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DEEP accountability conversations – How to hold your colleagues accountable

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According to Shelly Setzer of the Table Group, peer-to-peer accountability is “probably the toughest behavior to master on a team”. And as cross functional, matrix and virtual teams are becoming the norm, holding each other accountable to team goals and commitments is becoming even more challenging.. As a team member, you aren’t “the boss”, which means you don’t have the levers of reward and coercion and in some cases, your team may just be one among many for your team members. So how exactly do you approach conversations with colleagues who aren’t doing what they said they would do, without the benefit of formal power ? This is where the DEEP model comes in. The DEEP model is designed to help you have a clear approach to tough accountability conversations. It helps you and your team focus on solutions when accountability problems arise. These kinds of conversations are rarely easy, but with DEEP you can approach them with confidence.



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Requirements for the DEEP approach

You need clear commitments with the team (not tacit, unconfirmed agreements). Your colleagues need to trust your intentions and believe you have their and the projects interest at heart.  You need to foster a climate of creative conflict so everyone can be heard and see themselves reflected in team decisions. AND most of all, you need the courage to have what is often a tough conversation. Tough conversations are … tough. There are no tricks or techniques that make them less so, but here are 3 fundamentals to consider:

  • Turn up – Be present in the conversation, shut out unhelpful self-talk, keep control of yourself and focus on the conversation and the outcome.
  • Stay there – Show you are committed to the conversation. Don’t cut it short when things get awkward.
  • Speak out – say what you think and feel and take responsibility for your words.

The DEEP model, step by step

Step 1 – Describe the situation – What happened as I see it

This is a review of the commitment and shortfall without judgment.  Stick with “I” statements rather than “you” statements and try to describe the process that led to the commitment. If you can’t bring up the shortfall without becoming too emotional and judging your conversation partner, then ask yourself 2 questions:

  • Is the timing right?
  • Am I the right person to have this accountability conversation?

Step 2 – Explain the consequences – The result of what happened

The consequences of the shortfall you mention here should be concrete and observable. What actually happened because they didn’t meet their commitment is far more important than what could happen. Finding consequences your partner already cares about adds impact.

Step 3 -Explore options – What we can do about it

Generate at least three options when considering what to do. The “at least three” is very important – is helps you to avoid binary thinking and unnecessarily taking a position.  Brainstorming options together is critical.  The together points you both in the same direction, reaffirms the “team” and ensures you are on the same page before assessing your options, Make it a distinct step with a marker e.g. “Ok, together let’s now brainstorm what we can do” – this moves your conversation forward.

Step 4 – Problem solve together – What we will do about it

Decide and commit to new behaviors. It can be important to find ways you too can commit to the correction of the shortfall and the development of your relationship. Accountability for behaviors is tough so why should only one person carry the weight? Finding ways to help each other will not only help you to implement a solution, it will also help you to increase your level of trust.

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Stepping into management: the learning and development journey

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One of the drawback of being a trainer is that now and again you fail to realise that what is obvious for you is new to others. In a recent young managers program the “eureka” moment came when, following a young manager’s “Maybe I’m not cut out for this job”  statement, I shared the Conscious Competence model”.  The model, developed by Noel Burch, has been around since the 1970s – and it’s a great way to prepare for and reflect on your development as a manager (or development in any other role).  I assumed my participants knew the model already but they had never heard of it. This is a quick recap.





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Stage 1 – Unconscious Incompetence

Ignorance is bliss, and you don’t even realize that you are performing poorly. As a new, young manager perhaps you don’t even realize you are making elementary mistakes. Instead of delegating you are dumping tasks on people and walk away convinced you are empowering them to find their own solutions. Perhaps your tasking is incomplete, or maybe you don’t have clear goals because you didn’t consider this your role.  Are you delaying giving feedback because you don’t want to upset anybody and it will sort itself out anyway – or perhaps the way you give feedback is so clumsy you demotivate somebody.  The list goes on and on. You assume you know what y0u’re doing –  it’s more or less the same as before but with the better desk and more benefits. You’re not aware that you don’t have the necessary skill. Perhaps you don’t even realize that the skill is relevant.  In the first stage, your confidence exceeds your management skills. Before you can move to the next step you need to know and accept that certain skills are relevant to the role of manager, and that mastering this skill will make you more effective.

Stage 2 – Conscious Incompetence

Someone helped you understand that you need to develop a new skill. Or, you have been sent on a management training programme and your eyes have been opened. Or perhaps confronted by poor results you’ve actually  taken a step back and reflected on what’s been going on and the role you’ve played. You are aware of your lack of skills. You are consciously incompetent. This is a difficult phase as you are now aware of your weaknesses, or in today’s insipid jargon your “developmental areas”.

Nobody is born a manager, although some people may well have innate skills, making the transition to manager easier. Learning by feedback, learning by suffering, learning by doing and learning by failing – these things brought you to the second stage. Training can play a role as can learning from your peers and exposing yourself to opportunities to learn. By staying positive and embracing the small successes your confidence in your own management abilities grows.

 

Stage 3 – Conscious Competence

At this stage you have learnt some reliable management techniques and processes, but they have to be consciously implemented.  It’s a bit like painting by numbers. You know how to facilitate a meeting well, but you still want to take time to reflect on the steps beforehand.  You can make a great presentation and get your message across … and you know what you need to do in advance to get the success you need. You can provide feedback in an appropriate manner – but not without thinking it through beforehand. At this stage, your ability to be flexible and proactive in unexpected situations is limited – but you can do it. The task-oriented aspects of managing are becoming fine-tuned but it is still learning by doing, trial and error, or copying managerial role models. You are testing your limits.

Stage 4 – Unconscious Competence

Quite simply you have become what you wanted to be –  a skilled manager. The task and relationship aspects of managing are now “part of you”.  You know how to achieve the task, develop individuals and build a team – and can do it without too much thinking. Non-routine situations are challenging, yet do not faze you. You are like Beckenbauer in football, or Federer in tennis. You always appear to have enough time and space to make good decisions. But even masters can lose matches and need to learn and practise.

To summarize

The model can be universally applied as a model for learning. It suggests that you are initially unaware of how little you know – you simply don’t know what you don’t know. As you recognize your incompetence, you acquire a skill consciously, then learn to use that skill. Over time, the skill becomes a part of you. You can utilize it consciously thought through. When that happens you have acquired unconscious competence.

  • It will help you understand that stepping into a management role is a learning journey -and not an instant enlightenment.
  • It reinforces that rank does not automatically give you authority.
  • It reassures you that you can succeed as a manager. You just need space and time to find your feet.
  • Understanding this dynamic and learning basic management techniques will quickly help you overcome the early frustrations.

And finally you can manage your emotion as you develop.  You are going through a well-known learning process.  Nobody is born a manager!

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Read more about the model (this article suggests a fifth stage and has a matrix to clarify the four stages). And finally, a few blog posts you might be interested in:

 

Managing high performers – the Miles Davis way

What does Miles Davis have to do with managing high performers in business? Good question. Miles Davis is rightfully acclaimed as an icon of jazz, but he didn’t make music alone.  Throughout his career as a bandleader, Miles worked with other iconic figures of jazz to create music that stands even today as among the highest forms of the genre. John Coltrane, Herbbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, “Philly” Joe Jones, Keith Jarrett, Ron Carter, Tony Williams and many others among the giants of jazz graduated from “Miles University”. Miles Davis, time and time again, brought together some of the most talented musicians in their own right to work with him in his musical exploration. How did he do it? This article will explore the lessons of Miles Davis in the art of leading the best to be their best. eBook: The definitive checklist for qualifying training providers



Lesson 1: Be excellent, publicly

Miles Davis was able, on many occasions, to put together bands of some of the most talented musicians of their time throughout his career. Miles’ reputation clearly preceded him. Receiving a call from Miles was seen as having achieved a high level of musicianship. But that wasn’t the only reason so many musicians with promising solo careers agreed to support Miles. They believed they would learn something based on Miles’ excellence as a musician and band leader. Miles greatness was easy to see through his performances, compositions and recordings.

How easy is it for high performers to recognize your excellence? There is a tendency among many leaders not to “toot their own horns” about their own performance and accomplishments. While a leader may not need to sing his own praises, it is important that someone does it for him. A leader’s excellence will attract others who want to achieve the same level of competence, while increasing the leader’s  credibility and ability to guide, mentor and teach.

Lesson 2: Don’t hire a trumpet player

Miles’ great combos included players with different styles and tendencies. He hired players who would complement his playing and each other’s. He didn’t need anyone who sounded like him because he had that covered.

