Tag Archives: coaching

Posts on Managing People from Around the Web

My thoughts on managing people are based on Dr. Deming’s thoughts on management. The over-simplified explanation is that people want to do good work. Performance problems should be looked at first, second, third, fourth and fifth as problems with the system not the individual.

photo of yellow leaves

I believe organizations should practice continual improvement with the participation of everyone. Decisions should be based on evidence not the opinion of the highest paid person in the room (or even worse – “policy”). Coaching is good. Performance appraisals are bad.

Poor performing processes need to be improved by the people working on those processes. Those people need to be provided the tools (knowledge, time, support) to improve.

People don’t need to be motivated and empowered they need to be given the the opportunity to do what they want to do naturally: a good job. Managers need to help people by eliminating the de-motivation that so many organizations seem designed to create for people at work.

Management and human resource staff need to do a much better job of providing people opportunities to do a good job and take pride in their work. Far too many people are forced to suffer through poorly managed systems when trying to do their jobs. By improving the work environment, organizations can improve their results (customer satisfaction, profit, productivity…) and employee satisfaction.

Developing Staff, Managing People, Coaching

  • Managing The Good, The Bad and The Ugly with Your Employees by Jim Keenan – “I believe coaching people is a process. I don’t believe coaching people or managing people can be done reactively… To develop the strengths or mitigate the weaknesses of your employees, get them on the table early and keep them on the table.”
  • The Eight Steps to Driving Successful Large Scale Change by John P. Kotter – “The obstacles take many, many forms: bosses who haven’t bought in; IT systems not capable of supporting the strategies; lack of the skills needed to make the vision a reality; a lack of training to develop these missing skills. The guiding coalition finds ways to eliminate these obstacles, empowering people to do what they want and what the change effort requires.” from his new book Buy-In: Saving Your good idea from getting shot down.
  • Do more experiments faster by Tom Peters – “The best performers, I said, seesawed back and forth between ‘ideas’ and ‘actions.’ That is, they had a ‘big idea.’ (Or a small one, for that matter.) Rather than think it to death, they immediately got the hell into the field and experimented with some element of it (a prototype). They watched what happened, adjusted, and then quickly ran another experiment.” [use this idea in your coaching – (experiment and adjust) and also as a guide to those you are coaching – John Hunter. by the way I completely agree with doing more experiments faster. I completely disagree with the idea systems thinking somehow precludes that.]
  • A Secret No One Tells New Managers by Wally Bock – “Controlled confrontation is a key part of being a boss… Your objective is for your team member to leave your meeting thinking about what will change and not how you treated them.”

Good Policies for Managing People

  • Start at the Wall by Paul Hebert – “How many of the processes actually decrease effectiveness and are really barriers enacted years ago for issues that no longer are issues? What ‘behavioral’ issues could be solved by changing the environment the person is in?”
  • Standardization the prerequisite for any meaningful improvement by Steven Spear – “Without defining what you expect to do and what you expect to happen, you cannot meaningfully determine if what is happening is a bona fide problem or merely the result of work done out of control.”
  • Social Learning = Organically Sloppy. How business really gets done by Kevin Grossman – “Social learning welcomes impromptu scenario-based training and development opportunities. Organically sloppy, the way we really learn to transform ourselves and the business.”
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The Problem is Likely Not the Person Pointing Out The Problem

I believe the problem is likely not the person pointing out the problem. Now granted I have often been that person. Part of what I have been tasked with doing in various jobs is finding ways to improve the performance of the organization. I was told the managers wanted to hear about problems from someone working there, so I was asked to do so. What it often meant was they wanted someone to fix the problems they thought existed not point out the problem was the systems, not the people forced to deal with the systems.

I have learned managers are a lot happier if I just shut up about all the problems that should be addressed. There are happy if I can fix what I can (though really they seem to care much more about not being negative than any actually improving) and just be quiet about anything else – otherwise you are seen as “negative.”

