Anamcgary's Blog

Leadership thoughts from PeopleFirst HR


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Are you an Effective Coach?

Ask 150 people if they have good common sense, and more than 95% will tell you they do. Ask them if they are good coaches, and almost as many will say yes. Executives we talk to assume that if they’re good managers, then being a good coach is instinctive.

This would be good news, if it were so, since more and more Companies are expecting managers to coach their subordinates.

What’s more, employee surveys conducted over the past decade show that subordinates want coaching. My own experience demonstrates that effective coaching raises employee commitment and engagement, productivity, retention rates, customer loyalty, and subordinates’ perception of the strength of upper-level leadership.

Unfortunately, coaching is not something that comes naturally to everyone. Nor is it a skill that is automatically acquired in the course of learning to manage. And done poorly, it can cause a lot of harm.

What’s more, before they can be taught coaching skills, leaders need to possess some fundamental attributes, many of which are not common managerial strengths. Indeed, some run counter to the behaviors and attributes that get people promoted to managerial positions in the first place. Here are a few of the attributes that can be measured to determine what might predict who would make the most effective coaches. You’ll quickly see the conflict between traditional management practices and good coaching traits:

Being directive versus being collaborative. Good managers give direction to the groups they manage, of course, and the willingness to exert leadership is often why they get promoted. But the most effective managers who are also effective coaches learn to be selective about giving direction. Rather than use their conversations as an opportunity to exert a strong influence, make recommendations, and provide unambiguous direction, they take a step back, and try to draw out the views of their talented, experienced staff.

A desire to give advice or to aid in discovery. Subordinates frequently ask managers questions about how they should handle various issues or resolve specific problems. And managers are often promoted to their positions because they are exceptionally good at solving problems. So no one should be surprised to find that many are quick to give advice, rather than taking time to help colleagues or subordinates discover the best solution from within themselves. The best coaches do a little of both.

An inclination to act as the expert or as an equal. We’ve all seen instances when the person with the most technical expertise has been promoted to a supervisory or managerial position. Organizations want leaders to understand their technology. So, naturally, when coaching others, some managers behave as if they possess far greater wisdom than the person being coached. But in assuming the role of guru, the well-meaning manager may treat the person being coached as a novice, or even a child. Still, the excellent coach does not behave as a complete equal, with no special role, valued perspective, or responsibility in the conversation.

Leaders can learn to be more collaborative as opposed to always being directive. They can learn the skill of helping people to discover solutions rather than always first offering advice. They can learn how satisfying it is to treat others with consummate respect and raise employee commitment through two way collaborative communication.

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Succession Planning

Succession planning shouldn’t be used just for executive positions.

Organizations should be developing replacements for anyone whose sudden departure could disrupt the business, a former executive turned consultant told HR professionals on Wednesday at a concurrent session at the SHRM 2018 Annual Conference & Exposition.

Those employees could include sales account managers for top clients or operations managers.

Unfilled and unplanned vacancies cost companies about 50 percent more in lost revenue than the salary for the vacated job itself, according to a 2013 Mercer study.

“Succession planning protects the business from unexpected changes that could potentially hurt the business,” she said. It can also increase retention of top performers and drive deeper engagement of managers by “owning” talent development, she said.

Renz offered the following tips:

Start small and build up. Create a proposal including supporting data to show executives how the succession plan will work and how it will benefit the organization. Establish a pilot program; that will allow you to refine the program before it is rolled out to the whole organization, she said.

Make it an organization program, not an HR program. Your action plan should be visible, measurable and shared. Define the goal and the data that will be used in your talent program. Refresh formal data at least once a year. Share progress and challenges with leadership quarterly, she advised.

Assess employees’ competencies. These are the abilities and characteristics that the company identifies as key success factors of roles across the organization. Assess employees also for core values. Assessment tools can help measure competencies and behaviors, not just personality.

Identify “high-potential” employees. Some employers prefer to call those employees being developed for leadership positions the “acceleration pool,” because the term “high potential” can make other employees feel inferior, she said. She recommends labeling them “early career,” “mid-career” and “senior career” so you can plan development that better fits their specific needs.

Develop an action plan using the data collected. The information can help identify gaps and growth needs in your workforce so training programs can better support the development of the acceleration pool.

Create an individual-development action plan for each person in the acceleration pool. You might use a rotational program to help employees meet others in different departments. Pair them with a mentor to encourage knowledge sharing.

The succession plan will not only help you create a plan for recruiting and development, but it should increase retention of top performers with action plans and individual learning opportunities, she said. The action plan should be the foundation to help you decide where and how to spend your time and money.


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Poor Performance or Lack of Communication

Recently one of my clients shared his frustration with one of his employees over what he perceived as a consistent shortcoming on the employee’s part. My client felt that this employee’s consistent failure to perform one task in a particular manner was unacceptable and he wanted me to help with taking disciplinary action.

I asked my client if he ever communicated his expectation of the specific criteria he was looking for in this report, i.e. content, format, the importance of presenting it this way. My client said no, but he should know this stuff, its common sense, he’s been here a while.

I then gently advised my client that he was really at fault here. I explained that if we have not clearly communicated our expectations to someone, then we have no right whatsoever to be irritated when that someone falls short of those expectations. To expect an employee (co-worker, friend, off-spring or spouse for that matter!) to meet expectations that have never really been communicated is simply unrealistic and sets that person up for failure.

A key component of communication in leadership is the ability to set our team up for success, by clearly defining what is expected of them and the manner in which you visualize those expectations being met. Then, if they have a different vision for how this task can, or should be accomplished, they have an opportunity to bring their adaptation of ideas to you for input and/or approval. Otherwise, they may proceed with their own ideas and when those efforts are met with disapproval, it can be disheartening and dis-empowering.

Clearly, there are times when a leader needs to give their team wings to fly with their own ideas and their own processes. In those situations, the leader needs to praise the positive results and/or let their team deal with the consequences and fix the problem if those process doesn’t work out.

But in those situations when a specific expectation is an imperative, respectful leadership and respectful communication requires that those parameters are clearly established up front.


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A simple thank you

Think of the last time someone really thanked you for doing something. Especially if that something was normal to you and you certainly didn’t go out of your way. You felt good and probably wanted to do it better next time. You cannot underestimate the power of a simple thank you. A long and sometimes grueling workday can melt away when staff members know their efforts were appreciated. It’s amazing how the last interaction of the day can become the last thought and make employees look forward to coming in the next day, knowing that their contributions were noticed.

The most effective leaders I know work diligently to thank their people. The validation can come from end of day departures and acknowledging extra effort on the fly, to even just thanking them for doing their normal work, giving input, or being positive throughout the day. These leaders know the value of their people and their basic need of feeling important, the feeling that their top three needs on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (belonging, esteem, and self-actualization) are being met.

Take every opportunity to find reason to thank as often as you can. That presentation didn’t go quite well? Thank them for the time and effort they put in to it anyway. The account dropped out to do business with a competitor? “You did a great job meeting their needs Marcie!” The 2nd shift comes in when your first shift leaves; thank them for working strong during the evening hours. Simple and genuine acknowledgement yields committed people and sustained performance.

Thanking your people for their everyday efforts is a simple and easy way to make a powerful lasting impression in your organization. Make every connection a reason to find and give thanks to your people.

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