Use A.I.D. for better feedback

In my most recent top tip I talked about using different types of questions to ‘funnel’ the conversation and how to ensure the manager does less of the talking and more of the listening. I also mentioned a great tool that makes the actual delivery of the feedback (the difficult bit) so much easier. It is called AID and it works like this.

A = Action.

Describe the action that you have observed.

I = Impact.

Explain the impact that the above action has had.

D = Do.

Suggest what the person should do differently in future.

Simple Elements

The beauty of AID is that the A element keeps the feedback factual and specific as opposed to personal. There is a world of difference between “I noticed this morning that you interrupted Mr Jones twice” and “You were rude to Mr Jones”. The I element is important as it focuses on outcomes. For example “Mr Jones is a key customer and we cannot afford to lose his business”. Finally the D element is the bit that makes the feedback positive as it demonstrates that you are trying to help the individual improve.

Next time you have a difficult conversation try the AID approach. I think it will help.

Using Questioning Skills to Gain Commitment

I recently had a difficult conversation with myself and it went something like this.

Me: Steve, come on in and grab yourself a seat. How are you today?
Myself: Not at all bad thanks ………….. weekend ………. i-pad problem …….. possible new client ….
Me: Can I get you a coffee?
Myself: Just a glass of water thanks. I am trying to cut back on caffeine and to hydrate better.
Me: Good for you. You don’t mind if I tuck into this double espresso latte macchiato do you?

Me: Steve I have noticed that you have not published a top tip for difficult conversations for over a month now. As a result the website is looking a bit stale plus some subscribers to your tips are starting to grumble. So what’s the story?
Myself: The truth is I have just been so busy ………. demanding clients ………other priorities ………… holiday ………… travelling to Derby, Swindon and Hong Kong …….. its just been so hectic. It’s not that I don’t want to write it you know. I know it’s important.

Me: You say it’s important. How do you see that?
Myself: Oh there are a hundred good reasons ………..

Me: You make a strong case for getting this done. So how hectic does the rest of this week look?
Myself: A little better actually as I am in the office for 3 days and have cleared most of the urgent stuff already. I reckon with a fair wind and a bit of luck it could be done this week or next.

Me: I would really like to see you get it published by this Friday lunchtime. We know from the newsletter data that a lot of people do click on the top tips Friday afternoon and Monday morning. Can you commit to that for me?
Myself: Well I will certainly try. I have an idea for the content so I suppose if I sketched that out once we’ve finished I could do the first draft Wednesday and then polish up and publish on Friday morning.

Me: So, can I take that as a yes?
Myself: Yes, I suppose so.
Me: You don’t sound sure. If you want to run the draft past me on Wednesday I am around most of the day.
Myself: That’s good to know. Yes, see you on Wednesday.
Me: Great.

So what was going on there?

1. The manager (me) used a simple acronym called AID to deliver the message. More about that in the next top tip.
2. The manager also used a range of questions and a funnelling approach to work towards a commitment.

Different Types of Questions

“How are you today”.
An open question designed to create rapport and start a conversation.
“Can I get you a coffee?”.
A closed question with limited answers designed to create a bridge to the subject matter.
“You don’t mind …….. do you?”
A rhetorical question where no answer is required or expected.
“So what’s the story?”
An open question to get the conversation moving towards the 30/ 70 desired ratio.
“You say it’s important. How do you see that?”
A probing question picking up on a key word or phrase. The purpose is to find out more.
“How hectic does the rest of the week look?”
Further probing through a less open question designed to focus in on a specific area.
“Can you commit to that for me?”
A closed question with the purpose of gaining commitment on a specific point.
“So can I take that for a yes?” and “You don’t sound sure”.
A mixture of probing/closed as good listening skills identified some possible doubts.

The idea of moving from open to probing to closed questions is to ‘funnel’ the conversation. At the top are potentially wide-ranging and varied topics (the rapport stage) then to lots of data about a more focussed area and finally very focussed and very specific (commitment).  Developing your questioning skills can be a very useful tool for both your personal and professional leadership.

I hope you find this useful as I can report that Steve actually completed his top tip ahead of time!!!!

Talking v. Listening

There is a perception that in a difficult conversation it should be the manager who does virtually all of the talking. After all they have probably called the meeting, they should have a clear purpose and outcome in mind and of course should be prepared with some key questions and relevant data.

My experience shows that this one-way type conversation will quickly cease being a conversation and turn into something more akin to a moan, rant, tirade, monologue and general telling off. The other person will either pay minimal lip service or simply go silent and nothing of any value will have been achieved.

I am going to suggest that there is a different way

I am on fairly safe ground to suggest that the normal ratio of talking and listening for any conversation between two people should be about 50 / 50.

