1. Say ‘Thank You’ and Smile…

When one of your team members offers you a suggestion that you have already thought about but discounted.

Instead of saying thank you and smiling, many managers will respond to this situation by giving way too much information. For example:

“Yes I had thought about that but decided with the current focus on xyz now would not be the time”.

From the managers perspective this is a rational, open and transparent response.

But what does it sound like from the team members perspective?

There is a good chance that they will interpret this statements to mean some or all of the following:

  1. I am way ahead of you because I had already thought of that.
  2. I am cleverer than you because I can see why the suggestion is not that good (had you really forgotten about the current focus on xyz?)
  3. You are wasting my time by dragging me back to things that I have already considered
  4. Please don’t waste my time unless you have MUCH better suggestions to bring to the table

So instead just greet the suggestion with a big smile and a genuine thank you.

You might say that you will certainly put their ideas ‘into the mix’.

You might ask them how the suggestion might be made to working in spite of the current focus on xyz.

You might choose to give them some affirming feedback to encourage further sugestions in the future.

But mainly you just smile and say thank you.

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.

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.

Building the Social System for High Performance

Whenever you see an organisation doing something consistently well, you can be sure that there is an effective social system behind it. The social system is made up of both a hard and a soft landscape. The hard landscape is that of meetings, information flows and decision making processes. The soft landscape is to do with behaviours, attitudes, values, respect and commitment.

Effective managers recognise their role in developing both the hard and soft landscapes of the social system – but recognise that it is the soft landscape – the way people and teams work together that really drives culture and performance.

When trying to initiate change, less effective managers work on the hard landscape. They change the organisational structure, replace key people or alter what is measured and rewarded. While such changes maybe necessary, they are NEVER sufficient.

It is the interactions between people that need to be changed, the information flows and the decision making processes. If people are not having the right discussions or behaving in ways that drive values and performance then the managers’ job is to influence them to adopt different ‘value creating’ behaviours.

In most cases this can be done using feedback. In other cases it may require more concerted efforts at coaching for the desired behaviours.

Recognising and shaping the behaviours that drive values and performance is the hallmark of an outstanding manager.

The social system changes and enables the organisation to perform consistently well because managers use mechanisms that ensure that the right conversations happen consistently and frequently. These conversations improve the quality of decision making and encourage behaviours in people’s every day work to accomplish the elusive goal of culture change.

Get rid of managers and we’ll all be happier

This is the title of a provocative post over at Management Issues.

Rather than adding value to their organisations, two thirds of British managers actually create negative working climates that leave employees feeling resentful and frustrated.

Research by Hay Consultancy has shown that a fifth of UK workers are frustrated in their jobs, with rigid bureaucracy and poor management structures and systems hampering innovation and productivity.

Half of workers believed they did not have the authority to make decisions crucial to their jobs, with the same proportion complaining of being discouraged from participating in decisions that directly affected their work.

Managers were failing to design jobs in such a way as to capitalise on the talents of their workers, Hay also argued.

More than a third of the workers polled believed their job did not make best use of their skills and abilities.

The study of more than 3,100 leaders across 12 industries found that close to half of the managers were creating demotivating climates for employees, while a further 15 per cent generated only a neutral environment.

Good managers who really add value (in the eyes of their employers and their team members) are few and far between.  Just a quarter of managers were able to create a high-performance climate, according to employees, and only an additional fifth managed to generate a ‘moderately energising’ working atmosphere.

But while the findings do not surprise me the headline (Get rid of managers and we’ll all be happier) does.

Getting rid of managers is not the answer.  Managing their failure to perform is.  In my experience if we manage managers well – tackle management under performance – and make sure that they manage effectively using feedback, coaching and delegation it is possible to quickly build a management culture that promotes high performance.

Wally on Leadership

I regularly read Wally Bock’s blog.  He is always coming up with great insights and ideas.

In a recent post he reminded us that:

  1. Leadership is behaviour.
  2. Theory doesn’t count unless it turns into behaviour.
  3. Principles don’t matter until you incarnate them.
  4. If it doesn’t find its way into what you say or what you do, it can’t be leadership.
  5. Leadership is situational.
  6. One size doesn’t fit all.
  7. What works in one situation may not work in another.
  8. Your choices of what you say and do depend on the situation.
  9. If you aspire to leadership, understand that leadership is about actions measured by results in a specific situation.

