Development doesn’t solely result from attending training courses.  The success of development efforts will depend upon picking the right blend of development activity for the individual.  Good development plans draw on a combination of learning, practice and reinforcement.

Ensure that the plan has SMART Goals and by SMART, I mean:

S – specific, significant, stretching

M – measurable, meaningful, motivational

A – attainable, achievable, acceptable, action-oriented

R – realistic, relevant, reasonable, rewarding, results-oriented

T – time-based, timely, tangible, trackable

Ensure that the individual owns their plan: Getting them to come up with ideas and to actually write the development plan themselves will ensure that they buy-in to the plan and feel that it is their own.

Make sure the plan is documented – either fully during the meeting or an agreed skeleton is produced during the meeting and an agreement that plan will be delivered back the following day.

6. Create Confidence and Commitment

A good manager wants their people to succeed. This stage is all about building confidence in the person and inspiring them to improve, to develop themselves and to take the initiative.  People with high levels of self-belief set themselves more demanding goals, show greater effort and persistence in trying to achieve, and cope better with stress and difficulties.

Put a lot of energy into encouraging the individual to develop themselves and improve. Spend some time making the individual believe they can turn their performance around. Offer structured support as part of the improvement plan, but tell them it’s their responsibility to deliver against it.

7. Follow up

You must follow up on the agreements made. You and individual will have agreed to make certain changes, perform certain actions and/or reach certain performance targets by a given date. The onus is on both of you to ensure maximum high quality communication occurs during the period of the agreement. Don’t wait until the end of the process to discuss progress. Ideally the agreed objectives will be specific enough and the communication process during the contract period effective enough that both parties will agree on the assessment of the outcomes.

By implementing timely follow-ups and encouragement throughout the process, you should start to see demonstrable improvement.

Should performance not improve during the process then you must then set the expectation of the consequences which would be a more formal process. Although this process was not part of your company’s formal process, the documentation produced and meeting notes would be able to used as evidence as part of most formal procedures.

You won’t always succeed in turning around poor performance, but by following these steps you will have given your poor performer every opportunity to turn performance around.

I hope you found this post useful. As always, I’ love to hear your thoughts and feedback.

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The Brand New, Brand You! ~ Part 6

Measuring SuccessIn the sixth and final part in the series of The Brand New, Brand You, I will be covering the last step in the START process in Brand New, Brand You, Test.

So you’ve got to grips with Brand New, Brand You. You’ve developed your Brand – Your values and your Vision. You’ve started to build up your network of contacts and your personal brand with a wider audience. But what are people saying about your brand? Chances are, if you’ve been working with the STAR elements of START, people are talking about you and your brand already. How do you monitor these conversations both online and offline?

Online

Getting Started: How do people talk about you?

A good place to find how people know and speak about your brand is to look at the keywords and phrases they use to find your website.

You can find these metrics in the analytics package you’re using with your website. If you’re not using an analytics package like Google Analytics, Webtrends or Clicky, then brainstorm keywords and phrases that you may have heard clients/customers use in discussions you have had with them.

There are a large number of tools to choose from for monitoring Brand You and many are free to use. Here are a few free brand-monitoring tools that you may wish to try out.

Monitoring Tools

1: Google Email Alert System

You can sign up for Google Alerts quickly and easily. Using those keywords and phrases from your preliminary research, you can elect to have any instance of those keywords and phrases in combination with Brand You as Google finds them online sent straight to your inbox.

Enter the topic you wish to monitor, then click Preview to see the type of results you’ll receive.

Anytime Google indexes any mention in search results of the alerts you’re signed up for, you receive an email notification into your inbox. The notification is a direct hyperlink to the article, website, blog, product review, etc., wherein the keyword or phrase appeared. 

2: SocialMention

SocialMention allows you to easily track and measure what people are saying about you across the web’s social media landscape in real-time. SocialMention monitors 100+ social media properties directly, including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Digg, Google, and many more.

It’s straightforward and easy to use. You simply type the brand, product, service name or keywords/phrase into the search field, select where you would like to search the social sphere for the search term(s) you have entered and click the Search button. I recommend searching all of the categories, but if you’re limited on time and resources, narrowing your search breadth and depth may be a good place to start.

SocialMention also provides the ability to narrow or broaden your brand monitoring as you like.

Based on your search criteria, SocialMention will return all of the mentions of your brand or keyword/phrase across the web.

Within the results, you’ll be provided a number of statistics, not just the instances of brand/keyword mentions. Based on SocialMention’s search metrics, they’ll provide you sentiment ratings, top keywords used in conjunction with your brand, top users of your brand name (those mentioning it the most), strength, passion, reach and more.

