A Great Coaching Model

Prem Rao has posted a great piece on a simple coaching model for managers.  However, I think that feedback is often a much more effective and efficient way to help people learn than coaching and this should always be tried before coaching is used.

I encourage all the managers I work with to coach all team members on goal based coaching contracts all the time! This builds the ability of the team to be way more productive and more efficient. But coaching is only used when other simpler and less time intensive techniques like feedback have failed to produce the desired results.

Helping managers to be specific about the behaviours they are trying to develop is always the starting point for me. I ask what kind of things they wish they could develop people on. Typical responses are things like to…’Show more initiative’ or ‘Be more of a team player’ or ‘Be more confident/assertive’ etc.

I then encourage them to think through what specific behaviours they have seen that lead them to think that this is an area that an individual needs to develop? Many managers struggle with this step. They have to spend some time watching people to figure out what it is that they are doing, or not doing, that leads to the diagnosis.

Once they are clear on the behaviours that are to be the focus of development I ask managers whether they have ever given feedback about them to the individual concerned. Usually the answer is no! This is a real missed opportunity because the simple use of consistent adjusting feedback (by a manager who is good at using both adjusting and affirming feedback) will often get results much more quickly and cost effectively than coaching.

If feedback does not work we then move onto goal based coaching.

The sad truth though is that most managers in the UK have never be trained how to use feedback effectively or how to coach their staff. And a fair percentage of those that have been taught fail to put it into practice because they are too busy fire fighting or doing what their team should be developed to do.

Getting the Message Across

McKinsey’s have just published a great interview (free registration required) with a guy called Chip Heath.  Chip has spent much time, effort and money researching what makes ideas ‘stick’ in a business.  So his interest is in sticky ideas.  His research suggests that sticky ideas share six basic traits.

  1. Simplicity. Messages are most memorable if they are short and deep. (Good feedback fits this description)
  2. Unexpectedness. Something that sounds like common sense won’t stick. Look for the parts of your message that are uncommon sense.
  3. Concreteness. Abstract language and ideas don’t leave sensory impressions; concrete images do. Compare “get an American on the moon in this decade” with “seize leadership in the space race through targeted technology initiatives and enhanced team-based routines.”
  4. Credibility. Will the audience buy the message? Can a case be made for the message?
  5. Emotions. Case studies that involve people also move them. “We are wired,” Heath writes, “to feel things for people, not abstractions.”  (Again the feedback model provides us with the opportunity to talk to people about emotional impacts of their behaviour as well.)
  6. Stories. We all tell stories every day. Why? “Research shows that mentally rehearsing a situation helps us perform better when we encounter that situation,” Heath writes. “Stories act as a kind of mental flight simulator, preparing us to respond more quickly and effectively.”

This is all sound advice.  However sometimes the message that the managers needs to get across is not especially sticky.  In this case I think Chip underestimates the importance of repeating the message frequently and clearly.  This is one of the reasons why weekly 121s are so effective in building relationships.  The non-sticky message can be given repeatedly until behaviour starts to change.

Performance Review Time is Here Again!

Many of the managers I know hate this time of year. Because it is not just Christmas that is coming into season.

It is also that time of the year when thoughts turn to performance reviews and annual appraisals. For most managers and staff this is a painful and seemingly pointless and unfair process largely driven by HRs obsessive need to have the paperwork completed and correctly filed.

In many organisations, the annual performance appraisal is a phenomenally stressful exercise with little discernible impact on results. If we’re going to manage and lead high performing organisations, we can’t afford to have performance appraisal “systems” that don’t affect performance.

Writing performance reviews for many of us is a memory feat of Derren Brown like proportions. Our intuition throws up a grading for an individual and then we trawl the recesses of our minds for incidents to justify it. And too often because our memory fails us we just play it safe with a ‘satisfactory’.

And if we do rate one of our reports as performing poorly then aren’t we just shooting ourselves in the foot? As the manager we are paid to manage performance – not just to report on it at the year end.

For many managers the difficulties of preparing and conducting effective performance reviews stems from two major causes:

  1. They have not documented enough of the performance management process through out the year – so they are forced to rely on memory. They have very limited notes on which to base their performance review. This means that often the annual review is actually heavily skewed towards performance in the most recent quarter – where evidence is near to hand and memory is reasonably fresh.
  2. They have not been close enough to performance throughout the year to really understand what any one individual has contributed to the success or otherwise of the team. They really don’t know who has been performing and who has not. They have not played a full and active role in either understanding and managing individual performance issues or in developing people to improve performance.

But all is not lost. There are things that you can do to make the preparation and delivery of performance reviews less stressful and more effective.

Through December and into the New Year PMN is running half day workshops in Leeds, Harrogate and Hull designed to help make the process of writing and delivering performance reviews more effective and less painful! Packed full of practical tips and useful tricks to make the process work more effectively and efficiently these workshops will help to make the performance review process much less of a headache.

You can find out more about the workshops here and can book your place on-line here

Halifax Launch for PMN

Elsie Whiteley Innovation Centre

The Progressive Managers’ Network will be coming to Halifax in March – based at the fabulous and newly re-developed Elsie Whiteley Innovation Centre. The story of Elsie Whiteley is a brilliant rags to riches tale of a local girl who made it BIG TIME in the rag trade.

