Thursday, October 29, 2009

How to Infuse Coaching Skills into a Manager

After taking the recent Talent Management Challenge, a reader commented:

“Suggestion for your next blog post - How do you improve career coaching and development at your organization when your managers are bad at it and don't have time to get better (ha - and they don't think they need to get better, nor do they have the time!)?”

The reader was referring to solid, beyond a shadow of a doubt research that says managers, in general, are lousy at coaching and developing their people.

As if that fact isn’t depressing enough, what makes it even worse is a whole body of other research that proves just how well effective coaching hits the bottom line. For example, a 2007 Corporate Executive Board study found that sales reps receiving great coaching reach on average 102% of goal in contrast to sales reps reporting poor coaching who achieve only 83% of goal. Good coaching can improve bottom performance by 19%!

Coaching is not just a “nice to do” – it’s a proven productivity driving, revenue growing, high impact management activity.

So if it works…. why don’t more managers do it? And why are they so bad at it?

There are four reasons:

1. They don’t understand how effective it is in improving performance.

2. They don’t have time. While “lack of time” may be just a symptom of reason #1, it’s also a reality that most managers these days are terminally busy and have difficulty finding time to eat, let alone coach.

3. It’s hard to learn. In fact, it’s one of the most difficult leadership competencies to learn.

4. Poor execution. Managers often spend too much time coaching poor performers at the expense of the “B” performers who would benefit from it the most. Or, they apply the same process to all employees equally.

Given this stark reality, what’s an organization to do? How can we infuse coaching skills into an organization’s managers? Here are four ideas:

1. Help managers understand the importance of coaching.
Stop trying to convince them it’s the “right thing to do” in order to improve employee satisfaction. Show them the research and the ROI. Make it a business case, not an HR driven social agenda.

2. Set expectations and help align their priorities.
Establish clear, measurable, non-negotiable expectations. Then get rid of all the lower priority stuff that’s filling up their days. We can’t just tell managers coaching is important and hold them accountable for it, and not eliminate the non-value activities that are often driven by their own managers and HR. BTW, I didn't even bother suggesting "adding it to their performance appraisals". It already is, and that's never made a difference.

3. Teach them how to do it.
While it’s hard, it’s not impossible. Good managers are not born with a coaching gene… they are good at it because they know what key behaviors make the most difference and they practice those behaviors relentlessly. There is no 3x5 laminated card short-cut solution to teaching and learning coaching skills – it’s a significant investment of time and effort.

4. Use internal and external experts.
Create a pool of internal and external coaches as a temporary or permanent “work-around”. These experts could be from HR, training, professional external coaches, or anyone that has a knack and passion for bringing out the best in others. Over time, this capability can’t help but be transferred… it’s a quicker way to infuse an organization with coaching expertise, while you are building your manager’s skills at the same time.

5. Try the Vulcan Mind Meld.
Just be careful, it's tricky. Too much be can physically debilitating for both parties.

While these solutions may sound overly simple (except for the mind meld), the devil is in the details. It’s going to take a lot of commitment and hard work. We just need to ask ourselves: would it be worth an almost 20% productivity improvement or increase in revenue? If so, then let’s get to work.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Leading with Courage: Run Toward the Roar

Guest post by Emmett C. Murphy:

When antelopes hear the sound of a lion’s roar their instinct tells them to run in the opposite direction. Doing so, however, means they run to almost certain death because lions expect their prey to do just that. The male of the pride anticipates where the antelope will run while the lionesses lie in ambush opposite the male. When the lion roars, a startled antelope runs directly into the jaws of the waiting lionesses.

When faced with threats to our happiness or security, we humans all too often run away from the “roar” of daily life only to find, later, the threats returning or compounding. Effective leaders realize that survival and success lie in having the courage to confront threats. At moments in our lives we are called to account in a way that forces us to decide whether we will stand for our values. While we appreciate the need for courage in other areas of our lives, we may not appreciate how much courage it takes to lead in the workplace. The following practices of effective leaders all take courage. They are not all instinctual, however. Many must be learned.

Empower the Frontlines

The “ivory tower” mentality of many chief executives amounts to cowardice. Effective leaders regularly meet with and solicit information from frontline employees, seeking them out and approaching them even when it feels awkward or unnecessary. As Deborah Dunshire, M.D., chief of Millennium: the Takeda Oncology Company, says, “If you never have direct access, or don’t create those forums, you can have a divergence between what you believe is the case in the organization and what actually is. I think that’s where organizations lose momentum, lose engagement and start losing great people.” Leaders from Sam Walton to Deborah Dunshire derive success from talking regularly, openly, and encouragingly with their employees. They seek “direct access” to information, which engages and empowers informed employees.

Resolve Conflicts

It’s easy enough to say that you shouldn’t run away from conflicts. The reason so many of us do, however, is because we treat resolving conflicts as an A versus B scenario. A contest of wills. A question of who is going to be torn apart. Rather than framing conflict negotiation in win-lose terms, effective leaders approach conflicts from a problem-solving perspective. Often individuals in conflict have lost sight of the customer—the reason they are there. Conflict resolution then aims to focus the warring parties on their shared interest—the customer’s interest. Rather paradoxically, by directing attention away from self-interest, leaders can actually help individuals gain insight into their own behavior. When leaders move away from “win-lose” talk they can often see a problem that needs solving—a reality—beyond the viewpoints of A and B.