You’re able to click on the links where your brand is mentioned which facilitates a direct response to the person or party mentioning your brand or keyword/phrase.

While these provided metrics are not completely scientific, they’re a good reference point for understanding the nature of the types of conversations and comments surrounding your brand.

3: TweetDeck

To narrow down where you monitor your brand, TweetDeck offers you a simple way to view multiple conversations and searches from one location. You can use the dashboard in multiple locations such as laptop, desktop, smartphone and tablet.

TweetDeck is your personal real-time browser, connecting you with your contacts across Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and more.

You can monitor your brand mentions as they happen and respond just as quickly!

The power of TweetDeck and other similar dashboards like HootSuite is the ability to see tweets (conversations, comments, feedback) regarding your brand and keyword/phrases in real-time.

4: Technorati

To monitor the blogosphere for what bloggers are posting about your brand, I recommend Technorati. It’s an online tool that searches a blog directory of nearly 1.3 million blogs for all mentions of the brand or keyword/phrases that you enter in the search field.

Technorati is the world’s largest blog search engine and robust community blogging platform.

When the search results are compiled, you have a listing of posts for perusal to again determine what kinds of product and service reviews, comments, feedback, stories and more are being shared regarding your brand.

Using Technorati for monitoring your brand via blogs allows you to post comments and feedback on the blog posts. Yet another tool that permits you to join in the conversation about your brand.

The search results Technorati blog searches return can be a powerful tool in finding and building a network of blogger brand ambassadors. When you find your brand mentioned in a blog post, take the time to read it, and comment. If questions are raised about your brand on a blog post, feel free to answer the questions. Many bloggers who take the time to write about your brand will welcome your participation in the comments/conversation. Use these opportunities for involvement to build your network of brand ambassadors, as often these folks are some of your biggest fans and advocates!

5: Klout

Klout is tool used to measure and leverage your online influence based on your use of social media communication tools like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Foursquare, and Google+. Wherever you have an online presence, you have the opportunity to influence people by creating or sharing content that inspires actions such as likes, retweets, shares, comments and more. The more engagement your posts receive, the more influential you are. Tracking this influence overtime, allows you to understand your brand resonance further, and basically, highlights what you should continue you doing, and what you should refrain from exploring.

6: Bit.ly

Bit.ly is a URL shortener that tracks clicks to a URL you shorten, regardless of where you shorten it, and lets you see how many clicks that link received. It’s also a good way for determine the engagement of your network, as well as the best times to post an article. For example, tweet a blog post at 8 a.m. with one bit.ly URL, then tweet it again with a different bit.ly URL at 1 p.m., and see which time gets you the most clicks. Do this a few times, and see if you can figure out what time of day is the best time to regularly publish your blog posts.

When deciding which online monitoring tools are best for your brand’s needs, take into account all of these considerations: what, where, how and why you are monitoring. This will help you plan for and hopefully succeed in brand monitoring and give you a roadmap for how and where to participate in the conversations about your brand online.

Offline

In short, ask for feedback; from your manager, their manager, your peers and your customers. Seek feedback on a regular basis, especially after you have identified Brand You improvements or areas of focus. Exchanging information and perceptions is an iterative process, not a single event. You can do this relatively informally by just asking for feedback face to face outside of any structured one-to-ones with your manager, or you can use more formal mechanisms such as 360 degree feedback questionnaires and personality testing.

Receiving feedback is a gift that provides you with honest information about people’s’ perception of your behaviours and performance – Be open to what you will hear!

1: Face to Face Feedback

A Face to face meeting is a great way to get quick feedback about the Brand New, Brand You. I’ve listed below a few Do’s and Don’ts for these types of feedback session.

Do’s

1. Set-out to the person giving the feedback your reasons for wanting feedback and areas of Brand You that you would like feedback on, e.g. personal impact, quality of work, areas for improvement etc.

2. Encourage honest, straight talking and reassure the person that they don’t need to hold back.

3. Let the person finish what he or she is saying. Really listen to what is being said, and often more importantly, not said.

4. Try to summarise the feedback at key points in the conversation, to ensure that you have listened effectively

5. Ask clarifying questions, if you’re not sure what’s being said and ask for specifics, if not provided.

6. Take the time after the feedback session to evaluate the information and consider specific actions for improvements.

7. Teach yourself to recognise situations in which a certain behaviour needs to be altered. Feedback can help you self-monitor your behavior at times when you are less than optimally effective.

8. Use feedback to clarify goals, track progress toward those goals, and to improve the effectiveness of your behaviors over a period of time.

