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Reinforcing Behaviors and Changing Patterns: Lessons from My 3 Year Old

7 Sep

I recently had a conversation with a manager who was relating to me a complaint that one of their employees had. This is not the first time I have had this conversation. Since this particular complaint included something I could have done differently I asked the manager why the employee did not come to me directly. Then I changed my tact and told the manager that I could not respond unless the employee came to me directly. I wanted the pattern to stop.

If I did respond I would be reinforcing the pattern instead of improving it. Employee goes to manager, manager comes to me, I respond to manager, manager goes back to employee….

This reminded me of when my 6 year old, Tzvi, first started school as an almost 3 year old. The school rule was that he was supposed to be potty trained in order to be able to go, and he pretty much was, but then he had an accident. So the school called my wife, she went to the school, changed him and came back home. Sure enough, the next day the same thing happened, he had an accident, she showed up, changed him and went home. Almost everyday for the next few weeks this happened and either me or my wife (or a great grandfather once, no joke!) went and changed him. What was troubling was that the accidents were not happening at home at all. I tried explaining to the school director the pattern we were getting stuck in and suggested they not call us one time and see what happens, but she wouldn’t hear of it. Eventually we got the inevitable phone call, the school wanted us to take him home, he wasn’t ready for school.

I decided it was time to play my trump card. I called the school director back and made her an offer. I would pay $20 for any teacher that was willing to change Tzvi when he had an accident and I would pay as many times as necessary. I asked her to try it for a week. The only stipulation was that we could not be called. $20 was just enough money to make it work and she found a teacher who was willing to do it. The next day I waited for the phone call letting me know how much I would have to send in, it never came. Or the next day. I never got another phone call. As soon as Tzvi saw that no one was going to come visit him of he had an accident it was all over. He knew how to go to the potty, but the one time he had an accident and his mom came to visit him he figured out a new pattern to get to see his mom.

Next time you need to respond to a negative situation and it seems all too familiar ask yourself why. Why am I doing this again? Will my response reinforce that this is the right behavior and keep it going? What can I do to stop the pattern?


Why Great Feedback is so Hard to Give

5 Oct

FACT: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS BAD FEEDBACK. There is feedback that is poorly delivered (we’ve all experienced that boss) but all feedback is good feedback, and definitely better than no feedback. There can, however, be positive and negative feedback. Both are equally important for high level performance.

Positive – Nice shirt and nice pants. Negative – But they don’t match.

Feedback is one of the most critical requirements for sustained high-level performance of any human. – Ferdinand Fournies

It’s pretty easy to understand why it’s hard to deliver negative feedback. You don’t know how it is going to be received, you don’t know how your employee will react and it makes you feel really awkward. However, any employee who has had even a modicum (look it up) of success will tell you that one of the secrets to their success is the feedback they received. Many employees I speak to tell me their favorite managers were the ones who gave feedback whether it was positive or negative, they just appreciated getting it.

So why is it so hard for managers to give feedback even when it is good feedback?

Here is my theory. Unfortunately, much of the feedback we get is poorly delivered. Even when it is positive many managers do an inadequate job of delivering it (Tip: they key to effective feedback is 1. timeliness 2. specificity). Therefore feedback generally has a negative connotation associated with it. The word and meaning cause a negative emotional reaction based on our own personal experiences. That sucks. It’s like we are doomed for a life because the first few times we got feedback someone did a crappy job. So, like most things we have a bad emotional reaction to, we choose to avoid it.

Avoidance is our #1 defense mechanism and we use it often.

So what is the solution? Simply put – change the pattern. Anytime you have a consistent emotional reaction to something it means there is an established pattern. You may not even mean to react that way, maybe there isn’t even a good reason, but it happens. Patterns are a killer to break, but they can be broken. Think about a food you never used to eat and now just discovered you actually like. For years whenever someone even mentioned the name of that food (i.e. spinach) you cringed. Then one day you were convinced to try it, and it wasn’t so bad. Now you probably still have the same emotional reaction when you hear the worked or see spinach but you have learned to overcome it with your positive experiences.

They key is to start by doing at least one thing differently whenever you are in the same situation again so that the pattern is disrupted. You have to recognize the behaviors you exhibit whenever you are faced with the situation and consciously change the way you react, even if it is only one little thing. If, for example, you typically push off scheduling a meeting to deliver feedback, change the pattern by immediately scheduling the meeting. You have not even delivered the feedback but already you are changing the pattern about how you deliver feedback. Sometimes something as simple as changing the location where you usually deliver the feedback can lead to much bigger change.

These small changes will lead to better experiences (or at least experiences that are not as miserable). Over time (sometimes a long time) creating positive experiences will create new emotional reactions. Soon you’ll be an expert at delivering feedback and gain a reputation as an awesome boss. Who doesn’t want that???

