Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Ensuring return on your training dollars

Behavioural training is all about, yes, you got it, behaviour change. Think of the last time you changed one behaviour of yours.

Yes, go ahead, I will wait. Think of the last time you changed one behaviour of yours.

In all probability, it had the following components to it.

1. Motivation of either wanting not to hurt someone dear or wanting to do better at the workplace or at home and so on. Could also be to prevent embarressment.

2. Regular reminders (remember those assembly times at school when late comers stood on stage?)

So, what you really want after a behavioural change training programme is simple. Behaviour change. I can hear you think "yeah right! Easy to say, difficult to implement".

A simple and effective approach is to have a set of 5 behaviours listed for each participant captured on an excel file. Have the participants pick out buddies among themselves. Meaning, if both of us attend the programme, we can pair up as buddies to help each other.

After this, the process is quite simple. Let us say that one behaviour is to format emails that I send out daily (something I learnt in the programme) and you want to listen before you interrupt.

Everyday, before you go to sleep, for the next one month, we call each other and ask the questions. I read out your wish-list of behaviours as questions and all you are allowed to respond are yes or no. I record what you say and then you call me and ask me the questions.

After 10 days, you will see that the sheer embarrassment of saying no would have propelled us to develop the positive behaviours that we wanted to develop.

Do this for a group of 20 employees in your team. It never fails. 

This practice is based on the concept of peer coaching that is used in leadership development.


Saturday, June 18, 2011

Six simple things to increase tangible results from behavioural training

As a leader, it is quite natural to spend precious dollars on behavioural change training - such as client service orientation, communication effectiveness - and have a rather uneasy feeling about how much the training is going to result in tangible results and how much of the money you have spent is actually going into entertainment.

Here are a few things you can do:

1. Have a senior leader with credibility (in the eyes of the participants) 'kick off' the session. Ensure that the leader has been a stakeholder in the design and programming process of the training. That will ensure that she knows what is going on and doesn't have to read from a prepared speech. Authenticity helps.

2. Share details of the preparation that has gone into the training design and delivery. Quantify the hours that has gone into the training program design. The number of meetings that were held.

3. Talk about the need that led to the training. If the need was due to dipping customer feedback ratings, tell the participants that. Playing hide and seek is only going to keep the participants in uncertainty about why they found themselves in the training programme. Uncertainty is not good for learning.

4. Tell them that it's not about the facilitator/trainer. If possible, tell that in the presence of the facilitator. You are not spending money for the participants to sit through the workshop thinking about how good the facilitator is. Or for that matter, how good the food was. By rating the facilitator and the food, who is getting the feedback? The facilitator and the chef! Who is getting better at what they do? The facilitator and the chef! Who was supposed to get better? The participants. 

5. When you change behaviour, it feels funny! Well, that IS the idea. Do a small exercise. Ask the participants to cross and uncross their hands. Now, ask them to do that with the other configuration. What do they feel? Unease. Change leads to resistance. Learning for behavioural change is going to create unease. Tell them that if they feel uneasy during the session, it is quite normal. That is other than if they have a headache or a physical condition.

6. Tell them that the dollars spent need to have a high return on investment through positive behaviour change. You cannot do anything about it. Only they can. Enlist their support for it.

Doing the six simple things listed above can ensure that the participants in the training that you are spending your dollars on can have a little more effectiveness and result in participants willingly exploring positive behaviour change for themselves.

Life is short. Have fun. Create happiness.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Why culture matters (and YOU need to do something about it)

If you are a manager in the knowledge industry in India and have a team with an average age in the late twenties or early thirties, one major fact that you would be aware of is that they tend to behave atleast a little, if not very differently from you when you were of their age. They have grown in a globalized India with an upward looking economy. With either one or both their parents working, they have learnt to manage themselves, stand up for their preferences and tend to question conventional boundaries. They might not fight shy of the fact that they like to earn money and that the career is a means to earn money for their personal life. In short, they could be called 'free agents'. 

Having done exit interviews over the years, I have found a recurring theme that tends to trigger attrition among 'free agents'. It is the fact that they stopped enjoying the time they spend in the organization. Combine that with a growing economy, fairly valued competencies they hold and the 'free agent' thinking, you have a potent mixture that challenges the best of the managers and organizations.

'Free agents' tend to constantly evaluate their achievements on a daily basis and like to have done 'something worthwhile' at the end of the day. They know what they want and how to get it. They are willing to work hard for it and stretch themselves. So, the confounding factor? Culture!

