Management Principle: Thinking and Staff Development

In today’s world we’re not really encouraged to think, and by that I mean to wrestle long and hard over issues that involve different mindsets, considering tradeoffs, and then arriving at specific well thought out conclusions. Rather, we are asked to adopt and accept certain belief systems and simply conform. Since Pavlov’s famous experiment with man’s best friend, humanity has become the target of social conditioning, where like food shopping, we pick our favorite brand off the shelf–a concoction that if we could only see how it was made, we would likely decide to raise it and cook it ourselves. As the late Dr. Glenn Martin, professor at Indiana Wesleyan University would say, “Ideas have consequences.” What this means for organizational leaders is that developing today’s staff will present a very different challenge compared to other eras. Applying time-tested professional techniques are going to feel foreign, strange and even unsettling, particularly with the emerging generation.

Thinking and Staff Development, business planning, business management, employee engagementIf we want to effectively mentor and develop others then we must get them to think. Why? Good thinking yields good judgment; good judgment yields good decision-making; good decision-making yields win-win scenarios for all parties involved. It produces an owner mindset if we are careful to create a culture that supports risk-taking and innovation. Yet in juxtaposition to thinking cultures are many of today’s business environments, where we’ve followed the same protocol as the rest of society, engaging in telling platforms, communicating conformity rather than encouraging the originality and creativity that come from contemplation and having our conclusions tested by the questions and thinking of others.

If we really want to develop staff into people that can ultimately take our place, we have to engage in a more radical approach. I remember becoming aware of this truth when my boss walked into my office one day as I was standing in front of my window, staring at the outside world. He snuck up behind me and said in a pronounced voice, “Caught you!” I was so embarrassed–I knew I wasn’t really “working.” I’ll never forget his next statement… “I caught you thinking, and just so you know, that’s what I pay you to do.” He then walked out. This boss of mine is the reason I am who I am today, thanks to his ability to know the right and professional thing to do to make me a better man and a more professional manager.

Below are some keys steps to develop thinking in your staff:

  • Ask Questions. A professional manager will ask discovery-based questions rather than provide answers when employees approach them with problem-solving needs. This can feel uncomfortable for staff, since it exposes their current (and usually inadequate) thinking and makes them feel vulnerable. A safe culture is a prerequisite. In school, when taking tests, we are presented with questions for which we must provide answers. We study because we know we are going to be asked difficult questions. And if we’ve studied hard enough, we’ll give the right answer. Telling bosses stunt the growth and development of their staff.
  • Next Steps. To ensure an employee fully owns their job, all next steps must be placed on them. If we say to our staff, “Let me think it over and I’ll get back with you,” we’ve stumbled in our professional role. What we are really saying when this happens is, “I don’t trust your thinking, so I’m going to use my thinking until I come up with the right answer.” One of the key principles when training a soldier how to shoot is to keep the instructor’s finger off the trigger. If we hope to increase our employees’ competency over time, we need to push the thinking down, keep the problem-solving on them, and avoid doing their work.
  • Insure Decision-making. It would be a disaster if, by only asking questions and assigning next steps, our employees went out like the old cartoon character Tennessee Tuxedo and acted on their half-baked ideas. We’d spend much of our time accounting to our boss, making excuses for the actions of our employees and our inability to lead. This is why I like Bill Oncken’s Freedom Scale. Depending on our anxiety level, there are certain levels of freedom we assign to employee decisions to insure sound actions. If we don’t like their ideas, rather than give them the answer, we find the next best question to ask to help them see the bigger picture.

I know what you are thinking. All this sounds great but it takes too much time. And, time it does take. But, like a good financial investment, it means delaying current gratification for long-term gain. The truth is, for a telling boss, he or she will spend most of their time answering the same questions over and over again, which is a waste of time. By applying these principles on the front end of staff development, we’ll produce people who will ultimately think and judge the same way we do. If you want your staff to improve in their judgments and decision-making, then you must cultivate your thinking in them. This same process works well with teenage children, by the way.

Coaching questions: When your employees seek your direction or some version of problem-solving, how do you usually respond? How can you take steps to make sure your thinking is being developed in them, so that they can ultimately replace you in a succession process? Write your answers in your journal.

Read more coaching principles from Dean Harbry on the Internal Innovations website.

Leadership Resolutions for 2013

When leading through change, the most effective method is to focus on one thing to change and celebrate the incremental small changes that will lead to the big change in the end.

We all hear the list of resolutions that individuals as well as leaders make as a part of tradition to start a new year. I just recently read a blog post that listed 11 resolutions for leaders. The author must have written this suggestion after one too many spiked eggnogs!

Resolutions need to be limited as change is incremental and your brain can’t keep track of too many changes at one time. So if you need to narrow your list down to 2-3 changes here are my suggestions to narrowing your list.

  1. Make sure that the resolution is a SMART one. Just like goals,? resolutions need to be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time bound. If the resolution doesn’t meet these five criteria, then eliminate it! And remember to state in the positive, “I will” is much more powerful than “I won’t”
  2. Secondly, can you use your strengths to achieve your resolution?? Read more…

Read more on the Executive Velocity website.

Management Principle: System Irrationality

Today’s management term is geared toward team and corporate outcomes but imagine if we applied the principle below to our communities and to government at large? How would it change life around us?