Conversations by definition must be two-way and a just because a conversation is difficult that should not radically change that natural dynamic.

However, I would suggest that 50% talking for a manager should be the maximum. Ideally aim to create an environment where you mostly listen and occasionally talk – let’s put the figure at 70 / 30.

How do I get to 70/ 30?

1. Avoid having a script
2. Outline your purpose and share your feedback
3. Ask a good question

4. Listen and ask more questions prompted by what your have heard
5. Listen and ask more questions to confirm and get commitment

In the next newsletter I will provide some top tips around the different sorts of questions that you can ask and where these are best placed to help achieve the 70 /30 ratio.

Difficult Conversations: The Right Time and Location

In my previous top tip I suggested that preparation and planning are vital before embarking upon a difficult conversation.

In this tip I will share with you some top tips for getting the meeting off on the right foot

Top Tip No.3 is “The Right Time and Location”

So when is the right time?

A common misunderstanding is that ‘feedback’ (which is of course what any difficult conversation is about) should take place ASAP after the event.

The problem here is that ASAP generally means as soon as it is convenient for you the manager!

But what if ASAP is a bad time for the individual? What if they are still emotionally charged by the situation or if ASAP clashes with something else they need to be doing? What if ASAP for you is 0900 the next morning and they are a “don’t speak to me until I have had my first cup of coffee” type person!

The point is that ASAP needs to consider the question “when is the best time for them such that they are most likely to take the feedback on board?”

Now of course if the situation is such that it needs to be dealt with immediately (e.g. safety or compliance issue) that is different but most of the time we have a choice. If you have spent the time planning your approach, don’t undo your good work by ignoring the other person’s needs and potentially make the conversation harder that it should be.

So what about the right place?

The same applies. Ask yourself the question “what is the best place for them such that they are most likely to take the feedback on board?”. Most often this will be a private area at work, but it could be a quiet corner or maybe even at a nearby coffee shop. 

Where’s your right place?

Difficult Conversation? Prepare Your Notes

In my previous top tip I discussed the importance of being clear on your purpose for having the difficult conversation in the first place.

Now that you have a purpose, what next?

Top Tip No.2 is “Prepare your Notes”

When faced with a difficult conversation it is usually true to say that the stakes can be high and that it is important that we are at our best. With this in mind it would therefore be madness to approach the conversation without some serious consideration to mitigate the chances of being at your worst.

Preparation is therefore vital and if nothing else have ready the specific details of the subject matter – i.e. the reasons for the difficult conversation.

Nothing will see a conversation become difficult more quickly than a vague generalisation, half-fact or woolly bit of feedback. Future top tips will build on the above by discussing ‘specific details’ and particularly the difference between Fact and Opinion.

Your specifics therefore can be your written notes, a recording of a phone call or perhaps a printed email. It would also be a good idea to consider some of the key questions that you would like to ask the other person. Writing these down will help ensure you stay on track and hopefully remember to ask.

So does that mean it is good practice to write down and prepare a detailed script?

For several reasons, absolutely not!

1. Are you are trained actor? Can you remember a detailed script?
2. Reading a detailed script will make it look like you have already reached a conclusion.

3. Conversations never run to plan so the script will soon be of no use to you.

To summarise I will refer to a version of the good old 7 P’s as this definitely applies to Difficult Conversations

Prior Proper Planning Prevents Painfully Poor Performance

Learning from the past, present and future

When working with groups of managers I find I make plenty of references to the past, present and future in relation to their on-going development. Typically the past is in the form of sharing management theory and perceived best practice based on research and of course my own experiences as a manager. Working out how this knowledge is relevant and how to apply the learning back in the workplace is all about the present but with very much with an eye to the future. The questions that managers tend to ask is “how can this help my team and I perform better now?” and “what skills do I need to progress over the next 2-5 years?”

There is of course no simple answer to these questions and any answers will be different for different managers. I do however believe there is a key skill that is required and which links back to my theme of past, present and future. That skill is the ability to reflect.

In relation to the past it is the ability to stop what you are doing, stop thinking about problems, stop working at 100 mph and to take some time to reflect. To reflect upon the past in the sense of reminding yourself of what you are trying to achieve (both in work and personally), what are your core values, what makes you tick, what approaches to people and situations work and more importantly what tends not to work.

In relation to the present it is the ability to reflect upon the here and now and what is really most important right now. Take the learning from the past and check that it is still fit for purpose. If it is keep doing it, if it is not do it differently (may need further reflection) and if you don’t know seek feedback from trusted friends and colleagues.

In relation to the future it is the ability to recognise that we are the result of our pasts and that our choices in the present will shape our future. If we have no idea where we are trying to get to we are reflecting with little purpose and whilst we will get somewhere it may not be to our liking!

