Archive for April, 2012

Leader as Counselor – Follow-Up for Success!

SERIES: Part Three of a Three-Part Article

Anyone who has ever played a sport can still hear his or her coach saying, “It is all in the follow through!”

The same is true for the leader cast into a position of counseling a problem player and converting that undesired behavior into a desired one. “It is all in the follow through (up)!”

As a leader, how you tactically engage a problem player and, more importantly, follow through to ensure that the future behavior is healthy and wise is critical. To increase the odds of bad behavior patterns disappearing and constructive behavior patterns emerging, consider these tactical actions for following up after a counseling session:

  1. Set specific follow-up time frames daily (whether face-to-face or via e-mail, telephone, fax, video conferencing, etc.) to ensure there are no unexpected obstacles that have risen to impede performance improvement. Continue this follow-up until you are confident you have been there for the reinforcement period necessary for the behavioral change. When you feel you’re done, include another ten days for added security!
  2. Consider writing out action plans for performance improvement on a piece of paper, index card, reverse side of a business card, PDA or computer; post it where you will see it three times a day. Looking at your action plan at the beginning of the day will serve as a mental direction for what the goal is; midday will serve as a reminder of what one is supposed to be doing; the end of the day will serve to ensure work was contributed to the goal for that day!
  3. Engage others as a sort of support and reinforcement group to aid the individual in question and encourage their positive behaviors.
  4. Solicit support and active participation from any formal entities (networking groups, mentors, union leadership, advocates, colleagues, etc.) that can gain from the improved performance.
  5. Reward only the positive improvement – nothing less! No rewards for getting close or making baby steps!
  6. Have follow-up meetings in a location that serves to reinforce the significance of the desired behavior. Drawing upon the high school principal office syndrome can aid your cause, so meet in the boss’s office occasionally. This will add additional reinforcement to the seriousness and gravity of the counseling session and, thus, the follow-up expectations!

As a leader, how you follow through and follow up is a sign of your professionalism. “It is all in the follow through”.

Dr Jeff Magee
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Leader as Counselor – Facilitating the Intervention and Your Dialogue Flow!

SERIES: Part Two of a Three-Part Article

Can it get any more uncomfortable than this? Probably at the top of any managerial-leader’s list of uncomfortable and disliked functions is that of facilitating a counseling or disciplinarian intervention session with a problem player.

An effective organization can be terrorized by a problematic employee, productive employees can leave, turnover can become systemic and implosions can occur daily if not addressed. An effective leader must recognize these disruptions as opportunities to provide subtle – or not so subtle – behavior course corrections to an individual and bring them back into being a contributor instead of a detractor.

To facilitate the actual session, mentally design the intervention into three stages: Opening Dialogue, Body Dialogue and Closing Dialogue. While you may have rehearsed in your head a dozen times your opening statement, and perhaps even the body context, putting all three together is what few managers do, causing counseling interventions to become long-winded diatribes.

  1. Opening Dialogue should start with a power statement such as, “We are here because of the choices you have made…” Immediately establish the fact-based reason for this intervention, and calmly communicate the ground rules for this engagement, as well as are and are not acceptable discussion points and behaviors. Qualify the pain factor or leverage that you have at your disposal to ensure the purpose of the meeting is taken seriously. Ensure that they know they have been appreciated, or they never would have been employed on that team. Let them know that, from that perspective, you ultimately value them on the team and wish for this meeting agenda to be amicably resolved. This should be a very concise, controlled and even rehearsed set-up sentence…don’t belabor the point in your opening!
  1. Body Dialogue allows you to expand on the issue – and only that issue – at hand. This is where you develop the subject matter, share precisely what the behavior(s) is that will no longer be accepted, associate the why factor to the behavior and either design the action-implementation plan or accept their resignation.

If you can design a document that details the specific problem behavior, and they sign it, it can serve as a “Letter of Resignation” should the problem persist. Far too often, due to gutless leadership, legal protection is afforded to problem players, who just float from one organization (or department) to another, terrorizing everyone. They are then further financially compensated when terminated via tax payer-funded unemployment services or litigation. Therefore, behavioral change can be stimulated if the pain factor is powerful enough! 

  1. Closing Dialogue is just as important as the Opening and Body. Just as you may have spent days rehearsing the other two stages, so too should you invest mental time crafting a non-combative, supportive closing statement that you can conversationally present as a transition from what will most likely be an uncomfortable dialogue to the next obvious aspect of your day. Consider how you will conversationally exit the Body and, for that matter, the environment in which you are conducting your session. This will help prevent a fight or flight situation and avoid causing passive-aggressive behaviors by the problem player afterward. Your aim is to turn the problematic player into a productive player once again!

