Team Development – Four Questions to Frame Your Plan

Team Development

When I begin a development engagement, I spend time to understand their situation and help them align their growth outcomes.  I’m helping them balance what is personally satisfying to them, with what is high impact for their organization and its mission.

Usually, that begins with an overarching question (How do you want to develop?) to articulate the development goal.  That can be on stakeholder feedback, a recent performance discussion, 360 degree assessments and the like. What I’ve learned about this discussion is to approach the discovery with three additional questions which build the business case for the effort time and resources to achieve the goal.

Here are the the four questions:

What’s your goal for development?

This is the starting point.  They’re getting feedback from somewhere that there’s a benefit from developing some aspect of their world.  Where’s that input coming from?  How much energy are they feeling about the importance of the goal.

How will you change through your investment?

The major premise behind this question:  We achieve success based on who we are as well as what we do.  Performance discussions tend to focus most of their energy on the action part:  hat will we do?  The best coaches focus first on who we are.  Who we are makes what we do possible (or impossible!)

What new skills will you build? What new insights or subject matter expertise will you gain? Will there be any new attitudes or beliefs that occur because of your development investment? With these questions and others like them, we are trying to establish how the client will change and evolve as a person. Development isn’t so much about attaining specific tactical goals as it is about growing as a person in becoming more capable and more motivated to achieve those goals.

What new behaviors will others observe in you?

This question goes to measurement and accountability. Discussion of this question helps the learner clarify the goals in terms of what others will see.  How will current behaviors change as the learner and coach work on the development objective.

What mission outcome will you enable when you accomplish your objective?

This is the “So, what?” question, often stated in terms of the deliverable performance metrics for the organization or business.  Business metrics like revenue, profit, expanding the customer base, new and different service lines, time to market….  Personal metrics like leadership confidence, promotability, employee engagement, and so on.

If you like the Covey habits, it’s “Begin with the end in mind.

Some outcomes are more easily quantified than others. But whether it’s a tangible outcome or intangible outcome, it should be realistic and compelling to all concerned. It nails down the business case for the development project.  As well, it helps the learner and stakeholders choose between several potential learning objectives.  Which one will have the biggest “bang for the buck.”

Epilogue:

When goals and outcomes are well aligned, everyone associated with the development project will be more motivated to do what it takes to make the learner succeed in their development project.

We can help!  Ascendent Leadership offers executive coaching for for individuals and teams from high potentials to the C-Suite.

Create a Coaching Culture to Drive Performance and Engagement

Management Tip of the Month:Culture-720

If you’re feeling the pressure of rising performance expectations, and the need to develop and retain your best employees, consider building coaching skills into your leadership culture.

A few years ago, I wrote on the topic of culture, and how powerful it was in orienting new employees to how things were done in your company.  (Your Culture is Your Best Teacher.)   More recently, as a professional coach, I’ve become very aware of how important creating a coaching culture is to companies’ ability to improve overall performance, improve retention rates, and generally improve the overall level of employee engagement at their firm. (Jack Zenger 2016)

Why bother instilling coaching as an element of corporate culture?

Frankly, we need all the help we can get!  Quoting Alison Hendren, founder of Coaching Out of the Box, a leader in coaching education, “Today’s fast paced and competitive work environment requires that we maximize the strengths and talent of all people in an organization. No longer does command and control work, and in order to retain talented and valued people, we must up our game to better support their ongoing development and satisfaction.  Honestly, it is a burning platform and organizations need all hands on deck!” (McLeod 2013)  (Full disclosure:  Ascendent Leadership is a certified trainer in this training program.)

What are the benefits?

There is a significant body of research that correlates broad deployment of coaching skills throughout the leadership of an organization with improvements in productivity, and employee engagement, as well as reduction in voluntary attrition.  In a particularly useful summary of the benefits of a coaching culture, Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman reported that in their research, employee commitment ranged from a low percentile score of 15 all the way to a percentile score of 90 across a range of coaching effectiveness from low to high. In the same study, risk of quitting ranged from a high of 52% down to a low of just over 20% over a similar range of coaching effectiveness.  (Jack Zenger 2016).  Net-net, the existence of a coaching culture makes a huge difference in both the performance and retention of key employees.

