Posts Tagged ‘performance improvement’

Manage your performance – then manage others’

Sunday, December 1st, 2013

In my last post I explored the concept of the importance of managing ourselves when managing a potentially challenging performance conversation.

Here are the tips I promised to help if you are one of those people who think they could do with a little more positive belief!

Breathe – “take a deep breath”, people sometimes say when about to undertake a new or challenging situation … this is because breathing is at the core of effective performance. As soon as we lose our usual breathing pattern, it has a negative influence on our physiology, our posture, our feelings, our ability to perform. If you feel you are losing it, take a deep breath!

Count to 10 – And then they say, “Count to 10”. This can help if you are experiencing unhelpful emotions – anger or frustration for example. Concentrating on a cognitive task can help re-focus your thoughts and regain composure.

Smile more – when I coach people for job interviews, one of the behaviours I ask them to experiment with is smiling – from an hour before the interview. Smiling activates different emotions to frowning, and so will make a person feel more positive. Do you have a (clean!) pen or pencil nearby? If so, put it horizontally between your lips. Now do the same with it between your teeth. What is the difference? French researchers found that when people watched comedies with pencils between their teeth they found them funnier than when people watched them with pencils between their lips – the former making them smile, the latter giving them a sadder expression. Simple facial movements, but they can have a huge effect on the rest of you.

Take control of your self-talk – don’t tell yourself something is going to go wrong – tell yourself it will go right!.  And do you use the word “try” when you tell yourself you are about to do something? If so, you are possibly going to stop yourself before you start.  When Yoda, the small and strange Jedi Master in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’, is training the young Luke Skywalker, he sets Luke numerous challenges and tests to help build the boy into a Jedi. When Luke is given one particularly challenging task, he responds to Yoda that he will ‘try’.  ”No,” Yoda retorts, “Do, or do not. There is no try.” Tell yourself you will do it – as opposed to telling yourself you will try to do it. Create your own history with positive self-fulfilling prophecies, and in order to do this …

Visualise yourself succeeding – you need more than talk. Picture yourself and hear yourself performing well in the situation you face. Experience the positive feelings this generates. Practice this and relatively quickly a person can turn a situation they are concerned about into a situation where they see themselves performing exceptionally well – and then they stay synchronised and carry it through on the day. If you would like more details on this technique, please let me know.

But a word of warning – these techniques take a little time to perfect. Don’t practice them for the first time at the workshop, practice them beforehand. Find out what works for you. Develop them to meet your own needs.

Manage your own performance – and then manage the performance of the other person.

Do you have any other techniques that work? If so, please let me know.

Paul

 

Managing your Performance – what do you believe?

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

I have recently been delivering some Performance Management Workshops. They have been designed to help managers address difficult conversations more effectively, and to equip managers with more skills to improve staff performance.

Delegates have been directed to some excellent models, theories and reading materials prior to attending the workshops.

What I have noticed, however, is that the majority of such theories and models address how to deal with the other person – and pay little or no attention to how the manager manages their own needs. From my experience, managers often know these theories, but are not as effective as they could be in implementing them due to their own levels of confidence.

This happens to a lot of people in such situations – and in similar ones such as job interviews and presenting to audiences. But it doesn’t need to be like that. If you are such a person, these two posts will help you.

Take yourself back to the last time you dealt with a potentially challenging performance management issue (or job interview, or presentation, etc), what were you thinking to yourself immediately beforehand? Perhaps it was one of the following:

  • I have to do this
  • I think this isn’t going to go well
  • I need to do this
  • I want to have a go at doing this
  • I will try and do this
  • I am going to do this effectively

Often our beliefs will become ‘self-fulfilling prophecies’ – we talk ourselves into a belief and that’s what happens … and then we say to ourselves, “there, see, I knew that is how it would turn out”. You need to approach such situations truly believing the last statement – you are going to deal with the situation effectively.

This is what top sports people do – they visualise themselves winning, or scoring the penalty; they convince themselves they will achieve what they need to.

What they say to themselves immediately before performing will relate to the final one of the six statements. And this is where you need to be.

The boxer Muhammed Ali was one of the greatest exponents of this. He would undertake research on his opponents, discuss the information with his team, plan how he wanted the boxing match to go, and ultimately predict his winning round. Not only did he convince himself of this, he would also tell the press and his opponents what round he would win in. He would put his predictions into poems, which made them more memorable – for both him and his opponents – and more newsworthy for the journalists. Many of his opponents were unable to disregard this information – the result being that more often than not Ali won in the round he predicted.  He wrote his own script. And you can write your own scripts.