How to Manage Whining with no Problem Solving

As individuals begin to focus on the negative and don’t engage in problem solving, this behavior is unacceptable

The first time, it is a venting and commonly a subject matter problem. The next time we have a trend occurring, and this is where we need to coach our team player to be constructive process improvement artists. If the whining continues, we may be dealing with a negative attitude which has begun to permeate our colleague.

explore the previous solution’s outcomes; help the individual to be empowered to resolve the issue. If it is absolutely above the teammate authority, offer to help and commit to actions.

I think it is right to focus the effort on problem solving to improve the situation. I fear that far too often though “As individuals begin to focus on the negative and don’t engage in problem solving, this behavior is unacceptable.” turns into ignore problems. Yes, I know that isn’t what the post is suggesting. I am just saying that the easy “solution” that is taken far too often is to focus on the words “negative” and “unacceptable.”

I believe the focus should be on “broken systems are unacceptable.” I would prefer problem solving to address the issues but a culture of ignoring issues and seeing those that don’t as being negative is often the real problem (not the person that points out the problems).

I have discussed this topic in some posts previously: Ignoring Unpleasant Truths is Often Encouraged and Bring Me Problems, and Solutions if You Have Them. Once I am given those problems I agree with you completely. Use them as an opportunity to coach effective problem solving and process improvement strategies to improve the situation. And to develop people.

Often the problem is not the person at all. The organization never adopts fixes. People have learned that they can bang their head against the wall and then never get approval for the fix or they can just whine. Blaming them for choosing whining is not useful. I don’t see how Asking 5 whys you get to blaming the employee, except in very rare cases for not problem solving. It seems to me the issue is almost always going to lay with management: for why people are frustrated with system results and are not problem solving.
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Building on Successful Improvement

Do ‘Quick Wins’ Hurt Lean Initiatives?

This becomes very difficult, since in many organizations these executives have the strategic attention span equivalent to the life-cycle of a mayfly. When the ‘quick win’ approach is taken, the savings / impact becomes like a drug to the executives. They see the benefit and they want more – NOW. Usually they are able to get this for a while, since they are very interested in the program at the beginning and show their support thought attending events and removing obstacles, and in general there are a lot of opportunities in healthcare for immediate improvement. However, as these opportunities dry up, and the work gets harder, while the executives focus shifts elsewhere, the expectation is to continue to deliver exponential results (a clear sign the truly do not understand the fundamental concepts at play here), and those who are leading the Lean charge, try to appease.

If you don’t change how people think, the quick improvement can end up not helping much. I think quick wins help. But managing how those quick wins happen is important. Creating a maintaining a dialogue that while quick wins are possible, much bigger wins are possible by building on the gains to adopt more critical improvement (and often more complex and requiring more effort) .

As quick wins are achieved try and be sure they are building capacity at the same time. Get people to think in new ways and see improvement opportunities. Also have people learn new tools to attack more problems with. I firmly believe you learn lean best by doing lean. So getting quick successes is great training – better than classroom training. But in doing so, you do want to focus on making sure people understand how the quick fix is a process they can repeat to improve other areas.

And one of the skills you have to practice in the example mentioned in the post mentioned above is managing up. It is tricky but part of what you need to do is coach your bosses to understand lean so that you can expand the adoption of more lean thinking in your organization.

Related: How to ImproveBuilding a Great WorkforceFlaws in Understanding Psychology Lead to Flawed ManagementLeadership

Learn Lean by Doing Lean

In response to: Developing Your Lean Education Plan [the broken link was removed]

If you actually let the lean leaders practice lean management you are probably doing more to help them learn than anything else. Reading is great, but 10 times better when reading to find solutions you need to deal with issues you have in place. Same for going to conferences. Consultants can be a huge help, but if you just bring in consultants without allowing the changes needed to improve they are not much use.