Communicate Responsibility

Facing a person one-on-one to help clarify his or her responsibility takes courage. The difficulty comes, in part, from the fact that when a person fails to take responsibility for his or her work it often indicates a deeper problem. Maybe someone fails to hand in a report because that person hasn’t been supplied with all the necessary documents. Maybe someone neglects the long lines at the cash register because she’s been asked to take on too much responsibility in the back storeroom. Expecting someone to take responsibility for his or her work does not mean expecting that person to take on whatever you throw at them but it does mean expecting them to take responsibility for what they can and cannot manage. A person who takes on more than he or she can handle is acting irresponsibly. The person who takes on too much responsibility in the back storeroom, knowing her primary responsibility is at the cash register, fails to “own” her job. While it takes courage to confront an employee about his or her productivity, the message about taking responsibility aims to empower and give the employee a greater sense of control.

Take Responsibility Yourself

My model of a responsible adult and a tremendous leader is my friend and client Marliese Mitchell. Mitchell started her professional career as a nurse, earned an MBA at Harvard, worked her way up the ladder, and eventually took a job as president of the world’s biggest international hospital consulting firm. On her first assignment in this position she visited a hospital in Singapore where she heard some disturbing rumors about the sale of baby boys. Instead of running from the news, Mitchell decided to work incognito as a staff nurse to learn for herself whether the rumors were true. What she discovered about the hospital practices was worse than she imagined and led to criminal convictions backed by the World Health Organization and the United Nations, among others. When Mitchell heard the roar she ran toward it despite the dangers. Her story involves so much physical courage and personal integrity that I want everyone to read it, maybe more than once; I tell it in nearly every book I write. In Mitchell’s situation, the peril of confronting the roar may have at first seemed equal to the peril of ignoring it. Despite the great moral imperative, some might wonder why Mitchell took the risk. In fact, ignoring the problem, Mitchell realized, could have eventually cost her more: her job, the respect of employees and clients, and her integrity.

All of these acts of courage involve confronting someone or something directly—frontliners, individuals in conflict, irresponsible associates, or your own values. Here’s the simple logic: threats rarely disappear on their own so running from them won’t help. Facing them will get you much further.

Emmett Murphy, Ph.D., is Founder and President of Murphy Leadership, a global leadership consultancy. Murphy is the author of several books including Talent IQ: Identify Your Company's Top Performers, Improve or Remove Underachievers, Boost Productivity and Profit. He is currently at work on his new book, Entrepreneurial IQ.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Talent Management Challenge Winners!

Last week I ran a contest sponsored by Lominger based on the book 100 Things You Need to Know: Best People Practices for Managers & HR.

I pulled 10 questions from the book and offered a free copy for two winners. I received 34 submissions from around the world. Only ONE person got all 10 right..... and the winner is:

Cindy Blackwell! Congratulations Cindy, you know your people practices.

The next closest were Amy Wilson and Marty Jordan, each with 8 right answers. I used to select: Amy Wilson.

It was easy to "grade" the answers as they came in... most people didn't just get a few wrong, they got most of the questions wrong. Lominger uses a 1-5 "degree of certainty" scale for each answer, based on the amount of research to support the answer. I only used questions with the highest degree of certainty, so there were no "maybe" answers here.

Look, I'm not trying to put my readers down here. Most of my readers are HR pros, consultants, executive coaches, and savvy managers. As I read the book, I was guessing right less than 50% of the time myself. I ran my own contest with my team - all seasoned talent management practitioners - and the best score was a 6. I had lunch with a colleague last week - a university organizational development professor and experienced practitioner - and he was pretty surprised by the answers too.

Does this tell us anything about how we manage people? Are many of our sacred "truths" just plain wrong?

I read an interesting story by Sharon Begley in Newsweek in which she aks why psychologists seem to reject science. She writes:

For years, psychologists who conduct research have lamented what they see as an antiscience bias among clinicians, who treat patients. But now the gloves have come off. In a two-years-in-the-making analysis to be published in November in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, psychologists led by Timothy B. Baker of the University of Wisconsin charge that many clinicians fail to "use the interventions for which there is the strongest evidence of efficacy" and "give more weight to their personal experiences than to science." As a result, patients have no assurance that their "treatment will be informed by science." Walter Mischel of Columbia University, who wrote an accompanying editorial, is even more scathing. "The disconnect between what clinicians do and what science has discovered is an unconscionable embarrassment," he told me, and there is a "widening gulf between clinical practice and science."

Wow. Could we be guilty of the same level of managerial malpractice when it comes to how we teach managers how to manage people? Are we ignoring the science of talent management and over-relying on our experience? Given how proud I am that my blogging is based on "practical experience", I'd be one of the first targets of this accusation.