What Ali did was to gather information, analyse it and make predictions based on this (using his IQ) and then make those predictions a reality using his Emotional Intelligence (EI) or Emotional Quota (EQ). Effective managers understand the need for and ability to use their Emotional Intelligence.

Ali was also obviously attempting to negatively influence his opponents – you will not have opponents in your situation, so it may be that a Winston Churchill quote works for you – “Do something about the things you can do something about – and then go to sleep”. What that quote does is capture where your energies should be when addressing what could be a challenging situation with a work colleague. Too many people think (and worry) about what the person we are due to meet may say, think or do. This is often unhelpful as all they end up doing is thinking about the worst case scenarios – and in turn work themselves up even more! Concentrate on what you can do something about.

There are 4 key aspects of Emotional Intelligence:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-management
  • Social awareness
  • Relationship management

– and whilst all are important, the key requirement for many people when dealing with a challenging situation is the aspect of Self-management.

Within the Emotional Intelligence Quick Book by Bradberry and Greaves, Self-management is summarised as:

  • The ability to use your awareness of your emotions to stay flexible, and direct your behaviour positively
  • The ability to tolerate an exploration of your emotions, understand the breadth of your feelings and allow the best course of action to show itself

Without effective Self-management, a person is unlikely to function effectively – and this will impact on all the other aspects of EI.

How do you manage yourself in such situations? What techniques do you use?

In my next post, I will give you some tips on how you can be more positive in such situations – and so improve your performance and effectiveness.

Paul

 

Creating a Strategy (3) – Aligned and Fit for Purpose

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

If Part 2 was the engine room, Part 3 is all about the different lubricants to keep the engine performing. Engine oils and other lubricants are constantly being improved. If your engine can be improved by using these improved lubricants, you should use them. Whilst I am a dvocating a 5-year strategy to give stability and focus to the vision, I also advocate constantly reviewing it to make sure it’s relevant.

Sections 6 – 9 in this post need to be revisited and amended at least annually. It’s a case of carrying out your MOT – Maximising Our Training.

If you are managing a Learning and Development unit, I’m guessing that you have a finite budget? I’m also reasonably confident that you will have more requests than you can meet with this finite budget?  In which case, you need to maximise those resources.

To deliverer optimum value from your budget, you need a process or processes to ensure that:

  1. only those who really need the learning interventions get them,
  2. where a course is involved, it is run at maximum occupancy, and
  3. those who undertake such interventions have demonstrated that they have the new skills once they return to the workplace.

Section 6 – Organisational Needs Analysis

Based on my previous arguments around whether this Strategy should be a ‘Training’ or ‘Performance Improvement’ Strategy, it should come as no surprise that I advocate a Performance Needs Analysis (PNA) as opposed to a Training Needs Analysis (TNA). Very different entities. I have previously discussed a model for an effective PNA, and this section should summarise the process your organisation will use in relation to assessing its performance needs.

Section 7 – Prioritisation of Needs

Then comes the thorny issue of deciding which, and how many, of the needs you can address. My experience is that the organisation likes the L & D function to undertake this activity. My advice would be not to! The client side is responsible for prioritisation, the L & D side is responsible to effective delivery. If you have a finite budget and some needs cannot be met, who gets the (thorny) stick if L & D have undertaken the prioritisation? Yes, you do!

You should suggest an objective prioritisation process, and work with the client side to ensure that it happens, but not undertake it.

Section 8 – Addressing Needs

This is about getting the right people into the position for the correct needs to be met, and then checking that they have in fact been met. Key aspects of this process should be:

  • The person requiring the performance need (or their manager) giving a clear explanation of the need.
  • The manager explaining why they cannot address this matter locally (through coaching, shadowing, etc.).
  • The manager showing clearly how by addressing this performance need, organisational performance will be improved.
  • Agreement from local senior management that this is a valid need.
  • The delegate creating an action plan at the conclusion of the intervention.
  • Within three months of the end of the intervention, sign off by the line manager that the person’s need has been met – and they can now do what they couldn’t do before.
  • Or re-submission of the need for a further intervention if the manager cannot give this sign off.

This can all be included in one process, and if you would like to see how, please let me know and I will send you further information.

By undertaking Sections 6 – 8, you will ensure that relevant needs at
organisational, team and individual levels are included.