Don’ts:

1. Become defensive or explain your behavior. (You can either spend your time defending your actions or you can spend your time listening)

2. Interrupt the other person, unless you need clarification.

3. Be afraid to allow pauses and periods of silence when you receive feedback. This gives you time to understand what is being said and it gives the other person time to think about what they say.

 2: 360 Degree Feedback

360 Degree Feedback is a more formal system or process in which employees receive confidential, anonymous feedback from the people who work around them. This typically includes the employee’s manager, peers, and direct reports. Typically a mixture of about eight to twelve people fill out an anonymous online feedback form that asks questions covering a broad range of workplace competencies. The feedback forms include questions that are measured on a rating scale and also ask raters to provide written comments. The person receiving feedback also fills out a self-rating survey that includes the same survey questions that others receive in their forms.

Generally,  360 feedback systems automatically tabulates the results and present them in a format that helps the feedback recipient create a development plan. Individual responses are always combined with responses from other people in the same rater category (e.g. peer, direct report) in order to preserve anonymity and to give the employee a clear picture of his/her greatest overall strengths and weaknesses.

360 Feedback can also be a useful development tool for people who are not in a management role. Strictly speaking, a “non-manager” 360 assessment is not measuring feedback from 360 degrees since there are no direct reports, but the same principles still apply. 360 Feedback for non-managers is useful to help people be more effective in their current roles, and also to help them understand what areas they should focus on if they want to move into a management role.

360 Feedback methods tend to measure the following areas of Brand You:

  • Behaviours and competencies
  • How others perceive an employee
  • Skills such as listening, planning, and goal-setting
  • Subjective areas such as teamwork, character, and leadership effectiveness

Most company HR Departments will be able to help you perform a 360 assessment, but there are tools such as Appraisal 360 available for you to purchase online, but these can be relatively expensive.

3: Personality Tests

There are numerous personality and psychometric tests available which measure a skills such as verbal, numerical, abstract or mechanical reasoning (these are often called aptitude tests) and questionnaires used to find out about your personality type, learning style or career choices, which can help you and / or an employer make informed choices. Tests are often used by employers to give an objective assessment of a people’s abilities. They can also be used throughout your career to gauge areas for development.

There are plenty of management tools out there concerning personality types that you may wish to explore– Myers Briggs, DISC Strategy being the better ones in my experience.


That concludes the final step in START and the Brand New, Brand You series. Let me know you get on!

If you missed the first  five posts of The Brand New, Brand You please click Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5

The Coach ~ Leadership Styles – Part 2

Coaching TeamWelcome to Part 2 of Leadership Styles – The Coach

Author, educator, and motivational speaker, Dr. William Arthur Ward wrote a phrase that I try to remember. It gives me personal strength to do the right thing, rather than the easy thing – ‘The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.’ The effective Coach uses a combination of these, but at the right moment with the right individual.

There are key differences between the Terminator (see Part 1) way of managing people and that of the Coach. Whereas the Terminator tends to get things done by lecturing, directing and telling, the Coach asks thought-provoking questions, makes effective requests, listens well – especially for the unsaid, and offers constructive effective feedback to help someone learn and develop.

The Coach is excellent at helping others to advance their skills, building strength and providing career guidance. The best coaches are patient, perceptive, self aware, reflective, open, supportive and keen observers.  They are adept at giving valuable feedback that doesn’t generate defensiveness and are great communicators. They help their employees by uncovering their blind spots and challenging self-limiting beliefs. Most effective coaching takes place through observation, assessment, dialogue, inquiry and conversations.

A coaching leader balances meeting short-term targets with long-term goals towards achieving the vision of an organisation. The Coach pro-actively links development to organisational goals, holding conversations that reach beyond work, helping people find strengths and weaknesses and linking these to career progression and personal development plans. They are good at delegating challenging projects, demonstrating trust and which often leads to high levels of loyalty and personal development.

The Coach does not ‘wrap you in cotton wool’. They give insight from their own experience, they set high standards, they delegate, and they give tough projects to their team and they’ll give you feedback….a great deal. The Coach is an individual that is genuinely interested in helping others succeed.

The coaching leadership style is most effective when the employees working under the coach are receptive to this help. People that do not want development, that are happy to be in the office at 1 minute to 9 in the morning  and leave at 1 minute past 5 in the afternoon, whilst not always, but quite often, are threatened by this kind of management style.