Best Consulting/Coaching/Mentoring/Meeting Question

13 Sep

Last week as I was perusing the aisles of my local supermarket (I went for rye bread, perusing was for cake), I bumped into a former colleague of mine, a really talented couples therapist. We started talking about couples therapy and various styles, mine is pretty distinct (strategic therapy). She mentioned that she had recently been to a workshop by Terrence Real and he brought up the key question he starts each session with and she thought it was right up my alley.

It was. Here’s how it goes, “What would you like to have accomplished by the end of this session?” In an advanced form (maybe after the relationship with the client is established)  this can be asked as, “What will be different at the end of this session?”

Think about it. Setting the expectations that way from the start of the session removes all the need for exploration as to what the issues are. In fact, it removes the need for negative reinforcement typical in therapy that requires the parties to complain about each other. (ok, it’s not required, but that’s what happens). It starts the session off on an optimistic note and allows for positive potential outcomes to be imagined.

When mentoring or coaching an employee, using this type of questioning at the outset can expedite the process by beginning with the end in mind. What are you hoping tot get out of this relationship/meeting? The onus is now on the employee to make the most of the session by providing a well thought out answer.  It may even be best to send the question to the employee prior to the session so they know what to expect and are not thrown off.

In meeting settings this type of questioning can lay the ground work for a mutually beneficial outcome. Parties have the opportunity to share what’s important to them prior to getting down to work.

I think one of the most important implications this question has is that it pushes for a results orientation. Once hopes have been established it is up to the parties involved to make it happen.

Dealing with Millenials in the Workplace

8 Sep
This is a copy of an email I sent to my executive team a few weeks ago. The goal was to help them better understand a majority of our workforce and what makes them tick.
  • Millenials don’t see themselves as needing money in a traditional sense. For many; food, rent and basic necessities are not as important as the opportunity to focus on personal goals. They are willing to live at home or crash with friends to pursue dreams. Money is a sign of progression, but not an end all.
    • Manifestation: Will leave a job for not getting the raise they wanted, and potentially even take a lower paying job, on principle. May go back to school if education is what interests them.
  • Have many friends who are successful in non-traditional ways (start ups), therefore do not see a need to follow a traditional career path. Many of their friend’s will not start careers until they are in their 30’s. Are likely to make a complete pivot career-wise if they feel that personal success will come through a different avenue.
    • Manifestation: Unpredictable behavior in terms of thinking about their careers. See requests as “need to haves”.
  • Expect rapid career advancement, this is non-negotiable. In elementary schools today, children advance levels within a grade multiple times a year (a 4th grade student is expected to advance 4-5 reading levels within the year).  Our current interns were in 4thgrade when Undertone started.
    • Manifestation: Will leave for a title change even if it means less money. Expect career change or advancement at least every 2 years.  Expect to be at the executive level by early 30’s.
  • Expect recognition for each success, not just the end result (remember, they are part of the “everyone’s a winner generation”). Need to hear praise weekly if not daily. Lesser failures are also considered successes in their eyes.
    • Manifestation: Performance reviews or bonuses paid bi-annually are not enough, they need to see/feel something much more regularly. Will leave or performance will drop if they don’t feel recognition.
  • Their respect is earned and lost easily. They are not easily impressed by others and value their own opinions as much as the opinion of someone with many more years of experience.
    • Manifestation: Don’t assume that they accept what you say just because of who you are. They will accept if they believe. Sincerity and empathy often outweigh facts. They expect to be listened to and responded to immediately. They hear “I’ll get back to you soon” as “I’ll get back to you within the hour”.
  • Are comfortable with failure. They grew up in a generation where failure was acceptable. Have a high level of comfort with risk.
    • Manifestation: Never want to be told they did not do a good job, but are ok with being told they can do better. Want the bar set high, but want their efforts to be recognized even if they do not achieve the top level.
  • Are incredibly dedicated to things they believe in. Emotional connection is a critical part of working for or staying with a company or manager.
    • Manifestation: Always want to know about strategy and direction so that they can decide whether or not they are on board. Being “on board” is a key motivational factor.
  • Expect communication in real time, particularly when it affects them personally. And everything affects them personally.
    • Manifestation: Will always complain about lack of communication. This will continue until executive communication flows in a twitteresque fashion. It doesn’t have to, that’s just the expectation.
  • Are overly socially aware. Are constantly looking at others and comparing themselves to others. Very little is kept private between millennial’s.
    • Manifestation: Will ask for career advancement or compensation based on the fact that someone else got it. Know everyone else’s compensation information. Follow each other’s careers and decisions on LinkedIn and Facebook.