Section 9 – Collaboration

In the past few years the world has seen the formation of a number of strategic alliances between passenger airlines. If you buy a car, there are many makes, but in reality there are only three or four producers in the world with each make falling under one of the larger umbrellas.

Who could you collaborate with to save on design time and maximise places on courses by sharing capabilities? Running programmes more regularly will benefit your organisation, it is easier to fill events to capacity with a larger pool of potential delegates and people will learn different ideas and skills from other organisations. If this works for you, you should include you organisations approach to collaboration within this section.

Section 10 – Design, Delivery and Evaluation

I would advocate a separate Design, Delivery and Evaluation Strategy – and for some organisations it will make more sense to have three separate Strategies covering each of these aspects. This section should make reference to their existence and where they can be located.

Section 11 – Sector / Organisation specific considerations

It may be that your organisation needs one or more specific sections – this is where to add them. An example could be a section on Diversity and Equality, where you might include:

  • A statement of commitment to diversity and equality.
  • The reasons for addressing this aspect separately.
  • How diversity training will be included in programmes.

Section 12 – Monitoring

For some of us, perhaps getting a strategy up and running has been a challenge, and now it is done it can be put to one side and other matters can be focussed on. If that’s the case, what was the point in doing it? If it is mapping out a course we see as being the right direction, we need to keep making sure that we are on track. It needs refreshing and renewing.

This is a short section to write, covering:

  • Who (or what meeting) will monitor activity against the Standards of Performance in Section 4?
  • How often will performance be reported on (quarterly suggested) and who to?
  • Who will review this Strategy?
  • How often will it be reviewed and updated (at least annually)?
  • Who (or what meeting) will the updated Strategy be presented to?

It takes longer to undertake. It entails considering and documenting:

  • If the organisation’s Statement of Values has changed, this document needs to reflect it (Section 1)
  • Have the strategic objectives changed, and so need updating? (Section 2)
  • Do the Guiding Principles require updating? (Section 3)
  • Bearing in mind the above amendments, do you need amended Performance Standards? If not, do the measurements of success need updating due to the current levels of performance? (Section 4)
  • Do the responsibilities need updating? (Section 5)
  • Sections 6 – 8 then need amending in light of all the above information.
  • Is there anyone else we could collaborate with to deliver a more effective service for the organisation? (Section 9)

And that’s it – Training for Performance Improvement (TPI) Strategy successfully completed!

Paul

Creating a Strategy (2) – the Engine Room

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

Having firmly laid the Foundation Stones for the Training for Performance Improvement (TPI) Strategy within sections 1 – 3, sections 4 and 5 deal with Standards of Performance and Responsibilities in delivering the Strategy. This is the engine room of the Strategy.

Section 4 – Standards of Performance (Success Criteria)

This section deals with what you are going to deliver, and how your unit’s performance will be assessed. You need to make the Standards both specific and measureable, yet also relevant for the 5-year lifespan of the Strategy.

This is where you really show whether you are a “Training” or a “Performance Improvement” unit or department. Are your standards of performance going to be “Output” focussed or “Outcome” focussed? Your ‘Scotch Corner’ moment, as I have previously described it.

Here are some examples of Standards of Performance that you could consider using:

  1. Number of days training and development invested in staff per month (i.e. a 5 day course for 12 people equates to 60 days investment)
  2. The % of managers undertaking at least one Leadership or Management Development Course each year
  3. Rating of internal interventions by delegates – % of delegates indicating that the learning event will be of direct benefit to them in their current role
  4. Rating of all interventions, 2 – 4 months after a learning event – % of staff indicating that they have improved their performance as a result of the intervention
  5. The % of managers stating that (your unit) has delivered an improved level of performance, as measured against the previous year

For some of these standards (such as 1 & 2) it may be that your target is the same throughout the 5 years, assuming you are not anticipating any significant changes in your organisation’s staffing levels. For others (such as 3 & 4) it may be that you want to increase the performance percentage for each year of the strategy’s lifecycle.

What would these Performance Standards indicate about the particular unit? If I saw statements 1 and 2 above as the style of Standards of Performance being used in a 5 year Strategy, my initial impression would be that this unit is very “Output” focussed and has little focus on improving performance. The unit is being measured in a relatively simplistic manner. It appears to be a “Training” function.