In business, it can be difficult to avoid the temptation to hire people who mirror our backgrounds, experiences, styles and tendencies. After all those competencies served us well in our careers. It is important to remember as a leader that our success is a reflection of the past while we are hiring for the future.  The pace of change doesn’t only require different technological skills it also requires new communication and leadership skills from those current leaders needed at earlier stages of their careers. Hiring teams with complementary but different skills and areas of expertise broadens the set of problems they can solve and increases their impact on the organization.

“It’s not about standing still and becoming safe. If anybody wants to keep creating they have to be about change.”
Miles Davis

Lesson 3: Play together and produce excellence

Miles’ bands grew into cohesive units through performances, not rehearsals. Each performance created a wealth of learning opportunities for Miles and his band mates. The urgency of the moment created a focus and intensity that would be very difficult if not impossible to reproduce in a rehearsal. By focusing on playing together and learning from the experience, Miles could correct on the spot, encourage and support his band to take risks, push themselves and reach new heights of excellence.

How often do you perform with your high performers? Finding opportunities to produce excellence together will give you more chances to learn from each other.

Lesson 4: Don’t tell them what to do, tell them what not to do

Related to lesson three, play together and produce excellence, is the style of debriefing and guidance Miles offered to his band mates following their performances.  Miles didn’t put a group together hearing the music he hoped they would produce in his mind, then correcting them to come as close as possible to his vision. Miles believed in an experimental approach to developing new music. When reflecting about what took place in performances, Miles would say what his band mates shouldn’t do but he wouldn’t tell them what to do. He hired them for their expertise on their individual instruments. He wanted them to bring their ideas to the table so they could take ownership of their performances and the product of the group.

The high performers in your organization reached a level of success before becoming members of your team. When managing high performers, take advantage of their creativity and input by channelling, not directing their contributions to the organization.

“If you don’t know what to play, play nothing.”
Miles Davis

Lesson 5: Listen to save the day

Deep listening is the art of hearing not only what is said but also what isn’t said. On stage, Miles had the opportunity to lay out and listen to what his band mates were playing.  There were times when while reaching for new forms of expression, the band lost its way. By listening to what wasn’t there, Miles could enter the fray at the right moment with the phrase that would bring the other players back together again, finding a groove that was satisfying to the musicians and the audience.

Look for your opportunities, especially in conflict, to find what isn’t being said and remind the participants in the argument that they are on the same team. Listen for agreement that the parties may be missing, summarize, and encourage them to listen deeply to each other when emotions run high. “What I am hearing is…” is a great way to interject.

“I’m always thinking about creating. My future starts when I wake up every morning… Every day I find something creative to do with my life.”
Miles Davis

Lesson 6: Talk about life, not music

With our busy lives it may be tempting to leave work at work and leave life at home.  We can get through our workdays without sharing with others the experiences that shaped us outside of the work environment. Miles believed knowing the personal histories of his band mates was crucial to being able to know them musically. He invested time in learning about the backgrounds of his band mates and he shared his own. This sharing created an environment of trust that helped his musicians to work with each other more closely.

Be willing to be more open when you are managing high performers as it can lead to more effective, trusting relationships. A deeper bond of respect can increase loyalty to you, and commitment to your organization and its goals.

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On leadership: Here are a  few blog posts on the topic.  If you are interested to learn more about our leadership skills seminars, please contact us, or take a look at the very popular seminar “A practical toolbox for managers”.

 

Dealing with change

Change management is an integral, complex and necessary part of business. Companies most likely to be successful in making changes are the ones that see change as a constant opportunity to evolve. But the word ‘change’ means and implies a lot of things to the people involved: uncertainty, different, unknown, uncomfortable, etc. The truth is that (most) people don’t like change. We are, after all, creatures of habit. Sure, we have the ability to change and adapt to new situations – we wouldn’t have come so far as a species without change – but our brains naturally resist.

 

“Change has a bad reputation in our society. But it isn’t all bad – not by any means. In fact, change is necessary in life – to keep us moving … to keep us growing … to keep us interested … Imagine life without change. It would be static … boring … dull.”

Dr. Dennis O’Grady

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The Satir Change Model

The Satir Change Model is a five-stage model (see below) that describes the effects each stage of the change has on feelings, thinking, performance, and physiology. It was developed by Virginia Satir. Although the model was initially developed for families, it is equally relevant for organisations.

changemodel2

Stage 1: Late Status Quo

We are at a familiar place. Our performance pattern is consistent. We’re comfortable here because we know know what to expect, how to react, and how to behave.

Stage 2: Resistance

A foreign element threatens the stability of our familiar structures. We’re not sure that this is where we want to be. Most of us resist it by denying its validity, avoiding the issue, or placing blame.

Stage 3: Chaos

We have entered the unknown. Our former actions and knowledge are no longer valid/effective. We don’t want to be here. Losing the Late Status Quo triggers our anxiousness and vulnerability. We have no idea what to expect, how to react, or how to behave.

Stage 4: Integration

Through a transforming idea, we’ve discovered how the foreign element can benefit us. We’re excited. With practice, our performance has improved rapidly. We’ve made new relationships and learned new behaviours.

Stage 5: New Status Quo

Our performance has stabilized at a higher level than in the Late Status Quo. We feel safe and excited. We encourage each other. We don’t feel threatened by foreign elements any more.

“Change is hard because people overestimate the value of what they have and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up.”

James Belasco and Ralph Stayer

Psychologist and author Daniel Kahneman writes in his book “Thinking, fast and slow” that most of us would rather be wrong than uncertain. Just consider, how many individual uncertainties could arise in any of the above stages for each of the people involved? Right, and that’s only for one change.

Communicating change

Communicating change successfully doesn’t automatically mean that you’ll achieve change successfully, because ultimately, the organizational capacity for change relies heavily on the individual’s capacity for change. In other words, some people will reach the New Status Quo much faster than others, others not at all. Some will have few problems, others a lot. But there’s no doubt about it, you need a communication plan/strategy to accompany the change.


A ‘one size fits all’ approach is not recommended because it’s quite possible that not everyone needs to know the same things about the change. Managers need to get buy-in from different stakeholders, engineers need to know this, procurement needs to know that. When communicating change, we have the opportunity to amplify certain messages. On top of that, a well thought through communication plan will enable people to better deal with the emotions of each of the 5 stages – It can invoke positive emotions/reactions and gives you the chance to help employees imagine a post-change future.

“There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”

Niccolo Machiavelli

Randy Pennington, author of “Make change work” says that there are 5 questions that employees are most interested in getting answers to when faced with change.

From what to what?

Explain the specifics of the change. What will be different in how we must think, act, and perform?

What does this change mean for what I do and how I operate?

A personal extension of the first question. Everyone involved in the change will ask themselves: What’s the impact of the change for me?

Will this make a difference?

How will the change help the business or the team, or is this change for compliance reasons?

How will success be measured?

How will you know that there has been a return on our effort and investment?

What is the support level for this change?

Is this change a mandate or do you truly believe in this change?

Repeat and reinforce

Use multiple message formats and repeat important concepts to drive and reinforce the change. At the beginning of the change process, it’s necessary to communicate to answer initial fears and concerns. As the change advances, people will have new questions, and new understandings of the intermediate and final stages will be developed. Throughout the stages of change, people have to be kept up-to-date with actual and future states, and answers given to their questions.

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“Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished.” Dan Gilbert shares recent research on a phenomenon he calls the “end of history illusion,” where we somehow imagine that the person we are right now is the person we’ll be for the rest of time. Hint: that’s not the case.

 

Giving feedback using the DESC model

Everybody understands that performance feedback should be constructive, focused and to the point. Effective feedback can resolve conflicts, overcome problems and improve individual and team morale. It doesn’t really need mentioning that ineffective feedback often accomplishes the opposite. Or that if you are skilled at giving effective feedback, your team will be more motivated, which leads to better performance.





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“While feedback should focus on behaviour, performance feedback is still a personal conversation between people about people. Emotions always play a part in interpersonal communication. Effective feedback is as much about bringing the right message(s) across as it is about how your message is interpreted.”

Scott Levey

Some feedback facts*

  • 98% of employees will fail to be engaged when managers give little or no feedback
  • 69% of employees say they would work harder if they felt their efforts were better recognized
  • 78% of employees said being recognized motivates them in their job

*(source)

Giving positive feedback is easy

No matter how skilled the feedback giver is, if the receiver isn’t interested in hearing or taking the feedback, nothing will get through. The more difficult the feedback, the more the giver needs to consider the the emotional impact of the feedback. Giving positive feedback is easy.

What is and isn’t feedback?

In an interpersonal environment, feedback is communication about a person’s performance and how their efforts contribute to reaching goals. Feedback is not criticism. Criticism is evaluative; feedback is descriptive. Effective feedback is goal-referenced and tangible, actionable, personalized, timely, ongoing and consistent. As a leader, giving feedback is a task you perform again and again, to let people know where they are and where to go next in terms of individual, team, and company goals.

