A coaching exercise

I’m delivering a training session on coaching today. One of the exercises I like to use to illustrate how challenging coaching can be is to get the group to build a paper aeroplane.

I normally do this when we’ve had some discussion about what coaching is, we’ve discussed people’s experience of it, and how it can be used at work.

The first part is to ask the group to simply build a paper aeroplane. Once they’ve done it, we all stand at one end of the room and see how they all fly.

The people’s ‘planes who flew the furthest then become the coaches for the next part.

The coaches team up with 1-2 others and their goal is to help the others build a paper aeroplane. The only consideration is that they can’t tell them what to do.

Once completed, we do a download of the exercise and talk about whatever learnings came through.

There are many exercises that help achieve the same, this is my preferred one. Also, for me, it acts as a useful way to link discussions around attitude, skills, knowledge and performance management.


Best. Appraisal. Ever.

Odd title for a post eh? And not one you’d think would be that awfully exciting either. I’m certainly not promising to make it exciting, but hopefully interesting. It’s one of the biggest bugbears of all involved in HR/L&D. And let’s put aside the debate for now of the future of appraisals and if there are better ways to conduct them. As it is, we’re stuck with them in the main. The biggest issue we’ve always had is how to make them less unnecessarily time intensive.

The best end of year review I ever had lasted 45 mins.

I’ll come back to that a bit later.

So far I’ve been lucky to work in organisations where there aren’t really that many barriers to making appraisals a useful part of a person’s development. I’ve experienced everything from annual reviews to quarterly reviews, and known there to be 4 hour reviews and one’s as short as mine above. Some can turn quite heated and emotional, others can be non-descript, and some can be seen as a waste of time. And through all that, there’s only really one thing I consider – that the line manager has not taken the time on a regular basis to give regular informal (and sometimes formal) feedback to their direct report which helps them to continually develop.

It’s the hardest thing for a manager to do, but an absolutely vital part of their work. Direct reports need to know if they’re doing a good job, and the main person they’re going to hear that from is the line manager.

One of things I’ve not really considered is that there are going to be organisations where taking the time to do this regularly and consistently with all your people is just practically difficult. The demands of the day job for organisations such as the NHS, police service and fire service are such that the people development side of work just gets pushed to the bottom of the pile. Yes, people can and do attend the appropriate training courses to help give them the skills to review their people, but what it fails to take into account is the practicality of doing so. And in truth, this training is woefully lacking – not the delivery, but the breadth of the content.

So here’s something to throw in the mix. We’re not giving enough attention or efforts to actually equipping line managers to do reviews amazingly well.

How about instead of sending line managers on simple appraisal training, we made the learning and development they go through so robust, line managers would not only feel more confident about holding regular reviews, but they would fundamentally change their perception of what people development is all about.

Here’s what I’m thinking. As L&Ders, we know plenty of ways to enable managers and leaders to be great, but – AND THIS IS A BIG BUT – we hold this for the reserve of those on leadership and management programmes. We don’t, in principle, tend to think of appraisal training – or performance management training, as being anything other than mandatory training for line managers. And as such, we keep it simple, and basic.

All it needs is to re-think the skills we provide managers in respect to this. How about if they learned what Situational Leadership could do for them. That they don’t need to take large chunks out of their day, but deal with things as they arise. That they could follow up with informal notes and emails that check in with progress. That they could mentally chart the development of each person based on day to day interactions instead of an annual meeting and feedback which is third party information.

How about if we taught them how to give feedback which is meaningful and direct. I’ve long let go of the concept of the ‘praise sandwich’. We’re adults for crying out loud. If we’re doing something right or wrong, and there is evidence to support it, give it to us straight down the line. How we deal with that feedback is up to us, but there’s nothing better than knowing where you stand.

How about if we taught what Diversity truly means amongst team members and encouraged not just toleration of others’ differences but downright praise and proper conversation about things that matter to team members. Much, and many, complaints and grievances in the workplace come down to a lack of understanding of someone else’s perspective, because we’ve not encouraged the permission to have those discussions without causing offence. I only know a handful of people who can have this conversation well, and I love those people.

How about if we took the time to actually provide training on business development and commercial acumen skills to all line managers, instead of competency frameworks and balanced scorecards? Then we’re helping to give everyone the knowledge and skills to move the business forward. Line managers can and should be enabling that in their direct reports, now leaving it up to the Execs – who are only just acting according to what they think is right anyway.

How about if we taught line managers how to spot positive behaviours so that they could actively encourage those amongst individuals and team members. Praise is infectious, both receiving it and giving it. If you hear someone in your team has done a good job, you’ll start to act in ways which bring about the same response. If you spot a team member doing something encouraging and positive, you’re likely to spot others in the team doing the same.