Anyway, not to be too much of a buzz-kill, the contest was just meant to be fun and stimulate some good discussion. The correct answers are below, along with implications.

The Talent Management Challenge Answers:

1. Who is the least accurate judge of a manager’s job performance?
D. Self.
Relying on self-ratings for job improvement and career development would not be a sound practice. Almost anyone else's rating would be more accurate.

2. What is the relationship between being smart (having a high IQ) and the ability to manage others effectively?
C. There is a small relationship; it helps but not much.
Most people overvalue smarts as a predictor of managerial success. While it's not unimportant, it isn't worth the weight that most give it.

3. How accurate are the ratings on formal performance appraisal evaluations?
A. People get higher ratings than they really deserve; ratings are generally inflated.
Most studies show that 85 to 95 percent are rated at or above average in formal performance appraisal processes. So we need to discount the value of these ratings.

4. What is the effect on others of a person asking for and seeking negative feedback?
C. Others think more positively of the person.
The people who look for more feedback, especially negative feedback, are usually more self-aware, self-assured, and perform better because they have more insight into their development needs.

5. How skilled are managers, in general, at being good coaches and helping others develop their long-term careers?
E. Managers, in general, are very poor at coaching and developing their people.
Relying exclusively on line managers to coach and develop their people for the long-term is a losing strategy.

6. What is the most likely outcome of people focusing exclusively on developing their strengths and doing only those jobs that match their strengths?
D. Strengths are likely to be overdone or not balanced, and unaddressed weaknesses would become blind spots.
I've posted on this topic here and here. At least I got one answer right. (-:

7. How do high performers rate themselves compared to low performers?
D. Rate themselves lower than others do and lower than low performers.
Self-ratings are suspect in a number of ways. Lower performers overrate and higher performers underrate.

8. What percentage of high potentials succeed after they are promoted?
C. About 50% continue to be successful.
If the call on potential is correct to begin with, the success rate would be higher.

9. What most often gets managers and executives terminated?
C. Poor self-knowledge and relationships.
We need to make sure high potentials get feedback, coaching, and mentoring early in their careers.

10. What’s the most effective long-term talent acquisition path to follow?
B. To the extent possible, it’s better to build your own talent and go outside.
In general, about an 80/20 mix (internal to external) is a good strategy.

So what do you think? Please comment on your opinion about the contest results, and/or any of the answers and implications.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Heard Any Good News Lately?

I’ve been looking into the field of positive psychology lately, participating in a pilot program and reviewing some of the research.

For the regular readers of Great Leadership, who have gotten to know my “no nonsense” pragmatic approach to leadership development, this may come as somewhat of a surprise. I’m also personally not the touchy feely type, so this has been a bit of a stretch for me.

This is not some wacky leadership development flavor of the month. I’ve been impressed with what I’ve learned, and think a lot of it can be applied to leadership. In a very practical way, of course. (-:

Here’s one aspect of positive psychology: How you react to someone’s good news can hurt or improve the relationship.

When an employee (or a peer, or anyone) comes to you with good news, how do you respond? Do they walk away feeling satisfied, inspired, and motivated? As leaders, that’s what we strive for, right? Or do they walk away feeling de-motivated?

You may be surprised to discover you may be wasting an opportunity – even worse, harming the relationship – and not even realizing it. Let’s dig a little into positive psychology to find out why.

Shelly Gable, who is an associate professor of psychology at University of California, Santa Barbara, works on the positive psychology of love and marriage. Most psychologists who research marriage work on problems. They focus on how a couple responds when something bad happens.

Gable takes a different approach. She works on what makes a marriage great, and her approach can apply to anybody who wants to improve a relationship – at work or at home.

Here’s an example to illustrate the concept. How you would respond if your significant other tells you that he or she has just been promoted?

1. Do you react enthusiastically (active-constructive)? "Hey, that’s fantastic news! You must be so proud. How about if we go out and celebrate tonight?”

2. Do you point out the potential problems or down sides of the good event (active-destructive)? "Uh oh, does that mean you’re going to be working longer hours and traveling more?"

3. Do you say little, but convey that you are happy to hear the news (passive-constructive)? "That’s great, honey."

4. Do you seem uninterested (passive-destructive)? "What’s for dinner?"

She calls the first category "Capitalizing," - amplifying the pleasure of the good situation and contributing to an upward spiral of positive emotion. Capitalizing turns out to be the key to strong relationships.

Here’s some more of “the science”: University of Washington researcher John Gottman found that partners in satisfying marriages say at least five times as many positive things to each other as negative things.

Let’s take this back to the workplace and leadership. How do you think your employees would describe your typical responses to their good news?

1. Active/Constructive
My manager usually reacts to my good news enthusiastically – sometimes even more excited than I initially was. I’m often encouraged to “relive the moment”, and he/she takes the time to listen and ask questions.

2. Passive/Constructive
My manager doesn’t make a big deal out of it, but I’m pretty sure is happy for me.

3. Active/Destructive
My manager often finds a problem with my good news – the glass is always only half full.

4. Passive/Destructive
Sometimes I get the impression my manager isn’t paying attention or just doesn’t care much.

As a leader, every interaction with your employees is an opportunity to inspire and motivate. We tend to spend a lot of time teaching managers how to deliver bad news, deal with conflict, deliver constructive feedback, and solve employee concerns.