Far more damaging than not approving training, or giving the lean leaders any time to learn, is not giving them freedom to adopt lean practices and actually make improvements in your organization. That is what kills learning, and the desire to learn.

A great lean education plan: give them opportunities to apply what they know. As they gain knowledge and have success give them more opportunities. I think often lean leaders (and management improvement leaders) have to spend so much effort fighting the resistance in the organization they don’t have the energy to seek out much new knowledge. If you can reduce the effort they have to spend on fighting the bureaucracy most lean leaders will naturally focus on learning what they need for the current and future challenges.

Related: Building Organizational CapacityHelping Employees ImprovePeople are Our Most Important AssetRespect People by Understanding Psychology

Building a Great Workforce

How P&G Finds and Keeps a Prized Workforce by Roger O. Crockett

“We actually recruit for values,” says Chief Operating Officer Robert McDonald. “If you are not inspired to improve lives, this isn’t the company you want to work for.”

The P&G strategy starts on college campuses. The Cincinnati company dispatches line managers rather than human resource staffers to do much of its recruiting.

For the few who get hired, their work life becomes a career-long development process. At every level, P&G has a different “college” to train individuals, and every department has its own “university.” The general manager’s college, which McDonald leads, holds a week-long school term once a year when there are a handful of newly promoted managers. Further training—there are nearly 50 courses—helps managers with technical writing or financial analysis.

Career education takes place outside the classroom, too. P&G pushes every general manager to log at least one foreign assignment of three to five years. Even high-ranking employees visit the homes of consumers to watch how they cook, clean, and generally live, in a practice dubbed “live it, work it.” Managers also visit retail stores, occasionally even scanning and bagging items at checkout lanes, to learn more about customers.

Going to visit the gemba, the actual place is incredibly important, and far too often ignored by managers today.

The emphasis on life long learning (in practice, not just words) is also very wise. In my experience far to little emphasis is placed on continual improvement of what many companies will say is their most important asset: their people. If you don’t invest in education of your staff that is going to harm your long term success. The investment P&G makes shows a respect for people.

Related: Jeff Bezos Spends a Week Working in Amazon’s Kentucky Distribution CenterWorkplace Management by Taiichi OhnoRespect for People, Understanding PsychologyOhno Circle
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Hire People You Can Trust to Do Their Job

How great companies turn crisis into opportunity

The right people don’t need to be managed. The moment you feel the need to tightly manage someone, you’ve made a hiring mistake.

The right people don’t think they have a job: They have responsibilities. If I’m a climber, my job is not [just] to belay. My responsibility is that if we get in trouble, I don’t let my partner down.

The right people do what they say they will do, which means being really careful about what they say they will do. It’s key in difficult times. In difficult environments our results are our responsibility. People who take credit in good times and blame external forces in bad times do not deserve to lead. End of story.

I think he makes a very good point, but may overstate it just a bit. The right people do need management to do their job: to provide guidance, to work on improving the organizational system, to coach employees when needed, to plan for the future, to determine where to focus the organizations resources… But they don’t need to be micro-managed. They can be expected to do what is needed when the proper conditions are set, including a clear understanding of what is needed, communication of current conditions and changing needs, a shared understanding of roles (for people and organizations)…

Also, just to be clear, it can be the right thing to closely manage someone as they are learning. This is true when a new employee starts with the company. And also when they take on new responsibilities. I would have no problem with a company tightly managing a new supervisor. In my experience the exact opposite problem is much more common, moving people into supervisory roles with little support, to sink or swim on their own (well perhaps sinking those around them too). At both times they should get the support they need and the freedom they need to work effectively.

Related: Keeping Good EmployeesFlaws in Understanding Psychology Lead to Flawed ManagementPeople are Our Most Important Assetposts on managing peopleThe Joy of Work

Do What You Say You Will

In Keeping Good Employees I talked about asking some simple questions. The biggest mistake I see managers make is to fail to deliver on what they say in such meetings.