The Coach often portrays the following characteristics:

  • Has high standards and continually raises the bar for their own learning and performance
  • Shares personal experience and learning, freely with others
  • Questions people around their thoughts and feelings  to inspire personal growth
  • Uses 360 degree feedback to help them continually grow
  • Is approachable and intuitive
  • Has a large network to pool information from and seek advice
  • Sees unrealised potential in others and helps them to see it for themselves
  • Can challenge others without making them feel criticised
  • Is passionate about the success of others
  • Is able to coach for both today (results) and tomorrow (progression)
Who wouldn’t want a Coach as their boss or even to be a coach themselves? Well, there are some downsides to this leadership style:

Coaching takes time

Not all businesses / teams have time for the Coach to do a great job. And it DOES take time to develop people. Every business / organisation has targets to meet of one sort or another. Even the best Coach has to weigh up the effort and time involved to develop someone into a role, versus the cost-benefit of  recruiting the right person into the right role, at the right time, at the right cost. Not everyone can be coached quickly enough to the level required, if at all, and sometimes tough commercial decisions will have to be made as to whether the person needs to find a better role that better suits their skills. A good Leader needs to make the choice at the right time, so as not to let the rest of the team down by carrying people who can’t develop their potential quickly enough.

Coaching takes energy

The Coach uses personal energy developing their people – physical, mental, emotional and sometime spiritual energy. The Coach needs to keep in touch with their energy levels, to ensure they stay fit and keep themselves well whilst doing the best for their people.

To summarise, the Coach leadership style can be a very powerful force in any organisation as long as they have a team of passionate people who are keen to progress their careers, the time to coach and the energy to make it happen!
Would love to hear your feedback!

Be sure to read part 3 of Leadership Styles – The Oracle

An Elephant in the Room Part 2 – Leadership Breakthroughs

Word Cloud - Elephant in the Room

I see two distinct types of ‘Elephant’ in my line of work…and two ways of tackling them. The Management Elephant and the Leadership Elephant. This blog focusses on the latter.

If you missed Part 1 – An Elephant in the Room: Management breakthroughs, and are wondering what on earth I’m talking about, please click here

The Leadership Elephant

The Leadership Elephant is an entirely different animal to the Management Elephant. These Elephants often appear in Senior Management or Leadership Teams and are more difficult to fix.
I’m a firm believer that if you have a strong team that is truly focussed on the same goals and vision, plus believing in and displaying the same values you can be successful in any market, anywhere.
Easier said than done! And the larger the business or team you lead, the harder it can become.
By virtue of their position (but not always), Senior Managers are competent in their own field – Marketing, Finance, IT, Engineering, Sales, Manufacturing, Product Development, Human Resources etc. However, many of these managers have had limited or no development  / experience in Leadership and certainly not in creating or being part of successful Leadership Teams. They also tend to operate day-to-day in isolation to the other senior managers as they have their own teams, challenges, and budgets to worry about and so many Leadership Teams are not teams at all, they are a collective of Senior Leaders with the same boss.
The ‘unsaid’ or Elephant in the Room, within a Leadership Team can have a profound impact on the rest of the organisation, if left uncecked.Leadership Elephants centre around a few key areas:
  1. Clarity of Vision
  2. Positive conflict
  3. Accountability
  4. Honesty
  5. Commitment to each other’s success
  6. Delivery of results

1. Clarity of Vision

As a team, what are you leading for? Not as Marketing Director or Sales Director or Head of Product Development….As a TEAM, what are you COLLECTIVELY leading for?
When Leaders are pulling in different directions, the results are a tug of war and wasted energy. When everybody is pulling in the same direction, that creates forward momentum.
Lack of an agreed, cohesive vision can result in poor orientation, competing agendas and misunderstandings. Teams function much more effectively when working with one vision and one set of goals within a strategic plan.
If you haven’t got a clear vision and goals as a team – this has to be your first job. Full Steam Ahead by Ken Blanchard and Jess Stoner is a great book to help you get started!

2. Positive Conflict

Conflict can be useful. When used correctly and depending on the attitudes and perspectives of those involved, conflict can:

  • Diffuse a more serious conflict.
  • Spark action to search for more facts or solutions.
  • Increase team performance and cohesion.
  • Find out where you and the rest of the team stand on a particular topic.

So how do you get to a point where conflict can influence and help facilitate positive outcomes?

  • Accept conflict as helpful
  • Stay focused on defeating the problem, not each other
  • Be prepared with facts to solve dilemmas
  • Consider the main issue, circumstances and relationships involved
  • Remain open about the other people’s position (remembering anger is often natural reaction of conflict)
  • Be respectful, professional and focus on outcomes

Don’t over simplify things and falsely resolve a situation by avoiding the source of conflict. Avoidance is often seen by withdrawing from a situation to save the fight for another day, or smoothing the situation saying “let’s not argue,” or “It’s not really that important.”

You’re more likely to succeed if you identify the real issue, the circumstances and relationships that factor in to the situation, and consequences of the resolution.

