Archive for March, 2009

Coaching Staff — Part I

I found a great series on Coaching Employees that I’m going to share with you over the next couple of weeks. Let me know what other topics you’d like to learn about! ~Kristin

Coaching Staff — Part 1
The Brilliant Leadership Blog
One of the key leadership activities in the workplace, especially for those with direct responsibility for people, is to coach their staff. But how do you do it and how do you find time to do it?

In this series I hope to answer both questions. To do so I will be putting a simple coaching cycle at the heart of the discussion. This breaks down as follows:

1. Instruction
2. Demonstration
3. Practice
4. Observation
5. Feedback

This cycle seems relatively straightforward but the reality is that there are challenges presented at each stage. So let us begin with the first stage of the coaching cycle – instruction.

When a staff member is new to a task or skill area, the first thing they need is to understand what they are meant to be doing, why they are doing it and how it should be done. This is the knowledge they need to gain but simple as it sounds, it has some potential pitfalls. The greatest risk is that the initial explanation might not be fully understood and even if it is, human nature will lead to memory gaps during the learning process. So how does the coach overcome and deal with these issues?

Before providing instruction on a task or skill area, the coach should provide the staff member with a clear context. Why do you need to learn this? How does it fit in with the other tasks you are asked to perform? How does it fit in with the work of other team members? How does it fit in with other teams and/or the wider organisation?

Without context, it is much harder to fully understand the task in hand.

Bite Sized Chunks
The best way to provide instruction is in bite sized chunks, particularly for more complex tasks or skill areas. These chunks should be logically organised into building blocks of knowledge so that each new explanation is a natural progression from the last one.

Common Language
It is imperative that the coach uses language that the staff member understands. You need to be especially careful about the use of jargon or internal language.

Keep it short and simple (or keep it simple, stupid if you prefer). Don’t over complicate an explanation. It should be clear, concise and unambiguous.

Message Delivery
Make the message come alive by using examples, analogies and visual aids.

Check Understanding
At each stage of the knowledge transfer process, the coach needs to check understanding. There are several ways to do this. In some situations it might be appropriate to run a test or a quiz. In others it might be more appropriate to ask the staff member to summarise their understanding. A more subtle way of checking understanding is to have a conversation about how to apply this knowledge that culminates in an action plan – the conversation itself enables the coach to be confident that the understanding is accurate.

Reference Material
Ideally, the staff member will have access to reference material that will serve as a reminder to the knowledge they gained. This can take the form of procedure/user manuals, process maps, notes, intranet/knowledge transfer documentation or even a relevant book.

On the surface, providing instruction on a task or skill area appears straightforward but in practice there are a number of potential pitfalls. The guidelines above will help you avoid or navigate your way through these.

In part two I will be looking at the next stage of the coaching cycle – how to provide staff with an effective demonstration.

Simon Cooper is Chief Executive of the Experiential Learning Centre, author of the exciting new book, Brilliant Leader and architect of the unique and powerful Brilliant Leadership workshops.


If It Can Happen to Pluto…

OK, I’m going to show a little of my nerdiness here, but do you remember 2 years ago when the International Astronomical Union striped Pluto of its “planet” status? Most of you probably heard about it, many of you probably didn’t really care… but I urge you to consider this:

If change can happen to something as certain as a PLANET, it can certainly happen to us. And it does. Everyday.

Pluto’s reclassification changed the rules of the game, and organizational change can be like that too. There you were confident and comfortable with your boss, and now you must readjust and reorient to a new one with a different style, focus, and rules. Like it. Don’t like it. Regardless, get on board!

“Change is good. Everybody is doing it… Get on board!” — Will Anderson, Channel Marketing Manager, Double-Take Software

There there 3 things to know when change is afoot. First, when the rules change, it’s uncomfortable… but then you get used to it. Second, your future depends on letting go of the unease and moving forward with the times. Third, this is your growth spurt!

It might not be the growth you’d choose nor the timing you’d prefer, but it’s the perfect opportunity for you to use your talent to reinvent yourself, expand the boundaries of your comfort zone and contribute in new ways.

It’s challenging, unnerving… but exciting!

Just Do It

Is there something that is nagging at you right now – that little “to do” that you’ve spent a few days just putting lower and lower on your priority list, but you have to get it done?