Giving feedback is a touchy thing. Think back over feedback you have received in the past. Chances are you’ve been given feedback that helped you develop. And, unfortunately, chances are somewhere in your career you’ve been given feedback that made you feel defensive, resistant or unmotivated. By putting yourself back in your old shoes, and thinking about how they actually gave you the feedback, you can improve your own feedback skills.

Common mistakes people make when giving feedback

  1. Avoiding giving feedback
  2. Focusing on the person and not the performance
  3. Giving feedback on what is going wrong, and never on what is going right
  4. Coming  across as judgmental
  5. Doing all the talking, and none of the listening
  6. Giving the feedback without any context
  7. Making generalized, vague statements
  8. Avoiding responsibility for what they are saying by referring to others
  9. Getting defensive if they don’t understand you, or you don’t understand them

“We can’t let our own success, education and advancement ride on whether the person giving us feedback happens to be talented or caring. We have to learn to learn from everyone around us, including people who are lousy at giving feedback, or who don’t have the time to do it thoughtfully. Our individual success depends on it, and so does the collective success of the organization.

The DESC model

In our skills-based Leadership training, we use the simple 4-step model DESC for structuring feedback. Participants in our “Practical Toolbox for Managers” seminars often highlight DESC as one of the most valuable tools they take away. This model is designed to help you to get your message clear and it can even take the stress out of the feedback conversation for those of us that weren’t born with effective feedback-giving skills.

DESCRIPTION

Give an objective and concrete description of what you have observed using “I” statements.

EFFECT

Explain the effect or impact it had on your business, the team or its members. If the effect was an emotion, name it. Your body language and tone of voice will already be showing your elation or frustration – putting them out in the open can help you move things forward.

SOLUTION

Build the solution through a directive (“What I would like you to do next time is …”) or a participative approach (“What do you think we can do to avoid this next time?”).

CONCLUSION

Build a “contract of commitment”. Check your understanding of what has been agreed, and get commitment for the future.

Further Leadership resources:

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When is praise an insult?

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During a recent presentation skills seminar for a French organization, I observed participants as they presented. I offered only feedback on the positive behaviors I saw. As we went through the round, the managing director of the group of participants couldn’t wait any longer and interrupted the feedback session by asking where was the criticism? It was obvious that the presenters were doing things that would get in the way of their presentation goals, (from audible pauses to nervous movement), and I was doing them a disservice by not pointing out the negatives. He did give me the cultural excuse of being a positive, American trainer. Yet his message was clear, the group needed correction more than praise to develop. For the record, I think both praise and correction are appropriate (and it’s true that unspecific praise can feel condescending and counterproductive, as if the recipient is too immature to take correction as a way to improve).

Praise is a complex concept that crosses many cross cultural communication styles and its effectiveness is personal as well. For example: The German culture offers the view of a foundation of trust in the working relationship. You have a job because the company feels you can do it. This general level of trust is positive enough to not require reinforcement through praise. In fact, praising someone for just “doing his job” can be insulting as if the expectations of performance are low.

How praise gets delivered is also of importance to judgements of its sincerity. In some work cultures, being singled out for enthusiastic praise if front of a group would be gratifying to the person receiving it while cultures that use more restrained emotional styles might find expressive, public praise embarrassing and impersonal. Groups using collectivist approaches would recognize team accomplishments over individual ones. Groups using individualist approaches would do the opposite.

Our brand will come from what we are very good at doing, not from correcting mistakes to an acceptable level.

James Culver

How to get it right? Praise helps us know the right way to do things so we can recognize and track behaviors we want to develop. Praise lets others know your priorities, the organization’s focus and their path forward. Done well, praise is an important tool in developing focus and innovation. Observational praise also enhances the credibility of the observer, as praise is specifically tied to authentic, recognizable behaviors the recipient and observer can agree happened.

Observe. How do people in your organization know they are on the right track? Mirror the praise behaviors in your organization and expand that style with your own approach. Note how the recipient is meeting your high standards. Let that stand for a while so it is credible.

 

  1. State why you are complimenting the employee

Sentences:

* We have thoroughly enjoyed our relationship with your company, especially because your customer service representative, John Doe, has been so helpful.
* Your representative, Jane Doe, is to be commended for her outstanding work on your last project.
* We want you to know how impressed we were with the way Jane Doe handled the delinquent accounts.
* During a recent internal audit, John Doe found a rather large discrepancy in our financial records. Had he not found that error, our corporation could have faced heavy legal fees.
* I want to tell you how pleased I am with the landscaping plan your new intern prepared for me.

Phrases:

* a very helpful attitude
* among the finest I’ve seen
* by your co-workers
* commendations and congratulations
* convey my appreciation to
* exceptional work done by
* express my appreciation for
* has been extremely helpful
* have thoroughly enjoyed
* have been deeply impressed
* have come to admire
* how pleased we have been
* how impressed we were
* how highly we think of his efforts
* how much we appreciate
* how pleased I am
* is to be commended for
* please accept
* received exceptional service
* want to let you know
* with the services of

 

  1. Acknowledge the employee’s qualities that made the contribution worthwhile

Sentences:

* His attention to detail helped our work move smoothly, without a single legal snag.
* His broad knowledge of the machinery has helped our trouble shooters keep the assembly line moving during the periods of heaviest demand.
* Her public relations skills helped us collect on most of the accounts that others had given up on. We hope she will be available for future cooperation.
* We commend his attention to detail. He is the most thorough accountant we have had work on our books.
* She has a good sense for balance, with the right mix of colors and textures.

Phrases:

* a pleasure to work with
* an excellent sense of
* attention to detail
* broad knowledge of
* consistently gone out of her way to
* courteous, well-trained staff
* dependable and thoughtful
* diligence and skill
* efficiently and with good humor
* going the extra mile
* has helped us to
* intelligent and cooperative
* made sure everything ran smoothly
* never-failing professionalism
* one of your company’s greatest assets
* particularly astute in
* professional and courteous
* public relations skills
* stays calm under pressure
* the time and thought he put into
* took care of all the details
* took the trouble to
* went out of his way to
* willingness to help

 

  1. Express appreciation and wishes for continued success

Sentences:

* Thanks again for assigning him to work with us. Best wishes for the future.
* We send our warm regards and wish you continued success.
* We wish you similar successes with your other clients.
* Please convey our appreciation to Jane for a job well done. We hope we can work together again.
* May your future endeavors be as successful as this one has been.
* You are fortunate to have Jane as an employee. Best wishes to her and the rest of you at Doe Corporation.

Phrases:

* are looking forward to
* best wishes for
* congratulations on your
* continue your tradition of
* convey my compliments to
* how much we appreciate
* keep up the good work
* one of your greatest assets
* our sincere thanks and appreciation
* our warmest regards
* please let everyone involved know
* please pass my appreciation on to
* please thank him for us
* thank you for
* thanks to the efficiency of
* want you to know
* will assure the continued success of
* wish you continued success
* working together again
* would like to thank her for

 

Don’t sweat it – everybody’s wrong sometimes, even your boss

In this video, Kathryn Schultz tells us that by the time we’re nine years old, we have already learned that the best way to succeed in life is to never be wrong. You should watch the video if you want to know how she came to that conclusion and a few others – when you have ten minutes.

Everybody’s wrong sometimes

Some of Kathryn’s words (if you don’t have time to watch it right now), and main points are:

  • Realizing you’re wrong can make you feel embarrassed or stupid, but being wrong itself doesn’t feel like anything.
  • The first thing we usually do when someone disagrees with us is we just assume they’re ignorant.
  • The second is that they’re idiots.
  • Then we move on to a third assumption: they know the truth, and they are deliberately distorting it for their own malevolent purposes.

There’s nothing wrong with being wrong

Assuming that Kathryn’s assumptions are correct, you can see why telling someone that they’re wrong could prove to be the biggest mistake you’ve ever made – all depending on who is on the receiving end of course. Now, let’s say that person is your boss, your teamleader, or anyone in your company with more authority. Speaking for myself and my conflict avoiding personality – Difficult conversations always have a moment or two where I say completely the wrong thing. To others, determining to even speak to the boss about being wrong is enough to bring on sleepless nights.

Before you do decide to confront the person who was wrong, consider this:

Don’t pick the wrong battles

To speak up or not to speak up about it? I don’t know, is it worth it and/or important?

Don’t talk about the wrong thing at the wrong time

Stick to the topic, make the time to have a proper conversation (in private) and give your boss time to prepare.

Don’t say the wrong things

It’s just not the right time to say things like “I told you so” or “I knew this would happen” and to place blame. It’s already done, who cares? How can we fix it?

The DESC model

Once you’re ready to have the conversation, you can use the DESC model to structure your message – positively. This assertiveness model is perfect for giving negative feedback or criticism. It’s simple and it works. It’s for this reason that participants in our “Practical Toolbox for Managers” seminars often highlight DESC as one of the most valuable tools they take away.

