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Manager as Coach

Coaching is a powerful style of leadership for developing people and enhancing business performance. Especially, with the rapid changes at workplaces, keeping employees’ committed and motivated during tough economic times seems like a tall task, especially after downsizing or programme cutbacks. Hence, it is evident that the very survival and success of any organisation depends on the human capital: people are highly knowledgeable, versatile, innovative and mobile. And, their skills and talents are the currency of competitiveness, and companies who hope to retain their services need to recognise that these individuals expect greater personal choice, autonomy and an active voice in the management of their workplace. A good coach knows that.


Difficult Conversations – Keeping Mentoring Relationships on Track

The Quality of a Relationship relies on the Quality of the Conversation.

At some point in a mentoring relationship, the need for a difficult conversation will arise. Whereas every conflict is different, and there is no one-size-fits-all advice, there tend to be patterns to what goes wrong, and what helps. Every difficult conversation has three different dialogues that occur simultaneously. The What-Happened dialogue, the Feelings dialogue and the Identity dialogue. As you prepare for a meeting with your mentor/mentee, consider asking yourself some simple questions in order to navigate through these three dialogues.


Being a Mentee – How to Benefit from a Mentoring Relationship

Congratulations, mentee. Someone has decided to be your Mentor.

When Odysseus gave the task of protecting, guiding and educating his son Telemachus to his old friend Mentor, he did this knowing that Mentor would be the best person possible to care for his only son during his absence from Greece. Since then, Mentor is synonymous for someone who is willing and able to provide guidance and support to bring out the very best in his mentee – without any other personal agenda.

Increasing Productivity by Living our Values

On a recent trip to Japan, I took a Shinkansen high- speed train from Kyoto to Tokyo. The train was scheduled to arrive at Tokyo Station at 9.03pm. Since I had made an appointment to meet a good friend after arrival, I asked the train conductor whether we would be on time.

Increasing Productivity by Being on Time.

Punctuality reveals one’s attitude towards the most basic values of integrity, professionalism and respect.

The conductor looked at me, not understanding my question, and said: “We will arrive at 9.03pm.” I thought to myself, yes, I know the schedule. But will we be on time?

He must then have somehow guessed my real meaning. He said: “There is no reason for a delay. We have not had an earthquake or tsunami today. So, we will be on time.”

I had not heard this kind of answer for a while.


My professor at a German university where I studied – let’s call him Hofmann – was very strict in many aspects. His style displayed a deeply ingrained set of values. One of them was punctuality. Unless there was a very, very good reason for being late, we had to be on time – always.

Once, I was quite late for a meeting. However, I thought I had a good reason: “My train was late by 40 minutes.”

His reply was, “Okay, you take this train every day, right?”

“Yes, of course,” I replied.

“Was it ever late before?”

“Yes, this happens from time to time,” I answered, thinking that I was off the hook.

His answer: “Then you should have taken this into account and been prepared. Don’t use this excuse again!”

With this management style, we were able to deliver outstanding results. No project was ever late.

Despite this tough regime, Professor Hofmann was known as one of the professors everyone wanted to work with. He was not only able to develop one’s IQ (intelligence quotient) but also took strong care of our EQ (emotional intelligence quotient) as well.

As a result, punctuality is one form of behaviour that I hold very dear to my heart, because it reveals one’s attitude towards the most basic values of integrity, professionalism and respect.


Every human relationship starts with basic courtesy.

“Punctuality is the politeness of kings” is a saying coined by King Louis XVIII of France. He was making the point that educated people, and people who aspire to have and try to show a certain status, will fail if they don’t master the most basic of all manners: punctuality. Without punctuality they are just “small men”.

In Singapore, I have had to get familiar with the phrase, “Sorry, I’m late”, uttered by members of all levels of society without hesitation or shame. Often, it comes without any excuse. Only sometimes is it paired with statements such as “heavy traffic on PIE”.

No one is really surprised about the fact that some people are late, or the fact that there is heavy traffic on the Pan-Island Expressway, although both facts really have nothing to do with each other.

It is very likely that there is some heavy traffic on the PIE at certain times. This happens daily.

But heavy traffic is as good an explanation for being late as something like “There are many birds in Changi Village”.


So what is the real reason for being late? I think that this is, because we are good in talking about values. But we have forgotten that these values should also form part of daily courtesy and kindness, and not only be put on display on National Day. A good example of the huge gap between theory and practice is when meetings regarding value development or competency deployment cannot start on time because of the late arrival of key players.

Their entrance with a “Sorry, I’m late” can be directly translated into “Sorry, I don’t respect you”. Would you want to say this to your colleagues or friends? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to show the correct behaviour ourselves before we try to plant this seed in others? This would be good for our credibility as well.

