employee development

December 8, 2010

Leadership Lessons of ‘The West Wing’

Many of you will remember that I’m steadily working my way through the 7 seasons of ‘The West Wing’ boxed set. And so far, it’s not difficult to appreciate why so many Americans (and others) would readily take Jed Bartlett as their President.

There are many aspects of Bartlett that are agreeable and none more so than his tremendous leadership of others.

In an example I watched just the other night, one of his senior team takes an incredibly brave step to ask Bartlett personal details of his relationship with his father. Whilst this might seem a step too far in his relationship with ‘Mr President’, Toby Ziegler is performing an ideal, if rather intimate service to his boss.

Initially, Bartlett is rather incensed at Ziegler’s impertinence and then, in the next couple of episodes, we see the true leadership come through, where he responds to the raw edge that Ziegler has exposed. Bartlett sees past his own bruised ego and ‘gets’ the point of Ziegler’s intervention.

In his own way, Bartlett shows Ziegler how much he values the man’s courage to speak up in such a sensitive area – and, incidentally, an area that Bartlett really does need to investigate.

In too many cases, leaders are so engrossed in their own ego that they fail to appreciate that giving feedback to your boss is a tough thing to do.

Bosses very often intimidate, whether they mean to or not.

To have the courage to give feedback is a rare thing in an employee. Even when they do get brave enough, the handling of this feedback has to be very careful indeed, or valuable relationships will stutter and the most likely outcome is that no more feedback will ever be forthcoming.

(Hint – never start to argue or justify your side of it, just thank them and accept the feedback very graciously and ponder on it honestly).

Great leaders – like the fictional character Bartlett that Martin Sheen plays so effectively – value both the very feedback they are given by acting on it constructively, as well as respecting the generosity and courage shown by the employee who has the kindness to offer it.

We see feedback as a one-way street – often interpreted by employees as ‘criticism’ (and negatively as a consequence) – where we dole it out downwards when we lead others (often more for our benefit than theirs).

Where we graciously accept feedback given that is intended to help us ourselves evolve, we make best use of the gift for our own benefits and also show our people that it adds value and is to be appreciated, which, in turn, makes it much more likely for them to value too when they are on the receiving end.

When we accept and look into feedback that seems hard to take, we are being provided with a perception of us that sometimes – often indeed – is just where our blind spot is.

And that’s such a valuable steer for someone to take the time and trouble to share with us.

Filed under Blog, Building the Future, Developing Your People, Management Basics, Managing Me by Martin

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December 6, 2010

The Curiosity of Employees

How do children learn? It is, after all, something we all have to do – and the formative years of kids are fascinating to observe.

Children learn be experiencing new things. By having the freedom – whilst being protected by their carers as much as possible from harm – to explore anything and everything in their lives.

Each object, idea and concept is there for the level of study they feel appropriate, simply by being curious.

We let them be that way without demeaning them. We smile at their odd questions and behaviors and enjoy the moment with them.

Over the years of getting older, as we discover our emotional side, we lose the ability to take risks with new things in quite the same way ever again.

It happens to a greater or lesser extent in every single one of us, as we move into middle childhood and then as adults.

Often in the workplace, this can prevent learning and development, at the very least, with the possibilities to explore and learn by doing falling way behind in the self-fulfilment pecking order.

We protect ourselves from experiencing painful and indeed harmful emotions that hurt our self-esteem, by being a lot less inclined to do things when we have been affected before.

So, unless carefully nurtured, as employees we hold back and stay safe. We’ve experienced the bump on the head or the graze on the knee once too often to try it again, especially when it made us feel not only physically bad, but even more so when it hurts us inside.

As managers, we can really get much more from the potential of our people by making exploration and new learning a very safe place to go.

When we start to appreciate just what it is that we need to do to lighten up our people; to let them make their mistakes; to let them learn from the little bumps and scrapes that children learn from, we offer an enlightening experience indeed.