If, however, I saw statements such as 3, 4 and 5, I would get a very different first impression. These Standards are very “Outcome” focussed, seeking to demonstrate the value of the function to the rest of the organisation. The Standards are more difficult to measure and are more testing to achieve – in order to achieve them, they require more detailed communication and more effective relationships with other parts of the organisation. They indicate that this is a “Performance Improvement” function and that across the organisation there is a more mature culture.

Remember that what is measured generally happens. The measurements you select will become important. If you measure relatively unimportant activity, it will become important – and that will be detrimental to both you and your organisation.

Section 5 – Responsibilities

It is helpful if everyone is aware of their responsibilities in relation to the Strategy. The responsibilities need to be discussed, negotiated and agreed from the outset. Getting clarity and sign off at this stage will save you time in the future.

These are the roles I suggest that you have responsibilities listed for:

  • Staff
  • Line managers
  • Senior Operations managers
  • Members of (your unit)
  • Head of (your unit)
  • Head of (overall part of the organisation within which your unit sits)
  • Senior Leadership members
  • Chief Executive / Head of the Organisation
  • Board members (where appropriate)

Here are a couple of examples of what you might list under two of the above groups.

All members of Staff are expected to:

  • Take responsibility for their own learning and development
  • Learn from their workplace experiences
  • Identify, through the PDR process, and address, with the assistance of line managers and (your unit), their particular learning and
    development needs
  • Make use of self-help facilities
  • Keep up to date with the organisation’s policy, practices and procedures

Senior Leadership members are expected to:

  • Set and review the strategic direction of the organisation
  • Set an example by being effective in managing staff
  • Value and action their own training and development needs, and those who they line manage
  • Monitor and quantify the improved performance delivered as a result of staff undertaking learning and development activities

If you would like examples of the responsibilities that you might list under the other suggested roles, just let me know - I will be happy to send you some.

The third and final part of the TPI Strategy template will be the focus for my next post.

Paul

Creating a Strategy (1) – the Foundation Stones

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

I am often asked for a template for developing a Training Strategy or Performance Improvement Strategy – which, based on the arguments in my last post, will be referred to as a Training for Performance Improvement (TPI) Strategy for the remainder of this post – perhaps I might be able to influence change!

Such a template can be very useful as a guide, but it should only be used as a guide. If taken too rigidly it will hinder your creative thinking or the adding of aspects that might be of particular importance to you and your organisation. I offer you this template with those words of caution.

There are 3 distinct parts within this Strategy template:

  • Part 1 – The Foundation Stones
  • Part 2 – The Standards and Responsibilities
  • Part 3 – The Supporting Processes

Within this post, I will cover what I see as the Foundation Stones for a beneficial Strategy. These are required – as the name suggests – in order to ensure a sound platform for the remainder of the Strategy.

Section 1 – Statement of Values

This section should include a statement on behalf of the organisation setting out its commitment to performance improvement / staff development / training.

If your organisation has a Board of Governors or similar, the statement should be agreeable to both the Board and the Senior Management Team. This is important in terms of unity and clarity, and so that you can gain organisational acceptance for your TPI Strategy.

If you have your own Vision, this can also be included within this section.

Section 2 – Strategic Objectives

Consider these questions:

  • What  are the long term objectives of your organisation?
  • What  are the core skills required within your sector?
  • What  are the likely influences on your organisation over the coming years  -you might want to undertake a PEST / PESTLE  analysis (consider adding as an appendix the key documents you have considered)?
  • What  are the national learning and development issues that are likely to impact on your organisation?

As a result of this Strategic Assessment, you may well come up with several specific objectives, or you may decide to use just one, such as, “To develop the skills and improve the performance of our managers and their team members”.

Do which works best for you, but remember, whatever objective(s) you do come up with need to long term (5 years) and also link into the organisation’s long term objectives – and the links need to be obvious.

Section 3 – Guiding Principles to Underpin the Strategy

This section can be particularly useful in less mature organisations where you are still seeking to embed effective development processes.

The sorts of principles that you might see benefit from incorporating could include:

  • The PDR / Appraisal process will be the effective link between personal development and organisational effectiveness
  • Learning and Development is a critical support function working to enable the organisation to deliver improved organisational performance (particularly useful to include if your unit’s title is ‘Training’ or ‘Learning and Development’)
  • The focus of activities will be on improving the performance of staff and the services we provide (the comments against the previous bullet point also apply here)
  • Staff will be encouraged and supported to undertake appropriate self-development activities
  • The content of programmes will be stimulating and challenging
  • Leadership skills and valuing diversity will be key threads throughout learning activities
  • Where possible, learning and development activities will be linked to nationally recognised qualifications
  • Monitoring of transference of skills to the workplace will take place in order to ascertain the value of learning and development activities

So those are the Foundation Stones – in the next post I will explain Part 2 – the Standards and Responsibilities for the TPI Strategy.