The truth is most of the topics we discuss in this blog also apply to our families, neighborhoods, and most all other contexts of life. I hope you think beyond corporate as you contemplate today’s principle.

System Irrationality. System irrationalities reveal themselves when we think, plan and build processes one way, then get unexpected outcomes as a result. One clear and predictable example is the way in which we incentivize people. If we hope, for example, to engage directors who will develop next generation leaders through a deliberate mentoring approach as part of a succession process, but only incentivize them with financial reward for increasing business, then we shouldn’t be surprised when no leaders emerge to replace them. It’s human nature. We will reap what we reward. Imagine Navy Seals who are trained to guard and protect themselves only, when under attack. How effective will they be at achieving complex missions? They are rather shaped with engrained thinking to protect their companions first and worry about themselves last. They accomplish almost superhuman feats as a result.

As professional leaders, we can have access to similar results by utilizing the appropriate human incentives. When organizational leaders understand and employ the secrets of selflessness, true teamwork will occur that will have lasting, sustainable corporate impact.

Coaching questions: Where are you experiencing system irrationalities and getting less than desirable results? What inspirationally-based human incentives can you apply to cultivate hoped-for outcomes?

Read more coaching principles from Dean Harbry on the Internal Innovations website.

Management Principle: Relationships

In life, we end up trying to manage bad behavior in others through rules and discipline rather than simply encouraging good behavior through incentives.

I’ve thought long and hard about relationships at work. I find people’s beliefs about this subject to be intriguing. In life, we end up trying to manage bad behavior in others through rules and discipline rather than simply encouraging good behavior through incentives. It’s like swatting a dog when he pees on the carpet rather than giving him a biscuit when he sits by the door. Having right relationships should be our supreme goal in life. There are different types of relationships in the work setting: manager, peer, vendor, direct reports, etc. And, each relationship has a specific context that creates a unique way of relating. Some people hesitate to engage in friendships at work as they believe it confuses the managerial role. If one’s view of friendship means being nice, never confronting, and maintaining peace at all costs, then perhaps it’s true. If friendship rather means clear communication, speaking the truth in love, and disagreeing when necessary to maintain unity and alignment, then this is transferrable. Relationship defined is an expression of human connection that can look different depending on role, without having artificial constraints. Just because someone is married doesn’t mean they can’t have wholesome relationships with other members of the opposite sex. All business-related relationships should be characterized by love (willing the highest good for another), compassion (even when discipline is required), communication (speaking openly and directly), to be wholesome, fruitful, and productive. Humans have the same needs regardless of the context. Old-school thinking that blocks out friendship at work is missing the mark.

Coaching questions: How would you characterize your relationships at work? How might you bring more humanity into the equation?

Read more coaching principles from Dean Harbry on the Internal Innovations website.

Management Principle: System-Wide Thinking

One of the most rewarding activities for staff is when they come up with ideas that are then implemented in the firm, as an added process or service.

The reason it doesn’t happen as much as it should is because people are not thinking system-wide. To fully leverage our resources, we must encourage this competency and mindset. I hope you enjoy this week’s principle.

System-Wide Thinking. Organizational leaders face complex challenges to integrate people, process, systems and resources to deliver firm products and services. Teamwork, collaboration and system-wide thinking are needed, yet many leaders fail here because they are not effectively employing professional management skills. Strong managerial leaders develop system-wide thinking in others when they empower people to think and act. They do so by utilizing appropriate levels of freedom to ensure quality of output, all resulting from a big picture view. It involves inculcating a high-level vantage point so that direct reports “think it and see it,” before they have to be told. Delegation is used as a tool to create system-wide thinking using employees’ brains as “scratch space.” They push the thinking down and insist that their people to do the critical thinking and problem-solving. They will ask intense, penetrating questions rather than simply providing answers when polled by their staff. This process may take more time initially, but will pay huge dividends over time.

Coaching questions: What deliberate steps are you taking to develop system-wide thinking in your employees? How can you create a laboratory in their minds by asking questions, running scenarios, and insisting that they process complex issues?

Read more coaching principles from Dean Harbry on the Internal Innovations website.

Management Principle: Words

The part of the body that creates the most distress in human relationships is the tongue. As the old saying goes, “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Being careful about our own emotional state, watching our attitude, and being mindful of our own stress reactions can go a long way in improving the way we communicate with others. I hope you enjoy this week’s principle.

Words. The words we use and the way we communicate will have a direct impact on the responses we receive from others. If we seek a particular concession, we must lay the proper groundwork and use the right words to create the appropriate incentives. It’s the way humanity works best. If you want your teenage son to show more respect toward his mother, appealing to his personal likes and dislikes, helping him to feel the way he makes others feel, will likely produce a better result than humiliating him in front of his siblings. To be effective at influence, we must always maintain composure, determine the likely outcome of what we say before we say it (and, make appropriate changes ahead of time), and keep other’s best interest in mind. The truth is, our conversations will help or hurt, heal or wound, encourage or deflate depending on the words we use. There really is no such thing as idle influence when communicating with another person.

Coaching questions: How would others rate you with respect to your ability to use the right words? What are some important personal changes you could make, to secure better results from those under your care?

ead more coaching principles from Dean Harbry on the Internal Innovations website.