Management Skills in the Music Business

I have recently had the pleasure of working with an extremely talented vocal coach, Dane Chalfin at the Leeds College of Music.

Dane wanted to improve his effectiveness in giving feedback to his students so that he could more powerfully influence the development of their vocal talents.

In my first session I taught Dane a basic feedback model which aims to:

  1. identify the specific behaviours that need to be reinforced or avoided
  2. describe precisely the impact of these behaviours on the vocal performance, on the long term health of the voice, and on the likelihood of the student having a successful long term singing career!
  3. asks the student what they think they could do differently (assuming we are trying to minimise a behaviour) or just asking them to keep it up – if it is a behaviour that we are trying to encourage.

Unlike many managers, Dane had no problem experimenting with what I taught him, and within days was reporting wonderful results!  He especially loved the way that now students were thinking about what they could change (posture, phrasing, breathe control – so many variables!) and learning to manage their own vocal performance – rather than relying on him to diagnose the problem and prescribe a solution.  Teaching students this ability to coach themselves is the hall mark of an outstanding manager and I am sure will stand Dane and his students in great stead.

Today I got to do a follow up session with Dane watching him work with students and it was a remarkable experience.  I was able to watch Dane work with a couple of talented young vocalists helping them to improve their vocal performance significantly in a matter of minutes.  In the space of a few minutes students would present the piece they were working on.  Dale would listen, observe and then coach them into trying new approaches and styles – which initially took the students well out of their comfort zones (‘this feels wrong’, ‘its really weird’).  However by using  feedback to help the students to recognise the impact of these new habits on their vocal performance and they were soon able to recognise the benefits of the new behaviours and pledge to practice them until they become habits.

It was a real privilege to see the process unfold and great to see some management techniques being used so effectively in the music business.

Barriers to Coaching

Prem Rao writes a great blog and one of his recent posts identifies 7 barriers that prevent managers from coaching their team members as much as they ought.

Now I spend a lot of my time teaching managers how to coach and while I agree with all of Prem’s 7 I would have to add a few more barriers that I regularly encounter!

One is the perception that coaching takes a along time and is expensive.  While coaching can take several weeks to really improve performance it is usually used to address a problem or an opportunity that has existed for months!  Taking 6 -9 weeks to make real progress on an issue that is important but not urgent has to be a great use of any manager’s time.

But this brings us to another barrier to coaching.  Coaching is a classic Quadrant 2 activity in Covey terms – it is itself an important but seldom urgent part of the work of the manager – After all you can always postpone coaching for another day without the wheels falling off.  Secondly the issues that require coaching tend to be Quadrant 2 in nature – they are important but seldom urgent.  So we are caught in a double whammy – not only can we afford to postpone coaching we can also postpone addressing the issue that coaching would be perfect to address.

Another barrier is the perception that it will take up a lot of the managers time if they start to coach – in fact it will nearly always save time – especially if used in partnership with delegation.

Then there is the association of coaching with under-performance.  The perception that coaching is something that is done (certainly at middle and lower levels in the organisation) as a last resort effort to address under performance.  This makes it awkward for managers to broach the subject of coaching with high performers.

Finally I think that many managers fight shy of coaching because they are insufficiently secure in their own technical competence and believe that their own short-comings might be exposed if they start to coach.

The solution?

Set an expectation that every manager will coach every member of the team every week.  Train managers how to coach. Hold them accountable for this expectation and reward those that deliver! 

Not only will you see progress in terms of performance and value creation, you will also start to develop a culture where you really do ‘invest in your people’.

Mediation – More than Flavour of the Month?

So mediation makes it to the front cover of People Management.

Workplace mediation looks like it could be one of the big growth areas for 2009.

With the potential to significantly enhance organisational culture and to reduce the use of formal workplace grievance and disciplinary procedures and industrial tribunals workplace mediation might both add value and reduce costs – definitely a winning combination!

And we still have a few places left on our Introduction to Workplace Mediation Workshop to be held in partnership with Leeds College of Music on December 1st.