We are there to nurture our people to ‘find things out’ freely and without besmirching or embarrassing them at all, we do them such a favor. Indeed we develop our teams so effectively as well.

So once again, where we take the time to recognize exactly how each of our employees needs us to be, everyone can become a winner.

Filed under Blog, Building the Future, Developing Your People, Management Basics by Martin

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August 9, 2010

Waving The Management Magic Wand – Part 2

Last week, we looked at how to make more of the opportunities you have to make things different.

Wafting your own magic wand around yourself and the way you do things is one thing, but how can you use it effectively to ‘magic’ better ways of doing things from your people?

BTW, if you have one of these – let me know and I’ll patent it.

Because here’s the secret. You can only change yourself and you cannot change others directly, however hard you try.

Now, what you can do (and successful managers do this very effectively), is to amend your own behaviors and attitudes to influence your people to be different. When they are different, they will see better ways to be and then the delivery of their work will improve.

The ball is back in your court.

So, here’s an action you might want to think about. What are the issues that you come up with that are your ‘I wish…’ moments with your people.

Then, what are ways that you could start to amend the way YOU are, that might be more likely to get the performances that would help them grow and develop into what you want?

Don’t know? Then ask them what they need to be different from you – and how that will help them.

This tactic makes the difference in so many ways.

You partner with them in solutions; you show that you are willing to change; you show you are not the smart-arse who thinks they know everything; you show you value them for their input too (there are more benefits, by the way…).

In the ‘Circles of Influence’ in your life, you are at the very center.

Make it worthwhile the only way you can, by looking inside first, before you seek to blame others.

Filed under Blog, Developing Your People, Management Basics, Managing Me by Martin

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March 15, 2010

3 Valuable Reasons To Develop Your People

One of the biggest reasons managers fail to achieve their best results is because they fail to make the move from ‘doing’ to ‘managing’. It seems much easier to work even harder and make sure the job is done right because it’s you doing it. This is not a solution that is sustainable.

Many managers make assumptions about the capability of their people based on the flimsiest of evidence, if there is any evidence at all. Often there is a belief that employees are incapable of taking on more and growing in their role.

They fail to do this because they find it hard to nurture and raise the bar for the people in their teams, many of whom have significantly more potential than is visible at the surface.

It’s not easy to pin the causes of this directly on those managers who seem to miss the ‘developing others’ boat. In many managers there is a significant difference in their aptitude for seeing the value in their people. Some seem more able to make the best out of the individuals who work with them and others find it harder.

In fact, there are real gems out there in our teams. Pretty often, you have people right now who are capable of much, much more. And when you find the right key, unlocking that potential can quickly and easily provide success for your business for years to come.

Just some of the benefits of well managed teams, where the individuals have been enabled to meet their potential are as follows:-

1.    Developing your people will make your job a lot easier, because much of the work that you seem to need to do right now, can be effectively delegated to others who are just as able to do it as their skills extend

2.    Developing your people will make them much happier, because as they succeed in achieving new challenges that stretch them, their interest is maintained, they feel good about themselves and they become more marketable, as their skills grow

3.    Both of these will make you a lot happier and much more fulfilled, when you see your people become better employees and that you have been the facilitator of them achieving their potential in the work they do

Each of these aspects of management are so often underplayed. It’s safe to say that there are far wider implications emotionally, mentally, socially and well as economically when you take the time to get people development right. This is where everyone’s a winner

You cannot make the business thrive without ‘Developing Your People’ being on the highest of your agendas. And that’s where many managers fall down.

They simply struggle to move from doing it all themselves, to fulfilling their own role of managing others to do their jobs well.

Filed under Blog, Developing Your People, Management Basics by Martin

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March 11, 2010

Key Benefits Of Giving Feedback – For Everyone

When we hear those dreaded words ‘Would you like some feedback?’, it can drive fear through our hearts. Yet there are definite benefits to gain, once it’s a tactic that everyone gets used to…

Through learning how well we do and where we can get better, in a culture that is supportive and encouraging, the truth is, everyone wins.