Description – In a private setting, start by describing what you have observed. It’s important to be objective and concrete at this stage. Take responsibility for the feedback by using “I” statements.

Effect / emotion – Once you have described what you observed, move on to the effect or impact this has had. If the effect was an emotion, share this openly. Feedback is always personal in the sense that it is between people about people. Emotions play a part in interpersonal relationships and by naming them and getting them out into the open, you can deal with them in an professional manner.

Solution – Now move on to what you like to see happen. This could be directive e.g. “What I would like you to do next time is …”. Even better, build the solution together using a participative approach e.g. “What do you think we can do to avoid this next time?”.

Conclusion (commitments and contract) – End your feedback conversation by building a “contract of commitment”. Check you have a mutually common understanding of what has been agreed, and get commitment for the future. Then conclude looking forward.

The 6 most horrific bosses of all time

I did some Googling on this topic. With any luck, your boss is nothing like these bosses were...so go ahead and have your conversation – you have nothing to loose. And finally, here are 10 things a good boss would never say. Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

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Qualifying potential training providers

Virtual teams target training

training providerslargeThe key to assessing potential training providers is to find out how well they fit to what you want to achieve with the training. It’s important to get to the point quickly and here are a few questions that can help you decide if the people you’re talking to are ‘right’ for your company. 

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The definitive checklist for qualifying training providers

Are they prepared?

Before you present your company and situation to them, let the training provider describe what he/she already knows about your organisation. At the very least, they should have done their homework by reading the homepage. The most impressive of providers will already have incorporated your internal company language into their (written or oral) presentation:

  • If you sent them information prior to the meeting, are they referring to its content correctly?
  • Have they picked up any company brochures while they were waiting for you in the lobby?
  • Do you have to repeat yourself or are they listening to you describe your organisation attentively? (taking notes, rephrasing what you said, using company language)
  • Does their presentation reflect what you are looking for?

What kind of business do they have?

You need to know whether you´re dealing with a one-man-show (flexible to your needs but limited in scope) or a training company (offers standard content but can provide wider services). Additionally, you need to know how their business model fits your company and whether their training approach is compatible with the leadership culture in your organisation:

  • How many people work there?
  • Can they provide you with trainer profiles?
  • Who would you work with on the actual design of training content and why is he/she the most qualified?
  • What kind of international work have they done in the past?
  • What is their policy should a trainer drop out at the last minute? (replacement, back-up)
  • Which institutions do they cooperate with? (business schools, leadership think tanks)

How do they approach designing training content for new clients?

You can buy standardised content from any reliable provider, or you can ask a provider to customise training content to your situation and needs. If you choose the customized training option, you can ask:

  • How do they normally go about creating a new design for a first-time client? (design phases, milestones, client approval, dry runs)
  • What do they suggest they need to get to know your organisation in order to be able to create a suitable design? (discovery interviews with stakeholders, plant visits)
  • What level of customisation are they willing to provide? (adoption of company-internal language/abbreviations, integration of company goals/competences/principles into training content, incorporation of internal specialists in training programmes)

What methods of quality management do they apply?

No training measure should be an individual, stand-alone event. Any professional training provider should have a variety of methods to ensure the applicability of training content to the business and the transfer of learning to the workplace. For longer-term or repetitive measures, they should suggest methods to maintain high-quality content and to review and update these contents to your changing business environment:

  • Other than the typical “happy sheets”, what kind of evaluation methods do they offer?
  • What methods have they used successfully in the past to ensure an effective learning transfer? (also ask about negative experiences and their underlying causes)
  • What is their approach towards blended learning? If you have an online learning platform, how could the training contents be linked back to it?
  • What certifications do they possess? (industry certificates like ISO or individual certification like personality diagnostics)

What are their expectations regarding contracting?

Most companies have internal standards about contracting external suppliers, whether it be about payment terms or travel regulations. Most training providers do not like to have to accommodate their contracting terms but, as the customer, you should ensure that the contract details suit your business:

  • What are their daily rates? (beware of different rates for design, preparation and delivery)
  • What kind of payment terms do they suggest? (timing of invoices, listing of travel expenses, payment of instalments)
  • If they create materials customised to your organisation, what are the intellectual property considerations? (ideally, you should be able to use this material internally for other purposes)

What references can they provide?

Ultimately, you need to check the references of any training provider before contracting them. Be aware, however, that some references given may be outdated or refer to projects not applicable to what you require for your business:

  • What other similar clients have they worked for in the recent past? (same industry, similar size, similar business model)
  • What other similar projects have they successfully run in the recent past? (focus of contents, hierarchy level of participants, scope of measures)
  • Can they give you the name/contact details of reference clients? (a good provider will want to check with that client first!)

By Fiona Higginson

Fiona’s corporate career in human resources started in 1997, and is characterized by her focus on the design and/or delivery of high-quality HRD measures and instruments.She’s worked in multinational corporations in both manufacturing and service industries, from DAX – 30 listed global players to medium-sized organizations. Fiona is a certified trainer and coach and
has degrees in Developmental Learning and International Affairsfrom Ireland, Germany and the UK. She speaks fluent English and German, as well as Spanish and French. She recently
established her own consultancy: www.fionahigginson.com

The FACTS and benefits to consider before you organize a meeting

meetings free ebookMost of us have been there at least once in our professional lives: You enter or leave the meeting wondering why you were invited and how you will make up for the precious time you’ve just lost by attending the meeting. And you wish the meeting organizer had stopped to ask “Do we really need this meeting?” before the meeting took place. 

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Consider the FACTS and the benefits before organizing your next meeting

To help you decide whether a meeting is worth holding, we ask you to consider the FACTS:

Format

Is a meeting the right format?

For example, if the goal of your meeting is only to relay news to your team, maybe you can save everyone time and send an email instead? Can, for example, everyone on your team make it to the meeting? If you’re relaying important news, will they feel left out?  Thinking about alternative formats to meetings can reduce the total amount of meetings you need to have with your team. There are pros and cons of meetings, emails, community updates etc., and there is no right or wrong. You need to make the decision as to which is the right format for each situation.

Aims

Is there a clear, definable aim for this meeting?

A meeting without a specific aim is usually a waste of time. However, there are situations where the aim is vague. Perhaps, for example, you haven’t seen each other for a while. You may not have something specific to say, but explaining the situation helps everyone to understand why they are in the room. And meeting to catch up and network is a perfectly valid aim. There are also cultural considerations here – in some cultures meetings are to get work done, in other cultures they are to build relationships. There is no right or wrong, but a happy medium needs to be established in international environments.

Consequences

Are there negative consequences if we cancel?

If you can’t think of any negative consequences of cancelling, then there’s no reason to have your meeting. If you do cancel with people you’ve already invited though, make sure you offer some explanation. And be honest. Don’t try to make up an excuse for cancelling it. Just explain what you are thinking. The chances are that most people will rate you very highly for doing this.

Timing

Is now the right time to meet?

Perhaps new developments in the near future will make your meeting unnecessary? Do you really need to have this meeting at the same time each week? Why are you calling the meeting in the middle of the holiday period? Giving a bit of thought about the situation now can save time later.

Sense

Does it make sense?

If you answer ‘no’ to any of the questions above, then holding the meeting clearly does not make sense. Cancelling this meeting is definitely the best option.

Three benefits of cancelling an unnecessary meeting

You may be reluctant to cancel a meeting, especially if everyone else around you seems to be in meetings regularly. Here’s why you need to lead the way by taking this step:

  1.  You save everyone valuable time – when you cancel a meeting, you and your colleagues can use that time to focus on tasks that add value to your organization.
  2.  You save money – when you calculate the resources needed to hold a meeting, the price can be extremely high.
  3.  You lead your regular meetings more effectively – knowing when to meet is just as important as knowing how to run a meeting. If you do this right, the participants in your meeting will know that their valuable time is always being used in the most effective way possible.

For more tips and language for managing meetings in English, why not look at our ebooks and related blog posts.

5 simple assertiveness strategies (for teddy bears and tortoises)

We all know the feeling. You come out of a meeting, negotiation or a conflict discussion with a difficult team member, and say to yourself, “If I had only said or done this.” Or “Was I too hard on my report?” For whatever reason, you aren’t asserting yourself and addressing the issue.

What do we mean by assertiveness?

listening skills target trainingBefore going any further we ought to agree and be clear what “being assertive” is. We have all experienced managers, experts who have the ability to set people on the right course, give negative feedback without breaking the relationship, or make a tough point without being offensive or hurtful. They handle substance and people equally well …and that is true assertiveness. These people have good communication skills, are blessed with social and emotional intelligence and have reached the fourth level of “conscious competence”.