Here’s some simple advice: just do it. Make it your top priority in the morning. Get it over with. Get it off your mind. You’ve likely spent more time agonizing over it than it would take to accomplish the task.
Tackling your nagging “to-do’s” first thing in the morning is a great way to progress and free your mind for the bigger projects in your professional environment.

Do you have any added advice to improve efficiency? Share them!

Author: Angie,

Categories: productivity

The Power of Specificity

Which one of these works best as a call to action?
• We need 37 new accounts to reach our revenue goal for 2009
• We need more than 30 new accounts to reach our revenue goal for 2009
• We need a bunch of new accounts to reach our revenue goal for 2009

Most of would probably choose #1. But why?

Because of the power of specificity.

The first example is so concrete we know it can be broken down into a measurable, do-able plan. That creates some immediate energy and confidence.

Need credibility to create commitment and action? Of course you do. And precise details show the listeners that you are probably telling the truth. A “guesstimate” doesn’t have the same impact because it leaves a little “doubt cloud’ hanging out there. Without concrete facts people may think that you are just making the whole thing up–or exaggerating a bit.

Statistics and precise details not only help with authenticity but create curiosity and mental involvement. The human mind latches on to that which is precise but has to wrestle with fuzziness. When people around us have to work extra hard at what we are saying, they begin to tune out.

What can you be more specific about today?

Author: Steve Roesler, All Things

How to Navigate Cultural Differences

March 10, 2009 1 comment

By: Emily Stevens

When running a kickoff meeting, it’s important to get down to business immediately, right? And when you complete that project, isn’t it great to take the team out to a nice steakhouse, and maybe even (in better economic times) buy them a round of drinks?

Or is it?

In some cultures, jumping right into a meeting without taking the time to know something about one another is considered rude and counterproductive. And what you think is a reward (steak and a martini) might create an awkward moment for a team member who is vegetarian or who doesn’t drink, for religious or other reasons. Clearly, it’s important to be aware of the friction points which can arise in a diverse workplace. You may be traveling the globe, or may simply have people from various cultures and backgrounds to work with here at home. Either way, here are some key distinctions to consider:

Tradition versus change: Here in the U.S. we tend to assume that we should “embrace change”. However, in other cultures there may be less willingness to assume that all change is positive. Be willing to spend time justifying change, and know that customers’ or employees’ objections and fears will help you better identify risk areas and mitigate them. Your change initiative can benefit from listening to those who are concerned.

Relationships: Do you get to know people before working with them, or is working together the means to know one another? Different cultures have different views. A good rule of thumb is to always take a few minutes at the beginning of a meeting to introduce people and orient them to each other. Even an established team can have fun with a few icebreakers which help them learn new things about one another.

Time: Is a culture punctual or casual about time? We are mostly a punctual society. If you have an employee who is less than punctual, the issue may be more cultural than attitudinal, so be friendly and fair, but firm about the need to be at work on time. That said, many workplaces today have less emphasis on being punctual, and more emphasis on simply being available, such as by Blackberry. Define your expectations and communicate them clearly.

Formality: Cultures are very different in how they approach formality in a relationship. To be safe, always start formally and become more casual as you build a relationship. Be careful about names, how quickly you go from a formal last-name-only greeting to first names. Also, be sensitive to physical distance, eye contact, and whether a friendly touch on the arm or pat on the back would be welcome or not. And, in any culture, never pat a pregnant woman’s stomach. Just don’t. There are other ways to communicate your support, congratulations and good wishes.

Communications: You can communicate very directly, meaning you are candid even to the point of not considering your listener’s feelings. The advantage of direct communications is that they are efficient and leave no room for doubt. Indirect communications may be more focused on allowing the listener to save face but may be less clearly understood. The best practice is to structure your message carefully and deliver negative messages privately.
Rewards and Recognition: Give a lot of thought to the rewards you bring into the workplace. There’s nothing wrong with checking with people on their preferred rewards—and what they ask for may actually be easier and cheaper than what you were planning. Food, after-hours celebrations, and even public recognition may be less rewarding than you think.

One final thought: how are you setting up meetings, if you have participants across the globe? Consider the effect on those in other time zones, and balance how frequently you ask them to accommodate early or late calls. And, it’s always nice to ask about holidays when setting up a meeting schedule. You don’t have to know every holiday in every country or religion, but you can be respectful of holidays as an issue.