As the leader of a team of individuals, your ultimate goal is to draw out and showcase the strengths and skills of each person in pursuit of growing your organization.

Dr Jeff Magee
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Leader as Counselor – Preparing for Your Intervention!

SERIES: Part One of a Three-Part Article

Just as a child does with a baby-sitter, employees (with their colleagues and managers) attempt to learn the behaviors they can get away with and/or demonstrate.

There will be times when a problematic player will come across your path. As a leader, it is your responsibility to step up to the plate and address them. Remember the management adage, “Out of sight, out of mind” and any astute leader knows that it does not right itself on its own!

If you have a problem player on your team, and no other management intervention styles have produced meaningful results, you have no alternative but to engage them. This managerial-leadership intervention style is known as the “Counselor” or “Disciplinarian” approach. To ignore the problem will never result in a changed positive behavior and will only serve to create similar negative behaviors from others on your team, becoming cancerous to the future of your organization.

Preparing for a counseling session with a problem player can be best addressed by breaking the process down into three distinct phases: Before the Session, During the Session, and After the Session. Consider:

  1. Before the Session: Start with an agenda so you will remain focused on what to address and, subsequently, what is off limits. Before investing any further time, determine if this agenda is best addressed by other’s within your organization (i.e. Human Resources, Legal, Union stewardship, etc.) before you proceed. If these stop-gaps are not appropriate, then proceed by gathering the necessary documentation to allow you to start face-to-face conversations with statements like, “I have observed,” rather than, “It has been brought to my attention.” If someone has brought a concern about another individual to you, ask him or her to write it down and sign it. Do not push for this to be done because it will allow you to see if there is, in fact, a problem or rather a personality conflict among individuals into which one is attempting to pull you. Consider the best time for this intervention by reviewing the agenda and determining how much time is appropriate. Hold the meeting in a location where the most meaningful interaction can take place with the least amount of interruptions and noise. Consider the appropriateness of an observer by taking into account the sensitivity of the subject matter, the personality involved and whether or not the other party will have an observer or representation in this meeting (a possible norm, for example, if you manage within a union or government environment). If you decide an observer is appropriate, have one of your peer levels or higher serve at your disposal in this situation. Their only role is to be an observer, take notes and support you…they should not dialogue or become verbally involved to the point that the other party recruits them to their cause! Also, pre-design solutions to this situation that has warranted you wearing the counselor hat of leadership.

  1. During the Session: Start by providing the problem player with a copy of the agenda you designed for the session (unless otherwise required, never provide the problem player with the agenda in advance!). During the session, express that while there are problems with specific behaviors, you are not attacking them directly; your desire is to solve this issue and move forward. Take aggressive notes during the session, writing down anything they say (if they are not very communicative or they grunt and moan a lot, write that down too). Work to get both mini and many agreements to the agenda points. Be sure to let them know the gravity of the agenda and draw upon the leverage you have to stimulate a change in the behavior – this is not the time to worry about how to win friends and influence people, it is about the levels of pain that can be inflicted upon them if they don’t immediately change! Work for an action-resolution plan that can be implemented. Establish follow-up timelines where you two “WILL” get back together to ensure measurable forward momentum is taking place. This follow-up time schedule will serve as an additional motivator for both of you to ensure that no one leaves, makes minor adjustments and eventually digresses back to the same old problematic, cancerous behaviors.

  1. After the Session: You will want to set aside time immediately after the session to ensure that the items on your agenda were actually addressed, and you did not become sidetracked during the session. Along with any other official paperwork that you may have to complete in your organization, take a clean copy of the initial agenda and send a follow-up note recapping your appreciation for the meeting and what was agreed upon and offering your continued support to the action plan; this after-action review packet will serve as a reinforcement to them. Afterward, take a copy of that letter, the agenda and any notes taken during the session (along with any other forms) and staple them together for your personal files.

Review the precise value the player in question brings to your team, what acts they perform and what unique skills they posses. Can you survive without them? If not, delay (not avoid) the session until you have a contingency plan and/or backup players capable of fulfilling what the problem player is supposed to be doing in case the player decides to quit.

Never beg a problem player to stay, for the moment you do, they own you and the organization!

As a leader become very confident that the over whelming court ruling are in your favor if you must terminate a poor performer and problem employee (SUPERVISORS LEGAL UPDATES newsletter, July 23, 2003 edition). If you have documentation of the problem and attempts to civilly interact with them to address the issues, don’t be threatened by impending litigation or threats of litigation by your problem player!

As a leader, how you handle the behavior of any single poor performer will be observed by all and serve as a headline for actions out of others in the future.

Dr Jeff Magee

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Tactical Daily Administration – Dealing With Interruptions for Increased Productivity!

