The Power of the Listening (Progressive) Manager

We need to stop being helpful.

Trying to be helpful and giving advice are really just ways to control others.

Advice is a conversation stopper…we should substitute curiosity for advice.

Do not tell people how you handled the same concern in the past.  Do not immediately offer the text book solution to the problem – unless you want to kill creativity, enquiry and insight.

Do not ask questions that have advice hidden in them, such as “have you ever thought of talking to the customers directly?”

Often people will ask for advice. The ‘request for advice’ is how we surrender our independence. If we give in to this request we have affirmed their dependnece on us; their belief that they do not have the capacity to create the world from their own resources; and more importantly, we have supported their escape from their own freedom.

For more on this I would recomend almost anyhtingby Peter Block – but especially:

Community – The structure of belonging – Peter Block

“One of the basic elements of the relationship between oppressor and oppressed is prescription. Every prescription represents the imposition of one individual’s choice upon another, transforming the consciousness of the person prescribed to into one that conforms with the prescriber’s consciousness.”

Pedagogy of the Oppressed – Paulo Friere

“It was wonderful! Incredibly powerful – just to be listened to.”

Participant on an Introduction to Enterprise Coaching Programme.

Without Valleys There Can Be No Mountains

I am not sure where I first collected this quote but the more I think about it the more I see its relevance to effective management.

To me it means that wherever there is a great strength there is also a great weakness.  You cannot have one without the other.  Ying and Yang. I think this relates to a Jungian concept that whatever light shows us our way forward will always cast a corresponding shadow.

If this is the case then it becomes impossible to minimise a weakness without compromising the strength with which it is paired.

It also means that whenever we see a weakness we should look for the corresponding strength.  This is important because so many managers become almost obsessed by fixing problems rather than by celebrating and maximising strengths.

So when you find yourself recognising a weakness in yourself or others – spend a few moments looking for the corresponding strength.

Building a High Performing Team – Part 1 – The Same Page

The first stage in building a high performing team is to get everyone on the same page.

Every team member must master the basics of organisational performance:

  • What are we here to achieve and how do we recognise success?
  • What are our markets and how do we segment them?
  • Who are our customers and what are their buying patterns?
  • Who would we like our customers to be – and why aren’t they buying from us now?
  • Who is our competition and what are they doing?
  • What drives or inhibits our ability to deliver on the mission?

In high performing teams each team member is able to answer these questions – not just from their own perspective but from a collective team perspective. There is a shared analysis that provides a platform for coherent action.

In mediocre teams the members can usually answer these questions from their own siloed perspective. However there is little or no shared analysis and the actions that flow from each silo at best lack coherence and at worst compete with each other for resources and prestige.

Getting everyone on the same page is best done through a group session that has sufficient openness, candour and respect to ensure that the all of the ‘elephants in the room’ are recognised and addressed.

And Peter’s Rewards…

To enjoy this in its full glory make sure you checked out the previous post on The Motivation Problem first.

121s, Covey, and Priority Management

Time and Priority Management Quadrants - Covey

Another reason why 121s are so powerful dawned on me this morning.  And it relates to the Stephen Covey Priority and Time Management Quadrants shown above.

121s almost compel you to focus on quadrant 2 type activities.

Quadrant 1 stuff has to be done almost immediately- it can’t wait for a 121.  And who is going to continually bring quadrant 3 and 4 items into play with their manager?

So the existence of 121s more or less forces attention onto the important but not urgent quadrant which is the one where the greatest value tends to be created.

So pay attention to the content of your 121s and see what you can do to bring the focus onto quadrant 2.

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.

Another Politician on to the Professional Speaker Circuit

Clearly Ken had been working on a Boris Victory Contingency Plan…

Manager or Cox?

These days I am 6ft 4″ and carry a few extra pounds.

However there was a time when I was 5ft 4″, skinny as a rake and sought after by rowing crews as a cox.  Yes the small person who sits in the back of the boat – barking a very limited range of orders and making small adjustments to direction with a tiny rudder.

Truth of the matter is that as a cox I could achieve very little.  I could urge the rowers to give more effort, or even get them to ease off a little if they are in danger of peaking too early.   I could plot the best course possible.  But that was just about it.

I couldn’t really see what was going on in the boat.  I could tell just how hard the crew was currently working (the stroke rate) and could ask for extra effort in short bursts to try to get the boat ahead of the competition.  I could make some educated guesses at what individuals were doing by watching how their oars moved through the water.

I couldn’t coach the crew.  The coach would usually be be seen on the bank, riding a bicycle and shouting instructions to the rowers.

In terms of really helping the crew to improve performance – well that was out of my hands.  I could just get the best out of them on the day.  I would do this by putting their effort into context.  Keeping them informed about whether we were catching the opposition or not.  About how far we had to go before a bend came into our favour or we reached the finish line.

All I could do was create a context in which the crew were likely to give me more effort.

And I meet a lot of managers who work just like a cox.  They tell good stories and demand more effort in return for prizes.  But they never get their bike onto the river bank to really understand what is going on in the boat.

They miss a lot of chances, that a cox never has, to develop their crew.

Highlights from the World HR Congress

‘Because so many organisations will be competing for the same resources, the (HR) profession will have to manage a marketplace which has changed from one where employers choose to one where potential employees choose.’

Florent Franceur – WFPMA President

I know it is not much of a highlight – but at least it has the virtue of being true.  If you want to recruit and retina good people you had better have  compelling offer – and you had better help them to achieve in their own terms – or they will go elsewhere. Only the whelmers will remain!

We are a reservoir of literally human resources, but we don’t always dig deep enough because it’s inconvenient. Sometimes tidiness and efficiency get in the way of creativity’

Charles Handy

Psychological Profiling and Recruitment

This one made me smile!