3. Accountability

When we fail to hold others accountable, we reap the consequences. While everyone is busy pointing fingers at each other, deadlines don’t get met, work remains below standard, or customers continue to be dissatisfied. Worse yet, things won’t get better until people stop trying to affix blame and start addressing the issue that caused the problem in the first place. This cycle will continue until people take accountability for their contribution to the problem and focus on seeking solutions.

In my view, the greatest impact of not holding others accountable is that it creates a negative perception of the leadership team. When other members of your teams see you letting someone get away with not producing the agreed output or keeping commitments, they begin to wonder why they are working so hard. They wonder why you don’t take action to address a poor performer who is creating problems for the rest of the team.

Failing to hold others accountable reflects on you as a leader. It raises questions about your willingness to hold everyone to the same standards and creates the perception that you don’t treat people fairly and equitably. Pretty soon others on the team get the message about “what it takes to succeed around here” and the extent to which they can count on you as a leader.

Lack of accountability creates and reinforces a culture of blame-which, in turn, generates other problems. You may notice increased evasion and avoidance as well as a pervasive “don’t get caught” attitude. Innovation plunges as people become less willing to be creative and think out of the box. Employees take fewer risks (or stop altogether) because no one wants to be blamed if something goes wrong. Finger-pointing sessions proliferate, creating a cycle of blame that ultimately shuts down communications.

4. Honesty

If you want to receive honest feedback, start by giving it. As the people on your team observe your honesty, this will make them feel more comfortable being honest themselves. On the other hand, if you don’t practice what you preach, it’s much tougher to influence others to practice that same thing.

Where I find that most leaders have the biggest problem related to honesty, is in saying those things no one wants to hear: the bad news, the opposing opinion, the refusal, the negative feedback. This is why I think the trick to becoming more honest is becoming more courageous and talking about these kinds of things. When you can honestly talk about the sensitive stuff, being honest about anything else is easy.

People often get defensive when they hear something they don’t like. They start to deny, blame, explain and criticise others. This may lead to other team members restraining themselves from saying all they intended to say simply because they don’t like the reaction they’re getting. If you want your leadership team to speak freely and honestly, it’s essential that every time one of them starts saying something difficult, instead of getting defensive, you do something much more constructive: you get curious and ask questions. This way, you prove that you are not afraid of the truth and that your main interest is to understand facts and opinions, not save your own skin.

5. Commitment to each other’s success

Sounds easy doesn’t it? Why wouldn’t you want to commit to your other Leadership Team members’ success? Well you would be surprised…or maybe you wouldn’t.

Great business people are naturally competitive. They want to win in business. Some are quite happy to win at the expense of others in their team and even the success of the business.

To build a truly great business, I’m a firm believer that if each of you is truly committed to one another’s success you can achieve so much more, especially through the tough times.

I’m sometimes amazed at the tricks, lies, back-stabbing and U-turns that people perform to try to get themselves ahead in business. Maybe I’m naive, but I think this can only lead to longer term issues – lack of respect from your peers, your teams and no doubt your customers will suffer too.

If you want to take your business into significant growth, you need to support your team and they need to support you. You don’t need to be best friends with everyone, but you do need to watch everyone’s back, be there for each other when they need support and focus on your collective goals and vision.

6. Delivery of results

A team that is not focussed on COLLECTIVE results fails to grow, loses it’s best people, is easily distracted and focuses people on their own careers or internal quarrelling.

Every Leader has an obligation to deliver – for their stakeholders, their people and their customers and not just in financial terms.

To avoid distractions, leadership teams need to prioritise the results of the leadership team over their individual or department results.

All sounds straight forward and easy doesn’t it? Well there are a few things that tend to get in the way – Self-promotion, Career Progression and Money to name three. The ironic thing is that all three of things are likely to happen anyway if you are in a high performing leadership team, all working towards one vision, one set of values and collective results.

Most senior managers naturally focus on the results of the teams they manage, not the teams they’re members of. They spend more time with their own people, they probably get bonused on the performance of the teams they manage and they probably don’t invest as much time in building relationships with their peers. Imagine the possibilities of having really powerful relationships with your peers, where the team is accountable for the whole and not the part and when you collectively focus on your customers and positive outcomes in your marketplace….

None of the above can be fixed overnight, and needs a huge amount of collective energy to get results. But when the results come, your competitors better watch out!

Thanks for reading!

Mark Conway

An Elephant in the Room Part 1 – Management Breakthroughs

Listening for the unsaid!To paraphrase Wikipedia – An “Elephant in the room” has become a management saying meaning an obvious truth that is being ignored or goes unaddressed. It applies to an obvious problem or risk no one wants to discuss and based on the idea that an elephant in a room would be impossible to overlook; thus, people in the room who pretend the elephant is not there have chosen to concern themselves with tangential or small and irrelevant issues rather than deal with the looming big one.