Performance Management, A Stamp in Time

4 May

Recently a number of HR professionals have been raising the idea of getting rid of the performance management process and the appraisals that come with them. There argument is that feedback does not happen on an ongoing basis because managers are waiting for mid year or end of the year reviews to provide feedback. They would prefer the focus be on an ongoing basis and not just twice a year.

Of course, I agree with the notion of feedback being an ongoing conversation, but I think the notion of “doing away” with the entire performance management process is throwing out the baby with the bath water. The issue is not with the review process, the issue is that managers are not giving feedback to their employees in a timely, consistent manner. Perhaps they are using mid-year reviews and the performance management process as an excuse for not meeting with their employees more regularly, but that is a separate issue.

One solution is to build “check-ins” into your performance management process. Most software out there will allow you to schedule reviews throughout the year and not just 1-2 times a year. Technology helps if used properly

The reason I like the performance management process is that provides that much needed “stamp in time”. It’s hard to measure performance on an ongoing basis, how will managers see and measure growth and performance? Remember when you were a kid and your mom would measure you and your siblings on the back of a door? There was not point in doing that every day or every week was there? Measured at the right intervals and you could, hopefully, see some significant growth.

I am all for coaching and feedback as a continuous process, but don’t take away my end of the year appraisal. It’s when I learn if and how much I’ve grown this year.

Creating Space for People to do Great Things

26 Jan

One of my favorite 360 feedback questions is “To what extent does the individual… Create Space for People to do Great Things”?. A 360 feedback tool gathers up feedback for an individual from multiple sources: supervisor, peers, subordinates, colleagues and other 3rd parties, hence the term 360 (Use hence in a sentence – check). It provides a 360 degree view of the individual’s behaviors, strengths and weaknesses. As I often use 360’s to help leaders develop ther skills, I believe the space question is one of the most important questions. Great leaders create space for others to excel.

In football, almost every single great run by a running back or wide receiver is set up by a key block. Without the block, it’s just a couple of yards. With it, the possibilities are endless, he.could.go.all.the.way… . A great receiver can help a running game by requiring defensive backs or even linebackers to play deeper on the play. This creates space for a running back to tack considerably yardage onto an average play. Wayne Gretzky was so feared by opposing players, their concern for where he was at any given moment cleared up space for Messier, Kurri and others to rack up an amazing number of points when they played with him.  Individuals can create the space for others to do great things.

Too often at work, or even at home, we get so bogged down with the day-to-day things that need to get done that we never provide the significant other people in our lives the opportunity to do great things. I believe that every individual has the know-how to go above and beyond and accomplish greatness, but how often are they really given the chance? Do we let them take the necessary risks? Deviate from the game plan for the potential big score? What is stopping us from letting it happen? What are we afraid of?

I was recently shopping in a local supermarket. 2 friends of my wife commented on how they thought it was great that I (the husband) was doing the shopping. Their message was that their husbands were incapable of doing the grocery shopping (I think?).  I told them that I was sure that their spouses would have no problem doing the shopping, but how would they handle their husbands coming home with the wrong items? Could they manage not commenting or saying anything derogatory. One responded honestly and said, “I know he will get the wrong things, that’s why I don’t even bother letting him go”. There it is, he’ll never even have a chance to develop into a great shopper becasue he will never be given the opportunity. Her loss.

So this year if you make one resolution, may I suggest this one. Create space for others to do great things. Whether they are employees, peers, supervisors, friends, children or spouses. If you give people the space they can do amazing things.

Owning Up Follow Up

29 Dec

Since my last post about a week ago I have been thinking about why is it that “owning up” works as well as I believe it does. What is it about the vendor owning up to their mistake that makes us feel that much better? It just seems to elicit a positive emotional response.

Today I was listening to The BS Report, a podcast by Bill Simmons. His guest was Chuck Klosterman, they were discussing the Tiger Woods saga. Chuck brought up the point that Tiger should come out and own up to everything he has done. He believes that this would not be PR suicide on Tiger’s part because once you’ve owned up the ball is now in the consumers court. The consumers, us, now have the choice to continue to be Tiger fans or not. Until he says something the choice isn’t ours yet, it is still Tiger’s. The longer we wait the more upset we get because we are not in control.

There it is! Makes perfect sense!

As long as the vendor/athlete stays silent we sit there waiting for a response or communication from them. We don’t feel like we can act until they do. Once they make their statement the onus is now on us to make a decision (onus = on us) as to how we want to respond, but it is in our court. At least we feel some sense of ownership for the next steps. We can decide to maintain the relationship or walk, but either way it’s up to us. As long   as we feel like we are in control of the next steps we emotionally feel better. If they do not respond the issue continues to boil up in us and creates even more animosity then the original event.