You can find out more about the workshop here or book your place online here.

The Power of Praise and the Greater Power of Feedback

“Nothing else can quite substitute for a few well-chosen, well-timed, sincere words of praise. They’re absolutely free – and worth a fortune.” – Sam Walton

“Nothing else can quite substitute for a few well-chosen, well-timed, sincere words of feedback. They’re absolutely free – and worth a fortune.” – Mike Chitty

You see the thing about praise is that it can tend to be quite general.  When you praise someone for their great work they are not always sure exactly which aspect of the work you thought was so great.  I think praise is great – it just won’t always get you more of the behaviours that you are seeking.

When you give feedback the recipient understands exactly which aspects of their work you value so highly because you describe their behaviours and the impact that they had – specifically – significantly increasing the chances of you getting more of that type of behaviour in the future.

Changing Habits

The biggest challenge to developing as a manager is not so much learning new techniques and approaches.  That part can be quite straightforward.

The real challenge comes in letting go of existing habits and routines, making ourselves say and do something that we wouldn’t normally do.  Avoiding the knee jerk habitual responses that have worked for us in the past and replacing them with responses that will better for us in the future..

Literally making the effort to be someone who we are not.

Managing through the Crunch

It can be a tough time to try to get an organisation to focus on anything that is not, in the short term, going to increase profits or reduce costs.  People are really beginning to understand what is meant by an ‘uncertain future’.

And this makes it just the right time to re-double your investment in engaging your employees in shaping the ‘uncertain future’ of your organisation. 

It takes time, commimtment and courage to really engage people in the process – but, as the economist Paul Romer said “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste”.

Away From Here

I’m so sick, sick, sick and tired
Of working just to be retired
I don’t want to get that far
I don’t want your company car
Promotions ain’t my thing
Name badges are not interesting
It’s much easier for me see
To stay at home with Richard and Judy

Awayaway oh oh oh away from here…
Awayaway oh oh oh away from here
Awayaway oh oh oh away from here
Awayaway oh oh oh away from here

I’m fed up of early mornings
Wake up calls are getting boring round here
Feet dragging on the pavement
The same people with the same arrangement
Irony can be quite funny
You making other people money
My working day has just begun
its not exactly what i would call fun

I want to wake up in the afternoon
With daytime TV and my favourite tune
Cos it is much easier for me see
To stay at home with Richard and Judy

Awayaway oh oh oh away from here…..
Away away away away from

Saturday is your only highlight
When you go out and live the highlife
meeting up with other people
your interaction with the weak and feeble
Atleast when all is said and done
You wouldn’t be the only one
To be a slave to the modern wage
Your crappy weekend is your only escape

I want to wake up in the afternoon
With daytime TV and my favourite tune
Cos it is much easier for me
To stay at home with Richard and Judy

The Time To Manage

Still the biggest barrier I find to helping clients to implement best practice approaches to people management is that ‘we do not have the time’.

‘But Mike I have 4 people in my team – are you really saying that I need to find 2 hours a week to invest in their 121s?  Don’t you understand how busy I am?’

It is a bit like a motorist saying ‘I haven’t got time to check the oil and the water and to fill up the petrol tank – because my car keeps breaking down’.

Except that the latter is statement is clearly ridiculous – while the former often passes for management wisdom!

When we choose not to invest time in managing staff what are we really saying?

‘I can create more value by spending my time elsewhere’ – this may be true but managers are paid to create a return on investment by managing people;

‘If I invest time in my people I may not get a good enough return on that investment’– this may be true but then you are not a competent manager;

‘if I spend time on managing people I will be operating outside the cultural norms of my organisation’ – this may be true but then I question the long term future of your organisation.  Unless we can harness the intelligence, passion, creativity, drive and energy of all our employees then we are, AT BEST, likely to achieve mediocrity.

Often what managers are really saying is that they actually quite like the adrenaline, energy and status that they get as a mole whacker, a problem solver, a crisis crusader.