Paul

Time to take the road least travelled?

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

In my previous two posts, I have discussed the importance of a Vision. The Vision helps a company or team gain a shared view and understanding of what they want to achieve and how they want to be viewed.

If you are looking to create a Learning and Development (or Training) Strategy, you may have created your own Departmental Vision if your unit is large enough, or it may be that you have a company Vision which you use. This is a helpful starting point for your Strategy.

Here in England, just north of where I live and about 100 miles from Scotland, there is a road junction called “Scotch Corner”. Most people hardly notice it now, but in years gone by it was a hugely significant junction. Before getting to this point, the traveller needed to have planned their journey and decided whether they would be going up the east coast or west coast of Scotland. The decision had to be made a long time before reaching Scotland. Once they had decided which way to turn at Scotch Corner, it was expensive, time consuming and complicated to change course. The same is true of a strategy.

So before you go any further, why are you creating a strategy? The dictionary definition of a strategy is, “a long-term plan for success; a plan to achieve an advantage”. Nowhere does it suggest its definition is, “a paper exercise; the ticking of a box”. Sadly though, too many strategies are created for this second purpose – and such an approach can also become a millstone, or worse – a stick with which others can metaphorically beat you.

For a strategy to give you this long term plan and a competitive or organisational advantage, you need to put time, thought and energy into its formulation. It should enable you to clearly express where your function is heading and most importantly how it will support organisational performance, improvement and success. Once you have achieved this, you should be able to gain support and acceptance for your approach from your organisation’s senior management. This ‘sign off’ gives you further clarity, and can be very useful if you need to ‘challenge’ other parts of the organisation if for any reason they do not support your activities or seek to alter your direction.

So far I have referred to the document as a ‘Learning and Development’ or ‘Training’ Strategy, however, I would suggest that you really think hard about what you call it. Its title will set the tone for what you do and how you are seen. I have previously set down my thoughts on what can happen when a person is called a Trainer (“Sell your crunch, not your apples“), and how this can be unhelpful. As an aside, since writing that post, I have been on a course where the attendees were people who coach, train and develop others. The job title of one delegate was “Performance Improvement Consultant” Music to my ears! Having said that, the person worked at a group of hospitals in Orlando, Florida and so my concerns as to whether the title would be understood in the UK still exist.

Put yourself in the shoes of your senior operations manager – or similar – for a moment. Do they want a function that provides ‘Training’, ‘Learning’, ‘Development’, ‘Performance Improvement’, or something else? I see this as a continuum to which you could potentially add other words or phrases.

I’m pretty sure that the majority of senior operations managers would put themselves towards the right hand end of this continuum – they want performance improvement. That’s how they are measured, that’s how they demonstrate success, that’s what keeps the business competitive or the organisation successful.

Why then do so many people have ‘Training’ Strategies? Possibly because that’s the way they have always been done, or possible because of where the function sits within the organisation. Often this function is part of HR. Within the HR profession, ‘Training’ is still an all too popular generic title. If this function was moved to be part of the Performance Management arm of the business, would its primary purpose still be seen as Training? I think not.

Consequently, this Strategy is far more than a piece of paper. It will say what you are about, and how you are positioned within the organisation. It should make you think long and hard about what impact you intend to make. So before you even start to write it, think about these crucial questions.

Will you be having a ‘Training Strategy’ or a ‘Performance Improvement Strategy’? This is your ‘Scotch Corner’ moment.

Paul

The Ten Heads of Ineffective Listeners

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

Last week I was delivering a session on Achieving Results through Effective Performance Management. At the conclusion of the day, I asked the delegates to tell me what had been most impactive for them and what they would be implementing in the workplace as soon as practicable. Two of them both talked about the relatively short section we had covered on blocks to effective listening.

Then today I saw a Tweet from an acquaintance which said, “Someone told me once that to deal with a complaint well, you have to open your ears ten times as much as your mouth – they were so right!”.

Consequently, I decide to blog about the Ten Heads of Ineffective Listeners. They are (in alphabetical order):

The Adviser – The Adviser is a problem solver, and is eager to provide suggestions and what they perceive to be help. In Transactional Analysis (TA) terms, this person operates strongly from the Parent ego state. Sometimes they only have to hear a few sentences and they know what the solution is for the person. Sadly, they don’t realise that a solution from their own experiences and viewpoints is unlikely to work for the other person.