How about if we discipline ourselves to respond in a positive way to good news? It sounds so easy, but trust me, it's not.

Try it out, and see what happens. What have you got to lose?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

30 Challenges That Can Develop Leaders

There is no shortage of developmental challenges a leader could face throughout their careers. Here is a summary of three decades worth of research that describes these challenges. Note the overlap and similarities between the lists.

1988: The Lessons of Experience
The Center for Creative Leadership’s Morgan McCall, Michael Lombardo, and Ann Morrison identified sixteen developmental experiences that have the most impact on a leader’s development. Their findings were published in 1988 in the groundbreaking book “The Lessons of Experience”.

1. Early work experiences: early non-managerial jobs

2. First supervision: first time managing people

3. Starting from scratch: building something from nothing

4. Fix it/turnaround: fixing/stabilizing a failing operation

5. Project/task force: discrete projects and temporary assignments done alone or as a part of a team

6. Scope: increase in numbers of people, dollars, and functions to manage

7. Line to staff switch: moving from line operations to corporate staff roles

Other People:
8. Role models: other people with exceptional (good or bad) qualities

9. Values played out: “snapshots” of chain-of-command behavior that demonstrate individual or corporate values

10. Business failure or mistakes: ideas that failed or deals that fell apart

11. Demotions/missed promotions/lousy jobs: not getting a coveted job or getting exiled

12. Employee performance problem: confronting an employee with a serious performance problem

13. Breaking a rut: taking on a new career in response to discontent with the current job

14. Personal traumas: crises and traumas such as divorce, illness, and death

Other events:
15. Coursework: formal courses

16. Purely personal: experiences outside of work

2001: The Leadership Pipeline
The Leadership Pipeline was based on work originally done at General Electric in the 1970s by Walt Mahler, an HR consultant and trainer. Mahler identified six different passages and challenges in a leader’s career (“The Crossroads Model”). Ram Charan, Stephen Drotter, and James Noel then applied their expertise in succession planning to write the Leadership Pipeline in 2001.

1. Managing self to managing others
The first passage is from managing elf to managing others. This passage occurs when a person gets promoted to first line manager. The skills required in this position often include planning work, assigning jobs, motivating, coaching, and measuring the jobs of others. Though these skills are all easily learned, first-line managers often encounter difficulties in the change of values required to effectively manage others.

2. Managing others to managing managers
The second passage is from managing others to managing managers. This passage in the leadership pipeline is often ignored due to the assumption that managing others and managing other managers are quite similar. It is important to note that the two are entirely different tasks. Managing managers is a more crucial task and requires the key ability to identify who has the potential to be good leaders. Failure to do so can lead to holding first-line managers for technical work instead of managerial work. This then creates a clog in the leadership pipeline and eventually affects the performance of the organization.

3. Managing managers to functional managers
The third passage is from managing managers to functional managers. This passage is a much tougher transition because it requires an increase in managerial maturity. This means he/she has to learn to let go of previous management work, and instead focus on the functions of the business. The manager also needs to take on a more holistic approach and strategic mindset. This is required for creating functional strategies for the company and managing the whole function of the business.

4. Functional managers to business managers
The fourth passage is from functional managers to business managers. This passage can be one of the most fulfilling and the most satisfying among all the passages because it gives the manager more control and say about the company operations and strategies.
This position also requires a major shift in skills, time applications, and work values. Neglecting these qualities ultimately results to problems such as not valuing and using staff functions, failure to direct and energize finance, and other challenges that may negatively affect the business.

5. Business managers to group managers
The fifth passage is from business managers to group managers. This particular passage places value in the success of other people’s businesses. This focuses on group of businesses, not just one. Therefore, a Group manager is required to become more proficient at evaluating strategies, developing and coaching business managers, creating a portfolio strategy, and correctly assessing the right core capabilities to succeed. The point is to see the company issues in the broadest terms possible. Failure to acquire these skills ultimately results to failure in supporting the business managers.

6. Group managers to enterprise managers
The sixth and final passage is from group managers to enterprise managers. These are the CEOs and presidents of the companies. This passage focuses more on values and skills because this position requires a visionary leader. Enterprise managers would have to let go of the individual products and customers, and see the whole picture. Usually, they are required to set three or four priority goals, and focus on implementing the strategies for these goals. The biggest problem in this passage is that enterprise managers often fail to change their values and mindset. Hence, it is very difficult to develop a CEO for this transition.

2009: The 8 Toughest Transitions for Leaders
Now we have Michael Watkins, author of the First 90 Days. His new book is Your Next Move: The Leader’s Guide to Navigating Major Career Transitions. In it, Watkins has identified eight types of career moves that most executives face during their careers.

1. The promotion challenge: Moving to a higher level in the hierarchy and understanding what success looks like at the new level, including issues of focus, delegation, developing leadership competencies and demonstrating presence.

