In virtually every company I talk to, who are implementing changes, they recognise that no matter how robust their new processes and systems are they need their people to buy in to the new way of working in order for them to take responsibility for its success. And yet, they don’t really know how to go about that. Their external consultants are more likely to be technical and process experts rather than experts in human behaviour and culture change so not ideally placed to help on this.
A while ago I worked with a blue chip manufacturing company who were well down the road to implementing a “lean” operating system when they realised that people weren’t really getting behind it. In fact, a small but influential minority were actively undermining it. We worked together to help people move from feeling that the changes were being imposed from on high by people who didn’t understand their particular demands and constraints, to workers at all levels from plant manager to production line staff feeling they owned the process and were responsible for making it a success. Instead of spending time and energy moaning about what wouldn’t work, they focused on how to make it work and in the best way possible.
So tell me,
- How well are your people engaging with new initiatives?
- Is it more challenging to get their buy in now than it used to be?
- What works and what doesn’t work when introducing change?
If, as Ken Blanchard states, feedback is the breakfast of champions, why is it muesli rather than champagne?
Good for us, but still pretty hard to swallow!
Good quality ongoing feedback is one of the cornerstones of continuous improvement in organisations. It surely follows then, that the skill of giving and receiving feedback is one of the most important that leaders and managers can develop. And yet, ironically, it is probably the most frequently lacking. I very often come across managers who are both hesitant to give it and scared about receiving it. And when I ask groups what springs to mind when they hear the word “feedback” they say things like “criticism”, “blame”, or “a right ****ocking”. Obviously something to be avoided at all costs! And if that is their view of the reality of feedback, how will it affect them in giving it as well as receiving it?
I am currently working with Sue. She is the only woman on a senior management team and feels she is not receiving the respect she deserves or enjoying the same credibility as the male members of the team. It is important that initially she gathers accurate feedback from her colleagues in order to check the evidence for these perceptions. Once this is to hand, she can put together a strategy for dealing with the issues, real or perceived.
Sue is reluctant to use any kind of 360 degree survey as she doesn’t want her colleagues to know that she is working with a coach. There are, however, other ways of getting quality feedback and this is what we have agreed:
1. Watch people around you . Sue is going to get to the next meeting early and observe how people respond to her as they enter the room. Do they smile and come over to her? Do they barely acknowledge her presence? Do they ask her a question? During the meeting she will observe them as she contributes. Do they listen attentively or look bored or frustrated?
2. Listen to them. Every time anyone around Sue makes a casual remark about her, whether positive or negative, at home or at work, she is going to write it down – things like “you always do that”, “that was really good” or “late again”. Over a number of days she will begin to build up a picture of how people view her. There is a saying that if one person calls you a stubborn mule you should ignore it but when you have been described as a stubborn mule a number of times it could be time to go and buy yourself a saddle!
3. Ask effective questions . The quality of feedback we receive in response to our request for it rests on the quality of the questions we ask. Sue doesn’t want to involve her peers in a 360 degree survey but is going to approach trusted colleagues and ask them effective questions to help her out.
If she asks general questions such as “How did I perform in that meeting?” she will get general answers like, “You were fine!” If she asks specific questions like, “When I deliver my proposal will you observe my body language and give me specific feedback on how it is supporting or undermining me as a confident presenter?”, she will get specific, behavioural feedback that she can do something valuable with.
Once Sue has carried out these actions she will have a fuller picture of the actual situation, but not a complete one. To amplify it further, I’m going to suggest that she tunes into her self talk to see how she, like most of us, is twisting her thinking in order to support the beliefs she already holds about herself and others. I will let you know how we get on.
Meanwhile, let me ask you:
How aware are you of your impact on those around you?
How can you search out high quality feedback that will lead to your continuing development?
I was recently asked to write 300 words on “Why I’m Passionate About Leadership” I think passion is an overused word just now, especially in the sales and marketing arena. However, having spent 25 years studying it and working in the field of leading and managing people, yes I really am passionate about it. Here are just 3 of the reasons why.
Because it’s vital
Successful companies are moving quickly to build efficiency and effectiveness by becoming flatter, matrix organisations where information flows in all directions. People are increasingly working in cross–functional, diverse and geographically dispersed teams.
Leadership is vital in supporting this new way of working. The ability to build strong trusting relationships quickly, and work collaboratively, encourages the responsiveness, flexibility and creativity that is fundamental to the success of today’s companies.
Because there is a lack of it
Evidence suggests there’s a lack of leadership in our organisations at a time when there is a growing need for it. As organisations constantly search for ways to get more from their staff, in less time, with fewer resources, staff are more likely to feel dis-engaged, de-motivated and cynical.
Leaders who can create a compelling vision of a better future, and inspire staff to fully commit to realising that vision, will be the ones raising the bar on performance at an individual, team and organisational level.
Because I can influence it and make a difference
Everything I’ve done in my 30 year career has been related to developing people to bring out the best in themselves and others. Whether as a social worker, counsellor, Royal Naval officer, middle and senior manager, leadership and management trainer or executive coach, I’ve worked to help to help people improve their relationship and communication skills. I’m committed to my own lifelong learning and to the learning and development of others. For me, leaders are learners and leadership development that creates sustainable results involves helping people squeeze the most learning from their real world developmental experiences.