What does an effective coaching culture look like?

Leaders who have successfully incorporated coaching into their leadership style have learned a few key lessons:

How to perform several important coaching skills:  listening, encouraging, asking great questions, making requests to stretch and challenge the people their coaching, and helping those people develop concrete and measurable plans for action.

How to execute a a repeatable coaching process that guides the coach, and when repeated with regularity actually trains the employees how to coach themselves.  A key facilitator of this learning has been the International Coach Federation.  Over 20 years of experience, the ICF has codified most of what we know are the foundations of successful coaching.  The ICF has over 20,000 members globally and is the largest professional organization in the profession.

Finally, a number of personal characteristics that establish a coaching mindset that lays the relational foundation with the coachee for successful coaching and the performance improvement which follows.

What’s my path to get there?

  1. Consider your situation, the benefits that accompany a coaching culture, establish the business case, and decide to do it.
  2. As Kotter teaches us, form a guiding coalition to provide the “juice” that a change initiative like this will require. While the steps are well known, they represent real change, and it will take persistent leadership to stay on track.  (Kotter 1996)
  3. Be very attentive to capturing and publicizing your early wins. I’m working with a firm right now who just trained their sales leaders in coaching, and it’s fun to watch the emails flying around, as they conduct their first real coaching sessions, and apply the skills.
  4. Using the sponsoring coalition to capture the early learning and keep pushing for more buy-in and accomplishment across the broader organization.
  5. Just as I discussed in my blog article referenced above, let the culture you are building orient new employees and leaders. Help the coaching behaviors become “just the way we do things, here”.

Shameless Plug!

This is an important element of my consulting and coaching practice and I’m a certified trainer for the Coaching Out of the Box program.  I’d welcome the chance to discuss this program with you and see if there’s a way to help you get started!

Good Reads: 

Jack Zenger, J. F. (2016) “How developing a coaching culture pays off: dramatically improve your organization.

Kotter, J. (1996). Leading Change. Boston, Harvard Business Review Press

McLeod, B. (2013) “The Coaching Imperative – An Interview with Alison Hendren, Master Certified Coach.” hrandtalent Blog.

 

The DNA of a Powerful Question

DNA_960“The processes used by a coach, a counselor, a psychotherapist or a guru are similar:  they build the awareness and responsibility of the client.”  (John Whitmore)

I was in my manager Bob’s office, and we were going toe to toe.  I don’t even remember the specific issue we were discussing, but I had very firm ideas about the direction I wanted to take, and he was being equally clear that he didn’t think my plan was a good one.  Finally, he stopped, looked me right in the eye, and asked, “How willing are you to completely own the outcome?”  And then he went silent and waited.

That moment was probably about 30 years ago. Yet I remember it in HD quality – where we were standing in his office, and the look on his face as he leveled that question at me.  It is as clear as if it was yesterday. With nine words, Bob had asked me a powerful question and was waiting for my response.

Powerful questions get their name from the idea that they evoke powerful levels of thought and produce significant clarity for the client. In that moment, Bob had let go of his strong advocacy for his approach, and just asked me how committed I was to my approach and the resulting business impact. Instead of granting permission, he was challenging me to think into the future, project the implications of my proposed path, and take full responsibility for my bet.  To use Whitmore’s language, he was asking me to rethink my proposal (awareness) and then take full responsibility for it.

Here are what I have learned to be the genetic markers of an exceptional question:

It demands thought and reflection on the part of the receiver.

The best questions don’t have easy answers. They challenge the listener to go deep into their own knowledge, beliefs, values, and emotions, to respond. When we ask a powerful question, we have given our client an opportunity to become more deeply aware of all of those elements, and to process how they interact relative to the goal.  Almost inevitably, that process sets off reflection and integration, will lead the client to make a connection they had not previously made.   We are giving our clients a huge gift.

It is built on the foundation of a solid understanding of the big picture, critical issues, and overarching sense of purpose.

