I first came across the WAIT acronym in a Facebook discussion my daughter “liked” from a blog about parenting. My daughter (and husband) have two daughters, ages 7 and 5, so commiserating with parents with similar demographics can be useful when there is no instruction guide (other than grandparents, hah). WAIT stands for “Why Am I Talking,” and it was an interesting take on how to interact with young children when (like many/most managers) we want to “be in charge,” “be the expert,” and “have the last word.” And, in the process of doing all those things, of course we are not listening, let alone trying to understand.
I was reminded of WAIT recently when reading a LinkedIn posting by Ted Bauer that pointed me to this (http://goo.gl/Wks5x5) by Art Petty, who suggests a 10:1 ratio of listening to talking in order to be a more effective manager. A 10:1 ratio is pretty radical! I have more typically seen an 80/20 ratio in the context of good coaching. But why not aim high!
I’ll tell you why: because it is so antithetical to the mental model most of us have when we think of “coach” or even “parent.” But let’s stop (i.e., stop talking) for a few minutes and think about all the possible benefits of WAIT. A few of these relate to Marshall Goldsmith’s list of negative behaviors in his great book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.
- We never learn anything when we are talking (LBJ and others…)
- It diminishes the felt value of others when they are not heard
- It also diminishes the real, actual value of others when their knowledge is not used. As a GM retiree is famously reported to have said, “For 30 years they paid me for my body. They could have had my mind for free.”
- Our initial need to talk often causes us to state an opinion or make a decision we regret based on insufficient information or analysis. In Jerome Groopman’s book “How Doctor’s Think,” he reports that, on average, a physician will interrupt a patient describing her symptoms within eighteen seconds. His study of malpractice leads him to conclude, “Sometimes the key to success is uncertainty,” that is, don’t decide too quickly.
- We may be angry or upset. We all know from experience that these are not good times to be talking without “counting to 10.”
- It feeds our need to be “right”, and in our mind we are right and always will be if others don’t tell us we are wrong. We hate being wrong because we have been brought up to be “right” (e.g., get straight A’s). See this great TED talk: https://goo.gl/E6oPKH
- It feeds our need to have the last word, regardless of how little value it adds.
- We actually may not know what we are talking about.
Oh, yeah; and then listen.
WAIT! (your turn)
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Here are two pieces on performance management that surfaced today that motivated and informed this blog entry:
I was asked by a high school teacher to visit his class and talk to them about my profession, that is, just what does an I/O Psychologist do? I find that a lot of us in this field struggle with a concise answer to that question, perhaps because we touch so many different parts of the interface between people and organizations.
For the purpose of this 30 minute time with the class of juniors, I landed on the notion of a common denominator for the applying of our trade is that of helping organizations make decisions about people. The obvious starting point is the major role we play in helping organizations decide which people to hire or not, though some of us do get involved in the employment life cycle even before that (e.g., during recruitment and advertising to draw applicants.)
Moving on from employment decisions, we can move through all sorts of stages in the career of an employee where decisions are being made (and they are making decisions as well), and wouldn’t it be nice if those decisions are being made based on criteria that are “valid” (to use our lingo), fair and transparent. And, I told them, that was a major contribution we as I/O Psychologists bring to the process, using science and experience for the benefit of both the employee and the organization to increase the probabilities that the decision is more likely to lead to successful performance than if it were just a random (e.g., flip of the coin, gut instinct, expeditious) choice.
This little discussion was a few years ago, and it came to mind now as I read some more articles on the ongoing discussion/debate regarding Performance Appraisal/Performance Management. Depending on what version of a Performance Management Process (PMP) makes up your mental model, a PMP can have direct consequences for an employee. In the current discussion and debate on this topic, people are fretting (and rightly so) about the mechanics of evaluating an employee. They/we also are worrying about other facets of the PMP process that should include higher quality (and more frequent) interactions between the manager and his/her employees for both performance discussions and development conversations, with aspirations that such interactions happen more often than the once or twice a year that “formal” appraisal systems require.