There is the saying “It is better to be thought a fool than speak, and prove it.” Well it is better to be thought a pointy haired boss than to ask for feedback, then ignore it, and prove you are a PHB. This behavior is extremely common with a survey of employee satisfaction but can extend to any failure of management follow through. If you are not going to act on what good employees tell you – don’t ask.

If some of what they mention is something you disagree with, then explain that to them. Even bad decision making that is explained is better than no explanation and no action. If you end up explaining why no action can be taken on every suggestion then employees should rightfully (most likely) find you lacking. One aspect of the explanation is to educate them for future suggestions – there may well be factors they don’t think about that you must. But, even in such a case the best practice is normally to adjust the idea a bit to make it workable.

Related: Encourage Improvement Action by EveryoneBring Me Problems and Solutions if You Have ThemStandardized Work InstructionsHow to ImproveWrite it DownWhat Could be Improved?

People are Our Most Important Asset

One of the beliefs I try and get the organizations I work for to adopt is to truly value excellent people. The costs are challenges of hiring great people, to me, makes it critical to do what you can to keep your exceptional people. I probably haven’t written about this because it can conflict with my advice against performance appraisals. I do actually believe it is possible to know certain people are great and contribute greatly to the success of your organization. I also believe many (a majority) organizations do such a bad job of identifying those people they shouldn’t even try. But if you can identify some people that seem to be positive special causes of success there is a good argument for making sure they are happy.

I don’t believe you should try to pay these special employees fairly. Overpay them. I would much rather waste (10-20% on extra pay) than pay them fairly and make it easier for them to switch to another job. Talk to them and make sure they are doing what they want and making the progress they want. I find (I don’t have enough data to know if this is generally true) that the best people complain the least and so you need to make extra efforts to find out what they might like to see improved. Include these provisions during your human resource planning, make it a point to get the most qualified people to want to work for you.

Don’t focus all of your energy on putting out fires and expect those that keep their areas of responsibility in decent shape without your intervention to just cope on their own. Since many managers adopt this “only dealing with the squeaky wheel” strategy (without saying that is what they do, of course), force yourself to spend time coaching, learning, helping… the most successful – as well as others. I want to have employees delighted (all of them ideally, but at least those that are most critical). As Deming said it is easy for competitors to take away satisfied customers – it is not easy for a competitor to take away delighted customers. The same holds for employees.
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Five Pragmatic Practices

Becoming a Great Manager: Five Pragmatic Practices by Esther Derby [the broken link was removed]

1) Decide What To Do and What Not To Do

Deciding what to do and what not to do helps focus efforts on the important work – work that will contribute to the bottom line of the company. Articulating a mission has another benefit: When everyone in your group knows the mission and how the work they do contributes to it, they will be able to make better decisions about their own work every day.

2) Limit Multitasking
3) Keep People Informed
4) Provide Feedback
5) Develop People

I don’t see these as new ideas that have not been discussed before. But this article does a nice job of covering some good ideas. Taking the time to read this article can help remind you of some good practices you may neglect.

Respect for People

A very thoughtful post, Respect for People on the Kaikaku blog raises some interesting questions. What does respect for people really mean?

Toyota empowers people: To stop the line – to stop every other worker from working – that is real respect and trust. To implement creative improvement ideas around their work area. They trust you to come up with the best idea to make your work easier and more interesting. You don’t have to wait for management to tell you what to do. By asking people to solve problems and become problem solvers.

Those are indications of respect. The post also notes “Ohno was absolutely ruthless, employees and suppliers lived in fear of him.” I would say that while Taiichi Ohno was truly remarkable that doesn’t mean he did everything right. And he might well have failed to communicate in a way that conveyed respect for people. That doesn’t mean doing so is good. It might mean that if you offer as much positive value as Ohno did people may be more forgiving of your weaknesses (I know that is my tendency). Continue reading