The Comparer – As the name suggests, they love making comparisons. They compare what they hear to their own experiences, and compare themselves to the person.

The Derailer – This person suddenly highjacks the conversation – possibly due to boredom or because they are uncomfortable with a topic – often by either changing the subject or making a joke.

The Dreamer – This person hears something that triggers a memory or association in their mind and they drift off so that they are, at best, only partially listening to what the other person says.

The Filterer – Our Filterer listens to some things and not to others. They pay attention to what has caught their attention, what they find interesting or surprising, or the parts that support their views or opinions.

The Judger – This person judges or pre-judges either the person or their reactions from a values perspective, rather than listening to all the information and coming to a logical conclusion based on all the facts. In TA terms, they again operate primarily from the Parent ego state as opposed to the Adult ego state.

The Mind Reader – The Mind Reader doesn’t pay much attention to what a person says because they don’t need to (or so they think). They make assumptions, or guess at what is coming next or going on in the other person’s head. The Mind Reader excels at displaying little empathy.

The Placater – The Placater wants (or needs?) to be nice, pleasant and supportive. They want people to like them so the Placater agrees with almost everything the person says and does not make challenges at the appropriate moments. In TA terms, they are usually operating from their Adapted Child or Nurturing Parent ego states.

The Rehearser – What shall I say next? How shall I say it? Is this word better than that word? The Rehearser is constantly thinking about what to say next rather than listening. By the time they say their well-rehearsed sentence, the moment has probably passed. And they will have missed what has been said in the meantime. And it probably doesn’t come out well as they haven’t got it exactly as they wanted, because they were trying to get it out word for word. Their action plan is then to rehearse more next time, and the downward spiral continues.

The Sparrer – The Sparrer argues and debates with people about what they are saying, doing, believing, or explaining. The Sparrer has to talk. The other person doesn’t feel heard, can feel very frustrated and can be drawn into explaining and justifying.

There you go – I hope that helps. What it doesn’t answer is just why so many of us are so poor at listening to others.

I’m sure specific individuals have come to mind as you have been reading through the descriptions. But perhaps we should reflect as to whether any of them apply to us?

Paul

The responsibility of power, and the power of responsibility

Monday, January 9th, 2012

Last week here in the UK, a couple of our Members of Parliament (MPs) made comments they regretted – or perhaps they regretted? Whether they did or they didn’t regret them, it has been claimed in some quarters that they said ‘sorry’ for their interventions, but I’m not sure that they did.

Labour front bencher Diane Abbott was the first. She Tweeted a fairly sweeping generalisation about what “white people” allegedy sometimes do, and in doing so raised a few eyebrows. She eventually sought to minimise any damage caused – after either a period of reflection or having been ordered to – and issued a statement. Within it she said, “I understand people have interpreted my comments as making generalisations about white people. I do not believe in doing that. I apologise for any offence caused.”

The second example, which occurred around the same time as the first, was by a member of the Conservative Party – fortuitously, as it hopefully protects me from accusations of political affiliations! Our Prime Minister had made unfavourable comments about Ed Balls’ body language at Prime Minister’s Questions. He also felt the need to apologise. “I was speaking off the cuff, and if I offended anyone of course I am very sorry about that,” David Cameron said to Andrew Marr on the latter’s BBC1 Show. “That was not my intention at all.”, he added.

But these aren’t apologies. They are excuses for apologies.

Let’s say you go into a shop to complain about how you have been treated by a member of staff, because their actions and behaviour made you angry. You explain all this to the manager. The manager then apologises to you for your anger. How is that likely to impact on you? Has that really helped? And, perhaps most importantly, how seriously is the matter being taken.

Both Abbott and Cameron have only apologised to people experiencing negative feelings – and only for the feelings, not for their own actions. If you didn’t experience any feelings, they are not talking to you. They haven’t taken responsibility for their behaviour.

This theme of responsibility raised its ugly head again yesterday when I was watching a football match on the Television. A player was waiting for the ball to be returned to him so that he could take a throw in, and from the brief close up it was obvious that the player was receiving a considerable amount of abuse from that section of the crowd.  The commentator felt a need to comment. Perhaps because of the colour of the players skin, perhaps because the player had recently been involved in a high profile confrontation with an allegedly racist foundation, perhaps for some other reason. Commenting about the abuse of footballers, he said, “It is habitual …. It goes on, blue, red, black, white, it’s the nature of the beast”.