One proposed solution to creating more frequent interactions between managers and employees is to get rid of the formal sessions, symbolically represented by the evil rating process. One of the many problems this creates is to remove a source of information that the organization needs to make decisions about people. It is our responsibility to provide decision makers with methods to provide them (at all levels) with reliable data. If the current PMP system at an organization is not doing that, it is fixable as suggested by Glen Kallas and his blog piece. Dismantling the system does not help unless somehow that data can be generated by whatever is taking its place. I don’t see that happening, at least in what I am reading. If there are data being created in the alternate processes that involve more frequent interactions between managers and employees, then we have the same responsibility to ensure that information is as good or better than what it is replacing.
The Herena blog speaks to the many benefits of maintaining or even enhancing your PMP. Then she (and her CEO) go on to call for supplementing PMP by making their managers into better “coaches,” which is fantastic! Especially when supported from the top. She doesn’t speak to the benefits of PMPs in terms of the data they produce, though the alignment benefit is extremely important and potentially lost when the system goes away.
IF you agree that the organization needs reliable data to make decisions about people throughout their employment cycle, then no profession is better equipped to do that. Arguing that the solution is to remove the data generator instead of fixing it seems irresponsible.
I was watching a documentary about George Harrison’s life, and they interviewed his second (and last) wife, Olivia. They were married for 23 years until his death, and it was clear that their marriage, like many, had a lot of bumps (or whatever euphemism you want to use). Her observation was that the secret to a long marriage is not getting divorced, which I took to mean not giving up when things are difficult. Well, there are many reasons we should not be giving up (as Glen and Monique point out), and I hope I am adding one more reason to the mix.
We have a responsibility to help organizations make good decisions about people. And there are decisions being made constantly, ranging from promotions to pay to job assignments, and even what developmental experience you get or don’t get. What I suggested to those students is that there should be some comfort in knowing that there are people like us that are trying to create a level playing field and good information so that the decisions that affect them (of which many are life and/or job changing) are based on reliable information. We need to consider that responsibility when we make or influence other types of decisions, including those decisions that reduce the quality of that data. In other words, help organizations to not “divorce” their PMPs just because they might be doing what we want them to do.
This is the logo I have designed for my business, and it is a something of an ambiguous figure (but not too ambiguous hopefully). Please take a few seconds and think about what you see in the context of our work.
Hopefully the main message is something around conflicting forces. In the business of change, whether it be individual, team or organizational, as we attempt to create sustainable change we are always faced with opposing forces. So there are many opportunities to identify which forces are working in our favor and which are working against us, and so on.
The secondary design message I hoped to create is around the multiple triangles, or “Deltas,” that the arrows create. (How many do you see?) And we use Delta as a not only a symbol of change but also as a measurement of the amount of change. A major part of my business is not only to create sustainable change but to be able to reliably measure it, which will allow for comparisons of improvements as well as comparisons between individuals and organizations.
Or maybe you see a duck.
But what I want people to remember most are the Deltas and the message that change needs to be measurable and measured. Measures need numbers. Sometimes numbers are ratings. Ratings can be both reliable and valid. We can use ratings to compare scores if the scores are reliable. Yes, it can be done.
So what do you think the picture is worth?
I am proud to announce…
DWBracken & Associates
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“Large scale change occurs when a lot of people change just a little.”
Kris Duggan has another fine article in Fast Company titled, “Six Companies That Are Redefining Performance Management” (http://goo.gl/xXuGdn), with the six being GE, Cargill, Eli Lilly, Accenture, Adobe and Google. The common denominator is their deemphasis (or even total abandonment) of the formal appraisal process and more focus on feedback and development, presumably via the manager/supervisor, on a more frequent basis. Each organization has its own approach to accomplishing that and the jury is out, though a couple of them are farther along and some preliminary results are coming in.
Kris characterizes the common denominator of these six approaches using these words:
They’re all switching their focus from dictating what employees should do at work to helping develop their skills as individuals.
Wow! There are a couple of words in that sentence that are really thought-provoking and, in my opinion, taking this discussion in the wrong direction. The first (not in order) is “dictating.” Since when did organizations abdicate the right (let alone need) to “dictate” to their employees what to do? Using less pejorative words than “dictate,” we call it directing, guiding, managing, leading, and/or aligning. Reading the word “dictate” makes this person feel like I have been taken back to the days of the union boss ranting against the evils of the management empire who have “taken away our rights and humanity,” or something to that effect.