The ripple effect of working with leaders in key positions means I can make the biggest positive impact on performance and well-being for them, their staff and their organisation.
- Do you believe leadership is vital? If so why?
- Is it in short supply?
- What are you doing to develop effective leadership in yourself or others?
I’m staying with my sister and brother in law for a few days which means that for once, I am not doing the driving. It wasn’t until I got in the car sitting behind Alec that I remembered what a terrible passenger I am. I found myself looking over his shoulder, focusing intently on the road and the traffic, the voice in my head saying things like:
“I hope he’s seen that traffic build up ahead……
Alec, show me a sign that you have seen the brake lights going on……..
SHOW ME A SIGN! ………
Oh thank god………… you’re braking………..
You brake a lot later than I do………”
Alec is a very competent driver; he just drives differently from me. It doesn’t matter whether I am with the best driver in the world, I find it difficult to hand over control. I have a burning desire to see signs that re-assure me that the driver is aware of any hazards and is ready to take action.
It can be a similar experience for managers who need to take a step back and let staff perform at their best and deliver the desired results, their own way. If you don’t, you’ll only make yourself nervous and create anxiety in them too.
I had a number of choices today. I could have continued to be hyper-vigilant, anxious and sweaty palmed and not say anything. I could have done what I’ve done in the past and told my brother in law I was feeling anxious and asked him to slow down, leave more space between cars etc., or I could do what I did which was to sit back and take in the scenery or focus my energy on something more productive like dealing with my emails.
As a manager, once you have allocated work, agreed deadlines, standards, reporting guidelines and everything else you need to put in place, how do you stop yourself being a back seat driver and hovering over the shoulder of your staff?
When I’m delivering my “Coaching for Results” programmes, I’m often asked about my most effective or favourite coaching questions. I could roll out a string of quite long and impressive questions such as…
- “If you had that in the way you wanted it, what would that do for you?”
- “If fear wasn’t in your vocabulary what action would you take?”
Or even the old
- “If you went to sleep tonight and a miracle happened that resolved your issue or made your dream came true, how would you know it had happened?”
But my favourite questions aren’t big and they aren’t clever, and they really get below the surface and lead clients to dig deeper and get to the real nuggets. They are the questions that many people fail to ask at all, or don’t ask consistently and persistently enough to be effective.
Drum roll please…
I am now going to share a secret with you. The secret is that one of my favourite and most effective coaching questions is…wait for it…”What else?”
Okay, hands up if you feel let down or disappointed? Don’t be. Just try it.
- When you are exploring how someone will feel when they achieve their goals, ask what else? And what else? And what else?
- When you are considering the impact of not addressing a difficult issue ask what else? And what else?
- When you are brainstorming options, or when you are considering all the things that could get in the way, ask what else?
You get the idea. At first it will feel uncomfortable and you may feel you can’t ask it again when you have already asked it twice in quick succession. Well that’s the time to ask just once more. I guarantee you, and more importantly the person you are coaching, will discover some hidden gems of insights, ideas, and solutions.
Next time I might introduce you to it’s cousins… “Because?…” and “Which means?…”
What are your favourite questions?
My 15 year old son Jack has just been permanently excluded from school. I never thought I would feel okay about that, let alone share it with the world. I am doing it because I admire the head teacher who has guided us through a potentially very negative experience in a positive way and I want to explore the leadership lessons here.
Jack has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). He’s a bright, articulate, likeable and entertaining boy who can charm the birds out of the trees. He is also disruptive, impulsive and aggressive, which, at well over 6ft tall, can be seriously intimidating.
“Mr X. He’s a legend”
So what did this Head teacher do that resulted in me being so appreciative of his support and Jack calling him “a legend” and swearing never to hear a word said against him?
- He created a culture at the school where the teachers’ remained positive about Jack and didn’t lose sight of his ADHD. That’s no mean feat. If he had a broken leg everyone would remember and keep it in mind. With ADHD it’s easy to forget and judge him as purely badly behaved.
- As the situation escalated he took a personal interest in Jack and for many weeks, saw him every day, to go through his targets and report card. A major commitment for a head teacher.
- He was always clear and succinct about expectations and targets, ensured Jack had understood these, and involved both Jack and me every step of the way.
- When it became clear that the strategies weren’t changing anything, he was able to step back, and consider the best options for everyone. Jack now has a permanent place at a specialist unit with an almost one to one teacher – student ratio, which will serve Jack’s needs better. The Head didn’t let pride or ego get in the way, even though he said he felt he’d failed Jack in some ways
- Finally, and from our perspective, most importantly, he visited us at home to finish his current contact with Jack on a positive note. He again emphasised all Jacks strengths and what he had enjoyed about having him in school. He then gave him a nicely wrapped present of a pen, and explained what it meant about communication, believing in himself and staying in touch.
I don’t know what Jack will make of his life but I do know that this was a significant moment that he’ll always remember. It speaks volumes that the man who made some really tough decisions over the last couple of years, decisions that made Jack really angry at times, has built such a good relationship that Jack is in no doubt about the fairness, and commitment with which he’s been treated.
My questions to you are:
- How are you building that level of respect within your team?
- How do you maintain good relationships whilst dealing with tough decisions and situations?