2. The leading-former-peers challenge: An important variant of promotion in which the leader is elevated to manage a team including his or her former peers, with the associated challenges of establishing authority and altering existing relationships.

3. The corporate diplomacy challenge: Moving from a position of authority to one in which effectiveness in influencing others and building alliances is critical.

4. The on-boarding challenge: Joining a new organization and grappling with the need to adapt to a new culture, develop the right political “wiring” and align expectations up, down and sideways.

5. The international move challenge: Leading in an unfamiliar culture while at the same time moving one’s family and creating a new support system.

6. The turnaround challenge: Taking over an organization that is in deep trouble and figuring out how to save it from destruction.

7. The realignment challenge: Confronting an organization that is in denial about the need for change and creating a sense of urgency before emerging problems erupt in a crisis.

8. The business portfolio challenge: Leading an organization in which different parts are at different states — startup, turnaround, accelerated growth, realignment and sustaining success — and figuring out where to focus and how to build momentum.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Take the Talent Management Challenge – Win a Free Book!

I recently purchased a book from Lominger called 100 Things You Need to Know: Best People Practices for Managers & HR.

I’m such a geek, I couldn’t put it down. It’s kind of like a Who Wants to be a Millionaire Game for managers and HR practitioners. I wanted to bring it to a neighborhood party, but Mrs. Great Leadership vetoed that idea. (-:

I thought it would be fun to do a contest to test your knowledge. I contacted Lominger and they’ve given me permission to publish a few questions and will provide a couple free books for the contest – list price is $39.95!

Email me (dmccart3 at rochester dot rr dot com) with your answers to all 10 questions by the end of the day, next Friday, 10/23/09. The first two with all the right answers wins. If no one gets all 10 right, I’ll select and announce the two winners with the most correct answers Monday, 10/26/09, along with the right answers (according to the book) and implications. In case of a tie, I’ll use a random generator to select the winners.

If you’re a real smarty pants and feeling very confident, you can post your answers in the comments section for all to see.

Full disclosure: this is not a paid promotion. I have no business relationship with Lominger other than being an occasional customer.

The Talent Management Challenge

1. Who is the least accurate judge of a manager’s job performance?
A. Boss
B. Peers
C. Direct reports
D. Self
E. Customers

2. What is the relationship between being smart (having a high IQ) and the ability to manage others effectively?
A. There is a strong relationship; the smarter you are, the better manager you can be
B. There is a moderate relationship; the smarter you are, the more likely it is you can manage others well
C. There is a small relationship; it helps but not much
D. There is no relationship; the level of your IQ has nothing to do with how well you can manage others
E. There is a negative relationship; the smarter you are the more likely it is you won’t listen or delegate

3. How accurate are the ratings on formal performance appraisal evaluations?
A. People get higher ratings than they really deserve; ratings are generally inflated
B. Higher performers get inflated ratings but lower performers get accurate ratings
C. Higher performers get accurate ratings but the ratings of lower performers are inflated
D. Everyone gets accurate ratings in general
E. People get lower ratings than they really deserve

4. What is the effect on others of a person asking for and seeking negative feedback?
A. Others often think the person lacks self-confidence
B. Others expect the person to be defensive if they respond and therefore don’t
C. Others think more positively of the person
D. Others respond by actually increasing positive feedback to counter the request
E. It has no measurable impact on others

5. How skilled are managers, in general, at being good coaches and helping others develop their long-term careers?
A. Managers, in general, are outstanding at coaching and helping their people develop
B. Managers, in general, are strong at coaching and helping their people develop
C. Managers, in general, are about average in their ability to develop their people
D. Managers, in general, are not very skilled in helping their people in career development
E. Managers, in general, are very poor at coaching and developing their people

6. What is the most likely outcome of people focusing exclusively on developing their strengths and doing only those jobs that match their strengths?
A. It would only work well for those with the right strengths to begin with
B. People would be happier and more productive because they wouldn’t have to worry about their weaknesses
C. The strengths would get stronger, overwhelming any weaknesses that might get in the way
D. Strengths are likely to be overdone or not balanced, and unaddressed weaknesses would become blind spots
E. More people would become strong performers over time

7. How do high performers rate themselves compared to low performers?
A. Rate themselves higher than others rate them
B. Rate themselves the same as others rate them
C. Rate themselves lower than others do
D. Rate themselves lower than others do and lower than low performers
E. Rate themselves at the same level as low performers

8. What percentage of high potentials succeed after they are promoted?
A. The great majority (90%) are still in place five years later and are successful
B. About 75% continue to be highly successful
C. About 50% continue to be successful
D. About 25% continue to be successful
E. While over 75% stay in their jobs, only 25% could be called successful

9. What most often gets managers and executives terminated?
A. Poor performance
B. Poor future prospects
C. Poor self-knowledge and relationships
D. Poor technical job skills
E. Poor track record overall

10. What’s the most effective long-term talent acquisition path to follow?
A. It’s always better to develop your own talent from within
B. To the extent possible, it’s better to build your own talent and go outside for specialized and temporary needs
C. It’s faster and cheaper to get most of your talent from outside because you can never develop enough internal people to go around
D. It’s always cheaper and faster to buy talent from the outside
E. Developing internal people just leads to increased turnover; it’s a losing game

Go ahead – take the challenge! Better yet, pass it along to your team, your colleagues, or your networks and have a little fun competition. Or, you can work on it together as a team and submit your collaborative answers.