In Singapore, we should live every day the way we deliver great projects: excellent quality, on time.

How much time gets wasted and how much productivity gets squandered every day due to our inability to walk the talk? How about increasing productivity by living our own values?

There are always excuses for not doing things. Can we instead try to find reasons for doing things such as being on time? Our co-workers would thank us for it.

Remember, behaviour is contagious. Is yours worth catching?



Published on 15 Jul 2013, on AsiaOne, 18 Jul 2013, on Training Buzz, Jul 2015

Finding The Right Star

We are working on a very tight project schedule. Most of our staff members work late almost every day. Are you prepared to work long hours?

What is cost control? Are you good at it?

We often hear these leading questions during job interviews – a common mistake hiring mangers make. As a result we end up having a wrong person on the job. We getting frustrated, and worst, we have wasted money and time on recruitment.

Figure 1: Chinese Character for "Human"

Figure 1: Chinese Character for “Human”

Most recruiting managers find it relatively easy to identify the characteristics that a candidate will need to possess to make them eligible for a job. Typically, Eligibility has to do with professional or academic qualifications, relevant experience or specific job-related skills and knowledge. These can be verified by reference to certificates. This includes diplomas and records in the case of qualifications. Or, it is done fairly straightforward by tests in the case of technical skills.

In many situations, however, an excellent performer is someone who has not only technical skills but is also suitable for the job. Suitability is much more about the way people will go about doing the job once they are on it. Suitability tends to be about people’s attitudes and behavioural tendencies. They are the factors defined as Value-Based Competencies. It is typically much more difficult to get a clear idea of how suitable people will be before they are appointed.

Hence, suitability is one aspect we often overlook. As depicted by the Chinese word “Ren” illustrated in the Figure, where the two strokes supporting each other signify that “knowledge and skills” have to be complemented by “Attitudes”, a person with relevant knowledge and skills but inappropriate attitude will not be able to contribute as much to his corporate and the community. Moreover, the higher the skills and knowledge of a person, the greater damage he can do to the organisation if his attitude is flawed.

The art of finding the right person (Star) is to use a structured approach. Therefore, we identify the relevant past behaviour to allow forming a judgement on likely future behaviour. Such approach is known as Competency-Based Interview (CBI). Using this approach helps to:

  • Eliminate misunderstandings about an individual’s experience,
  • Prevent personal impressions from affecting evaluation and
  • Reduce an individual’s opportunity to mislead or exaggerate their capability
Figure 2: Star Approach for Developing Competency-Based Interview Questions

Figure 2: Star Approach for Developing Competency-Based Interview Questions

A skilful interviewer is a detective who tries to find examples that are evidence of desired behaviour from a person’s past experiences. To achieve this, some preparation is needed:

  • Define job requirements that are essential for a successful job holder – purpose of the role, line of reporting, responsibilities and competencies.
  • Decide on the competencies you are looking for
  • Develop competency based interview questions using STAR approach Figure 2.

Focus on the three key competencies that the role requires. In order to allow a sufficient conversation you should plan for 10 to 15 minutes per competency.

Hence, through using CBI, the candidate’s fitness, his suitability for the job is measured by projecting his past behaviour on the required competencies. This usually gives the candidate the benefit of talking about real experience – if he has. And it gives the interviewer the advantage of getting into a much more fruitful discussion using an important measuring scale, the required competencies and their necessary behaviours.


In conclusion, identifying knowledge and skill set of a candidate is rather easy. However, finding the right mind-set is a more difficult task. Using a set of value and competency-based interview questions enables managers to spot the STAR, the person who does not only bring the required aptitude but also “fits” in the organisation.


Lean Six Sigma and Innovation

Over the last decade, companies and organisations in nearly every industry all over the world have introduced Lean Six Sigma to increase customer satisfaction and to deliver impressive results. An outstanding example is General Electric, the company who has made Six Sigma as popular as it is today.

Another term that has drawn tremendous attention in the business world is Innovation. On the one hand, Lean Six Sigma works towards very low variation in processes with high efficiency. Innovation, on the other hand, seeks to find undiscovered, uncertain territory. Such efforts are rather inefficient. Innovation requires risk-taking, making mistakes and learning from failures.

Can a corporate culture be developed on both key thinking patterns in order to get the best out of Lean Six Sigma Efficiency and Innovative Solutions? Does it make sense to think Innovation Six Sigma?