Diversity in your workplace can be a great source of innovation and learning for your organization. Respect is the key word: it’s what makes the difference between conflict and synergy.

Do Gen X-ers & Millennials Require Different Workplace Learning Approaches?


There were 126 million people born between 1965 and 1998. Maybe you’re one of them. Maybe you develop training materials for some of them. Maybe you are responsible for some of these people’s career development.

What makes them tick? How are they different from the Boomers and the Silent Generation? Let’s find out.

Let’s begin by defining some terms and outlining some broad generalizations about the different experiences and world views each group brings to the work place that might impact how they approach learning in the work place.

  • Gen X – the 51 million people born between 1965 and 1976
  • Millennials – the 75 million people born between 1977 and 1998

Gen X is very comfortable with technology – however Millennials assume technology. They cannot recall a time in which technology was not in play. Gen X is good at multitasking – Millennials multitask at lightening speed.

Millennials tended to be latch key kids and perhaps part of blended families. As such, they are pragmatic, practical and very self-reliant. They mistrust institutions, and friends are very important to them.

Gen X, however, tended to be nurtured and supported. They experienced helicopter parenting and, hence, family and friends are one and the same.

Diane Thielfoldt and Devon Scheef note that approaches to mentoring might be adapted. A casual, friendly work environment appeal to Gen X, with the freedom and flexibility to learn. Millennials come with high expectations and like a bit more structure – with personalization and interactivity. To learn more, check out their article

Fast Company explores two myths about these groups – around work ethic and the hours they are willing to work. Read more here offeres 4 Strategies for a Gen X friendly workplace

And finally, from ASTD, an interesting article which defines best practices for Gen X – but these sound like best practices for any age group.

What do you think? Join the conversation on Ning.

Categories: generational issues

The Toxic Employee

My Soapbox: We’ve all been around the co-worker who just sucks the life out of you. You know, the one that complains about everything, relates everything back to his/her negative experiences, or shares his/her dissatisfaction with every aspect of life? Heck, maybe this someone is you.

Have you ever wondered why this person comes to work everyday if he or she is so unhappy with their job duties, the organization, or with management? Why doesn’t the toxic employee simply find another job where he or she will be happier?

I think there are two answers to these questions:

First, misery loves company. If the toxic employee is dissatisfied life, they want you to be dissatisfied too. The toxic employee isn’t going to sit at home alone. Oh no, they want to share the toxicity with you!

Second, they get rewarded for being toxic. Hang on a minute, and hear me out!! The toxic employee is rewarded inadvertently by the organization (pay increases, seniority, and good benefits, etc), so wouldn’t you come to work if you get paid to complain? AND, when a manager has a toxic employee on the team, they tend to avoid giving them the important projects and tasks. They tend to hand those out to the “shining star” employees (therefore overloading the shining star, and making them dislike the toxic employee and their boss), while the toxic employee gets to kick back with less work to do and more time to spread the toxicity.

How Do You Deal With The Toxic Employee? A couple tips:

  1. Before you approach the toxic employee, you need both observational data (examples of negative behavior) and an accurate quantifiable account of the number of negative behaviors observed. For example, “I have observed you telling four coworkers last week that they should resist using the new process.”
  2. Run your observations past the HR department to get validation that the behaviors do indeed undermine the organization’s goals and/or create a toxic environment for other employees.
  3. It is also a good idea to work with another manager, who can act as a witness to your behavior, during any closed-door meeting you have with the negative employee. CYA.
  4. Inform the toxic employee that future work performance reviews will include both objective and subjective measures — like an assessment of how the employee is either increasing or decreasing his/her negative behaviors, by asking colleagues and other managers for feedback (think 360 Review).

Rules for Dealing with Toxic Employees

Rule 1: You cannot change a toxic employee with negativity. Hence, you must keep your cool and be positive when talking with the toxic employee.

Rule 2: Keep your overall expectations low. Do not expect an apology and do not expect the toxic employee to admit to their toxic behavior.

Bottom Line: While everyone has moments of self-centeredness, it’s the regularity and intensity of those moments that will shape how you affect others and how shape your environment. When you are dissatisfied at work, it’s very easy to become hazardous to your co-workers. Don’t let toxicity run your team.