I’m sure there are better ways of giving line managers the confidence and skills to be able to make appraisals meaningful when they need to happen.

The best end of year review I ever had lasted 45 mins. This is because there were no surprises in what we talked about, we agreed on all the important points, and had nothing contentious to be challenged.

Encouraging Positive Energy Networks

Today at work, look around you. I often make this call to action when writing. Take note of who in your environment is helping others to achieve. Who around you is helping others to succeed. Who can you see that just brought a smile to someone? Who have you seen who needs a pick-me-up? Who have you seen that just looks like a misery guts? Who around you is bouncing around with energy and enthusiasm.?

For the moment, disregard those who are being miserable. Take note instead of those making a difference to other people’s lives. They’re the people I enjoy watching and connecting with. They’re the ones I find energising and motivating. They’re the ones who make a workplace fun. But surely they do a lot of other good stuff except for being a fun place to be?

They encourage others to learn and do better. They give support openly and willingly. They listen genuinely and without distraction. They ask questions because they’re interested not because they have an agenda. They have conversations that seem fun and interesting. Either way, others are attracted to their conversations. They are sought out by people because they’re a joy to be around. They are the ones who wonder around and have meaningful conversations with those they meet.

Sounds all joyful and wonderful doesn’t it? So here’s the tangible benefits of what they help others to do. They encourage ideas and creation of answers so that they’re not getting stuck into ruts with problems and issues. They make things happen because of the richness of the relationships they have that increase the discretionary effort those around them put in. They know enough about what’s going on around them that if they don’t know the answer, they can direct people to the right place. They help calm situations where tensions may be fraying and possible friction exists.

So what point am I trying to make? In life, we need these people. They help us to learn about ourselves, and to learn about others. On a grand scale you can take the mighty efforts of people like Nelson Mandela or Ang Sun Suu Kyi to see how they impact and influence others. On a small scale, you can look for those around you.

In the work environment, these are the ones who will help the business grow and succeed. They won’t have all the right qualities you’re searching for. But there’s things you can do to help them succeed. We all have some sort of performance management system in place, and some may have plans in place around talent management and the likes. But, and this is a big but, we shouldn’t have to rely on those processes to help these people succeed. They’ll find ways to succeed on their own. They just need people to help guide and direct them.

Who manages poor performance – line managers or your organisation?

There’s a very interesting post from XpertHR today about the ability of managers in dealing with poor performance in their staff. Essentially a survey they carried out showed that employer’s doubt their line managers ability to do it.

I don’t find this finding surprising at all. The basic responsibility of any manager is to monitor performance of their team and ensure they are delivering work. Within that though, there’s a fair amount they have to deal with. If you think back to Situational Leadership, you have to identify the capability of your direct reports and respond to each one individually. If you think back to lean processes, you have to consider what processes and procedures you have in place and evaluate how effective they are. If you consider employee engagement, you have to consider how involved your team are on a variety of workplace initiatives. If you think about diversity, you have to be mindful of what practices you have in place and whether or not you are acting unfairly towards others.

And then you’re expected to give them feedback too? In another article pointed my way today, Peter Bregman, writing for HBR, talks about a situation where a CEO shys away from giving feedback because she is too ‘nice’. Feedback is difficult, especially if it’s dealing with performance management issues. I think, though, that the onus shouldn’t just be on the line manager.

Training is the first port of call to enable a line manager to do this well. And I’m pretty sure most companies will identify this is a basic piece of development any line manager should go through. And I’m pretty sure there’s various levels and complexities of what that development will look like > basics, middle manager, senior manager, coaching, executive coaching, yada yada. But, that’s only one piece of what needs to happen.

The organisation culture needs to be equally supportive of managing poor performance. And I don’t mean management needs to just support the training and development. Or the HR policy on performance management outlines how a disciplinary procedure needs to be started. Or you get put on an improvement plan of some sort. That’s all fine and dandy, but hardly supportive. More stick than carrot really.

The organisation culture needs to resemble something like the following. There needs to be some place (read someone) who you can talk to about poor performance in your team, and how you can address it. This isn’t restricted to HR or OD or L&D, but anyone in the organisation who has experience of and know how to deal with such issues. If you have an employee survey in some shape, or company temperature mechanism (huh?), this needs to be used actively. One of the best examples I saw of this was from Ford Motor Co. They would take their survey seriously and report back quarterly about what they were doing to respond to staff’s concerns. What this does is create a culture where you can say to your team “this isn’t good enough and it affects the business temperature in this way”. Your line managers need to have a forum where they can come together to discuss peer management issues. It should ideally be an Action Learning Set of some style. This helps focus line managers on actions and outcomes rather than bitching and whining.