Monday, October 12, 2009

What HR Wants From an Executive Coach

I’m co-posting on the topic of executive coaching with Mary Jo Asmus, an executive coach, leadership blogging friend, and former HR executive.

Mary Jo came up with this idea as a way to bridge the expectation gap and improve collaboration between HR and external coaches.

You’ll find the co-post “What an Executive Coach Wants from HR” over at Mary Jo’s blog.

Here’s mine, from the limited perspective of just one corporate “buyer” of executive coaching services:

What HR Wants From an Executive Coach

1. Results… and sooner than later!
Executive coaches are a big investment, and especially during these tough economic times when budgets are tight, we need to make tough trade-off decisions as to where we spend our limited professional services dollars. Our Board of Directors are holding our executives accountable for making the numbers every quarter, and they in turn are holding HR accountable for helping them get those results. If we’re going to spend $10,000-$30,000 on an executive coach, we need to see a substantial ROI ASAP. That means measurable objectives need to be established right at the beginning, and a process for evaluating progress and results.

2. Competence.
The ideal executive coach has a combination of executive experience and professional coaching credentials. Our executives need practical advice from someone who has walked in their shoes and understands executive politics. While we prefer professional coaching certification or training, from International Coach Federation (ICF) or some other credible organization, experience and track record is looked at as well.

3. Value.
We realize the best coaches can command top fees. There is a reason for this – it’s a scarce skill set and the good ones can consistently produce results for their clients.
However, budget dollars are tight. In fact, when it comes to corporate spending, things may never return to where they were. So while we understand the concept of “you get what you pay for”, we also reserve the right to shop for the best fees and negotiate. It’s like buying a car - we’d prefer not to pay sticker, we want quality over brand name, and don't want a lot of un-needed options.
We’d also like the option of paying an hourly fee, vs. a fixed 6-12 month price. That way, unlike a cell phone plan, either side can walk away at any time, with no long-term commitment or penalties.

4. Help us make an informed buying decision.
Provide us with a nice 2 page package that describes your background, coaching model, references, process, and pricing. That will help us easily narrow down our options and pass along our recommendations to our executive clients. Be willing and available for a 30-60 minute initial screening and chemistry phone call or meeting.

5. Involvement.
When we connect you to a client, we want to be involved as a part of a three-way partnership. HR can provide valuable upfront background and context, be involved in development goal setting, help answer questions and possibly remove obstacles, and be an ongoing resource for the executive. Keep in mind that unless the executive is paying for the coach with their own Visa card, the company is paying the coach, and HR often represents the company’s interest. The degree of involvement should not depend on whose budget the coaching fees are being paid from.

6. Focus on leadership behaviors and business results, unless otherwise agreed to upfront.
A disturbing number of executive coaches are contracted initially to address workplace behavioral issues and end up crossing the line into personal therapy. We realize it’s often important to “peel back the layers” to get at the underlying issues, but the best coaches know where to draw the line and make a referral – even if they have the expertise.

7. Chemistry with the executive client.
We want our clients to make their own choice when it comes to a coach. We’ll give them at least 3 choices, as opposed to over-relying on the same executive coach. We’ll do our best to minimize the political pressure of feeling the need to work with the coach that the CEO favors.

8. Client and company confidentiality.
We’ll want a signed NDA (non-disclosure agreement) and expect it to be honored. When working with our company and executives, we expect and respect the highest degree of confidentiality and discretion. While this may seem like a given, unfortunately, it’s not always the case. In fact, it’s often issues of internal confidentiality that cause the most problems – which we often need to step in and clean up.

9. Access and convenience.
While phone coaching is getting more popular and can be very effective, many of our executives still prefer face-to-face coaching. Being located in the same area as the executive, while not something a coach can control, is something we look for. Being willing and able to travel to the client helps as well.

We’d love to hear from other HR pros or executive coaches - sharing these expectations can only only help improve the process. What do you look for? Please post a comment on either blog.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

7 Tips to Sell Your Ideas the Steve Jobs Way

Thanks to Miki Saxon for sending this guest post idea my way. I like it. It's an interesting follow-up to my last post, Can a Poor Presenter be a Great Leader?

By Carmine Gallo, Author of The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience

Apple’s Steve Jobs returned to a standing ovation at a special music event in San Francisco on Wednesday, September 9th, marking the return of the world’s greatest corporate storyteller. For more than three decades, Steve Jobs has elevated product launches to an art form. His techniques, sharpened over the years, can be used by CEOs, entrepreneurs, small business owners, educators or anyone who wants to inspire an audience. Here are seven ways that Steve Jobs dazzles an audience, and so can you.

