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Do You Have Quality Conversations with Your Staff?

During my time at one public service organisation in Singapore, I recognised one day that I had a problem calling my staff by their name. Even worse, I did not know anything about my more junior level officers. Of course, I met my managers and deputies quite often. But, some of the executives I did not have any chance to engage in a chat with.

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Don’t Procrastinate Feedback

During a leadership development workshop for senior officers, a CEO shared that he had initiated a feedback dialogue with his staff by applying the technique taught the day before. He told us that he had postponed and avoided giving feedback for this staff for many weeks, even though he sensed that his colleague was expecting to hear from him. The staff cried during the feedback session – not because he got scolded by his boss – because he was moved by his boss’ initiative and words.

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Is Group Coaching Possible?

Coaching is about believing in someone and then taking action to help that person to be his or her very best.

Some months ago, the managing director of an MNC approached me to develop a team of four operations managers with some people and management skills. Three of them were promoted recently but have not had any formal leadership training. This is not unusual as we see this happen over and over again. He also shared that he would like me to conduct a one-on-one coaching for one of his managers. He wanted me to develop her leadership skills and especially her openness to change.

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Cultivating an Improvement and Innovation Mindset

Working with management teams of our clients often takes them away from their business for a few days. They frequently get in touch with their teams at home. Sometimes I involuntarily eavesdrop their part of the conversation. “How is it going? Is everything ok?” are common questions they ask their teams. When they get some kind of “yes” they seem satisfied.

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Recognising The Coach-able Moment

In a coaching or mentoring relationship, finding the right moment for performing the coaching is critical. Often, coaching attempts go wrong because the moment is just not right. But, how do you know whether you are at a coachable-moment? Just ask yourself whether you have the right essentials for coaching someone: A sincere intention, a good relationship and suitable words.

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Revisiting Management by Walking About (MBWA)

Some twenty years ago, just after I was hired by General Electric Capital and tasked to implement something as strange to a bank as continuous improvement in their newly acquired, yet dusty German banking environment, life was not walk in the park anymore. Gaining the skills for the new job with the help of the outstanding GE Capital people development engine was challenging but rewarding.

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Banking – A Productivity Gold Mine

When I joined General Electric Capital fifteen years ago, I asked them why they would hire an engineer with no prior banking knowledge. The answer was quite a pleasant surprise: “We have enough people who understand banking. Unfortunately, we do not have those with a process mind-set.”

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No One Makes Mistakes on Purpose

“Bob is not doing his job. Always mistakes. What should I do with him?”
“Mary has messed up our relationship with a key client. I had to step in to save the day.”

Having done a multitude of projects in all kinds of private and public organisations, we have frequently encountered these and other remarks by managers about their staff. Although the comments are usually based on symptoms that come in the disguise of facts, starting a project, especially an improvement project, with this type of mind-set is generally a bad omen. It sets the wrong focus and leads very often to failure.

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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 Mentor – How Not to Disserve Your Mentee

When you agree to mentor another person, you offer to help someone in his/her development in the organisation. By mentoring, you have no agenda of your own and thus you are able to create a safe arena within which to develop a trusting relationship.

Mentoring Relationship

Mentoring Relationship

Mentoring is not always easy and as natural as we expect. Here are some tips on how not to disserve your mentee.

1. Make Time

Cancelling appointments at the last minute, turning up late or leaving early or showing up for meetings in a rush without knowing your mentees’ priorities are common worst practices by mentors.

I agreed to mentor 3 young managers in my previous organisation. After a couple of months, I realised that I am not able to keep to all the meetings with my mentees while performing my daily role as the Head of Department; attending to several internal and external meetings. I found myself dancing on my schedules with my mentees – postponing appointments one hour prior to the meeting.

I knew Eva, Jack and John were not very happy with me changing schedules frequently at the last minute, but they did not dare to tell me how they felt. I only learnt about it during the mentoring mid-way review feedback survey. Luckily I had another 9 months to repair my relationship with my mentees. Things turned out well after I committed myself to allocate the same priority to both my meetings with mentees and other business dealings. I have also learnt to delegate work to my team members – something which I taught my mentees to do!

Mentoring is a commitment – you need to set aside time to prepare for the meeting and afterwards to reflect and prepare notes. Therefore, do not over-commit to too many mentoring relationships at the same time.

2. Be Patient and Don’t Make your Mentee Become You

You may sometimes feel that you know exactly what to do, from similar experiences, when your mentee explains his/her challenges. So, it can be frustrating to see your mentee taking a longer time to find the right solution. Good mentors are patient, letting their mentees find solutions with guidance instead of blunt instructions, no matter how long it takes.

Eve just got her promotion to a Team Leader role in her department. When she related her challenges in people management and her problems in engaging her team members to be aligned with her objectives, I could see the then-me in her. Instead of sharing with her my problem-solving skills and letting her find the solution, I was telling her how to tackle the issues using the same way I did before. I told her what she should say and do. I even called her a week later to check if she had done exactly what I told her.

Later, Eve shared with me that she was not very comfortable in doing exactly what I instructed, and that she would prefer to take more time to build relationship with her team members. It then donned on me that I have made one of the biggest mistakes in mentoring – I was focusing on ME rather than developing my mentee!