These thoughts were prompted by a visit this weekend back to my home town which happens to be Wareham in Dorset. I spent a nostalgic few hours walking the ancient town walls and imagining the Saxons preparing to defend themselves from marauding Vikings. I also remembered myself as a kid cycling along those walls to school without a thought for anything other than looking forward to cycling home again. I also visited the cemetery and placed some flowers at my Dad’s grave and thought fondly of the times we had spent playing snooker in the British Legion on a Sunday afternoon. I have teenagers of my own now and it struck me how much I have learned from my parents in the way I have tried to bring up my children. I found that this reflecting upon the past and how it has shaped me today was a very positive experience and reminded me that I should take my own advice more often.

This week I find myself heading off to work in Dubai. In terms of contrast Wareham and Dubai are like chalk and cheese. One old the other new. One familiar and the other a novelty. One static and restricted by its geography the other growing exponentially. I have always wanted to expand my horizons and so I will approach the ‘futuristic’ aspects of Dubai without losing sight of some of the important lessons that my Dad and the sleepy old town of Wareham have taught me.


Team Types in Action

I introduced Belbin’s team types to a group this week and maybe because of that session my ME preference was more finely tuned than usual. ME stands for ‘Monitor Evaluator’ and is that person with a quality focus who is good at spotting mistakes before they become disasters.

I received a package of slidepacks for a workshop in 2 weeks time and usually I wouldn’t unwrap the materials until much nearer the day. However, on this occasion the weight of the parcel just seemed wrong, far heavier than expected for a dozen 24 page sets. Thank goodness I looked. Every set had been double printed and in the wrong format with the wrong page numbers.

Happily a quick call to the printers confirmed their mistake (the first in 3 years) and a reprint and delivery was scheduled for next week.

My challenge now is to summon up a bit more of one of my lower team type preferences and to finish writing up some coaching notes by G&T O’clock!

My lower preference team type is CF………………… ‘Completer Finisher’ of course.

Dealing with Setbacks

Over the last few weeks I’ve been dipping in and out of the BBC coverage of the Winter Olympics. I’m a keen skier so enjoyed the downhill and slalom events, and was also drawn to the lunacy end of the spectrum with the snowboarding “slopestyle” contest – I think the people who do this must have some sort of “fear chip” that’s missing from their brain…………and that’s probably what my next blog will be about!

Anyhow what many of the events highlighted for me were the small margins between success and failure, and in particular how participants cope with the latter. I saw the interviews with Elise Christie (Speed Skating) and Andrew Musgrave (Cross Country Skiing). Here were two athletes who had genuine medal hopes. Christie was ranked in the world top 3 in 2 of her 3 events, and Musgrave had just won in Norway prior to the Olympics and was expected to win a medal. Christie was disqualified in her events – twice for minute infringements, and the third time, somewhat bafflingly for being knocked over by another skater! Musgrave came 29th and when interviewed had no excuse other than to say “I just had no energy”. For these two competitors, and countless others who went into the games with high hopes, there was no sense of “being proud to represent my country and doing my best”, just desolation that the culmination of 4 years intense training was to come away with nothing.

So how do athletes deal with setbacks,  this sense of disappointment or “failure” (to put a stronger more emotive tag on it – which some, of course, will)?

And of course, this isn’t just about elite athletes, it’s about everyday occurrences that happen to everybody at some stage in their home and work lives, and sometimes with an undesired frequency too. How do you “bounce-back”, and find the agility or strategy to recover from adversity? It’s not just a question at individual level, but for smaller and larger groupings of people too – families, teams and organisations.

I remember vividly a conversation I had with an ex-boss of mine who, in the midst of what was then a high flying career, was suddenly ousted from his job quite nastily by a somewhat unscrupulous executive who clearly saw him as a threat. I asked him how he dealing with it and he said “I’m fine – I happen to believe there are a multitude of roles out there that I can probably do better than the person currently doing them so I have no worries about my future”! Now one might call this arrogance, but fundamentally he was completely self-confident and aware of his worth. How many of us share that same level of confidence about ourselves and our futures?  Why is that?

Over the years we’ve worked with many individuals at various levels within various organisations and often use Emotional Intelligence as a profiling instrument as part of our toolkit. It has uncovered many reasons for people’s uncertainties, and how their present, and their future performance is effected by these. Used alongside other tools and activities it starts to unpick how we feel, how we think, and how we manage those thoughts and feelings. There are many other angles that can be combined here too, to provide a powerful set of insights into the way we cope with the cards we are dealt and help us be better at it. Our colleagues in one of our partner organisations have developed further insights into what they term as “personal resilience” that include looking at our physical make up and wellbeing and how this influences our ability to cope with adversity.