There’s more that can be done, but I just wanted to highlight some thoughts around this topic from the organisation’s point of view.

>Tell your bad worker how well they’re doing

>An annoyance of mine in the workplace is managers who don’t manage bad workers. By bad workers I mean the kind of person who thinks they’re doing a good job, but isn’t. They’re just bad at what they do. This may be because they don’t have the required skills, knowledge, aptitude, ability or attitude. However you look at it, they’re just bad at their job.

In a previous post I talked about sacking the manager who thinks they’re doing a good job when they’re not. This is the other side of that coin – dealing with an employee who has no idea they’re not doing a good job, but no-one is telling them. Instead, they’re being told what a good job they’re doing and thereby inflating their sense of self-importance.
I know such a person. Bob is awful at what he does. Bob’s manager though, Berk, isn’t telling him. Instead of trying to deal with Bob’s lack of ability to do a good job, Berk is allowing Bob to just get on with whatever Bob thinks is an effective way of working. This is driving me nuts as Berk is effectively burying his head in the sand staying aloof to the issue of bad work. Meanwhile, Bob is ambling along, being told ‘you’re doing a great job’, where in reality, he isn’t.
I’ve tried to give Berk some feedback about Bob and Bob’s ability to do the job, but I’ve not been listened to. So I have to put up with Bob’s incompetence and air of ‘I know what I’m doing’ when in reality, Bob should not even be here.
Those of you who know me, don’t try figure out who this might be. I know many people in the business I work for this could be true of, and as such this is a message to try and convey the sheer frustration I have at this situation.
If you want some ‘harder’ information about the impact of this bad work here you go:
– workload get spread to the team that should be dealt with by one person
– Bob talks ‘confidently’ about a given topic when they’re actually talking shit
– Bob’s perception of his own workload is mountainous and insurmountable – this means Bob rants and is negative towards others that Bob perceives as being less busy
– when team members learn about Bob’s negativity they in turn feel negative towards Bob and indirectly towards Berk for not managing him
– deadlines are missed, meetings not attended, wrong information being delivered
So, if you are Berk, please deal with Bob’s inability to do the job. If you are Bob, then God help you in your career and life in general.

>Getting the basics right

>I was able today to help a colleague with an area of work he was struggling with – time management. It’s an oft quoted area of difficulty that junior staff just don’t know how to handle. I was also able to help a colleague think about how to set realistic objectives for team members. What came out from both of these conversations is the importance of getting the basics right. And when I say the basics I really do mean the basics.

In the probation period of any new joiner the onboarding process should ensure a range of things are happening so that person is able to be effective in their job. A lot of that though has to do with the essentials of the job role. We can expect someone to hit the ground running when joining, but if we’re not giving them the right start, how can we expect them to succeed? A person can only be pro-active so much before they’re just facing obstinance and challenges.
So what is this onboarding process all about? Research has shown that an effective onboarding process increases the amount of discretionary effort an employee chooses to exercise. Discretionary effort is defined as the amount of effort an employee chooses to exercise over and above the bare minimum. So, the better the onboarding, the more engaged and productive the employee. Therefore the onboarding process has to be robust, inclusive and wide ranging.
What you’ll find is these suggestions seem to cover trivial things but you’ll be surprised how much of a difference they truly make.
Here are my suggestions for an effective onbaording programme:
Week 1
– orientation of the building including things like facilities department, toilets, canteen, vending machines, exits and entrances to the building.
– meeting everyone in your department and going for a department/team lunch
– meeting people from other departments who are key to their role
– all the technical stuff (PC, phone) set up and ready before they arrive
– showing them things like file structures, networks, intranets, extranets, wikis, etc
– give them an overview of the organisation structure
– meaningful tasks to start getting on with
– arrange a buddy
Week 2
– setting objectives for the probation period
– introducing them to other departments and getting them to arrange their own meetings
– assigned work relevant to their role
– explain company history and values
– talk them through HR processes and L&D plans
Week 3
– weekly meeting to discuss progress and review their learnings to date
– buddy lunch
– arrange possible shadowing of other team members
Week 4
– weekly meeting
– explanation of competency frameworks
– explanation of different business units, how they contribute to the company and how you work with them all
– evaluation of how they are adapting to the work environment and coaching to improve their effectiveness
This is what should happen in the first month. There should be a lot more that happens which you will need to identify. But if you can get these basics right then things such as performance reviews, giving feedback, coaching, all become easier because you’ve already covered these aspects. Conversations can then centre on actual job role, tasks, development, etc.