The relevance and depth of your question reveals to your client that you have done your homework and have taken in all that they told you previously.  You cared enough to understand them.   You’ve built on that background to frame a relevant question whose answer will deepen your mutual understanding of the issue at hand.  Not only are you gathering information, but you are strengthening the level of trust that binds you and your client.

It is not driven by the consultant’s agenda.

Too often, we use questions which are leading, and which can be received as a form of persuasion through cross-examination.  People are amazingly perceptive in picking up loaded questions. Two negative results occur.  First, the client instinctively puts up barriers based on the level of distrust that the question engenders. The relationship between advisor and client moves in a negative direction. Secondly, the chances of having any really new or helpful insight are greatly diminished when the barriers have been thrown up.

It is short and simply framed.

Brevity comes from clarity and preparedness.  When we’re not well prepared, we are crafting the question on the fly.  The resulting question has multiple components, wanders, back tracks and is dumped on the plate in a heap.  Great coaches like to talk about effective dialogue as a dance.  With commitment, presence, understanding, curiosity and experience, we are able to sense the rhythm of the conversation and help our partner move to where the music is taking them.

Epilogue:

Give your clients the gift of clarity and commitment by asking them powerful questions.

Great Reads: 

Whitmore, J. (2002). Coaching for Performance: GROWing People, Performance, and Purpose. London, Nicholas Brealey Publishing.

 

 

Give up the role of expert

professor500The sales effectiveness literature is full of descriptions of the benefits of coaching for sales leaders.  In a study of 2400 sales organizations, the Sales Executive Council found that sales teams that reported three or more effective hours of coaching per month also reported 17% higher quota attainment than teams who reported two hours or less.  Coaching works!  Yet, in the same study, senior sales executives ranked the coaching ability of their sales leaders to ninth in a list of ten key sales management competencies.  One step up from dead last!  What is preventing sales leaders from doing better in this critical skill?

As I work with sales leaders, one of the most common objections to coaching that I hear, is that many of their people are very experienced, maybe in some cases, more experienced and expert than the leader themself.    Both leaders and reps often view “coaching” as knowledge transfer, or skills transfer.  “Teaching”…  Neither of them want to engage in coaching unless both feel that the coach personally has specific knowledge or skills that the coachee doesn’t have.  An opportunity for learning (by all concerned) and better selling is lost.

How do we break this “deadly embrace”?

Here are seven key ideas to make coaching relevant and powerful for both coach and coachee:

1)  Begin by rethinking the definition of coaching.  Tim Gallwey, author of the “Inner Game of Work” says it this way:  “Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching.”  There is a time to teach and a time to coach.  They are different tasks.  Use them when and where they fit.

2)  Redefine the core value that the leader-coach brings to the coaching dialogue.  Relieve the leader-coach of the responsibility to always be the subject matter “expert”.   Instead, make them responsible for being the best coach on the planet, executing  the coaching process in an excellent way.  The best athletes in the world have coaches.  Those coaches are hired for their value in terms of unleashing potential, rather than teaching a skill.  (The Gallwey book is an excellent read on this idea.)

3)  Helping the coachee develop “awareness” of the Goal, the rewards for achieving it, and the consequences of missing it.  Along the way, make sure they understand that they are the primary owner of their number.  Even though the sales manager’s attainment of their number depends on the rep attaining their goal, the coaching process should be based on the rep’s 100% ownership of their goal and 100% sense of responsibility for achieving it.  That ownership fuels their “commitment” to achieving the goal.  Coaching provides them a way to figure out how to do that.

4)  Develop a complete understanding of the current Reality, and the factors which create the gap between Goal and Reality.  Resist the temptation to begin strategy definition or action planning until the gap is very clearly defined.  This temptation is the toughest one I see sales coaches succumb to.  They go to action, once they see a connection between gap and their personal experience.  Be aware of the temptation, and hold your tongue!  Ask another question!

5)  Help the coachee create Options, a strategy for how to close the gap.  Help them think through the problem and formulate their own hypothesis for how to solve it.   Do pro’s and con’s.  Explore trade-off’s.  Don’t hand them the answer, even though the expert in you is certain you know what it is.  This is tough to do.  Hang in there!

