Month: June 2009

How to engage your managers in these challenging times.

Right now, many businesses may be considering reacting to the current economic environment by cutting coaching, despite the significant impact in the short and medium term. Ensuring middle and senior management are engaged and enthusiastically committed to a business’ strategy is more important than ever. Yet there is no need for massive coaching programmes – with a little dexterity, managers and their business can both win. what_executive_coaching_isnt

“In the organisational vehicle, [middle managers] are not simply the oil in the engine, but control the brake and accelerator as well.”

Giving front-line people training for skills and inter-personal training is expected. Similarly, ‘leadership coaching’has slid across the Atlantic and become a recognised way for executive teams to sharpen their own approaches by observing others in their or other markets. Each is important/valid/essential (pick your preferred adjective) but between the bread in this particular coaching sandwich are those with ‘middle management’ roles whose coaching, especially in small and medium-sized businesses, can often only be described as ad hoc. Yet middle managers are the interface between front-line people and senior management. They can sense the mood ‘on the shop floor’ and feed that upwards, or translate senior management vision into tangible objectives that can be delivered. Their attitude, behaviour and approach acutely influence their direct reports, especially if their approach is predominantly negative. A great vision can only be delivered by an engaged group of middle managers. In the organisational vehicle, they are not simply the oil in the engine, but control the brake and accelerator as well.

Pick your tools

So how do you help your middle managers? A clear approach for their entry and exit strategies is a good starting point. How do you prepare people to move into middle management roles, or enable them to move up to more senior levels currently? Any coaching intervention must deliver significant benefits and quickly, and combining formal coaching programs and a coaching/mentoring approach is the dexterous way to proceed. You can start coaching programmes with candidates before promotion and see how they react. However, your company’s culture, and commitment levels to this approach must be both positive and clear to everyone for this approach to be a success. Above all, be clear about what you want to achieve.

“Combining formal training courses and a coaching/mentoring approach is the dexterous way to proceed”.

The following points outline thoughts on how to be more dexterous in developing the right behaviours in your middle managers.

First thought – leadership v management

Ensure your business has clear views on the difference between leadership and management and make sure middle managers extol this. Leadership means that new ideas or approaches are welcomed, evaluated and implemented if they will work. Leadership means getting out of the way when necessary by encouraging the right people to lead a team when their competencies are best suited to the particular task or phase of a piece of work. Leadership also means taking responsibility and is more concerned with behaviours than with functions. Warren Bennis said “Leaders do the right thing, managers do things right”, so be clear on where leadership is appropriate and when simple management will do and make sure everyone knows.

Second thought – use project work intelligently

Project work comes up all the time and with some care you can use this to develop people. If your executives are revising the company’s five-year vision and plan, get a middle manager to help investigate options and write it. With a little care, you can incorporate sub-objectives in projects to stretch people. For a competitor review, why not mandate the middle manager to get input from all departments in the business? Perhaps you might ask for three of your competitor’s strengths from each department’s perspective and for options on how those strengths could be countered by your own company? The most important aspect here is to have the individual work outside their normal domain and communicate across the business. This will develop their horizontal management skills. Just don’t try to run your own version of ‘The Apprentice’.

Third thought – be consistent and give support

Being consistent is not about giving everyone the same thing, it’s about giving similar things to similarly competent people, over and over again. If someone has potential then do give them some project work, but make sure that when a similarly skilled person comes along the following year, you find some project work for them as well. Potential leaders also need support more often than skills. A coach or mentor within the business is good, but an independent coach can bring new approaches, ideas and a much broader context. Regular coaching sessions are ideal, but often a 15 minute ‘phone conversation is all that is required, so look for that sort of flexibility in any coaching/mentoring model you deploy.

Final thought – let them make mistakes

Few people get things right every time. Make sure your middle managers understand what went wrong and can picture a different way that will work. Let them try new things and experiment – you may be surprised at the result. One business I know measures the success of their innovation programme by the number of ideas that, once investigated, will not work. That, at least, guarantees they are investigating novel ideas. In conclusion If your business doesn’t look after its middle managers, you’ll discover the extent of that failure in about four years time. When you come to promote into or out of middle management roles, the successful candidate will need to unlearn the behaviours of their old role and start displaying the behaviours required in their new role to be successful. Give them a chance to learn these behaviours as early as possible. Functional training generates managers – you need leaders as well. Change your emphasis and the costs should be minimal. In fact, this will lead to timely benefits that will far outweigh the resources used to set them up, by improving engagement and performance now, and delivering a better developed management team that are more suitable for promotion in the future.

Coaching is not therapy, counseling, mentoring or psychology.

I like to keep it simple so to me there are three kinds of coaching: Sports, Business and Personal coaching. the difference between the latter two being workrelated or not work related. And that’s it.