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Very quickly, here’s the fourth level, explained in more detail:

Level 4 – unconscious competence*

  • the skill becomes so practised that it enters the unconscious parts of the brain – it becomes ‘second nature’
  • common examples are driving, sports activities, typing, manual dexterity tasks, listening and communicating
  • it becomes possible for certain skills to be performed while doing something else, for example, knitting while reading a book
  • the person might now be able to teach others in the skill concerned, although after some time of being unconsciously competent the person might actually have difficulty in explaining exactly how they do it – the skill has become largely instinctual
  • this arguably gives rise to the need for long-standing unconscious competence to be checked periodically against new standards

*Taken from http://www.businessballs.com/consciouscompetencelearningmodel.htm

But this takes time, experience and maybe innate ability. So what about us mere mortals lower down the food chain who struggle with the substance/people balance?

Assertiveness starts with knowing our rights and responsibilities

In the world of learning and development we understand that being assertive is being aware we have rights and responsibilities. In other words, we have the right to assert our position, but (especially as a manager) we have the responsibility to be fair and to respect our reports and colleagues. This easier said than done. Furthermore it is often those who tend to play the teddy bear (accommodate), or the tortoise (avoid conflict) who need most support and coaching. People who tend to be pushy, or even aggressive (the sharks), normally feel quite good about themselves. So here are 5 strategies for teddy bears and tortoises.

5 communication strategies that work

Scripting

If you have a difficult discussion coming up, then write down your key arguments, how you can best convince the other party. Script how you address the issue, how you formulate what you want, how you word criticism and other sensitive issues. Unless you are very experienced, just relying on intuition and ‘seeing where the moment will take you’ can be costly.

SPIN

When you want something out of the ordinary from a team member or colleague, then script using the SPIN formula: Situation – Problem – Impact (of the problem on the business) – Need. In other words involve the report by briefly describing the context. Involve them and treat them as adults.

Saying no

As a manager you have the right to say no. If you want to say “No”, then say it but give a reason and maybe provide an alternative. If you want to say “Yes”, then say that too. We have all come across people who appear to say “No” on principle. This might be useful in a negotiation, but counterproductive when dealing with staff.

Broken Record

Sometimes your opposite number just refuses to take “no” for an answer. Provided you are 100% clear on your position, then it’s time to play broken record. Like the old-fashioned vinyl LPs with a deep scratch, you simply repeat yourself, NO plus reason, always using the same wording: e.g: “As I said I cannot give you a pay rise, as there is a freeze on salaries.”, then “I understand your position but as I said ……” and so on. Using this strategy takes courage and should be used sparingly and only with difficult people. Even the most obstinate will get your point after three rounds.

Buy Time

People are not stupid. If they want a favour or a concession, they will approach you when you are under pressure, with no time. This can mean you are unprepared and certainly unscripted. So if you are at all unsure about your response, then buy time: “Let me get back to you when I have finished this.” You will come to regret shooting from the hip and start kicking yourself, “Why on earth did I say that?”

Most of us cannot be assertive on command

Our behaviour is determined by our fight, flee or freeze instincts. Assertiveness is a conscious way of thinking and acting. These five simple strategies will help you develop your assertiveness. But, as with nearly everything, it takes practice.

Building authentic intercultural business relationships – part 2

There’s a great English expression “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”.  I’ve found this to be a practical starting point when working with clients to build their intercultural competence. Why? Because not every problem comes back to cultural differences! So many other factors play a part in relationships.  The first step is to recognize is this actually a difference in culture? And if yes, how am I different to this culture?

How can the Intercultural Awareness Profiler (IAP) and the 4 R’s help you succeed globally?

This is where the IAP and the 4Rs model add tangible value. Developed by Dr Fons Trompenaars, the IAP does a great job of explaining what these steps need to look like, and why  “knowing” that Chinese culture value the group’s needs over the individual’s needs doesn’t necessarily translate into performance, commitment and results. During an interview with Dr Trompenaars we asked him to briefly explain the 4Rs model in his own words, and how he saw the Intercultural Awareness Profile tool within the context of the 4Rs.

To summarize…

Recognize

Can you recognize that you are dealing with differences in cultures? How do you as an individual differ from those cultures? For example, ss the different approach to decision making you’re struggling with a cultural dilemma? Or a question of personality? And most importantly – what is the dilemma?

Respect

Can you genuinely respect that the differing approaches are not better or worse – just a different way of operating. Do you respect that they are equally valid and legitimate?  For example, is coming to decisions through a consensus as valid as coming to decisions through the “expert” deciding, or by the “boss” deciding?

Reconcile

Now that you’ve recognized the difference and genuinely respect them how do you reconcile the dilemma facing you? What do you do?  How can you come to an agreement? How are you going to make decisions?

Root

How will you take what is working and make it part of your day to day modus operandi? Will you forge a team culture that is transcultural (bridges all cultures)?

Interview with Dr Trompenaars

Also online:

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8 great books for busy managers you may have missed in 2015

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It seems as though 2016 has only just started, but it’s February already! We know you’re really busy, so we thought we’d help out by reviewing 8 of the best management books from 2015 for you. If any of the summaries grab you, why not read the whole book?

1001meetingsphraseslargeThis (Target) eBook

1001 Meetings phrases is a useful toolkit of phrases for the most typical meeting situations you find yourself in…

 

Team Genius: The New Science of High-Performing Organizations (13 Aug 2015)

Rich Karlgaard and Michael S. Malone

Did you know that actually the right team size is usually one fewer that most managers think they need? And that “chemistry” doesn’t equate to team success? Can you spot the right moment when one team needs to be dissolved to create another very different team? And are your teams really leveraging multicultural values as a strength?

Written for today’s managers, Team Genius reviews and explains the latest scientific research into how teams behave and perform and uses simple case studies and examples to bring it to life in a way that any manager can relate to.. It shows that much of the accepted wisdom about teams just doesn’t hold true – and then goes on to outline “new truths” and how to achieve them.

Stronger: Develop the Resilience You Need to Succeed (1 Sept 2015)

George Everly Jr, Douglas Strouse and Dennis McCormack

If you get turned off when you see the author is a “great business school professor”, “world-famous CEO” or “top management thinker” then this might be the book for you. Everly, Jr.is an expert in disaster mental health, and McCommack is a former Army psychologist and was one of the first original Navy Seals.

Drawing heavily on the psychology employed by US Navy Seals plus other examples from all walks of life, this book focuses on how we can each build our resilience and be “stronger” when everything seems to be falling apart. More importantly the book outlines how we need to practice building up our resilience (psychological body armor) before we actually need it. The five key factors the book explores are

  • Active optimism
  • Decisive action
  • Moral compass
  • Relentless tenacity
  • Interpersonal support

Each area is outlined in detail with case studies and research. A quick warning though – being written by 3 psychologists, it’s not an airport quick-read.

Leadership: Essential Writings by Our Greatest Thinkers (9 Oct 2015)

Elizabeth D. Samet (editor)

When you think about it, it’s amazing that this book hasn’t been complied sooner – management and leadership books aren’t a 20th century creation. General fiction, biographies, great literature etc have reflected core management and leadership questions for centuries.

This anthology draws our attention to 102 stunningly diverse extracts from fiction, speeches, anthropology, letters, songs, and even the odd occasional poem! The extracts from Machiavelli, Macbeth, Ghandi, Didion, Ovid, Melville, Mandela, Lao Tzu, Orwell plus many many more all invites us to step back and think about leadership. Excellent reading for just before you take the dog for a long walk.

Bridging the Soft Skills Gap: How to Teach the Missing Basics to Today’s Young Talent (7 Oct 2015)

Bruce Tulgan 

“They just don′t know how to behave professionally.”, “They know how to text but they don′t know how to write a memo.”, “They don′t know how to think, learn, or communicate without checking a device.”

Today′s new young workforce (also known as Millenials or generation Z,) has so much to offer – new technical skills, new ideas, new perspectives, new energy. All great stuff- but Tulgan also argues that research shows that employers across industries feel that too many Milennials have weak soft skills. As a few of the many case studies outline “they only want to do what they want to do” and ”his technical knowledge far surpassed anyone else in the firm … but his communication made him seem so immature”.

Renowned expert on the Millennial workforce Bruce Tulgan offers concrete solutions to help managers and HRD professionals alike teach the missing basics of professionalism, critical thinking, and followership. The book includes 92 step–by–step “lesson plans” designed for managers to use, and these include “take home” exercises, one-on-one discussion frameworks and training room activities.

In a nutshell, I can’t imagine a more complete or practical book than this.

Leading Across New Borders: How to Succeed as the Center Shifts (21 Sept 2015)

Ernest Gundling and Christi Caldwell 

Leading a global organization is no longer just a big businesses challenge.  Even small company owners can be leading a virtual team that includes people from all over the world – and just yesterday we spoke with a HR manager with 60 employees in 11 countries and 23 cities.