The evidence as to the detriment to health that is caused by mental anguish, worry and stress is overwhelming.  What is perhaps less well known is the detriment to individual and business performance in the workplace. But the research has been done – and recent information from 3 different sources (CIPD, BUPA and Gallup) are conclusive in showing a direct causal link between the way organisations and individuals deal with these things and their resultant performance.

So – I finish with a question “how effective are you or your organisation at dealing with setbacks, worry, concerns and burn-out?”

Tips for Managers: Be Clear on Your Purpose

One of the most common requests that we get from managers is “how can I learn to be better at delivering those really difficult performance or behaviour type conversations?”

You know the ones! The ones you dread. The ones you know will be uncomfortable and emotionally charged. The ones you would rather not do.

Top Tip No.1 is “Be clear on your Purpose”

It sounds obvious to be clear on your purpose. However it is surprising how many managers spend more time planning what they are going to say than planning what they want to achieve.

You should be absolutely clear on your aim and desired outcome from the session. You may not achieve 100% of your goal but you will almost certainly fail if none is set.

Let’s imagine you have a member of staff who regularly fails to keep commitments or complete activities within set time scales. There are a number of different outcomes you might wish to achieve ranging from an apology, an apology and a commitment to improve, a commitment to improve, an agreement to improve to a specified level etc etc.

Once you are clear on your purpose this will help you plan what you are going to say and how to approach the meeting.  (We’ll talk about this more in future tips)

If only there was a way…

If only there was a way of practicing these difficult conversations in a safe and supported environment which feels just like the real thing.

Well the good news is that Tim and I have developed a workshop using business actors that does just that. This is not painful ‘role play’. This is what we call ‘real play’ because the only person acting is the actor. The manager’s job is to manage a very real situation (that they have defined) however they wish.

Not role play, but real play…

It is definitely not Role Play as can be seen from these two testimonials. (Read more testimonials)

“When I was introduced to real play I thought it was going to be a boring role play exercise but I have to admit I was totally wrong! It was amazing how the actor made the real play a “real life” conversation! The real play gives you the opportunity to try different approaches and techniques for critical conversation and also allows to receive valuable feedback from the audience.”

“Real Play was an innovative way of helping us practice handling real life people management issues. The actress was brilliant and you quickly forgot it was role play!”

There is so much learning to be had from a ‘real play’ session – let us know if you have questions about how it could work for you!

Performance Capability and Fluctuation

In my last blog I talked about Performance Fluctuation and about making an honest assessment of yourself and those around you in terms of how consistently you are performing at between 90-100% of your true performance capability.

We work regularly with many managers in all sorts of different roles across a multitude of business types and cultures and have been doing for the last 10 years. We see people on our programmes but also in situ in the workplace and often observe first hand these performance variations. Indeed many Manager’s engage us to help them with their team’s less than stellar performance and in particular specific individuals whose performance they’ve seen decline and cannot seem to get under the skin as to why.

So – let’s firstly look at the concept of a “psychological contract”. This is the non-existent piece of paper that determines the amount of discretionary effort an individual will give in the workplace – you may want to call it “the inner motivation to do well”. There’s a pile of classic and well proven motivational theory (Herzberg/Maslow etc.) that one can draw on to identify some of the things that might cause someone to either choose to, or choose not to, feel motivated – such things as their job content, chances for development advancement, security, reward, workplace surrounds, the business culture and environment and so on.

All of these things are absolutely valid as to possible things that can cause performance capability to fluctuate but the majority of them are EXTERNAL to the person and whilst it’s possible to influence some of them to an extent, it’s also true that the degree of influence is not hugely within your span of control.

What we see less people examining are those factors that are INTERNAL to the individual and it is my belief that these are key to truly understanding ours and others performance. We’ve seen some substantial uplift in performance from courses we have run with groups of people and from 1-1 coaching we have done where we raise awareness of, and then work on these internal factors. The fields of Emotional Intelligence and Personal Resilience offer some extraordinary insights into what makes people tick  – we’ve been amazed at how many people we’ve come across some of whom are in very senior positions) who suffer from issues around self-confidence, relationship building and their handling of change and setbacks. Once people are able to understand and connect how they think (and why that is) to how they feel and behave they can start to unravel why they aren’t performing as they’d like to (such performance often extending way beyond the workplace to their home and social lives too). The next stage then is make the (for some) almighty leap to realise that so much of this is a CHOICE and, moreover, totally within our span of influence.

So – if you know there’s something going on with yours or others performance – it may well be something that lies in this INTERNAL arena – and if you are interested in doing something about it but don’t know how, why not give us a call! We may well be able to help!

And if you are interested in Sport and don’t get what I’m on about do a bit of research on any of those sporting people I mentioned in my previous blog……………look at the fluctuations in their performance capability………..are they INTERNAL or EXTERNAL factors?