Sadly, I accept such abuse happens – I go to football matches. But it’s not habitual and if I am part of that collective ‘beast’, it’s certainly not in my nature.  I would have preferred it if the commentator had been a little less resigned and a shown a little more responsibility. Rather than accepting it as the norm and labelling everyone, would it not have been more helpful for him to point out the unacceptability of what was happening, and that it doesn’t have to be like that, to the millions who were viewing?

Having staff take responsibility for their actions is a key role of management. Where a manager genuinely apologises for the inappropriate or unhelpful actions of one of their staff, as opposed to the feelings of the customer, he or she is more likely to deal with the matter robustly. And where the manager ensures that the employee takes responsibility for their actions, the approach is more mature and more beneficial for organisational development – which can only contribute positively to the organisation’s successes.

I am currently working with one organisation where such an approach has had a powerful result. In past times, when one of their drivers had a collision, they gave them additional training. For the past few years the first thing they do – where the driver is at fault – is to require them to take responsibility for their actions that led to the collision. This discussion leads to a greater insight into what the person has done and their specific development needs. This approach has contributed to a more than 25% reduction in collisions for this organisation.

Perhaps if this approach led to a 25% swing in voters, MPs would be more adept at taking responsibility for their actions – genuinely or otherwise!

Paul

Mediation matters

Saturday, November 19th, 2011

As a result of my last post on Steps and the process they went through in reforming, I received an email asking me about tips on successful mediation.

ACAS and CIPD have published an excellent guide, “Mediation – an Employer’s Guide”.  If you are considering implementing a mediation process in your organisation, I think it’s invaluable. It is also very helpful if you just want to learn more about the process of mediation. If, however, you don’t read long documents, just don’t have time to read the booklet, or want to hear someone else’s views on mediation, here goes.

Mediations are probably some of the most enjoyable things I do in the work environment . This is partly because I have seen how beneficial they can be to both the individuals involved and their organisations, and partly because they are exciting to facilitate. I considered for several minutes whether I should use the word “exciting” in case it sounded frivolous – but I do find them exciting.

They are exciting because I never know what is going to happen and I always feel I have to be at the top of my game when dealing with them. The participants will react in all sorts of ways – dependent upon what I say and do, and what the other person or persons say and do. I think my overall tip is that a mediator needs to go into such situations with the “I can handle” belief as opposed to the less confident “I need to handle”. If a person is approaching the handling of mediations with the latter attitude, I would suggest that they undertake some co-mediation before undertaking them alone.

Many people advocate meeting with the participants several days before the mediation in order that they know you, understand that it is a voluntary process, understand how the process is likely to unfold and have the opportunity to ask you any questions. I see the sense in that, but there are also times when I would not meet individuals until the day of the mediation. This would particularly be the case where I am working as an internal ediator (i.e. as a fellow employee) and the individuals are working closely together. I need them both (or all) to know that I am independent and that I have not taken sides with either party prior to the mediation. So, if it also meets their needs (and it often does as they have already decided the mediation will not work!) then I explain to them individually on the day what is likely to happen, my role, etc.

Whichever process I follow though, I never discuss the issues that we ae meeting about and at the start of the meeting when they come together I always ask each person to confirm that this is the case. This is really important for me so that I enter the situation with no ‘baggage’ or information that I might otherwise let slip into the conversation, and so that the parties know that I am impartial.

As for the process itself, the key to a successful mediation is encouraging and enabling people to talk in terms of facts as opposed to adjectives. By the time we have got to the mediation stage, they are almost always viewing their relationship or the situation in terms of adjectives. They are often running on negative emotion, which is great fuel for generating a lack of objectivity.

Once we are in a room all together, one person gets the chance to explain the situation from their perspective. Using only facts. I stop the monologue whenever an adjective is used – unless it is the person explaining how something made them feel. And the other person(s) cannot interrupt – hence why I call it a monologue. They can each make notes to remind them of points they want to make, but they can’t interject. This makes them listen – which, after sticking to the facts, is the second most important aspect of a mediation. Using monologues also stops arguments and disagreements – up until getting together for the formal mediation they will often have jumped into the situation, and no listening takes place.

And facts generally get people to start to listen – because facts have been missing for so long, so they hear a different story. If I have mediated successfully, I have helped to change the record.