This books aims to guide you through this new business environment. It features stories from people in critical roles around the world, advice based on practical experience, and shares new research which outlines the distinctive challenges of leading in a virtual and multicultural environment … and cultural awareness isn’t enough! Happily the book also includes strategies, tools and tips for working across cultures, leading virtual teams, running a matrix team, integrating an acquisition and developing the agility needed to innovate in such an environment. Personally I found it aimed more at larger mature organizations, but still worth a read … and we integrate many of the elements into our Working in Virtual teams training.

Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead (2 April 2015)

Laszlo Bock

Despite receiving 1,5000,000 job applicants every year, Google spends twice as much on recruiting as comparable companies. Why? Because top performers are usually doing very well where they are and not looking to move. So Google works to identify these performers and cultivate their interest. But while Google spends considerably more on recruitment than most companies it also spends considerably less on training, believing top performers need less training.

Laszlo Bock, Head of People Operations, joined Google when it had just 6000 “googlers”, and in this book he shares the different recruiting and talent management practices Google use and have used. Although sometimes bordering on self-congratulation, the book is very much-action oriented with each chapter outlining a clear to do – Become a founder, Don’t trust your gut, Why everyone hates performance management and what we decided to do about it, Pay unfairly.

Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts – Becoming the Person You Want to Be (19 May 2015)

Marshall Goldsmith and Mark Reiter

Have you ever wondered why you become so irritated around a specific colleague? Or questioned why your communication skills fall apart when presenting to a certain team? Goldsmith is an executive coach, and in this book he examines the triggers that can derail us – and how we can become the person we want to be and stay on track.

Perhaps common sense, but our reactions don’t occur in a vacuum. They are usually the result of triggers in our environment—whether this be specific person, situation or environment. .But how do we actually change ourselves? Knowing what to do doesn’t mean we actually do it, right? This book outlines how we can overcome the trigger points in our lives, and actually change to become the person we want to be, Drawing on executive coaching experience the authors use a simple “silver bullet” approach – daily self-monitoring, using active questions which focus on the our effort (and not the outcomes).

Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader (20 Jan 2015)

Herminia Ibarra

Do you wish you actually had the time and the space to be the manager and leader you know how to be? Introducing the idea of “outsights”, Herminia Ibarra, -an expert on professional leadership and development at INSEAD — shows how managers and executives at all levels can make an impact by making small but crucial changes in their jobs, their networks, and themselves. She argues that managers and leaders need to act first then to think – and to use the “outsights” resulting from the experience as a basis for meaningful individual growth and enabling of people and organizations. Joe Kaeser, CEO of Siemens AG. summed it up nicely as “transforming by doing”

The book is full of engaging self-assessments and plenty of practical advice so you can actually build a plan of action. It can be a bit heavy going but stick with it.

5 tips for internal HR consultants

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eBook Training InvestmentFrom my years working in HR, I know that employees don’t often ask HR for help. At least, that is what it was like for the companies I worked with. As HR consultants, it is our job to give guidance and support to enable our colleagues make better decisions. Our roles are operational, not strategic, and, if we do our jobs right, we are practically invisible to other departments and employees. When a problem arises on the operational front, HR is consulted, but not always, or only when the situation has “gotten out of hand”. I’ve often stood and asked myself “why didn’t you come to us for advice or help before?” For HR consultants to become trusted advisors to every employee in the company, here are five of my ideas.

1.  Advertise what you can do

‘You don’t know what you don’t know’. In other words, what is someone going to ask, if they don’t know what you can help with? Tell others what you can do for them. You can advertise your services via a newsletter, via posters on the wall, via Q&A pages on the intranet, etc. You can even write simple case studies, describing what you have done for someone in the past.

2.  Listen for context and unspoken words

Listening for information that employees aren’t saying is very important. When we can listen for the context around what is happening, not only the content, we can get more information and offer better solutions.

3.  Ask before you tell

One way to be clear about the needs of employees is to clarify what we have heard from them. Questions like “Let me check to see if I understand…”and “I heard you say these things are important, is that right?” lets the other person know you are listening and thinking about their needs before you give advice. It also helps you to make sure you understand what they are saying.

4.  Begin with the end in mind

Questions like “What outcome would you like to see?” and “What is the most important behaviour to change?” help employees to see the end of the process – not just the first step to solve a problem. By focusing on the overall outcome, you can offer methods your internal clients may not have thought about.

5.  Don’t say “no” if you don’t have to

“What I can do is…” can be the most powerful tool in your phrase book. Why say, “No, I can’t do that” if you don’t have to? I know this can be a cultural point, but focusing on what we can do for our internal clients instead of what we cannot shows them that we are willing to problem solve together.

These tips are based on my personal experience. If you work in HR, or if you have recently dealt with a situation involving HR, and if you have any additional tips for our readers, please use the comments box below.

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Tips and tricks for delivering bad news from a famous baseball coach

target training team

Is it ever possible to give bad news in a good way?

Some would argue not. Having started my working life around three months before the Global Economic Crisis hit, and watching colleague after colleague being made redundant throughout the media industry, I certainly would never have wanted to swap places with the people who had to give the bad news to their employees over and over during that time.

But while over time, some colleagues remembered the action of being made redundant, for others the way they were told stuck in their minds longer than the pain of having to pack up their things and reconsider their lives at a moments’ notice. If you have to deliver bad news, it will always be tough, but the aim is to do it in a way which leaves the bad memory without you in it.

Some of my participants are controllers. Delivering bad news is one of the challenges they find extremely difficult to overcome in English. While one popular theory is that giving negative feedback to English speakers might follow a hamburger approach – i.e., give some positive feedback (the top bun), followed by the negative (the meat), and finished with a positive plan for the future (the bottom bun), in my experience most employees value honesty far more than any trick designed to make them feel better. There is a need to be respectful, but a positive bun full of too much sugar won’t cut it when the negative meat needs to be delivered hard and fast.

xmas

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33 ways of saying Merry Christmas to colleagues, customers, suppliers and close contacts

“Would you rather get a bullet in the head or five to the chest and bleed to death?”

Billy Beane summed it up well in the movie Moneyball, when he taught his intern Peter Brand how to cut players from their team. “Would you rather get a bullet in the head or five to the chest and bleed to death?”, he asks when discussing the prospect of firing someone. There are a number of things to be learned from the tactic Billy uses throughout the movie, who in real life was lauded for his business sense within the sport of baseball. They would include the following:

1. Understand who you’re talking to

When giving negative news to a baseball player, you might need to sweeten it less than when giving it to a secretary renowned for being slightly sensitive to change. What are the main personality traits of the person you are talking to from your experience? Are they culturally inclined to handle the truth quickly? Do your research first on who they are are you will get a better idea how to handle the situation.

2. Sugar coating the truth doesn’t make it better

Saying nice things around the bad news won’t make the person feel better. Some cultures don’t use imperatives nearly as often as others (i.e. I hear German clients saying ‘do this please” while British clients might say “could you do this please?’), but all cultures value honesty. Keep your wording polite but also keep the sentences short and to the point.

3. Don’t mislead in the hopes of saving someone from bad news

At all times, the aim should be to give all the information you have and in the simplest way to understand. Like ripping off a bandaid, it will hurt less in the long run. People always find out the truth one way or another if you try to embellish the reasons behind the bad news. If you don’t know the answer to something, say so!

4. Keep it short

People don’t appreciate receiving emails with three paragraphs giving them the important news right in the last paragraph. They don’t appreciate the meetings that go for what feels like an eternity before having bad news dropped right at the end like a bomb. Give the bad news quickly and succinctly and then allow time afterwards for explanations and questions. In my first job, when we found out 30% of our department had been made redundant – explaining why they weren’t in the meeting – I certainly appreciated getting the news first up without a long winded explanation first.

5. Be confident

Billy oozes confidence throughout Moneyball and it’s one of the reasons he was so successful at his craft; and he shows in this clip that the second you are on the back foot after giving negative information, you will fall into a hole that is difficult to get out of. Be confident in what you are delivering and why you have to say it, even if you are faking it. Practice beforehand if you find it difficult.

How do you deliver bad news?

An exercise I often do with my clients is to watch the video and discuss whether they think it’s a good way to deliver bad news to their English speaking co-workers and how they think this method is effective or ineffective. While it is certainly an extreme way to deliver such news; direct, honest and without any flowery language around the sides as Peter quickly learns and applies; it is a good example of showing that cultural stereotypes don’t always apply when you need to tell someone something they don’t want to hear.

What tactics have you found to be helpful when delivering bad news? Would you give it like Billy does in Moneyball? Comment below with your feedback.