I don’t know whether it’s because elephants are now protected by law or not, but I’m coming across many more of them than I used to!

Tackling the difficult topics in business life is hard, really hard, especially if you’re not used to having these sorts of conversations. You can choose to ignore difficult conversations and still survive in business and many do! If you’re thinking, yep that’s me, then I’d advise you to think again. If you want to be the best you can be, then you absolutely need to read on. If not, this post is not for you.

The breadth of difficult conversations is huge, so I’m not going to be prescriptive. There are so many examples, but I’ll name a few, so that we’re on the same page:

  • Poor performance or capability
  • Discrimination
  • Bullying
  • Indirect aggression
  • Actual aggression
  • Sabotage
  • Poor relationship
I see two distinct types of Elephant in my line of work…and two ways of tackling them. The Management Elephant and the Leadership Elephant. This blog will focus on the former.
The Management Elephant
The Management Elephant tends to be when you have a member of your team that is exhibiting behaviours that are not what they need to be. I was going to write ‘behaviours that are not acceptable’, but therein lies the fundamental problem. Because these behaviours are often ignored, because the conversations that need to happen to change the behaviours are hard, and therefore don’t happen, makes the behaviours acceptable….that bit is your fault!
You owe it to your company, yourself and, if you want to be a good manager, your employee to have these conversations.
Below are some steps that I have found will help you to get the most from these often tough conversations:
1. Prepare
Whatever the conversation, don’t just turn up to the meeting without preparing, especially if you are angry about the situation. NEVER lose your temper. Believe me, YOU will feel worse about it afterwards, not them. Think about as many of the potential reactions and outcomes as you possibly think of and prepare your response.
2. Privacy
These sorts of conversations can often lead to the recipient being upset. Respect their privacy and ensure that the meetings are conducted in private and that they can exit the meeting into a safe environment.
3. Be direct
Get to the point, but talk about behaviours and impact. Be direct AND sensitive
Example:
Direct and Insensitive – You’re passing the buck. You have to change
Indirect and Sensitive – Have you thought at all how you interact with others?
Direct and Sensitive – Working with other departments is key to our success. I received feedback that others are having difficulty working with you and we need to explore how to improve these relationships.
4. Discuss consequences / impact
Depending on the issue being addressed, there could be a whole range of consequences from mild to serious. The fact you are trying to tackle the issue means that this is at least important to you and your relationship.
Many larger businesses have policies for capability / competence / performance etc and obviously there are potential legal ramifications for other more serious offences such as harassment or bullying.
Obviously if you are having the conversation early enough and in the right way, you can hopefully sort the problem before any of these consequences are invoked.
The key here is for you to convey the seriousness of the issue and what may happen if the behaviours are not altered.
5. Discuss action
Ensure that you work with your employee on an action plan  to rectify the behaviour and ensure this is time-bound and you have one or more follow-up conversations to ensure the issue is resolved. If it isn’t in a timely manner then you start to apply the consequences outlined above.
6. Be supportive
For some people, unacceptable behaviours may have been tolerated by previous management or they may be completely unaware on the impact their behaviour is having on others or the organisation. As a good manager you have an obligation to help them through the process and if you don’t feel equipped to deal with the situation, take advice from peers or a Human Resources expert (internally or externally).
Obviously if someone is breaking the law or in serious breach of their employment contract, then serious consequences must be considered and invoked immediately.
Be sure to read part 2 – Leadership Breakthroughs

Stop listening …. and give up!

Listen to your People

For a while now I’ve worked with developing my direct team into being more…

More focused, more passionate, delivering more and being more commercially and customer focused. And to a large degree we’ve succeeded. I’m really proud of them and what we’ve achieved so far. But to really succeed and make a step change in our performance we need to take everyone in the business with us. That’s not an overnight task.

We’ve recently set up a couple of teams, to make a start:

1. A team of managers – to focus on how teams interact together, how we work together better and to ensure that we are consistent in how we performance manage our people and get the most from them and the most for them.

2. A team of passionate, bright, brand champions – to focus on some ‘key’ projects that can make a difference and improve not only our customer experience, but the way we work, hopefully making our people’s working lives a bit easier.

We (myself and my direct reports) recently had a feedback session from the second team who had been tasked to come back with a prioritised list of key areas that we needed to improve. The presentation was relatively short, about 20 minutes, but had a huge impact on me. It was very professionally delivered, had been well thought through and did not pull any punches to us as a management team. The reaction was mixed to say the least. I had anticipated some of the feedback and had coached myself to keep quiet, to only ask questions of clarification, rather than defend, and tried to focus on the future potential rather than pick holes in the feedback. This feedback was gold dust and not necessarily criticism….even though it felt that way to some of us.