SERIES: Part Four of a Five-Part Article

Note:  My apologies, I got slightly out of order here, but here is Part 4 of the series on Tactical Daily Administration 

Executive Summary:    Fast, non-threatening, tactical ways to transition what may be a time-wasting interruption into a productive, polite engagement.

When a friend stops by, calls or sends you an e-mail, it is not noticed or seen as an interruption. When anyone else stops by, calls or sends an uninvited e-mail, it is seen as an interruption and causes most people in the workplace to go ballistic!

Both are interruptions and cause American businesses and government agencies millions of dollars in lost productivity and mental peak performance every day.

Here are some fast, non-threatening, tactical ways to transition what may be a time-wasting interruption into a productive, polite engagement. Consider:

  1. Telephone Interruption – “Thank you for calling. I want to give you my undivided attention, and this is a bad time. What is your number, and when is a good time later today to call you back?” If the caller is a telemarketer, you can always play the Jerry Seinfeld game: “If you will give me your name and home phone number, I will call you back later…”
  1. Telephone Call Lasting Too Long – “I appreciate the opportunity to talk with you, but I know you are a very busy person with a lot to do, so is there anything else (insert specific topic or question) before I let you go?”
  1. Walk-in Traffic – When someone comes to your desk unannounced, immediately stand up and ask, “Yes? How can I assist you?” This change in posture will, in most instances, evoke from the other party a question like, “Do you have a moment?” This is your opening to be polite yet stern by saying, “Yes, I have a second. What specifically do you need?” This will conversationally direct them to get to the point and not go into idle, brainless diatribes.
  1. Walk-in Traffic That Does Not Leave – Several tactical engagement interventions can be deployed here. Start by not making your work area conducive for people to gather: remove chairs; put our jacket, brief case or something else in the chair so you control when you want someone to sit in it; angle seating so you get the good view, and they get the wall; shut your door with a sign that mentions it is your “Quiet Time.” Another powerful conversion tactic is to grab something that needs to be filed, hand them part of the stack and politely say something like, “Here, let’s walk, talk and head to the cabinet. I need to file these while we are talking, and you can help me.”
  1. Uninvited E-mails – You have two options.  You can outright ignore the sender and hope they will get a clue that you respond to business – not personal – e-mails and eventually reduce or eliminate the use of e-mails on a personal basis. You can also gather all of their uninvited e-mails and respond to them one at a time, thus blitzing their e-mail box!
  1. Mail – If you know mail is unsolicited, don’t even waste your time opening it.  Rather, simply throw it all away. If it is important, you can bank the fact it will be mailed to you again!
  1. Meetings – At the precise moment you realize there is nothing else on an agenda that involves you, politely look for a conversational opening and say something threatening like, “Unless you all really need me, I don’t want to hold you back. Should I should be getting back to work?”

Undesired interruptions can derail mental creativity, concentration and overall productivity in the workplace every day. As a leader, how you non-confrontationally manage the environment and situations will drive the daily output.

Dr Jeff Magee
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Tactical Daily Administration – Maximum Logistical Effectiveness!

SERIES: Part Five of a Five-Part Article

Executive Summary:   Immediate guideposts for how your daily workflow space should be designed for maximum administration effectiveness.

The logistical layout of our workspace will have a dramatic and immediate connection to the quality and quantity of production from your proverbial desk. How you logistically operate your workspace will serve as a beacon from which your team will draw clues for their performance expectations.

While there are countless efficiency experts that an individual or organization can enlist to enhance operational performance, here are some immediate guideposts for how your daily workflow space should be designed for maximum administration effectiveness.

To increase your daily administrative flow and efficiency in a business climate that demands tactical effectiveness for profitability, consider:

  1. Desk – Your workspace desk, table or countertop should be designed in such a way as to reduce opportunities for distraction, eye contact with passersby and idle social dialogue.

  1. Telephone – You should have this within easy reach and consider headphone systems, long cords, cordless and mobile systems to free you up for multi-tasking.

  1. Supplies – A mini storage for things routinely needed should be within reach (file folders, paper clips, tape, etc.) and easily accessible to obvious functional items as well (like writing instruments, paper, PDA devices, power supplies, etc.).

  1. Chair – Your chair should be comfortable. You will be living in it, so make a good investment. It should have wheels for easy mobility.

  1. Fax Machine – Whether you are connected online via your computer or the traditional stand alone system, this should be at arm’s reach.

  1. Printer – Whether this is your main system or a small back-up unit, this should also be within arm’s reach. This will expedite making copies to be faxed upon demand, for meetings, for print downloads from an e-mail or for mere file purposes.