Lessons in Management from PeeWee Hockey

23 Nov

This past Sunday I took my 7 year old to his weekly hockey game.

That’s him in the middle. At this age it’s basically a helmet with a stick running after other helmets with sticks for an hour. Not pretty, but they gotta start somewhere! My son’s team is, unfortunately, not very good.

As we watched the teams warm up before their game this Sunday, the vision of the other team taking on-target slap shots from the point while our boys struggled to have stick meet ball, had one parent reminiscing about the Mighty Ducks movies and how while the other team always looked so good, the Ducks won in the end. (btw has anyone seen Emilio Estevez?) No such luck, we lost 1-0 and are now 0-4 on the season, but we have come really far over the past 4 weeks. The kids know where to go, the position they play and what direction to shoot. This was not the case the first week when we lost 7-0.

I did not put too much thought into the improvement the team has made until I was walking out the door with my son, going over some of the key plays he made and trying to distract him from asking me to take him for the obligatory post game treat. As we were about to leave, his coach came running over, crouched down next to him and spent the next 15 seconds going over all the great things my son did during the game. He got up and ran to the next kid and did the exact same thing. Then another.

I was amazed at what he was doing, not that I haven’t been amazed by the coach before. Last Saturday he had a baby and was still at the game on Sunday. This Sunday he made a Bris in the morning and was at the game in the afternoon. What was amazing was that the coach was not only making each kid feel special, but he had figured out the key to elevating his team, recognition. Nothing is more of a motivation to repeat a behavior then being told that said behavior was the right behavior. When a kid hears that he did right, he can’t wait to come back the next week and do it again.

Employees are like kids, except for the whole paycheck thing. The best way to motivate an employee and get them to repeat the great things they do is to recognize them for it. As managers we need to get our from behind our desks more often and recognize our employees accomplishments in real time, not at performance review time. It doesn’t have to be a lot, just a timely, detailed message about something they have done well. Once they see and hear that they have been recognized there is little doubt that they are incentivized to do it again.

After the first game my son asked if he could switch teams, he couldn’t handle losing 7-0 every week. Since that first week he hasn’t asked again. Now he looks forward to having the chance to show his coach what he can do. They say the number one reason employees leave an organization is their manager. I’m sure this is true, but what part of management is it? I know one thing is for sure, if an employee feels like they are doing a good job and no one is noticing they are going to find someone who will notice. As long as they feel like their work is being recognized they will definitely stick around.

Volunteer to be Fired

20 Nov

Interesting post this morning for HR peeps on AOL’s asking for volunteers to be fired. AOL has asked 2500 to apply. Clearly they are asking for applications, because they don’t want some people leaving. So you apply to get severed, get an acceptance/rejection letter and, apparently, move on. In their offer, taking severance is a lot better than the getting fired option.

It can’t be that simple. Think about all the issues this system brings up.

  • What if you application gets rejected? Are you a loser? Winner? Both? How awkward is it going to be working for your manager after you get rejected?
  • What if 10,000 people apply? What does that say about your org? What does that do to the 7500 who will have to stay?
  • Why would they do this? Lack of talent planning? Do they not know who they want to leave? If they don’ t, they need to fire HR. Hey, maybe that will get them to 2500.
  • What if your on the fence about whether they’ll keep you, aren’t you more likely to apply to get the better deal?
  • Are they really so sure that enough people won’t take the offer? Is AOL such a great place to be right now?

Clearly, I think this is a terrible idea. Whoever thought it up should volunteer to get fired. Tim Armstrong made a huge mistake by accepting this proposal. He should know better having gone through the Google/DoubleClick acquisition. If you need to let people go, take the time to figure out who you need to let go and make it happen. The last thing you want to do is destroy the morale of your org in the process. Huge Fail!

Top of Mind

18 Nov

Any great sales person will tell you that one of the keys to sales is always being “top of mind”. This refers to a sales person or organization’s ability to be the first one thought of to provide a solution for a client’s challenge.  The goal is to be the first email or call the potential client makes to have the best opportunity to win the client’s business.

This past Halloween one of our sales people took this to a whole new level. He dressed up as Superman and went around to all of his clients dropping off candy. Just a great excuse to stop by and see how business is doing and if they needed us for anything. A great way to stay top of mind.

There is a great lesson to be learned here by training and OD professionals. How do we stay top of mind to our clients? How do we position ourselves to be the first one’s thought of to provide a solution? What can we do while not training or consulting to better understand the business and our client’s needs so that when they have a challenge they see us as a solution. That’s the key to being top of mind.

If you want to be consultative and strategic (I am not sure I know what they mean, but everyone seems to want to be) you need to figure out how to become the go to person or department. When your employees are chasing you down for help you’ll know you’ve made it.