Culture in your team tends to hinder or help higher performance. Assume for a moment that three out of eight team members start displaying non-collaborative and sublime-aggressive behaviours. This in turn can limit the initiative of the other five. Curb initiative and you have curbed creativity. Reduce creativity and you have killed performance. Kill performance and you are reducing the possibilities for success of your brightest and best. In a way, you have not struck your foot with an axe. You have chosen to strike the axe with your foot!

So, would you sit back and wait for the 'drama of life' to continue or would you become an active player and set expectations? Would you give the benefit of doubt to the fouling players or call a spade a spade? 

Remember, the 'free agents' are watching. Be it culture or otherwise, they tend to think of themselves as professionals who know that the good times do not last forever and are giving you measures of their time in return for growth and professional success. If they do not see you actively building culture, you are setting the stage ripe for attrition. 

If you want to learn more about free agents, you can read the book 'What got you here wont get you there' by Dr. Marshall Goldsmith.

Happy culture building. Either you actively build it, or watch it collapse all around you. It's your choice.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Dealing with passive-aggression : the scourge of the workplace

Almost all of us have dealt with passive-aggression at the workplace. One of my mentors once aptly compared it to being akin to stepping on a Persian carpet that has a hidden nail. It hurts you only when you step on it. And, it's not known to anyone else.

I thought that it would be useful to include a list of passive aggressive behaviours - so that you are sure of what you are dealing with. In the first place, I sincerely hope you don't have to deal with it at all!

From the Wiki:

The book Living with the Passive–Aggressive Man lists 11 responses that may help identify passive–aggressive behavior:
  • Ambiguity or speaking cryptically: a means of creating a feeling of insecurity in others or of disguising one's own insecurities.
  • Chronically being late and forgetting things: another way to exert control or to punish.
  • Fear of competition
  • Fear of dependency
  • Fear of intimacy as a means to act out anger: The passive–aggressive often cannot trust. Because of this, they guard themselves against becoming intimately attached to someone.
  • Making chaotic situations
  • Making excuses for non-performance in work teams
  • Obstructionism
  • Procrastination
  • Sulking
  • Victimization response: instead of recognizing one's own weaknesses, tendency to blame others for own failures.

Much like 'suck-up's at the workplace, passive-aggression tends to stem from a couple of triggers, most commonly either a lack of competency or a situation requiring change. 

While dealing with passive-aggression, try to find out the trigger. In many cases, it could have been triggered by some altruistic thing that you did! Though slapping your forehead now doesn't really help the situation you have got yourself into, it could make you feel better. Go ahead. 

Getting back to the topic, the trigger could be either or many of the following; some initiative you displayed, some well meaning change you brought about, something that either resulted in more work for someone or loss of significance for the person or stretches the person towards development or is likely to surface some baggage around past inefficiencies. 

Try to use your relationship with the person. If you need to apologise for what you think are the person's misgivings, apologise. You will save a lot of effort and time not proving you were right. Possibly neither of you were anyway!

Next, try to find a common goal that both of you value and try to work with the person towards that.

If that doesn't work either, set clear expectations on behaviours that you expect. If needed, speak to your supervisor and keep her informed that you are making an effort in the direction. Remember that in human relations, its quite normal for things to go wrong. Even pencils have erasers. 

What is important to remember is that passive-aggression is not something that you need to really endure. It is dysfunctional. What is in your hand is the way you want to deal with it for a mutually beneficial workplace. 

All my research over the years has shown to a large extent that human life spans tend to be less than two centuries. What was the last thing you did to be happy? Happiness matters.

Successfully working around 'suck-ups' at the work place

In a recent training vendor meeting, the vendor discussed a methodology of using painting to capture participants'  attitudes, especially in conflict situations. Guess what most drawings for suck-ups at the workplace could be? 

Yep, you guessed it right! A dog with a furiously wagging tail.

Suck ups ("SU"s) are easy to come by and hard to deal with if one gets angry, frustrated, irritated with them. What instead helps is rising above the situation and looking for work arounds. The first step could be understanding the nature of relationship that the person sucked up to and the person carrying out the ritual share. In most cases, it is not a one way relationship or a single person's need!

Dr. Marshall Goldsmith in his book on 'What got you here won't get you there' has a wonderful example of why people seem to like their dogs more than their family! In short, it is something like this - as soon as you enter the house, who do you want to pet the first? Your daughter who is probably upto her own business, or your dog, who runs up to you, wags his tail, jumps up and down and expresses deep, unconditional love for you (and possibly a scooby snack?)

