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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Four Steps of Coaching

When employees slowdown in their work, your business operations will also slow down. We can blame that to a lot of factors, like slow sales cycles or non-delivery of important equipment, but one of the most commonly overlooked (as well as the most damaging) could be as simple as a change in marketing strategies or processes.

As a business owner or senior manager, we all want to employ the latest tools or innovations in the sales process in order to make a profit. But with our desire to change quickly, we often forget to prepare our own people for it. For this reason they end up in the dark and have a hard time meeting your demands through your new parameters.

You should have coached them in the first place. But since you have most likely implemented the change already, you might as well prepare your marketing team throughout the process. And that means coaching them at times when their performance goes down.

To do that, you need to remember the four steps of effective coaching:

  1. Explanation – when implementing a change in your marketing process, you need to first      explain why you are doing it in the first place. You need to give meaning to what you are doing. You need to share with them your strategies, your plans in reaching your goals, the contribution of each member, as well as the rewards for a successful completion of the task.
  2. Clarification – after the explanations, you need to ask your employees if they got what you are saying. Never move to the next step unless you and your team are clear already on what you want to achieve in your marketing campaign. In case of problems with performance, it is best that you choose the right time for a quick discussion, like employee breaks or something similar. Do      not judge them until they have explained their reason for weak performance.
  3. Participation – for performance issues, get the on board in problem-solving and strategies. Tell them clearly what you need done and help them come up with solutions that they can work on. Try to figure out the root cause of the problem (is it the new business process you implemented, personal issues, employee interactions, etc.). Usually, they can provide you details that can help you nail down the cause and resolve it to the satisfaction of both sides.
  4. Appreciation – as a manager, you should be able to recognize success in whatever endeavor that your prospects can do. Monitor their performance. If you see anything that is worth your praise, then do so. Show them your appreciation, considering their actions based on who they are, not just on what they are doing.

As a business owner or senior manager, you should know how to guide or coach your employees well. With the way business and marketing evolves rapidly, you should also be up to the task of preparing them for the changes. This is for the sake of your continued success in business.

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The talent you bet the house on is not worth the money!

Late last year one of my clients was recruiting for a senior level marketing manager.  They decided to use a recruiting firm with a
hefty price tag I might add.  It was down to three candidates and they selected what appeared to be a “superstar”.   The candidate promised to deliver, the company paid high dollar and expected a big return on its investment.

However, from the start it didn’t seem that this individual was doing what they committed to do.  No new ideas, no new customers, and the company did a better job of creating marketing campaigns on their own.  They couldn’t understand how all the references, background checks and conversations indicated this person was going to be a real superstar for them and yet it wasn’t working out that way.

This is where I came in.  They explained the circumstances leading up to the employment offer and the lack of performance since the start date.  After some research, I determined that although their new hire had been a superstar in the past it had been under very specific circumstances and this company’s requirements were a little more demanding.  My recommendation, make a change now before too much time passes.  They may also want to look at any guarantees the recruiting agency offered.

So, what can you do when your own star performer suddenly loses his/her luster?

Ask yourself these three questions:

What is the upside to keeping him on board? Talented performers are the spice of every organization. It is not merely that they are good at their jobs. They deliver exponentially, that is, they deliver in multiples – ideas, productivity and results. And often they do it with ease. But the upside lasts only as long as the star shines.

What is the downside to keeping him?
Just as stars perform well, when they fail, they often do so spectacularly.  Often their performance carries the team, so when star slips, the team does, too. Also, there is the issue of maintenance. The effort managers must expend coddling star talent can cause discord in a team or  organization. Less gifted, but still productive, employees resent the favoritism bestowed on the superstar.

Is this situation going to change? You need to evaluate the performer’s resiliency.   Successful leaders face hardships and emerge better for the experience. Many superstar performers have fragile egos; one setback – a failed project or a denied promotion – can set them back forever.
They may never recover. Such people are talented but they have not learned what it takes to succeed when the odds are stacked high.

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Not just once a year – Performance Coaching

A critical part of the manager/employee relationship is open communication between the two.  What is  expected from the employee and how well are they accomplishing their responsibilities.  How should they expect you to lead them. Most Companies have a formal Performance Management Program used to evaluate performance on an annual basis, but informal, on-going performance coaching is critically important.  Reviewing performance should not just be an annual event, but rather a continuous cycle.

More specifically, performance management:

  • is a shared responsibility between you and each individual who reports to you; some of us forget this
  • provides mutual understanding between the manager and employee regarding what is expected of the employee and how well the employee is meeting those performance standards;  Employees can’t meet expectations, if they don’t know what they are.
  • empowers the employee to perform a variety of tasks, and face new challenges for growth;
  • sets and monitors progress against clear goals;
  • includes regular documentation of performance;
  • includes timely feedback on performance between the manager and employee;
  • includes discussion on professional development;
  • recognizes hard work and success; not just areas for improvement!

An effective performance management program provides many benefits to the organization and to its managers and employees.  Good performance management results in:

  • focused movement towards organizational goals;
  • informed employees;
  • more successful and productive employees;
  • more meaningful work for employees;
  • better working relationships between managers and employees;  Mutual respect
  • increased communication;
  • legally defensible management decisions;
  • all around better quality of interaction.

Remember regular communication and feedback doesn’t need to be complicated or a long process, it just needs to be regular. Some simple steps and commitment is all you really need.

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Exit interview downside, What to do?

Exit interviews are a helpful tool to understand more about why employees leave your company.  However, too often employees are not candid during the exit interview.  The major reason is they do not trust that the information will not get back to their direct boss, especially if the boss is the reason they are leaving.  Employees enjoy good benefits, and competitive wages, but often give that up to get away from an overbearing or ineffective manager.   Exit Interviews become mini survey’s and employees only provide the information they need to.

Senior leaders should consider two processes.  The first is to have exit interviews conducted by an impartial entity.  Your HR person may be the best in the industry, but if poor management goes unnoticed or excuses have been made for a certain managers style or approach,  employees lose confidence in HR, management and the process.  Separating employees may view an outsider more trust worthy and provide information they otherwise wouldn’t.  If provided with specific information and suggestions senior managers can begin to look into issues that may be unseen in a busy daily operation.  This process may also identify areas where management training is needed. 

The second recommendation and to me the more important one is for senior managers to engage employees through “skip level” one on one’s or roundtable meetings.  These are performed on a regular basis and not just when someone is resigning or there is an issue.  If designed and executed properly these types of communication processes can offer a wealth of knowledge about your organization as well as alert you to possible issues and training needs, before they become a problem.  Warning: These types of meetings can  never become  a form of punishment for employees or managers.  It also can’t be a session for the CEO or senior leader to become defensive.  This is about gathering information and determining what the needs of the organization are from someone other than your direct reports.  As you gather this information on a regular basis and act upon those areas you can, the process gains credibility and positive ideas become the focus.