Working with Chinese colleagues and suppliers

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Yes is one of the most simple words to understand in the English language. Or is it?

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VT posterYes is generally perceived as a positive response, and when you’re asking for something in business it’s normally the answer you’re hoping for. My father thought this when he started an importing company in China. On his first few trips to the country he returned having already mentally calculated the profits he was set to make from the customized, high quality parts they had supposedly agreed to put together within weeks for him. The only problem was he didn’t understand the word ‘yes’ like the Chinese did.

Fast forward to now, years later, and he knows that ‘yes’ means something very different in China. When saying ‘yes’, Chinese colleagues only mean that they are listening to you, rather than that your request will be fulfilled or that you have been completely understood. Many problems stemmed from this simple misunderstanding and while now there is a good business relationship between my father and his suppliers, much time was wasted getting to such a point. Artist Yang Liu summed up many of the big differences between Chinese and German cultures in her artwork of the two against one another, from little things like attitudes to standing in a line to how the counterparts view their bosses.

As an inhouse business English trainer in Stuttgart I provide on-the-job support to my client, a department of global purchasers. During the last months , I have come across many participants having to learn the hard way how to get around countless misunderstandings. From our sessions on cultural competence in China, my purchasing participants have shared experiences and identified five common lessons which speed up the process of making a business relationship with a Chinese colleague prosperous.

The group comes first

Chinese colleagues are not interested in individual gains nearly as much as helping the community around them. It’s what the culture is built on and giving individual gains for doing work will not be as effective as creating a positive and motivating team.

The importance of the leader

The boss is highly valued in China, much more so than in Germany. When a problem is getting to a point where it doesn’t seem possible to solve it, get your superior involved a lot earlier than if you were dealing with a colleague from the same culture or at least bring up the possibility in discussions.

They don’t solve problems like you

Whether it’s struggling to say no when they can’t do something, or insisting that everything is ok when it’s not, the Chinese don’t like to directly discuss and deal with a problem or talk about their shortcomings. Learning some ways to politely ask what the problem is, or getting them to take you through their schedule and deciding for yourself if there is a problem, will give better results than simply asking ‘is everything ok?’.

They don’t challenge, they listen

Chinese colleagues will often treat meetings as more of a lecture than a chance to swap ideas and air their grievances, particularly if the boss is present. On a recent trip to China, a translator summed it up well for me in her comparison of our school systems. “For us, we are told what to know and we don’t question it. For you, discussion is encouraged and you are taught to challenge.” Push them to express themselves and know that they’re not entirely comfortable doing it.

They value pleasantries

The Germans are known for seeing small talk as inefficient, but if you want a Chinese colleague to do you a favour you would be a lot better off adding some polite phrasing and extra niceties. It makes them feel as if the workplace is more harmonious and while being direct is more efficient, when they give excuses rather than results such efficiency is out the window.

Phrases for dealing with the Chinese culture

Direct English

English that is better for Chinese dealings
I think you did this wrong. Perhaps next time we could try it like this instead?
You need to do this by Wednesday. If you could do this by next Wednesday, the team can achieve their results.
I will have to get the boss involved if you don’t agree to a solution. Is this a problem that we can solve ourselves or do you think our superiors should give us assistance?
Do you understand? Could you summarise for me what you need to do (to make sure we’re on the same page)?
Are there any problems with this? Please let me know if there are any ways that you can do this more efficiently, because that would really help the team.
Did you get everything finished today? What did you finish today?

Do you want to learn more about the Chinese culture?

If you have any tips or comments on dealing with the Chinese, I’d love to hear them (and so would my participants). Please leave your comments below.

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Authentic communication demystified

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Free ebook presentationsWhatever your job, where ever you’re based, whenever you interact with others – authentic communication counts. It could be in a meeting, teleconference, interview, presentation, conflict situation … Your ability to communicate authentically will have an impact on your success. And your company’s success. But what do we mean by authentic communication? And what does it look like?

Authentic communication – the bare essentials

The term “authentic” communication is frequently used but too rarely defined or explained. To break it down to its basic component I’d say that authentic communication is fundamentally about intention. You genuinely intend to create a real connection with the person you’re speaking to. And you genuinely intend to allow them to make a connection with you. This intention means you

  • share who you are, where you are coming from and how you see something
  • do this in your own words
  • are honest and clear about what you see, feel and believe (saying what you mean and meaning what you say)
  • seek to understand and identify with the other person

Sounds simple, right? Let’s go deeper…

10 key behaviours authentic communicators display

Be yourself

Authentic communication isn’t about tips, tricks and impressive sounding communication tools and acronyms. It’s about being comfortable in your own skin, and with who you are. As Bruce Lee said…

“Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.”

And who would want to argue with him?

Open up

The key to is to really allow yourself to see the person you are speaking with and allow yourself to be seen. You let them see you as you really are at that moment and let them into your world. This can be frightening and involves a degree of vulnerability – but to be authentic you need to be real – and that means showing them something, and something that is true right now.

Listen

Make sure that when you are listening you are fully focussed one the speaker and not rehearsing your response, judging etc. Listening skills are the key to making a genuine connection with somebody. (How good are your listening skills?)

Work to create mutual understanding

Imagine yourself in the others’ shoes and be curious. Avoid second guessing and making assumptions about what others are feeling, thinking or mean. Check your understanding on a regular basis.

Take responsibility for your communication

Use I/me rather than we/our.  You need to accept ownership for what you say and be fully responsible for any unexpected consequences. You need to be descriptive.

Speak clearly

Use natural, conversational language. Short sentences are great, and look for common vocabulary. Avoid using ambiguous language and jargon. And if in doubt check you both understand what was said in the same way.

Watch the sweeping statements

Exaggerating to make a point is never helpful and creates divisions and resentment. Language such as “always” and “never” is rarely accurate.

Separate the objective and subjective

Try to be clear about what you see as an objective fact and a subjective opinion. If in doubt, ask for clarification.

Say what you do and do what you say

Match your words to your actions.

Be self-aware

Work to become aware of your own prejudices, tendencies, triggers and judgements. The sooner you can become aware of your reactions to specific triggers, the sooner you can focus on controlling them.

 

Fine-tune your communication skills.Take a look at our interpersonal seminars.

 

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How do your training skills compare to Fred Flintstone and his car?

Wouldn’t it be easier just to walk, than to walk and carry a car made of boulders?

As a training organization we train our clients as you would expect, but we also develop our trainers. Our trainers are observed regularly in the training room for two reasons. Reason one is quality management: Does the training meet client expectations? Reason two is professional (trainer) development: How can the trainer improve their training skills? From time to time, I get puzzled by how hard some trainers make their own lives. I was discussing this recently with a colleague, and she compared the situation to Fred Flintstone and his car. Do you remember that car? The one which he gets into, lifts up, and walks with? The car is a tool that is supposed to make his life easier. But the way he uses it can surely only make life harder.

What, you might be asking, has this analogy got to do with training? It’s a bit of a stretch but just like Fred, some trainers stop thinking logically about which way of doing something would be the most effective. They end up making some basic training errors as a result. Let’s look at five common training mistakes and some ideas for what you can do about them so you can a) make your training more effective for your participants, and b) easier for you.

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1. Confusing training with presenting

As a trainer I’ve often worked with participants who had to train people in something specific. In preparation they wanted to check their powerpoint slides with me. We reviewed the English on the slides, and that was it. This was a shame. Training is not running through a bunch of slides. Don’t you tend to switch off after 5-10 minutes of slides filled with text while the presenter talks you through them? I certainly do.

Effective training is interactive and experiential. Get the participants to talk about their experiences and come to conclusions themselves or with the help of colleagues. This means standing back, setting up tasks which make them talk, facilitating these activities, and giving feedback. Allow participants to learn from each other.

2. Talking too much

This is closely related to the first point. Successful training does not involve a trainer standing at the front of the room lecturing the participants. In a one hour training session, what percentage of time do you think the trainer should be talking for? As a general rule: the less the trainer talks and the more the participants are doing something, the better. That makes life easier for the trainer too.

Some trainers feel that if they are not talking, they are not in control, and that the participants will feel they can’t manage the training room. This is absolutely not the case. Aim to talk less – a lot less. If you’re not sure how much you talk, then film yourself, and watch it later. This can be a really valuable, eye-opening exercise.

3. Giving unclear instructions (and failing to check they’ve been understood)

I’ve been teaching and training for around 20 years, mostly with adults. A while ago in Spain I had to teach 6 year olds. Before this I hadn’t thought too much about how I gave instructions. I did some training before taking these kids on. One of the things that was stressed to me there was the importance of carefully planned out instructions. I started planning what I was going to say, and more importantly how I was going to check that everyone had understood what I needed them to do. This was a bit of work at first, but it was worth it in the end. Have you ever tried to get thirty kids into four groups by giving them the letters A, B, C, D?