In a couple of my earlier blogs, including my last one (https://dwbracken.wordpress.com/2015/11/02/checking-in-is-not-enough/), also inspired by a Duggan article, I used the ALAMO model where the first “A” stands for Alignment, the most powerful variable in the performance equation because it can be both positive and negative. People need and expect alignment. Values are a form of alignment, guiding behavior. Goals help create alignment.
In that same blog, I propose that there is a time and place for Directing, and a time for Guiding. Both are forms of Alignment but using different styles for different situations. Just within the last 24 hours I heard a former professional football player saying that the biggest difference between college and pro football is that in college you are told what to do; in the pros, you are told why you need to do it.
On February 26 I will be giving a talk at the annual conference of the Society of Psychologists in Management (SPIM) in Atlanta titled, “Create a Feedback Culture, Create Change, Maintain Dignity.” (See http://www.spim.org/conference2016.shtml for more information on the conference.) The “dignity” aspect of the talk is very relevant to this topic of alignment. From one angle, we show dignity to our employees by showing them the respect they expect by providing them with a clear understanding of their role, responsibilities, and how successful performance is defined. And, again, this is in terms of both tangible and intangible (behavioral) accomplishments.
I don’t agree that we protect an employee’s dignity by shielding them from negative feedback, as some would propose. But I will talk about that more at SPIM.
Very importantly, we can and should protect the dignity of the employee by placing accountability on feedback providers and designers of feedback systems to require that feedback is job related, i.e., aligned with factors that are important to the organization, not just whimsical thoughts of individuals (at any level) who might be given free rein to inflict “feedback.” What comes to mind is the Amazon stories reported in the NY Times about open feedback systems where employees are able to give anonymous comments that were, in some cases, very damaging and not job related, reportedly causing some employees to leave the company.
The second word that Kris uses in the quote that I question is “switching.” The implication is that we can’t have it both ways, i.e., that we have to give up alignment in order to have feedback and development. Maybe the most important message in the ALAMO model is that feedback and development without alignment may be worthless or even counterproductive (i.e., drawing resources away from the organization with no return).
Some may call it dictating when we set expectation as to what the organization needs from you in order to be a successful member. I would rather call it alignment. But, whatever you call it, your feedback and development processes need to have it. Feedback without alignment may not only be irrelevant but it may also take away our dignity.
It has been two years since I last raised the question in this blog about “what is a coach?” (https://dwbracken.wordpress.com/2013/08/11/what-is-a-coach-redux/). While I think (and talk) about this topic often, I haven’t been moved to write about it in this forum until now when my friend Jon Low published in his daily Low-Down a piece from Fast Company by Kris Duggan titled, “Why The Annual Performance Review is Going Extinct.” (http://goo.gl/sH7hVi)
There’s a lot going on in this article. I disagree with the notion that performance appraisals are going “extinct,” so I want to focus on this question of coaching. Most of the arguments for dismantling the appraisal call for more interaction between the employee and the manager/supervisor, sometimes as if it’s an “either/or” type of choice, like you can’t do both have an annual appraisal and regular feedback and coaching.
Kris does the same in this article, as in “turning managers into coaches,” which here literally means checking in more frequently on progress toward goals. Taken to its logical end and the capability to monitor some jobs continuously, the best “coaches” will be those managers who constantly monitor their subordinates.
Actually, goal setting and monitoring are often set outside the definitions of “coaching” and reserved more for “managing” performance. Coaching requires some sort of situational diagnosis, but only as a starting point.
My reflex reaction is to say that “checking in” in not “coaching,” any more than “showing up” is 80% of success (according to Woody Allen). But maybe “checking in” is an activity (behavior) that is the transition from managing into coaching, the opportunity to clarify goals, check for understanding and identify possible barriers (e.g., resources). That also assumes that “checking in” is more than just saying, “Hey, how ya doin’?”