  1. Computer and Key Pad – This is critical to most managerial-leaders and should be easy to access and use. Only have the software programs on your system that are required for your functionality – the more needless programs you have, the more opportunities there are for problems.

  1. File Cabinets – For those items that you know you need to keep and will be routinely accessing, a cabinet should be within reach from your chair and desk.

  1. Music, television, VCR, DVD – Appropriate pieces of equipment or electronics should also be within reach. Ideally, they should have remote control systems so you will not have to leave your chair for operation.

  1. Water – Nutritionists coach that keeping yourself hydrated all day directly influences your mental alertness and proficiency. This is especially important in the afternoon hours, when most professionals tend to have repeated energy crashes. Maintain easy access to water, water bottles or water dispensers!

For those aspects of your job that you would consider routine, you should be within one arm’s reach or a minimum of two steps. The further you must go for the tactical execution of daily normalcy, the greater the odds are for being derailed and reducing overall daily operational effectiveness.

Dr Jeff Magee
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Tactical Daily Administration – Just Say “NO” and Increase Daily Productivity!

SERIES: Part Three of a Five-Part Article

Fear of intimidation, fear of being seen as mean, rude, or a non-team player. These are all underlying reasons that hold most people back from saying “no” to someone in the work place. In actuality, saying “no” is exactly what would have led to greater productivity and  saying “no”.

Saying “no” has gained a bad reputation over the years, yet it is an explosive tactical engagement resource that managerial-leaders have at their disposal.

Here is a simple formula you can use with a customer, peer, subordinate and even a boss that stimulates a non-confrontational conversation when your gut tells you that you cannot be a miracle worker. The U.S.A. Model plays off a psychological model, suggesting that when you need to engage another person in an unpleasant topic (such as saying “no”), you should start with an empathy statement or phrase to acknowledge the other party. Then, transition very matter-of-factly into the issue to be addressed. Conclude with an action-oriented question so the other party does not feel attacked but rather has an indication as to where they should go with the conversation.

1.    U – Start with a non-threatening statement to elevate the other party. This allows them to UNDERSTAND the present.

2.    S – SITUATION or status quo that is conflicting with their immediate request of you unless

3.   A – Some degree of ACTION can be taken to change the two that are in conflict.

The process may sound like this:

1.   I can appreciate that (insert their request of you).

2.   Right now, I am/we are (insert your present situation).

3.   Should I/we (insert first option) or (insert another option)?

Notice there are no defensive or challenging transition words between each line in this sequence. Tactically, when you engage the other person, you do not want to do anything that will jeopardize the power of this U.S.A. Model.

Remember that in many instances in today’s business world, people come to you for aid because you have trained them to come to you, while others have trained them not to come to them. Now is the time, therefore, to non-confrontationally retrain people, allowing everyone to be productive.

Dr Jeff Magee
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Tactical Daily Administration – Taming the Paper Monster!

SERIES: Part Two of a Five-Part Article

There is no way around it. As long as people have computers, they will find their print key. And with that, there will always be an endless flow of paper in the business workplace!

Taming that paper monster to manage the daily work environment and ensure maximum productivity is easy. Consider this four-step process as you contemplate touching any physical papered item today (mail, faxes, documents, letters, notes, proposals, handouts, flyers, etc.):

  1. R – Does the item need to be referred to someone else? If so, immediately discard it into a sub-stack of REFERED items and deal with the items on your own terms during that day as appropriate.

  1. A – Does the item need your immediate ATTENTION? If it does, also temporarily discard it until you have restacked all the items of one mass stack into four sub-known, now-manageable stacks.

  1. F – Does the item need to be kept, maintained, saved and, thus, FILED? If so, place it into a sub-stack and deal with it on your own terms as appropriate. The Wharton School of Business did a study (and it’s probably still valid!) and found that more than 60 percent of these items filed away are never touched again until they are thrown away. So, use a “Rule of Three” to determine whether to trash what you may be getting ready to file or task someone else to file it. Can you easily get a backup should something happen to your copy? Do you know how many other people have copies and who is keeping them? Do you have a legal reason for keeping a copy? These questions may motivate you to save more time and merely discard the item.

  1. T – When there is no value in an item, immediately TRASH that item. Place it into a recycle stack or trashcan.

By tactically using this four-step RAFT Process, managerial leaders can both improve their bottom line daily productivity and model for their team how a peak performer should appear.

With this paper monster that runs loose in many businesses now coming under control, let’s eliminate it completely.

By taking any primary stack that contains unknown items, quickly break it down into four manageable known stacks.  Now, you can set two stacks off to the side for attention later in your day. A third stack is completely removed, and you are left facing only one for your dispensing.

Dr Jeff Magee
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