Mentoring is about developing mentees’ talents, not turning them into carbon copies of their mentors. A mentee’s success often follows a very different path from their mentor’s. Respecting and cultivating people’s individuality is more rewarding than just solving their problems. By doing so, mentors may even widen their own horizon.

3. Don’t Start Telling Too Many Stories

Sometimes a good personal anecdote is the perfect way to make a point. Your mentee wants to learn from your experience, after all. But don’t start telling too many stories that are more indulgent of yourself than helpful to the mentee.

Jack is a very quiet person. Our conversation tended to be very formal and sometimes I found myself referring to theories I picked up from books or articles, and at times I used my personal ‘war stories’ to relate to the subject. He listened attentively, usually. Our meeting could last about 1 to 2 hours – with me talking most of the time!

I decided to ask him for feedback on our mentoring relationship and how else I could better support him as mentor. Jack said to me that my personal experience is a useful reference but he felt it was rather difficult for him to relate to his own challenges. He told me that it would be good to keep the sharing succinct and focus more on ways to address the issues. He liked the challenging questions I posted to him as they did help him think through the essence of the support and guidance he needed from me.

I have been reminded by this episode that mentoring relationship is a two-way street, not a lecture hall. I have also learnt to make sure I leave room for my mentee to make decisions, and encourage them to develop and trust their own judgement.

4. Mentoring Also Means: Giving Feedback

Every now and then, it might be appropriate to give your mentee some feedback which describes your response to the “story” you have heard. I prefer to package my feedback using the SBI technique:

  • Situation and circumstances at which the behaviour occurred.
  • Behaviour you have observed.
  • Impact of this behaviour on you and others.

You might, for example, want to give him/her positive feedback on how he/she has handled things so far. Or challenge his/her behaviour or attitude in response to the issue.

Whatever form your feedback takes, you should observe the following ground rules:

  • Ask your mentee if he/she would like to hear your feedback and respect his/her right to say ‘no’
  • Focus on specifics and avoid generalisations, especially if you are giving feedback on the person. Use the Situation-Behaviour-Impact (SBI) technique.
  • Give less rather than more; focus on the key resources that will be most useful for the other person to hear
  • Avoid wrongfully highlighting to your mentee that you are an ‘official’ mentor to his/her role.
  • Emphasise that your feedback is an opinion, not a fact. Emphasise that this is only your response, and that it says as much about you as it does about him/her
  • Allow your mentee to respond to your feedback

Mentoring is about believing in someone and then taking action to help that person be his or her very best. Do try to use the above tips while embarking on a fulfilling and rewarding experience.

Management by Walking About

Management by Walking About - Meeting Staff at Their Desk

Management by Walking About – Meeting Staff at Their Desk

“People leave bad managers, not companies …,” is one of the results of a famous Gallup survey at corporations in the US. This does not mean we have “bad” people as managers. It rather means that not every high-performing employee is really suitable for a managerial position. Other surveys have shown that less than 30% of high performers have the ability to do well as supervisor.

Many managers lose their people because they have not been able to develop processes for sensing their environment, for feeling the pulse of their organisation beyond what numbers show. Since they have reached senior rank, they unintentionally surround themselves with various mechanisms that prevent them from getting an accurate picture of what is going on. They may have the facts and figures, but often they do not know too much about the feelings of the people, about the heartbeat of the organisation.

In my opinion, there is a real need for managers to constantly gain feedback from all levels in order to help improving the company as well as their own performance. How can managers learn, how can they develop if they do not know, where things are going right, where they are going wrong, particularly if it affects their own managerial behaviour?

Annual culture surveys are not good enough to connect managers and their staff. In fact, they are too formal and deliver only lagging information in a very stringent way. They cannot measure the daily pulse of the organisation. Therefore, we need other, more informal ways for helping sense the environment and creating bonds.

Management by Walking About – MBWA

When I was with AT&T, we were encouraged to see our Managing Director taking time to meet staff on the production line and at the office. He did it nearly every day after lunch, dropped in unannounced and spent time talking to people, found out what was important to them. Staff members did certainly acknowledge the meaning of our MD taking a personal interest in them. This routine – “Management by Walking About” – is an amazingly simple method of going to your staff, listening and talking to them and finding out what drives or bothers them. Yet, it is a powerful way to get feedback from all levels.

Later, after I became HR Director of an insurance broking company, I applied what I have learnt at AT&T. Especially for an HR Director, it is too late to learn about staff leaving the company – during the exit interview. Therefore, I made regular visits to the different business units which were located at different storeys. So, I did my Management by Walking About. I made it a habit to speak to my colleagues nearly every day. We had short chats to find out how they were and what they were doing … even beyond work. At the beginning, most of them were not comfortable to see their HR Director walking around and interacting with them. Some were suspecting that I was checking on them. However, trust was built over time.

One day after I came back from my vacation, a colleague approached me when I was doing my usual Management by Walking About and said “I have been waiting for you as I do have some issues I would like to seek your advice on …”

I truly learned a lot about my colleagues. From time to time I was able to help them – sometimes even with personal issues. And, I have to admit, I learnt about myself, too.

Never underestimate the power of face-to-face dialogue, even in the era of email and SMS.

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