PMN will be hosted at the Elsie Whiteley Innovation centre by the European Centre for Excellence in Automatic Identification and Data Capture. They have a superb series of displays showing how these technologies will impact on everything from running libraries and hospitals to supermarkets and elections. If you attend a PMN event in Halifax you will be offered a free guided tour of this provocative and stimulating technology.

Dates for PMN in Halifax are:

26th March – Brilliant 121s – FREE

23rd April –  Giving and Getting Great Feedback

21st May – Practical Coaching for Managers

25th June- Effective Delegation

25th June – Managing Your Boss

All events run from 13.30 to 16.30 and cost just £120 plus VAT.

Early booking discounts are available on-line here.

The Power of Praise

Research evidence shows that employees consider personal, immediate recognition by their managers to be one of the most powerful workplace motivators.

However, close to 60% percent of employees report that their manager rarely, if ever, offers praise.

The techniques that have the greatest motivational impact (affirming feedback and praise) are practiced less than more expensive but less effective techniques such as performance bonus schemes.

Charles M. Schwab (1862-1939), founder of the Bethlehem Steel Company, said, “I have yet to find the person, however great or exalted his station, who did not do better work and put forth greater effort under a spirit of approval than he would ever do under a spirit of criticism.”

You can read more here.

Great Feedback Post at Slacker Manager

If you have done the feedback workshop with me then I think you might find this post useful.  It makes the powerfulpoint that feedback can’t be positive or negative.  However it can be affirming (designed to encourage behaviours to be repeated in the future) or adjusting designed to discourage behaviours from being repeated in the future.

The post provides a great list of 11 tips to encourage effective feedback.  I recommend them to you highly!

Congratulations to the Stop Hate UK Team


I am currently training as a volunteer for STOP HATE UK who had their official launch in Leeds this afternoon. STOP HATE UK raises awareness and understanding of discrimination and hate crime, encourages its reporting, and supports the individuals and communities it affects.

It was really inspiring to listen to victims of hate crime talk about their experiences and describe the importance of the support that STOP HATE UK has been able to offer. I can’t wait to complete the training and start to get more involved.

But why do people hate in the first place? How could we engage with those who might become perpetrators of hate crime and prevent them from offending?

I am re-reading Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed which I first read when I did teacher training over 20 years ago. It reminds us that the oppressed, in turn, tend to become oppressors. My admittedly limited experience of hate crimes fits this pattern. The perpetrators are themselves victims of oppression both economically and socially. In order to find some power, status and esteem for themselves, they in turn oppress.

I believe that the same effect can play out in the workplace.  Old school managers strive to keep employees effective within roles that are tightly defined by job descriptions, targets, objectives and quality standards. The potential and aspiration of the individual comes a very distant second to their pre-ordained utility in the business.  Over time this distorts and inhibits their development as a human.  Essentially this style of management de-humanises and hatred, frustration, alienation and anger grow.  At best, people retire on the job.  At worst they express their alienation more powerfully through harassment, bullying and deception.

Progressive Managers on the other hand focus on the development of human potential.   Their role is to help people to exploit the opportunities that the organisation provides to further their own development as a person.  They build remarkable teams driven by the realisation of human potential – rather than the efficient but de-humanising fulfilment of a job description.


Making it Easy to Say Thanks


Sometimes saying thanks can be just too much work. You know you should drop someone a thank you card – but it is just too much effort to get to the shops and somehow it never gets done. So you just fire off an impersonal e-mail.

Instead, make it really easy to say ‘Thanks’ by setting up an emergency ‘Thank You’ kit. It should include some beautiful cards or notepaper, some postage stamps, and a selection of small but interesting gifts (I tend to give books or toys!). If you have to regularly thank chocolate loves you might want to look at this new service from Thorntons. (Big Thanks to Jayne Pickard from Encompass Marketing for the idea!)

You might also want to think about recording just how often you say thanks – and who to!

‘Our People Are Our Greatest Asset’ – The Big Lie!


It is rare to work in an organisation these days that does not claim that ‘Our people are our greatest asset’.

This is the BIG lie! If it were true then we could simply recruit our way to success.

The truth is that some people are assets while others are liabilities and many managers find it hard to tell the difference. And managers who can effectively work with both assets and liabilities are rare. Instead we just settle for a complacent acceptance of the status quo.

So if people are not our greatest asset – then what is?

Well how about one (or more) from the following list:

  • Ideas
  • Passion
  • Energy
  • Commitment
  • Skills
  • Time.

How would we manage people to harness every idea, every ounce of passion, energy and commitment, and every skill; to make sure that none is wasted?

Focusing on what we expect people to contribute to our organisation holds the key to significantly improving our effectiveness as a manager.

From Good to Great Manager – Part 4 – The Power of Delegation

Good bosses delegate.

Great bosses set up sensible monitoring routines so that they know how that delegation is going.

Good bosses engage employees in helping them with major projects.

Great bosses give their team members the major projects and are available to support them as required. They give the team members room to operate – without cutting them off.

Good bosses walk around the office talking to people – what Tom Peters calls Managing by Wandering Around or MBWA.

Great ones do that too, but they are careful not to ‘intrude’. They use MBWA as a way of getting information that helps them to give accurate feedback, to coach effectively and to delegate.