Coaching is not therapy, counseling, mentoring or psychology. Although the coaching process may have roots in the field of psychology (and intervention oindiv-coachingften follows some psychological models), the actual process of coaching should not be mistaken for a therapeutic intervention. One of the most obvious differences between the two approaches is that therapy tends to focus on feelings and experiences related to past events. Whereas coaching is oriented towards goal setting and encourages the client to move forward.

A consultant usually is a specialist in a given area. They are hired to give recommendations and provide solutions. A consultant usually works with a client to solve a particular problem. Coaching uses a more holistic approach. With the client, the coach examines the situation, creates a plan of action, and works side by side to resolve the issue. The coach does not have to be an expert in the client’s business. The client is the expert. The coach does not have the answers. They have the questions that allow the client to find their own answers and clarify their own values.

A therapist typically works with a dysfunctional person to get them to become functional. A coach works with a functional person to get them to become exceptional. Therapists typically work with people who need help to become emotionally healthy. They often deal with past issues and how to overcome them. A coach works with functional people to move them to magnificent levels. Coaching does not rely on past issues for achieving growth, but rather focuses on goals towards the future. Coaching is action-oriented. The focus is on where the client is right now, where they want to be next, and how to get them there. If you are working in the past, then you are involved in therapy. Part of being a good coach is knowing when and when not to coach. If the client needs therapy then a coach has to refer them to a therapist.

While a counselor provides information and expertise, the relationship is normally hierarchical, perhaps even authoritarian. It is based in the past and focuses on fixing a problem. A coaching relationship is present and future based, action-oriented and not hierarchical in nature. The client and the coach partner to create a better future for the client.

Mentoring is a relationship which is established with someone who is an expert in their field. The mentor is usually older and more experienced than the person being mentored. The mentor bestows their knowledge and wisdom onto the student. The student looks up to the mentor and seeks guidance and advice from the mentor. A coaching relationship is a partnership whereby the coach walks side by side with the client.

 The coach supports the client in drawing on their own wisdom and following their inner guidance.

Carl Rogers said in order to truely help someone we must be able to enter their lives, help them resolve their issues and then exit their lives without them ever knowing we were there.

The Wart Theory.

Have you ever heard about the Wart Theory?

Wart remover

Is a coach really a wart remover?

No? Chances are that you too have been a victim of it.

It’s about hiring people for a vacancy. And more specifically about hiring a stranger over a very suitable internal candidate.

Sometimes a manager decides to hire a complete stranger over an employee who is well known, a good worker, great team player with the right competencies, just because the job interview was not 100 percent perfect.  The manager expects that a complete stranger is going to do a better  job just from talking with him (or her) during a 1 hour interview. That stranger might just be a good actor or BS artist.

Everyone has “warts” (so-called weaknesses, challenges, areas that need improvement). With an internal candidate, the company already knows what their warts are. Even though we all know (intellectually) that a stranger could have much bigger and worse warts, there’s a certain denial at work, and managers sometimes engage in some magical thinking that maybe, just maybe, the stranger doesn’t have any warts at all.

How can a company prevent this from happening and make sure that the best person is hired for a job?

I have worked in the past for an insurance company where we tackled this phenomena successfully with an assessment center.

The hiring managers first had to explain to the HR manager why an internal candidate was not suitable for the job. Only if those reasons were legitimate, the search for an external candidate could be started. When the hiring manager then presented his ideal candidate for the job, this candidate would be invited for an assessment day.

All new employees were assessed during a one day assessment called “The Close-up”. Two assessors ( a senior manager from a different department and a professional external assessor) monitored the new candidate closely during the entire day. At the end of the day each candidate would be presented with a signed contract when he, or she, successfully finished the assessment. Those who were less successful received a detailed report with the findings of the assessors. This presented them with some significant and valuable feedback.

During the assessment, candidates were confronted with ‘live’ situations in which the company’s core competencies could be measured. Surprise situations, where candidates had to react or respond immediately, proved to be a valuable test for the ‘everyday’ situation.

BS artists or great actors would have a very hard time fooling the assessors for the entire day.

You might be interested in the effects of this process over the years. Since I was the senior manager in charge of the assessment center, I had this researched by a prominent University.

Of all the candidates that were invited for the “Close-up”, 25% did not make it successfully through the day and were not offered a full time contract. Mind you that these were the favorite candidates of the respective hiring managers!

Another significant result surfaced from the research. The competence that stood out as most significant for a successful career in the company was: learning ability. Those who paid attention, were open to feedback and were able to adapt to changing circumstances quickly during the Close-up, were promoted faster in the next few years than others. Needless to say that these candidates would also be great candidates for coaching to leverage their learning curve and work on their ‘warts’.

Come to think of it, wouldn’t it be a great nickname for an assessor? The Wart Detector! And for a coach: Wart Remover?