All will get valuable returns when they are open enough to accept feedback that is regular, constructive and helps people grow through their learning and appreciation of what they do and how they do it.

On the one hand, by learning that they deliver good performance for significant proportions of the time they work, most people will start to recognize and appreciate the contribution they bring to their role.

This builds their confidence that they are valued as a team member. With greater confidence, people do more; they try more out; they take new risks and they stretch themselves; they share their skills; they prepare themselves for new roles; for bigger career steps.

Confidence and self-awareness are the building blocks of rounded, capable employees, most of whom have much potential hidden just under the surface.

On the other hand, by becoming aware of those areas where even just slightly changing behaviors and actions will make an even more valuable contribution, people get better at their job.

The driver for this is an innate desire by human beings to get things right and see the appreciation of those who measure their performance.

Some people are much more driven in this than others. To an extent, everyone wants to do their job well and be seen as someone who contributes fully and consistently.

Learning in a non-threatening way is the best route to developmental success for everyone. For you; for me; for your boss; for a small child. We all want to get better without feeling too bad about the bits we might have gotten not quite right in the past.

There are others who benefit from feedback, in the bigger picture:-

•    Managers benefit as individuals deliver more closely to the requirements of the business and as they grow into new capabilities for the future
•    Businesses benefit from the gradually improving performance of everyone
•    Stakeholders benefit too. Like customers who get better service. Stockholders who have better returns on their investment. Suppliers who have more informed dealings with your people. Families who have members who are more valued at work and share some of that in their behaviors at home.

Feedback drives improved performance and when we, as managers, take the time to make it a positive activity, our people will grow beyond their and our, wildest dreams.

Filed under Blog, Developing Your People, Management Basics, Managing Me by Martin

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March 9, 2010

Managing for The Future Adds Value Today

Management is naturally in the moment. Challenges come to managers every day, hour and even less.

Yet there is wisdom in developing a mindset that seeks and effective future for the team too.

From experience, most managers don’t get ‘the future’ right away – they busy themselves with just today’s issues, which is, to be frank, quite understandable, if a bit short-sighted. Their days fill up with chaos and fire-fighting, because that’s where the urgency seems to be.

Crises are seemingly sent to make the day’s workload – every day – with only a hope that things will ‘get better one day’.

This is no way to exist, yet so often it’s a hole that managers get into and find it hard to clamber out of.

So, tactical activities have to be handled and, of course, for some of them, they take a bit of the priority in the day job to start off with.

There is another way to make progress as well. The best managers are able to recognize that it’s vital to step up to grasp the future, fitting components of it in whilst delivering what’s expected of them for today as well.

Planning for the future opens a lot of doors for you and every member of your team, in ways that can only lead to management and team success.

That success, when it is pitched the right way, will lead to improved opportunities in the future as well as, when leveraged well, making the workplace of today a lot less chaotic too.

Managers often look for short-term tactical solutions, rather than invest a little time in thinking about what their future needs are. yet, with some ability to ask what the future might need, they are able to position the short-term with the business needs for the longer term too.

The alternative is more of the same, which is depressing and demoralizing for all concerned, managers and their teams.

When ‘perception’ is that they only have time for the fire-fighting actions to get them through the day, rather than value-creating investment time that makes the difference, the struggle of today will be the same tomorrow – and the next day and the day after, disappearing over the horizon into every day.

As a consequence, looking at future needs doesn’t ever get started and before they know it that future is tomorrow – and then today.

Strangely, nothing has changed or gotten better – and the cycle continues. By grasping an opportunity to stick a stake in the ground right now and start to see what the future will need, there will be solutions sought and found.

Along the way, today begins to get fixed. And everyone gets happier and more effective too.