When you want to successfully workaround a situation that involves SU, it helps to check for the conditions in the environment. Condition one, as and when two opposing and mutually supportive motives are present among the boss and subordinate. Take for example a fresher who joins and is not too competent, but has a high need of dependency. Put him with a boss who has a high need for control and you have the perfect pair for SU. Condition two, when both of them are trying to cover up either their own incompetency or not wanting to adapt to a changed situation -  something that could affect their own 'leisure' - vs. a positive work intent.

A case in point. In one of the organizations I was closely observing, the CEO surrounded herself with eight to ten of her 'favourites' while she continued to ignore sales and revenue generation. Both conditions discussed above were met. The SU phenomenon continued till the CEO was fired.

When looking at working around a SU pair at work, try to find out the motives that drive the pair. It is usually control-dependency or that both have affiliation. Very rarely have I found those with achievement motives indulging in serious SU. Once you can identify it, try and find out if there are functional ways of engaging the subordinate. It is hard work, but worth a try.

One word of caution, if the boss starts missing the SU because of you, it could lead to a nasty backlash against you. It may be a good idea to keep your supervisor informed about your efforts if the SU pair is a peer pair.

Something more you can do is help create small successes for both the boss and subordinate. Achievement is a good thing, but takes a little work. The hope here is to move the pair into a achievement oriented mindset.

(Those of us wanting more info on the psychological processes possibly at work, you can read about Narcissistic supply on Wikipedia. In simple words, it is when the SU supplies either or both individuals with psychological comfort that they are addicted to. Compare it with the 'happiness pills' used by people when genuine well being through exercise and a healthy life style isn't something they want to put effort towards.)

However, before beginning to work around SUs, first question I ask is whether you really want to invest your effort. If it is just an irritant, ignore it by focussing on the positives that the pair have. If that is not possible, try to have an honest conversation that focuses on specific instances. Do not use the word feedback in such conversations. Hiding behind the pretense of giving feedback when you are actually sorting out conflicts is cowardly and most likely leads to more conflict. Provide concrete instances of observed behaviour that has affected you. Use the STAR framework (Situation, Task, Action, Result).

Remember, working around SUs is not as much for you to 'cure' the phenomenon. It is to allow you to work in peace and allow you to progress in your own career, with possibly the help (atleast not to be bothered) by the SU pair. Be very clear about the desired outcomes when you work with the pair.

It's one life. It's usually shorter than a couple of centuries. Make it a happy one.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Matrix organizations - are we forgetting something?

The other day, a senior leader in an organization, over a coaching conversation shared the fact that he was
'just losing it'. Being quite a seasoned player, quite competent at his work, respected by both his team and peers,   this was definitely not a competency or a behaviour issue. Going over his organization structure, he had his insight. He had one reporting manager and 27 dotted line managers. Getting to know this fact and recognising the pressure that this produced led him to take up specific steps to make his own life better.

I use the framework of roles to help my coachees come to terms with, put in place an effective mechanism to manage and finally be successfull in a matrix organization. Roles as a concept are not new. They were researched by Katz and Kahn and later pioneering work on roles was done by Late Dr. Udai Pareek in India. The concept of roles is very simple to understand and implement.

What is a role?
It is the summary of expectations from an individual at the workplace. It includes his own expectations as well as those of people who are significant to his being successful the role.

Role space
It is a pictorial depiction of the different roles I play; at home (dad, son, husband, driver, couch potato, etc), at office (coach, regulator, facilitator, etc) and so on. I can draw the diagram in such a way that those roles dear to me are closer and the circles that take more of my time are larger.

Role landscape (c)
Again a pictorial depiction, again you come in the centre. However, this time, map roles of individuals, mainly those you have a reporting relationship and then those you have a working relationship. Increase the distance based on either the influencing power you have or the frequency of interaction they expect you to have.

The moment you have 75% of the roles of people you interact with regularly mapped on the role set, you are done. Take time to reflect on how much time each of them expects from you and how much time you can actually give them. Talk it out, negotiate and arrive at a calendar if possible. Put a number between 1 and 10 on how much you think you can influence the person playing a role. Decide where you want to go. Have one simple strategy to begin with. Make it work.

Carrying out a role-remapping exercise for yourself every three months helps you remain on top of things. Who ever said matrix organizations are unmanageable?!