Here I may be falling into my own trap of making assumptions about what “checking In” means and is intended to mean. Kris and BetterWorks coworkers may have some particular methodology around training managers on how to “check in” to determine progress against goals. Yet “checking in” has a very casual feel to it in our vernacular, and has the very real risk of being misused as some sort of type of “coaching.”
What IS important is that manager/leaders/supervisors aren’t somehow led to believe that “checking in” is synonymous with “coaching,” and that they are “coaching” when they check-in and that’s the total requirement for being a manager-coach.
Building on a simple model of coaching that I started in the “Redux” blog mentioned above, let me propose a taxonomy of basic manager-as-coach that can create shared expectations for the manager and his/her team members. When there is a clear understanding of what various types of “coaching” can be used to approach a given situational need, and the understanding is shared by both parties (coach and coachee), then the event is expedited.
In an effort to be open-minded, I propose four basic types of coaching style that includes the “check in”:
- Checker: Ensures understanding of goals and resources.
- Director: Identifies problems and provides a recommended solution(s). Tells what action to take.
- Activator: Guides coachee through identification of options and optimal approach, aligned with team/org goals.
- Developer: Engages coachee in regular, formal discussions regarding current, short term and long term (e.g., career) goals and development implications/steps.
Imagine that the organization requires that every team (defined as a group with a manager/supervisor) has training on these four types of manager/employee interactions, when and how often each type is optimally used, how the conversation is best accomplished, and some role modeling.
Using elements of the ALAMO model (https://dwbracken.wordpress.com/2015/06/02/alamo-a-new-performance-model-webinar/) (across the top), we can provide examples of how the various interactions might go when initiated by the manager/supervisor. This table is provided to show the hopefully stark differences in the coaching styles available to a manager, each of which is appropriate under certain circumstances, though typically overused (Director) or underused (Activator).
|Checker||“Are you clear on your assignment?”||“Is there anything you need to know?”||“Are you making progress?”||“Do you have what you need?”|
|Director||“I know what is best. Go do it.”||“Here’s how to do it. It has worked for me before.”||“Success or failure will affect your PA rating.”||“Here’s your time frame and budget. Make it work.”|
|Activator||“What do you think is the best way to achieve this goal?”||“Yes, that approach is a good match for your skills.”||“It seems like you are most excited by this approach.”||“Are there any barriers that might hinder your progress?”|
|Developer||What are your career goals? What does the organization need?||What abilities will you need to develop to get there?||Why do you want to go that direction?||Why haven’t you already started?|
This can create a “language” for the team and for the organization, for that matter. Whether initiated by the manager or the employee, any formal or informal conversation might begin by saying, “Here’s the situation, and let’s have a quick Directive discussion”, or “Let’s have an Activation discussion on how to approach this,” and then dive in. Each person knows they are having a “coaching” session, whether informal or formal, and the basic objective. Or “I’m just checking in. Everything going OK?”
Performance management systems can be set up to allow managers to keep track of the very basics of when these types of sessions occur. This can help them track their own progress on using different styles of coaching, and also see when it is time to do career coaching, for example, if that has slipped through the cracks.
I heard, via a webinar, of one organization that gives employees cards with different types of interactions printed on them, and they can “redeem” them with their manager to initiate informal or formal discussions at their discretion. The manager, on the other side of the equation, can be challenged to collect the cards from each employee over the course of a quarter and/or year. So the employee will have cards that say, using my model, Checker, Director, Activator, or Developer. There will be a lot of Checker cards, but only a few (2-4) Developer cards. Each card might have some verbiage with guidance on how and when to best use them.
Finally, let me loop back around to a question Jon Low raises, namely “who should be judging who?” There is no question that employees should have the opportunity to provide feedback regarding their manager’s performance as a coach. Instruments such as The ManagerCoach© help define the desired behaviors and outcomes (e.g., trust) that will only occur if managers are measured and held accountable to, and hopefully developed, trained and selected as well.
We can’t create effective manager-coaches if we aren’t clear as to what they look like, and then select, train and reward accordingly. “Checking in” isn’t enough to be a manager coach, any more than just showing up leads to success.