Filed under Blog, Building the Future, Developing Your People, Management Basics by Martin

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March 8, 2010

Win-Win Management – Finding Small Gains To Start

As we set out to build relationships with our people, it’s vital that there is every opportunity to make progress.

And sometimes, you can be in the driving seat to make that happen.

Managers need the support of their people to build teams that will have positive impacts on the running of the business – and the outcomes that are necessary.

To make the most of this, good managers create valuable one-to-one relationships with as many employees as they can, such that rapport builds and creates win-win opportunities, where both sides get positive benefits from the interactions.

Where there is repair work to do – as new managers often find when they take on an existing team – perhaps where the previous manager has underperformed, the progress to rebuild trust can take a little time.

Employees who have suffered consequences of poor management relationships will by pretty shy when it comes down to exposing themselves to more painful experiences in the future.

So, this is when the manager really starts to earn their crust. Their efforts at this time will really need to demonstrate a changed workplace environment for the better, through the immaculate way they interact with their people.

There are many ways to rebuild relationships. There are ways to start them off too, but the key impact when things haven’t gone so well in the past is the white flag of peace to offer. Sometimes this can be enough for those forgiving types in your team.

Others will be less easy to turn around. They may be scarred more badly and will need real evidence of goodwill on your part, to accelerate the healing that will need to take place.

Managers can position themselves to make upfront gestures towards their people to more rapidly progress their collaborative input. Small actions to show their willingness to move relationships forwards are hugely valuable.

Be it a small gesture of thanks; an idea shared to help a learning need; simple trust building activities; remembering the name of an employee’s child; recognizing when they need to listen much more than speak.

Taking the first step to enhance a relationship with small gains for your people will quickly start the ball of a bond rolling. Once that happens, there are short-, medium- as well as long-terms gains to be enjoyed, on both sides.

The most interesting aspect of this is that although a manager is offering small gains to their people as a constructive activity to develop the relationship between them, make no doubt about it, this investment is one that will pay off over time for them too.

The key to building effective relationships is that both sides see benefits for themselves, whilst – and this is significant – allowing the outcomes to make the business more effective, efficient and organizationally valuable too.

So there are winners all the way round, just from a manager being prepared to stick their neck out and offer upfront value to a maligned bunch of employees.

And changing their views of the possibilities that can come from good management forever.

Filed under Blog, Building the Future, Customer Service, Developing Your People, Management Basics by Martin

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March 4, 2010

Team Building – Finding The Hidden Gold

Managing teams in your organization is a challenging experience.

Finding the right people for the roles you have can be a tricky proposition, yet when you take the time to get to know your people, you might be surprised what you find.

We all want the best people in our team. The demands placed on us to deliver results from our role as managers are unremitting as must our search for the best people.

Surprisingly, there are individuals around who might offer more than you think. Employees that you already have in place can often carry talents that are hidden away, for a variety of reasons, so there are tactics a manager can adopt to ensure that all potential is realized.

Here are a few to get you started…

1. Keep your ears and eyes open – and engage in conversations that are curious about people.

Whatever happens, even if there are few gold nuggets out there, the worst thing is that people see you are interested in them.

There’s a zillion managers out there who aren’t at all interested in their people much at all, so you will immediately get brownie points at the very least!

2. Know that there’s talent out there – that you can bring out.

People have all sorts of skills, experiences and histories that might be of value, if only you knew about it.

You can’t find that out unless you get amongst them and find out!

3. Your people will hide their aspirations
– because they think you aren’t that interested in them.

Sad but true, work experience isn’t the best place for people to see the generous nature of managers.

Far from it. In fact their experience will tell them that a manager may well not even care to know their name.

4. You can make it happen for them
– when you know about it.

When you do find out about what they are looking for, it’s a real big help to you, for them and you and your business.

Your role can be enabling for them, by kick-starting new careers that their capabilities could support.