Much the same can be said of management. I even agree with the situational nature of leadership – although I also believe that a single, simple management system can provide the basics of good organisational practice in the vast majority of situations.  A system where you:

Thanks Wally.  You can read the full post here.

Sue Wiley on Why and How PMN Works for Her

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Sue Wylie is the office manager at re’new in Leeds.

She has attended four PMN workshops and has used much of what we have covered in her work.  In this podcast she talks about PMN and how it works for her.

Sue explains why;

  • she thought she would never have enough time for 121s – but now would not be without them, and
  • how 121s actually save her time and avoid interruptions in her working day
  • how the principles and practices have driven progress in her team
  • the impact that 121s with her manager have had in her

You can listen to the podcast here.


Many thanks Sue!

If you have attended PMN training and benefitted from it, and would like to make a podcast with me – just let me know!  You could become an iTunes star!

Affirming Feedback and Praise

I meet a lot of managers who confuse praise with affirming feedback.

Affirming feedback is a tool used to:

  • make someone aware of a specific behaviour or action that they have taken,
  • understand specifically the positive nature of the impacts of that behaviour or action,
  • increase the chances of further examples of that behaviour or action in the future.

Affirming feedback is a powerful tool primarily for influencing future behaviour.

Praise on the other hand is about the past.  It is about ensuring that someone feels recognised and valued for something that they have done.  It is usually MUCH less specific than feedback and sometimes given with much less clear intent.  It is just as powerful as affirming feedback and effective praise should be encouraged.

However, praise is not without its risks.  If praise is:

  • ill timed
  • embarrassing
  • diluted or over-inflated
  • undeserved

It can certainly do more harm than good.  For more on the problems of praise read this post.

10 Ways to Make Your Employees Love You

This is the title of a great blog post written by Alison Green.   Now I am not sure that we necessarily need all employees to love us but I bet that her list (which I have paraphrased below) contains some insights and clues into how most of us could become MUCH better managers.

  1. Don’t shout, disparage or attack people – nor employees, not customers, not bosses.
  2. Be reasonable. Hold people to high standards, but that don’t demand the impossible.
  3. Keep your word.
  4. Make your team feel respected and valued: Act in ways that show you care about their quality of life. And don’t underestimate the impact of regularly making sure great employees know you think they’re great.
  5. Solicit feedback. Ask for input on everything from how the employee thinks last week’s event went to what you could be doing to make her job easier.
  6. Stay focused on results. Don’t have rules and policies for their own sake; make sure each is connected to an actual business need, and be willing to bend the rules if it makes sense overall.
  7. Workout what people need to do their job better, and help them get it.
  8. Recognise and take the difficult decisions as well as the easy ones
  9. Be honest about performance problems.
  10. Don’t assume you know what’s going on.

Building Confidence – Using Feedback

One of the commonest scenarios that managers face is that of working with employees who appear to lack confidence at work.

The starting point for helping employees who lack confidence is to recognise that this is just a label that we have attached (often unconsciously) to a set of behaviours. It is recognising these behaviours and helping the employee to manage them effectively that provides the key to building confidence.

I recently worked with a manager who presented exactly this challenge and we started by listing the behaviours that were at the source of the problem:

  • crying frequently at work (2-3 times a week)
  • prefacing suggestions with self deprecating comments such as ‘This is probably a stupid idea but…’ and ‘I doubt that this will work but…’
  • periods of withdrawal and silence especially in meetings

Frequent crying is always a worry – as it maybe a sign of some deep problems that may require specialist support.  However it is not unusual and sometimes it is not a deep seated problem at all.

We then looked at the role of the manager in giving feedback, frequently and consistently, to the employee about these behaviours and the impact that they have in the workplace – ensuring that the employee is left with the responsibility for making changes.

We also looked at areas where the employee was performing well and where confidence was much less of an issue.  Again we spent a bit of time digging for successful behaviours and again agreed that the manager would increase the amount of feedback that was given to encourage these behaviours and to make the employee absolutely clear that their positive contributions were recognised and valued.

In most cases simple, clear and consistent feedback is enough to help the employee to remove the poor behaviours from their repertoire and as if by magic the label ‘lacking in confidence’ disappears.