1. Create a “holy smokes” moment.
Every Steve Jobs presentation has one moment that leaves everyone in awe—the water cooler moment. These “moments” are scripted ahead of time to compliment his slides, the Apple Web site, press releases and advertisements. In 2008, Jobs pulled the MacBook Air out of a manila, inter-office envelope to show everyone just how thin it was. Bloggers went nuts and it was the most popular photograph of the event. On September 9, 2009, the “water cooler” moment wasn’t a product at all. Instead, it was Steve Jobs himself walking onstage after a long, health related absence. He told the audience he now had the liver of a mid twenties person who died in a car crash and was generous enough to donate their organs. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for such generosity,” he said.

2. Stick to the rule of three.
The Rule of Three is one of most powerful concepts in writing. The human mind can only retain three or four “chunks” of information and Jobs is well aware of this principle. A Steve Jobs presentation is typically divided into three parts. During the September 9th event, Jobs outlined the presentation into three areas: iPhone, iTunes and iPod. Jobs has even been known to have fun with the principle. At Macworld 2007, he introduced “three revolutionary products;” an mp3 player, a phone, and an internet communicator. After repeating the three products several times, he disclosed the big announcement—all three would be wrapped up in one, the iPhone. The rule of three turned into a water cooler moment. Ask yourself, what are the three things I want my audience to know? Not twenty things, just three. You can get away with more points in written form (like an article) but stick to three in public presentations and verbal conversations.

3. Share the stage.
Jobs rarely gives an entire presentation himself. Instead he surrounds himself with a supporting cast. He had a large supporting cast at the September music event including Apple’s VP of product marketing, Phil Schiller and iTunes software designer, Jeff Robbin. At least four game developers took to the stage as well. Songwriter Norah Jones capped it off. Of course, you’re not going to have Norah Jones wrap up your next presentation, but if you can share the presentation with another team member (or customer) by all means, do so.

4. Introduce heroes and villains.
Every great drama has a hero and a villain. Steve Jobs is a master at creating drama. We see this technique as far back at 1984 when Apple first introduced the Macintosh. Jobs set up the product launching by painting a picture of IBM “big blue” bent on “world domination.” Apple, he said, would be the only company to stand in its way. The crowd went nuts. One can argue that the “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” ads are hero vs. villain vignettes played out in thirty second ads. Great presentations have an antagonist—a common enemy—so the audience can rally around the hero. Your brand and your product play the role of the hero.

5. Think visually. Apple presentations are strikingly simple and visual. For example, there is very little text on a Steve Jobs slide. While the average PowerPoint slide has 40 words, there were far fewer than forty words in the first dozen slides of the September music event. When Jobs talked about the popularity of iPhone around the world, his slide showed 23 flags of different countries instead of country names. When said the iPhone app store was celebrating its first anniversary, a slide appeared with a birthday cake holding one candle. When he talked about lower iPod prices, the new price was accompanied by photos of the iPods. This is what psychologists call “picture superiority.” It simply means that ideas are more easily recalled when presented in text and images than in text alone.

6. Create Twitter-friendly headlines.
Apple makes it simple for the media to talk about their products—the company writes the headlines for them. Now, reporters will tell you that they like to come up with their own headlines, but why then did hundreds of them use “World’s thinnest notebook” to describe the MacBook Air? Because that’s the way Steve Jobs described it, and frankly, it’s hard to come up with a better way of saying it. Jobs always describes a new product with a concise phrase that fits well within a 140 character Twitter post. What’s an iPod? “One thousand songs in your pocket.” What’s Genuis Mix for iTunes? “It’s like having a DJ mix the songs in your library.” If you can’t describe what you do in one sentence, go back to the drawing board.

7. Sell dreams, not products.
Steve Jobs is passionately committed to changing the world and his passion shows in every presentation. Anyone can learn the specific techniques he uses to create visually creative slides, but those slides will fall flat if delivered without passion and enthusiasm. When Jobs introduce the iPod in 2001, he said that music was a transformative experience and that in its own small way, Apple was changing the world. Where most observers saw a music player, Jobs saw an opportunity to create a better world for his customers. That’s the difference between Jobs and the vast majority of mediocre leaders—Jobs is genuinely committed to changing the world and he’s not afraid to say it.

©2009 Carmine Gallo, author of The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience.

Author Bio
Carmine Gallo, author of The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience, is a presentation, media-training, and communication-skills coach for the world's most admired brands. He is an author and columnist for and and a keynote speaker and seminar leader who has appeared on CNBC, NBC, CBS,, BNET, RedBook,, and in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Investor's Business Daily, as well as many other media outlets. Gallo lives in the San Francisco Bay area and is a former vice president for a global, top-ten public relations firm.For more information please visit

Monday, October 5, 2009

Can a Poor Presenter be a Great Leader?

Question #1: Can someone be a great presenter and not be a great leader?

There are plenty of people that make a good living giving presentations on all kinds of topics. They usually are experts in their subject matter, have a lot of passion for their topic, have a compelling story to tell, and have honed their presentation skills to a very high level.
While some presenters are attempting to inspire others, not all are. Some are just sharing information or entertaining. So we’d have to say yes, you can be a great presenter and not be a great leader.