By the time the other person then gets to give their monologue it is usually a little easier for the mediator. And if you achieve that as the mediator, the rest of it is relatively easy.

At the conclusion, I always encourage them to write down what they have agreed. This is so important. It means that they have clarity on what they have agreed, and have almost ‘a statement’ that they can read or give to other interested parties – which limits the potential for reverting to adjectives!

I remember one that I facilitated where the individuals would not even look at each other at the start – they sat back to back with their arms folded. Gradually, as they listened to facts they became increasingly engaged. The making of a written note for future reference, a look over the shoulder, moving the position of the chairs – all great signs for the mediator! After 4 hours together, they understood what had actually taken place, accepted each other’s position, agreed a ‘statement’ to give to the other members of their team and decided to go out for a meal together that evening.

Their manager called it a “miracle”. I was pleased with the impact on productivity and performance it had for the team, but I wouldn’t have called it a miracle. I just enabled people to deal in facts and listen to each other.

One of my previous posts gives additional assistance and structure for mediations – “Can you afford not to do this?” explains a model called CUDSA which I always use in such circumstances.

If this generates any other questions for you, I’m happy to try and answer them. Alternatively, what are your tips for other mediators?

Paul

 

The art of measurement

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

I have recently questioned the number of networking events that I have the opportunity to attend – and more specifically the benefit of many of them. There are some beneficial ones that I attend – where I learn and develop – and there are others that appear to be run for the benefit of the few organisers, and are marketing events thinly veiled as networking events. Unfortunately, in my view, too many of them are leaning towards the latter.

Consequently, at the suggestion of another self-employed colleague, she and I loosely organised – ‘set up’ sounds too grandiose a term – a ‘Walk and Talk’ event. The intention was that there would be 6 or 7 mile walks in areas of outstanding beauty where we could chat, theorise, contemplate, problem solve, reflect, and seek the counsel of other like-minded individuals. I am pleased to say that these have really taken off now – as we walk, smaller groups of 2 or 3 will chat for a while, and then, perhaps where a gate is opened or a stile is negotiated, the groups will seamlessly change and other discussions will develop. If the surface is suitable, sometimes a model is drawn and discussed (sandy, slightly damp conditions appear most suited to this aspect!). They happen about every six weeks, there are different people every time, and we have fun, develop ideas and keep fit as we go!

On the last walk, I was listening to two fellow walkers discussing coaching. One of the threads of their conversation led to them discussing a definition of coaching, which was “… the art of facilitating the performance, learning and development of another’. The provider explained that the quote is by Myles Downey and that he likes it because it implies an intuitive art to the process, as well as the mechanical deployment of skills and techniques. He added that the most important word to him within the definition is ‘art’.

This set me thinking. As some of you are aware, I don’t generally have a lot of time for qualifications relating to the acquisition of people skills. There is too much measurement of outputs, and insufficient valuing of outcomes. As a prospective employer, I really don’t care whether you have a trainer’s qualification or not – what I care about is whether you can demonstrate that you have used sound learning and development principles to bring about or contribute to improved and quantifiable organisational performance.

Coaching is the same. So you’ve got a qualification. That’s positive in that it demonstrates a commitment to learning and a desire to improve oneself, but it may not tell me whether you have assisted in improving a person’s performance through your coaching skills. And so do they really help a customer who is seeking a
competent coach?

If coaching is an art, can a qualification measure what is an art? Mozart, Lennon, Dali, Rodin, Rowling – did they have qualifications relevant to their arts?

Perhaps there is a place for qualifications at a basic level within an art, but surely there comes a point where the skills are beyond the realms of being broken down into competencies?

Benjamin Bloom presented us with his Taxonomy of learning within the Cognitive Domain many years ago. As you may well be aware, a taxonomy is an ‘ordered list’, and Bloom identified 6 stages we have to pass through in developing our knowledge of a subject or field of expertise. These levels are Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis and Evaluation.

A coaching qualification can, I accept, measure a person’s ability to the Application level, but can it measure it beyond this level? The top quality coaches who I have had the pleasure and fortune to witness exhibiting their skills are beyond this level. They use their feelings, their sixth sense, their intuition – that’s why they are the best. They are true artists.

As for the Walk and Talk, I was so involved in these personal reflections, I was only walking and contemplating at that time. But that’s fine – and that’s what makes it so good. Everyone has the space to do what they want, when they want to do it and how they want to do it.

And, even better, people bring their walking boots rather than their business cards.

Paul