Managing Volunteers

Olympic Games are unthinkable without the invaluable support of thousands of volunteers. For most organising committees, this fact alone posts a major challenge in preparing and running the games since they often do not have experience in managing an army of unpaid workers. The always available IOC ‘cook book’ is not more than a good start, since the behaviour and attitude and hence the requirements for hiring and managing the crowd of helpers depends much more on the culture of the people with their upbringings, beliefs and traits, than it is influenced by instructions and SOPs. After all, an unpaid worker has nothing to lose. If he perceives being treated unfairly, he walks!

What Makes A Good Leader for Change

In response to evolving conditions, you came to realise that your organisation must change. You are now ready to move into action. As the leader of the organisation, one of your first and critical decisions is to appoint the team that will lead the project. Typically, the leadership consists of project sponsor, with overall responsibility, seconded by project managers focusing on specific aspects. These people will be your change agents – the ones upon which success of your initiative will rely. What makes a good change agent then?

When assessing potential candidates, you need to ask yourself three questions: Do they have the right attitude? Do they possess the appropriate knowledge? And have they mastered necessary skills? Let’s look at each of these view points.

The Right Attitude of a Change Agent

A change agent cannot succeed without great persistence. Change is a complex and labour intensive process that arouses feelings and emotions. Angry people, frustrated team mates, conflicting priorities, unforeseen problems, or behind-the-scene resistance are typical daily challenges. A project leader or Manager cannot lead her team through these without determination and stamina.

A Change Agent must have all Attributes: Skills & Knowledge and Beliefs and Attitudes

Figure 1: Chinese Character Ren. English: Human

To avoid changes in leadership in the midst of change, the person must be fully committed to see the project through to completion. A good way to ensure that, is to appoint an ambitious and enthusiastic individual who presents potential for career advancement within the organisation. She will look at the challenges as a terrific career-development opportunity and will be highly motivated to succeed. This high potential employee will gain a broader understanding of the business, an extended network of relationships and stronger leadership skills. In terms of attitude, this is one aspect that is often overlooked.

As depicted by the Chinese word “Ren”, illustrated above (Figure 1), where the two strokes supporting each other signify that “knowledge and skills” have to be complemented by “beliefs and attitudes”. A person with relevant knowledge and skills but an inappropriate attitude will not be able to contribute as much to her company and the community. Moreover, the higher the skills and knowledge of a person, the greater damage she can do to the organisation if her attitude is flawed. The change agent must be prepared to stand up for the project, even if it means tactfully challenging powerful executives – including you! In many cases which we have seen, the implementation problems are often due to the sponsors or top management underestimating the significance of their duties. The sponsors or top management are reluctant to commit the necessary resources; sometimes sending conflicting messages about the importance of change by failing to apply enough pressure to those who resist; or by changing priority half-way through the change. The change agent must act as a Voice of Conscience.

When any mid-course changes occur it is the responsibility of the Change agent to raise the issue with the sponsors; otherwise the project will end up failing. An effective change agent we worked with has this attitude: “My primary goal is to ensure this project succeeds, no matter what. My secondary objective is to preserve my personal relationship with all senior management.” This might sound extreme, but the best change agents really are tactful and diplomatic. Sometimes, a change agent must have the Political Skills, not suggesting the one to join in the game, but better understand it. A change leader must make her own judgement and keep her own counsel; no one can do it for her.

The Appropriate Knowledge of a Change Agent

The project sponsor should be a seasoned change agent with a general understanding of the business. However, project managers should be subject-matter experts in their respective area of responsibility. Having someone with excellent project management skills is simply not enough. They will crash due to lack of detailed understanding of the subject area. Expertise also brings the credibility and respect much needed to succeed in their role. Simply put, you’d better understand how a business works. In particular, change agents need to understand how the business works. This entails understanding of money – where it comes from, where it goes, how it goes, and how to keep it. It also calls into play knowledge of markets and marketing, products and product development, customers, sales, selling, buying, hiring, firing, and just about anything you might think of. In addition to the relevant expertise, a change agent should also be well connected throughout the organisation. These active relationships are important in communicating effectively with stakeholders, developing coalitions, and designing a successful rollout.

The Necessary Skills

Change is not as easy as ABC, the pressure on the project leadership is always tremendous. A change agent has to be able to operate under a huge amount of instability and uncertainty. She has to manage conflicting priorities, multiple constituencies and fast-approaching deadlines. She is responsible for guiding the organisation through the numerous challenges of transition. Therefore, in order to survive, she must possess the proven ability to remain highly effective under intense pressure.

Analytical Skills

The change agent also needs outstanding Analytical Skills in addition to being very organised and disciplined, both in her thinking and actions. Guessing won’t do, insight is nice, even useful, and sometimes shines with brilliance, but it is often difficult to sell and almost impossible to defend. A rational, well-argued analysis can be ignored, but not successfully contested. Change agents must learn to take part and reassemble operations and systems in novel ways, and then determine financial and political impacts of what they have done. At the same time, a good change agent must be flexible enough to work around hurdles and handle evolving priorities. In other words, a disciplined and yet flexible approach is needed to tackle challenges.