It’s easy to dismiss feedback with responses such as:-

  • We’ve heard all this before
  • You don’t understand the reality
  • That’s the way it’s always been
  • Well you don’t actually mean that, it’s actually like this

…I’m sure you could add to the list!

By listening to feedback freely, pushing your background conversations out of your mind, you can start to unlock a future potential. You also motivate the people giving you feedback to be more open in the future, and if you act on the feedback, you’ll motivate them even more to change.

Listening to feedback:

For people to be willing to invest time and effort in any change, they need to feel that the leadership understands not only the situation, but them as people. You need to develop relationships. This is possible only by sitting down with people and having conversations in which you listen a lot more than you talk.

Listen to what they do

Listen to what they think is going well

Listen to their dreams and hopes

Listen to their frustrations

Listening to what is bothering them about changes in your organisation

Listen to what they they don’t want to change and why

Listen to what they are thinking

Listen to their feelings

Finally, to listen rightfully to your team, you need to use your ears (to hear them), your mind (to understand them), your heart (to feel them) and most importantly, your hands (to act on them). Remember that your employees will not feel like they were heard by their bosses unless their bosses act upon their concerns.

Feedback: A teaspoonful of criticism, and a bucketful of praise!

BullyingA very wise lady, the late Blanche Eldon, told me something when I was about 15 years old, that has stayed with me ever since. I was in my first management role – a Patrol Leader in a local Boy Scout Troop.

We were mid-way through our ten-day summer camp and one of my patrol, Dan, had consistently not been carrying out his jobs around camp, and his behaviour was making my patrol, and me, angry. I was giving him a telling off – shouting, giving him punishments and generally being a bully, because he wasn’t doing what I needed him to do. In the midst of my shouting, Blanche politely called me over and said:

‘I’ve always found that a teaspoonful of criticism and a bucketful of praise is the best way to develop people rather than getting angry and shouting. Why don’t you try it?’

I did, with a bit of coaching…and it worked! Having different kinds of conversations turned around not only Dan’s behaviour, but our relationship improved too.

Feedback to your team and peers is hugely important if you want to develop powerful relationships, but in order to get the best out of those conversations, screaming, shouting, finger-pointing and aggression is NOT the best way to get the most out of people. Worse still, this type of behaviour can not only lead to poor relationships, it can have a serious long-term impact on the person you are targeting. Believe me, I’ve seen it a few times in my career. Framing feedback in a constructive, supportive way, pointing out  positive contribution and behaviours, as well as focussed time discussing where behaviours could be better, will do wonders when giving feedback to improve your relationships.

Below are a few tips on how you might handle giving negative feedback:

1. Don’t always wait for formal occasions to give feedback

Feedback works best in the moment. Performance reviews and monthly or quarterly 121’s are often too few and far between. Far better to offer feedback in a casual, non-confrontational conversation as soon after the ‘event’ as possible.

2. Ask permission to give a person feedback , especially if it’s to a peer

3. Always give negative feedback in private

4. Describe the behaviour and the impact that it had / is having, and be specific.

Feedback is much easier to accept when the person receiving it does not feel their personal worth is being criticised. It is much better to state feedback positively, rather than negatively, when possible. People generally respond better to specific, positive direction. Avoid saying things like, “You need to be more talkative in meetings.” It’s too ambiguous and can be interpreted in a lot of personal ways. Say something specific and positive pointed at the task you want accomplished, such as, “You have some good ideas. I want to hear at least one opinion from you in every meeting we’re in together going forward.”

 5. Discuss what is going to happen next.

How is the person going to change their behaviour? Ask if he or she understands everything you expect and that you’re there to help him or her succeed. As the saying goes: “People have a habit of becoming what you encourage them to be, not what you nag them to be.”

Giving feedback is first of all an attitude and can only be made a habit by constant practice. “The worst harm you can do,” Jack Welch, says in his book, Winning, “is not to be candid with someone else.”

10 ways to build powerful relationships

Strong Business RelationshipsIn my experience, over performance in business can’t happen consistently without great relationships. Similarly, if you look at underperformance in your team, you will often find that it is the lack of relationships or broken relationships that are the cause.

There is no quick fix….sorry. BUT, if you invest time, honesty, passion and energy into relationships, you will gradually see a shift, and with perseverance you can achieve great things.

 Below, I’ve outlined 10 actions that you can take that will make a difference!

1. Be interested in others….genuinely.

Dale Carnegie (How to win friends and influence people) says that “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” Invest time in getting to know your peers and your colleagues. WARNING – If you can’t do this genuinely – DON’T DO IT – you’ll be found out very quickly and will have the reverse effect.