Question #2: Can someone be a great leader and not be a great presenter?

It depends on how you define leadership. Most would agree that one of the characteristics of a great leader is the ability to inspire others to change. I suppose in some leadership roles, this can be accomplished one person at a time, without ever having to give a presentation. However, for most leaders, at some point, they are going to have to give that department presentation, halftime pep talk, inspirational talk to the troops, or presentation to the big dogs. It’s those make-or-break moments on stage when leaders have the opportunity to influence the greatest number of people to change.

So if a leader gets stage fright, and doesn’t shine during these opportunities, or worse, avoids them altogether, than I’d say it’s going to be an up hill climb to ever become a truly great leader. You can’t just throw up your hands and say “it’s just not me”. Consider it a requirement for the job.

The good news is, presentation skills are not something anyone is born with. It’s a very “learnable” leadership competency.

The bad news is, it’s going to take a lot of work. The leaders that are good at it are good at it because they recognize the importance of it and work damn hard at it.

Here are two references to support these points. In the latest edition of Michael Lombardo and Robert Eichinger’s “FYI, For Your Improvement”, presentation skills were found to be “moderately” difficult to develop. Way easier than learning strategic agility, building effective teams, and confronting direct reports, but harder than planning, informing, and perseverance.

Goeff Colvin’s recent bestseller, “Talent is Overrated”, describes how the best athletes, performers, and leaders get really good at anything. It has nothing to do with inborn talent. They’re great at what they do because they use “deliberate practice”. In other words, they work hard – a lot - at the things that really matter and get feedback.

So, leaders: are you ready to make the commitment to improve your presentation skills – and in doing so, become a better leader? Here are some recommendations for getting started:

1. Swallow your pride and get some help.
A lot of the more senior, and experienced leaders I work with see presentation skills as remedial. There’s some truth to that perception. Again, according to Lominger’s research, most executives already rate pretty high in presentation skills, and most mid-managers and individual contributors are rated medium. So if you know you’re not, you’re behind most of your peers. It’s hard to acknowledge you need some help and to take that first step in seeking it out.
Fortunately, there are a lot of resources out there. There are books – “Leading Out Loud”, by Terry Pearce, is one of my favorites. There are public courses that you can find in just about any major city. For those shy executives with big egos, a personal coach is a good option.

2. Practice, practice, and practice some more.
You can’t get really good at something if you only do it 3-4 times a year. Make sure any course you take has at least 50% practice built into it. Most communities have a local Toastmasters chapter, and while these meetings can sometimes feel like an AA meeting, you’ll get plenty of opportunity to practice in a safe environment. Start small – brief presentations to your own team – then work your way up to larger and more unfamiliar audiences. When you’re ready, try volunteering to give a presentation at en external conference. You’ll get to talk about something you’re an expert on, and if you screw up, while it may be embarrassing, at least chances are you’ll never have to meet anyone in that audience again.
Never, ever, give a presentation without preparation and practice. Even the best don’t wing it – that’s why they’re so good. One exception: Martin Luther King actually didn’t write his “I have a dream” speech ahead of time – he was winging it. But he already had LOTS of practice.

3. Get feedback.
Practice by itself won’t work unless you get feedback. In most presentation skills courses or with individual coaching, you’ll get to see yourself on video. You’ll usually be able to immediately spot opportunities for improvement. The trainer, coach, or other students will also tell you what you did well and where you need to improve, in case you were too busy noticing how big your butt looked.
Use written evaluations for any presentation you give, and always have a trusted friend in the audience that is willing to help you debrief your presentation.

4. Master the techniques
In addition to knowing their subject and being insanely passionate about it, the best presenters have mastered the following techniques:

- The use of stories. Great presenters recognize the important of connecting with their audience on an emotional level. They know when and how to use a compelling story to make a point or to influence.

- The use of media. The bar just keeps getting higher and higher when it comes to the creative use of PowerPoint, pictures, audio, and video. Do yourself a favor and make a friend who can help you bring your content and stories to life through the creative use of media.

- Audience engagement. We retain 10% of what we read, 20% of what we hear, 30% of what we see, 50% of what we see and hear, and 70% of what we discuss with others. Build opportunities into your presentation to form pairs or small groups to discuss the content.

- Handling questions. First of all, always save time for questions. I’ve seen too many presenters give a great presentation, and then fall down during the Q&A. Every question is another leadership opportunity to convince and inspire others to take action. Always make sure you repeat or paraphrase the question, check to see if there’s a question behind the question, answer it directly and authentically, and then check to see if you’ve answered it. If you don’t know the answer, say so, and make a commitment to get the answer and follow-up. It’s even better if you can anticipate the tough questions, and build them into your presentation, instead of avoiding or glossing over them.

5. Learn and borrow from the best.
There are opportunities to learn how to give great presentations every day, if we’re consciously looking for them. There are examples of great presentations in movies, television, YouTube, conferences, meetings, church, and politics. Keep a notebook – jot down ideas on how the best open their presentations, tell stories, use media, engage their audience, and handle questions. Build these proven and effective techniques into your own presentation skills toolbox.