People Skills

People Skills such as team building, interpersonal understanding and communication skills is a mandatory set of competencies of a good change agent. The change agent has to build the project team and leverage on the team members’ competencies. To succeed, she must create a strong sense of identity, purpose and joint-ownership, as well as have a high performing mindset. In other words, engage the people, use natural leadership style and influencing skills to get results. To manage resistance – a natural part of the change process – the change agent must start by understanding and acknowledging it.

She needs a lot of empathy, with good listening skills. She must be able to put herself in the shoes of people affected by the change. Resistance is most damaging when it remains unnoticed. It usually occurs when the feelings & concerns of employees are ignored or when change is forced upon them. In order to avoid resistance or the risk of hidden resistance, the change agent must learn to listen to the voice of her customers’ feelings. Whenever possible – influence the people by involving them in decisions. During the change communication is the glue that keeps the organisation moving towards the desired state. The change agent needs to be able to communicate effectively at all levels and across the functions.

What makes a Good Change Agent?

Keep in mind that change is never easy and that the failure rate is high. To maximise your chances of success, we strongly recommend you take a hard look at your candidates. If none of them closely matched your requirements, then consider alternative people. You will avoid yourself a lot of trouble down the road. Last but not least: once you find the right individuals, make sure they can dedicate 50% to 100% of their time to the initiative. Print EN Print CN Published on iSixSigma Published on HumanResources

The Best Coach I Ever Had

At some point in our life, some of us may have experienced a person who helped us to see our own strengths, who shaped our thinking and spurred us to move on. Often, this person does not even know how much impact he had on us. We probably never told him.

Many years ago, when I was new to the professional life with only my study and some months of exposure to the business world at AT&T under my belt, I met Doug. Then, being young in my training experience, my challenge was to deliver some modules of the newly developed culture building programme to the entire organisation over several runs of workshops. Doug was our master trainer who was supposed to help us getting started.

I clearly remember the first time I stood in-front of 50 participants delivering my topic. Before I took the stage, Doug was next to me, smiled at me and said “Go! You can make a difference. Just be yourself!” During my presentation, I could see him sitting at the back of the room, raising his two thumbs up to tell me that I was doing well. This little gesture was so different to what I encountered from many other wannabe coaches. I got the impression he was focussing 100% on supporting me – although he had many other trainees.

Doug cultivated the habit of a daily “check-in” dialogue. Every morning, he asked me to share what I wanted to do for the participants that will benefit them. He did not give me the answers. Instead, he guided by asking. By doing so, he got me thinking and exploring myself. It was the same after the training, when Doug usually asked three questions at the “check-out” dialogue: What did I do well today? What did I learn today? What will I do differently tomorrow?

Once at the check-in dialogue, I shared that I would like to spend time in getting to know the participants better, to be able to support them. And, I suggested that trainers should immerse with the participants. Doug caught the word “immerse” and from then on, he would always use the word to remind the trainers – a little acknowledgement that went a long way to encourage me. Subsequently, I had no fear to bring up new ideas. Even more, I learned how important it can be to listen well. And, I learned that little gestures and timely credits can really motivate you and shape your behaviour – just as Doug did.

I still treasure two items I received from Doug. The first one is a bookmark he presented to me one day – after a job well done, as he said. He wrote “You have made a difference. Thank you!” The second gift is a book titled “Golden Nuggets” in which he wrote for me “You are a special spirit. Your love for people inspires me very much. Always remember how wonderful you truly are.” I was not really aware that I had the ability to inspire others. Doug spotted this skill in me and encouraged me to make use of it. With this awareness, I learned to focus on developing and enabling colleagues and team members.

The Best Coach - 7 Habits of an Effective Coach

COE’s 7 Habits of an Effective Coach


So, what is it that made my coach so special to me, my best coach? He cared about me. He taught me by observing, by listening patiently and giving immediate feedback – always in a constructive and positive way. Doug constantly reinforced my strengths instead of working on my weaknesses. Using discovery questions, he got me seeking for solutions. He developed the sense of being there when I needed him most. Doug took pride in making me winning.

These ingredients made him the best coach I ever had.

Seven Habits of Highly Effective Process Managers

Not every organisation needs to develop process managers with Lean and Six Sigma skills. Yet, every organisation deserves to have managers with some basic process management skills. Even better, if process management skills became part of the daily business routine and were applied unconsciously, became habits. What are the seven habits of highly effective process managers you should be cultivating?

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