2. Listen generously

Generous listening requires a commitment to learn about the person you want to build a powerful relationship with. In order to effectively practice generous listening, you must first be aware of your normal listening patterns. It is not all that easy to pay attention. Humans just aren’t wired that way. We get distracted. We are wired with connections – anything we hear can remind us of some other connection – and then we are distracted. So, you must be sensitive to your place of mind, and monitor and re-focus continuously. You must consciously choose to suspend your judgments, opinions and history with the person speaking. To do this, try listening with your whole body. Use all of your senses to listen, connect and be open to what the other person is communicating. You will be surprised at what you discover, but it does take practice.

3. Commit to a person’s success

Once you have made the decision to build a powerful relationship with someone, you should ask yourself the question – Do I want to commit to the success of this person? That’s a big ask, if you truly commit.  But, if the answer is yes, you will find yourself interacting differently with that person, asking different questions of them and opening up new possibilities with and for that person. In business, especially in larger businesses, it is very easy just to look after number one and point the finger elsewhere when things go wrong. If you are committed to a person’s success, you won’t point fingers – you’ll talk, you’ll coach, you’ll support and get to a resolution. It can be very very powerful, with practice.

 4. Try to understand what makes others tick

Everyone has different motivations and passions in life, and most people don’t leave their personal lives at the door when they come into their place of work. Spend time with your people to understand what motivates them and what their values, ways of working and ambitions are. By gaining an understanding of these it may help you formulate a new way of working that helps you both get the most from your relationship. This is the informal and best way, in my view, to get the best out of people. There are plenty of management tools out there concerning personality types that may supplement this – Myers Briggs, DISC Strategy being the better ones in my experience.

5. 121’s – It’s really important to invest time in your relationships One on One.  

Whether the people you are trying build powerful relationships with work for you or not, 121’s are an essential time for you to invest in your relationships. Ideally take time out of your diary for at least once per month if not every two weeks to work on your powerful relationship. If you can do these away from the office environment, even better. Try and structure these sessions in such a way that you both get something out of it. One session may be for you to focus on a task that you both may have an interest in, another might be for you to give each other feedback on where things may not be going quite so well, another maybe around an issue that one of you would like some advice on. Don’t cancel them if at all possible – these should be important to both of you!

Ask Questions, Don't Tell

6. Ask questions, don’t tell

As a business leader, you will often know the solution to a problem brought to you…How would you respond? If you are committed to someone’s success and want to build a powerful relationship, maybe the right way is to coach a solution from that person. The easy way out is to “tell people” rather than asking them. When you give out too many solutions, then people never learn to think for themselves and stretch their capabilities.

The purpose of asking questions is to stimulate dialogue and exchange of ideas. Such activity prompts the other person to think and learn and increases his or her commitment to what is being discussed. Even if you can answer the question as well or better than they can, ask it anyway. By actively involving them, it adds to their buy-in and performance quality and helps your relationship develop.

 7. Give feedback

Giving feedback is the cornerstone of powerful relationships. Very few people come to work to do a bad job and very few people go out of their way to upset people intentionally. Sometimes people are not aware of the impact they have on others either through their behaviours or actions. I’ve given a few ideas below on how you might approach giving feedback:

a) Give feedback in private and face to face if at all possible – never in a text message, IM or email. 

b) Be timely – give feedback as quickly as possible after the action / behaviour

c)  Be specific with the feedback and try to give a positive reinforcement of how they might have done ‘it’ differently

d) Don’t make it personal – talk about the action / behaviour rather than the individual

e) Ensure you give positive feedback when you notice the change of behaviour

8. Offer to help

Sometimes we all need some support, someone to bounce an idea around with or someone to sound off at. Offering to work with someone on an issue can often really help develop your relationship to a different level and may help take some of the weight off their shoulders at the same time.

9. ‘Wear their Glasses’ – Put yourself in their position

Looking at a challenge or situation from another person’s perspective is a really useful way of getting to the root of issues in the workplace and relationships. You’d be amazed at how differently people perceive the same issue, especially if you work in multi-disciplinary teams. This is another one to practice, as it’s not always easy – it may be one to try out as a team if you can.

10. Don’t put off difficult conversations

It’s often easier in the short-term to avoid confrontation, but the fact is, not having tough conversations costs your business money and is not helping deliver powerful relationships. If left unsaid, issues can create rifts in your relationships and those of your team, leading to further problems downstream.

Keys to the Corporate Kingdom - Book

Acknowledgements: Charles E Smith & Tony and Maggie Turnbull (The Merlin Factor) for their inspiration, energy and friendship.

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