6)  Help them develop an air-tight definition of next steps.  Be SMART, with Specific definition of task, Measure of success, confidence that the task is Achievable, Resources are clearly defined, and a specific Timeline for when this will occur.  SMART tasks facilitate accountability to the action plan, one of the key values of great coaching.

7)  When the action plan calls for teaching a critical skill that you possess….  Find the best teacher.  Maybe that’s you.  Maybe its not.  If it really is you, the sales leader, then, ok, teach it.  But teach with respect.  Ask permission to teach.  Make them seek the teaching before you force it on them.  Tough assignment:  Give them the safety and freedom to reject your offer to teach, while helping them stay accountable to their Goal.  It’s their problem.  It needs to be their solution.

Finally, as one of my coaching colleagues put it, “Don’t coach people that don’t want to be coached.”  As a manager you still have an obligation to develop your team, but if they they rebuff your help, they have made a business decision.  OK!  They own the results of their plan.  At some point, it’s best to say, “Okay, I’ll coach somewhere else.”  Like any other negotiation, the willingness to walk away always seems to strengthen your hand.  That builds your credibility.

Give up the role of expert, so that you can be free to play the role of coach.

 

Business schools discover the power of EQ in leadership development

This is a very readable journal article on how a business school invested in a program to explore and develop the emotional intelligence of its students. It is well researched and its reference list would be a great place to start your own research into the history and contributions of emotional intelligence.

My take: While the study focused on a business school, its report and its supporting research have significant implications for all business and organizational leaders.

First finding of the study:  In this study, they were able to see a significant improvement in EQ competencies after a two year program of assessment and development

Second key item of interest, the writers referenced a study in which employers ranked the core MBA program objective of “knowledge of fundamental business concepts” only 12th out of 15 dimensions explored. Those organizations identified “courses that aided in the development of interpersonal skills” as the most significant shortcoming of traditional MBA programs.

Abstract: Over the past two decades an escalating interest in the construct of emotional intelligence (EI) has made its way into the popular press, professional press, and peer reviewed journals. Not surprisingly, an interest in EI is also gaining ground in academic settings (Parker, Duffy, Wood, Bond & Hogan, 2002; Parker, Hogan, Eastabrook, Oke & Wood, 2006; Parker, Saklofske, Wood & Eastabrook, 2005). Several major longitudinal studies have laid a sound theoretical foundation supporting the development of EI competencies as a component of the MBA curriculum (Boyatzis, Stubbs & Taylor, 2002; Boyatzis & Saatcioglu, 2008). This paper will describe why and how one MBA program took theory to practice and piloted the integration of content designed to develop competencies related to emotional intelligence into its curriculum. It will also review the results of an applied multi-year study that measured the results of the curriculum pilot. The study was conducted using one of the most widely used instruments for measuring emotional intelligence, the Bar-On Emotional Quotient Inventory (Bar-On, 1997), to identify significant changes between the beginning and the end of the program in the aggregate measures of emotional intelligence competencies.

Click on the image of the report title page to read the entire report.

 

 

Are we really coin operated?

As a recovering sales manager, I have always laughed at the proposition that “sales people are coin operated”.  Notice that I said I laughed, not that I didn’t agree.

What would you say if I told you that quite a body of research is telling us that “extrinsic motivation” (e.g. bonuses and commissions, carrots and sticks) actually makes performance worse, not better.  On the other hand, “intrinsic motivation” (I work because I love what I do) is the more durable motivator, especially in the 21st century.

I’m reading Dan Pink’s book, Drive, and I recommend it highly. If you’d like a compelling TED video on this same topic, done by Pink in 2009, check out this YouTube video.

Engaging with Confidence

In order to successfully challenge our customers with new ideas and insights, we have to develop the personal confidence and credibility to engage them and build their receptivity to our consulting with them.

To help us, we can draw on emotional intelligence, professional coaching concepts, and the wisdom of great leaders, such as the great Vince Lombardi.

This four minute video looks at what drives confidence and how we can prepare our teams (and ourselves!) to engage with this new model.

How do you define confidence? What do you do to give it to your teams?

Please share your ideas, and join the conversation.