Think your instructions out very carefully and make sure you are concise. Find a way of checking that people have understood what they have to do – this can be as simple as asking one person to repeat it back. This may sound silly, but it will save a lot of time and help clear up any problems in your instructions. After all, what is clear to you, may really not be clear to others, especially in an international audience.

4. Keeping things predictable

Variety is the name of the game. If everything is predictable and routine, it is boring. If it’s boring, no learning is going to be taking place.

How can you shake things up? Make sure you vary what you do. Look for variety in pace, activity types, groups, materials, and feedback methods. People learn in different ways, so try to cater to different learning styles.

5. Failing to explain aims and transferability

Sometimes when I am observing a class – fortunately not too often -, I have little idea what the trainer is trying to do and why he or she is trying to do it. If I don’t know why, then I doubt very much that the participants do. If you were taking time out of your day for training, wouldn’t you want to know why you were there and what you were going to get out of it? Luckily this problem is easily remedied.

  1. Share your aims – write them up at the start of the session and cross them off as they are achieved.
  2. Explain why you want people to do things. Generally most of us are prepared to do things if we understand the rationale behind them. All you need to do is say for example “We’re now going to ….. so that…..”

So, think about it. Can you make yourself a little less like Fred Flintstone and his car? What mistakes have you made when training? What have you learnt from these mistakes? Why not share your experience with us?

Learning to listen: lessons from baseball, TED talks and an alien life form

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How well do you listen?

Sound matters. In work. In life. Sometimes we forget that. I heard a story recently that was told by a former Major League Baseball player. He talked about a manager he once played for. During practice, the manager would put players in the outfield with their backs to home plate. A batter would stand at home plate and have someone pitch the baseball to him. Baseball bats are made of wood and are roughly 30-34 inches long. The cork-filled, leather-covered ball is thrown anywhere from 80-100 miles per hour. The batter would swing the bat and hit the ball. Now here is the important part:

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Because the player in the outfield had their backs to home plate they had to train their ear to know what part of the field the ball was travelling to, based on the sound created when the baseball made contact with the bat. If you’ve ever seen a baseball game (or cricket) you know you can hear when a ball is hit solidly. But you can’t determine where it is going to travel. This manager wanted his players to hear the contact, and make a split-second decision to race to the position they believed the ball was going, without even seeing it. With practice, players knew exactly where the hit ball was going.

They had to learn to listen.

Are we “losing our listening”?

TED, the great, freely accessible online source for learning, has what I think are two of the best talks around on how to achieve excellent communication. Both are by Julian Treasure, author of an excellent book on the impact sound has on our working lives called ‘Sound Business,’ and both are well-worth watching. In one, he talks about speaking well and in the other, the one I suggest below, he talks to us about listening.

Of his five tips on how to listen better, the final one – an acronym, of course – RASA, the Sanskrit word for ‘juice’ or essence’ is exactly that when it comes to business communication: listening is important, it’s the essence of effective business communication. RASA stands for:

Receive

That is, actually pay attention to what they’re saying.

Appreciate

By making natural small noises or utterances like, “ah” or “hmm” or “okay.” You may have also heard it referred to as active listening.

Summarise

Very crucial to all sorts of business communication, from presentations to negotiations and everything in between. Here it’s critical you are authentic and summarise what you heard – NOT what you wanted to hear.

Ask

And finally, ask questions. Find out more. Learn as much as you can about a situation, a trend, a project, a risk, or an opportunity.

ALF

Learning to listen starts with recognizing all the barriers we create for ourselves. This is where ALF comes in, and no, we’re not talking about the sitcom character that chased cats. ALF means Always Listen First. Julian Treasure warns us at the beginning of his TED talk that ‘we are losing our listening.’

Don’t lose yours. Listen like a Major League player. And Always Listen First.

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Email phrases for praising (virtual team) performance

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Research shows that when we work in virtual teams managers tend to praise far less. In an earlier life, I worked as an analyst for an international corporation in Boston. A large part of my job was generating weekly reports and sending them off to various people. I never received a response, so I never knew if what I was I was doing was adding any actual value. This lack of feedback, whether positive or negative, was sometimes demoralizing.

It is vitally important to praise a job well done

Everybody likes to know that they are doing a good job and are on the right track in their tasks and projects. Working in virtual teams can feel isolating – and it’s motivating to know that your work is being noticed.

Praise does several things:

  • It improves the morale of both the team and the team member
  • It motivates people/teams and increases productivity
  • It’s an opportunity to give positive feedback
  • It builds commitment

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Email phrases for praising performance

Here are 17 phrases you could use the next time you want to praise one of your team members (or all of them) in writing:

  1. The work you did on the project was outstanding.
  2. You are an asset to both our team and our organization
  3. Your performance this past year has been exceptional.
  4. The quality of your work is routinely excellent.
  5. Your professional attitude is much appreciated.
  6. I have been very pleased with your efforts.
  7. Your extra effort and dedication have made this project a success.
  8. I must commend you for your dedication to our team.
  9. You have made a great contribution to the project.
  10. Your consistent professionalism has ensured the success of this project.
  11. You have been an invaluable addition to our team.
  12. Thank you very much for taking the initiative to find a solution to the problem.
  13. You can take pride in the work you have put into this project.
  14. The success of this project is a direct result of your efforts.
  15. Your enthusiasm and passion are exemplary.
  16. Your disciplined approach to problem solving led directly to this project’s success.
  17. You earned my respect with your inspiring performance on the project.

Mix and match and be specific with your praise

It is easy to mix and match the phrases in order to personalize how you want to praise each of your team members. For example, if you take #3 and #6, you can change it to: “I have been very pleased with your performance this year.” Or, you can use two or more and combine them into one sentence: “I have been very pleased with your efforts, you have made a great contribution to the project.”

Who doesn’t like praise?

Everyone enjoys receiving praise, don’t they? My colleague, Kate Baade, wrote in a recent post that it’s important to point out the positives as and when they happen. Don’t wait until the once a year performance appraisal interview to give praise. Kate, I fully agree.

 

The 3–6–9 of great leadership (according to TED …and me)

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As a kid, my parents told me I watched too much TV. They would not be pleased to know that hasn’t changed very much, but at least nowadays I try to watch things that might actually inspire me. That’s where TED [www.ted.com] comes in. TED talks can be a great source of inspiration. They can be short, or long. They can be energetic or dry. And they are full of information on nearly any topic.

The “3-6-9 of great leadership”

As an intercultural trainer, business English teacher, project manager and former actor, I think a lot about what motivates people, especially at work. Three short TED talks that I have watched over and over really get to the heart of what makes a great leader. I call them the “3-6-9 of great leadership.” These three talks summarise in (more or less) 3 minutes, 6 minutes and 9 minutes what I think is the essence of great leadership. For now, I’m not going into why these and other well-structured talks and presentations work as well as they do. Let’s just take in their messages.

Derek Sivers

How to start a movement

The first TED talk, by entrepreneur Derek Sivers, explains to us in three minutes “How to Start a Movement.” Using a light-hearted video of a group of rather spontaneous dancers, he demonstrates how to lead and how to create a situation in which people want to follow. He also surprises us by highlighting who the real leader is. It’s not who you might think.

Drew Dudley

Everyday leadership

If you work in a team or an office, how often do your simple, unremarkable actions influence others? In the second talk, leadership educator Drew Dudley asks us in six minutes whether people can be leaders even if they don’t have that title. In this quick-paced, very personal story, he shows us how we can often be leaders without even knowing it.

Roselinde Torres

What it takes to be a great leader

In the final talk, the longest of the three at just over nine minutes, leadership expert Roselinde Torres details qualities of a great leader. She has spent 25 years researching leadership and her fascinating talk boils it down to the need to ask three simple questions:

  • Where are you looking to anticipate the next change to your business model or your life?
  • What is the diversity measure of your personal and professional stakeholder network?
  • Are you courageous enough to abandon a practice that has made you successful in the past?

Spoiler alert!

All three talks repeat one particular theme: While some principles of leadership may remain, true leaders are characterised by doing something different. But not just for the sake of being different. They have a goal.

  • Derek Sivers’s ‘leader’ is the first person who has the courage to follow the person you think is the leader. As the first ‘follower’ he gives others the permission to join in.
  • Drew Dudley’s ‘leader’ appears to go about his daily business fearlessly and effortlessly. In the process, he unknowingly inspires someone to go about her work as fearlessly as she can.
  • Roselinde Torres reminds that great leaders take action; they do not walk with their heads down, trying not to be noticed. They dare to be different.

Is leadership for managers only, then? Definitely not. These three talks remind us that learning to be an effective leader can help you chair a meeting, or create a presentation that people remember. Among many other things.

… so what are your thoughts?