5. Management is often about joining the dots
– that you’ve discovered.

See where this is going?

As a manager, your prime role is to lead and facilitate the people in your team, not to do everything yourself.

When you are that link, with what you find out, then there’s a whole new bunch of opportunities out there.

Listening to your people, letting them spill their hidden talents as well as their hopes for the future, can be a true win-win.

6. Management is about people – not doing stuff, however attractive that might be.

No-one minds a manager giving a hand now and then, it’s a choice, not to be depended on. But the role is about people, managing them is the headline, yet it’s so much more.

Great managers are there to make the best business decisions and these can easily be the best people decisions too.

In fact, when there is a coming together of business needs matched with individual’s possibilities, there can be no better way forward.

Your people are chock-full of potential. Releasing it will help you, help them, to make your team much more successful.

Filed under Blog, Building the Future, Developing Your People by Martin

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March 1, 2010

Managers Playing Ignorant – Developing Employees

Sometimes, it’s easy to show that we are the boss, by always having the answers that our people need.

Yet the smartest managers don’t always share the answers they have.

Because any manager wants to be the resource their people need. In fact, being able to solve problems your way is a great way to remind your people that’s the reason you are their manager, because you know the way to fix things.

Sometimes though, it will be valuable to be less than the cleverest person in the team, because letting them find out will help them in bigger ways as they develop and grow their skills.

The biggest challenge you will find in using this activity will be you. Your people will love it as they are utilized to share their ideas and solutions.

So, are you big enough to try this and not be the resource every time for the problems your people bring you, showing your ‘manager prowess’ off to fuel your own self-belief, important though that is in itself?

Many managers feel that by letting go of being ‘solution-finder’ they will lose respect, yet, quite simply, the truth is the opposite. Because no-one likes a know-it-all, so they stop respecting and start mocking any manager who seems to be perfect.

In fact any manager who decides to be Mr/Mrs Fix-It to all and sundry every time, will really struggle under the pressure and do a far worse job, because their people will start to dump problems that they certainly could resolve themselves on that smart manager’s desk.

Letting go of the ‘Fix-Everything’ persona is much more than how you perceive your people will see you in the world.

You see, you WANT to be the big cheese who solves everything. It’s an ego thing. And it’s only going to stand up for a while.

If you are big enough to make this small transition, your people will respect you much more when you are their development guide and show you value them by asking them for their own ideas and solutions.

Stretching, challenging and guiding them gently in much more appropriate and value-creating for your people over time.

Saying ‘I don’t know’ sometimes, is perfect for that and will raise you up in their eyes as long as you use this tool wisely and not every time you have something presented to you.

This is about disciplining yourself, in the moment, and expanding your React/Respond gap.

When you play with that, use delaying tactics and decide if ‘I don’t know’ will work this time, you will have a vital option that will make a much bigger difference to the performance of your people and team, than might have ever been possible before.

Filed under Blog, Developing Your People, Managing Me by Martin

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February 21, 2010

Meeting Your People’s Expectations

We humans are easily satisfied.

When we are given clues about what we will receive, we naturally will expect it to be delivered.

We have a natural tendency to trust others, until life and its experiences knocks the naivety out of us (oops, does that sound cynical?).

Your employees experience this every day, where they have expectations of you and your organization that might well be pretty minimal.

And you, as their manager, have an obligation to deliver at least that minimum.

In fact, you personally have an obligation to meet their experiences of their employment with you – even if you don’t know what they are!

How so? You might ask. How can I know if they don’t tell me what their expectations are?

Here’s a clue that’s as blunt as I can make it.

You ask them.

See, that wasn’t hard now was it. Once you’ve researched, then you know – and then you make sure you deliver.

That’s if you want to create a motivated team of people who will give their all.

It’s your choice – make it easy for yourself or make it hard.

Have a think and if you need to – see the light!

Filed under Blog, Building the Future, Developing Your People, Managing Me by Martin

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