Observing Performance by Watching & Listening

watching and listening

Recently I have been reading Alex Ferguson’s book on “Leading”. Early on in his book he talks about the importance of observation. He calls it “watching” and “listening” saying he believes most people, let alone people in managerial positions, do not use their eyes and ears effectively. They don’t watch closely or listen intently and don’t do either nearly often enough.

I think he is spot on. Our work world in the 21st century is high paced and contains an incessant workload. Most people in managerial roles have their own “tasks” to do as well as leading and managing their team and it easy to be consumed by such tasks to the detriment of spending time with your teams.  People who have recently moved up into managerial roles find this very hard, as they are confident in completing tasks, and less confident in their new managerial responsibilities and so, not surprisingly like doing the former.

But if you are ultimately accountable for your team’s performance you need to find a way to spend time closely observing what is going on. So why not start to make it a habit? Plan “downtime” into your own schedule of tasks and spend that downtime just quietly observing what is going on around you. Tune in with your eyes and ears and keep some mental and written notes on what you see and hear.  Some initial things to help guide your observations might be to look out for: –

  • Are your own managers or team leads actually spending the right amount of time doing that, or are they constantly immersed in their own tasks?
  • What are people saying to each other face to face? Are they showing respect? Listening to each other? Talking over one another?
  • Who is influencing whom?
  • Who is allowing themselves to be wrongly influenced by others?
  • Are people spending their time wisely – working on the right things?
  • Are they doing those things efficiently?
  • What is the general mood like?
  • Who is showing an appetite for leading?
  • How well are people working together – have I got a team or disconnected individuals?
  • Are people showing skills and talent for the roles I have them in or are they disengaged doing the role because they have to?

How is their manner when talking with clients?

If you start tuning in using the observational senses of listening and watching it should enable you to be more effective in giving feedback as it will be first hand, and very specific. NB this isn’t about “spooking” people and it’s not about compiling dossiers of evidence to beat people up with. It’s about finding the time and a way of being closer to what’s going on, and placing yourself in a position to be more effective in leading and coaching your team members.

Next week I will share some thoughts and tips around assessing performance and whether this should be linked to reward. If you have any comments, questions or observations in relation to this topic please do share via the website, LinkedIn or by email to tim@realitybusiness.co.uk.

Our Internal Parent/Child

36356859_xl

 

This tip is not directly about a difficult conversation, but I hope it will be relevant and useful anyway.

A colleague of mine was telling me how he needed to better understand the concepts of Transactional Analysis and particular the part which talks about our Ego states when relating to other people. You may have heard of these Egos namely Parent (Critical or Nurturing), Adult and Child (Adapted or Natural).

In a nutshell, we all lurch from one ego state to another often triggered by our own habits or the perceived behaviour of the other person. For example when giving somebody some feedback we may find ourselves talking down to that person and ‘telling them off’. This would be our Critical Parent kicking in and is likely to ‘hook’ a Child response (such as “that’s not fair”) from the other person.

Back to my colleague. He was telling me how tedious he was finding the reading and that he was unconvinced it wasn’t a load of @*^&!

He also said he was having to resist a huge temptation just to throw the book away and do something else much more interesting.

I asked him from which Ego state did he think these ‘voices’ were coming from? He understood immediately that this was his ‘Internal Child’ wanting to go out and play. At this point, he said, “so then I must resist these and definitely finish the book, however, tough that is”.

The answer, of course, is probably not because where might the ‘voice’ demanding completion be coming from? Probably his ‘Internal Parent’ in response to the ‘naughty’ Child.

The ideal Ego state to be in (usually) is the Adult. This deals with the here and now. It is interested in facts and relevance. So, perhaps the right thing to do would be to read some of the chapters, make some notes and then bounce some thoughts off somebody else.

Without realising it, I think my colleague experienced all three Ego states without relating to anybody else at all. Maybe he unconsciously chose the Adult path by picking up the phone to me and hopefully is now somewhat clearer.

The top tip therefore for almost all conversations but definitely difficult conversations is to avoid slipping into Parent/Child and try and stay Adult (even if the other person doesn’t). Eventually, they will have to join you Adult to Adult.

Read more on the Reality blog

Always Check your Facts

About this time last week I was relaxing on holiday in Turkey gently floating on a lilo in the stunning infinity pool. A sudden yell from my wife, a few feet away, interrupted my reverie as I heard her shout “that person has taken Agy’s (my daughter’s) towel from her sun lounger”. As I looked up I saw her pointing at the figure of a young man disappearing from the poolside carrying a blue towel and heading swiftly in the direction of some lodges. “Quick” she said, “go after him” and instinctively I swam to the edge of the pool hauled myself out and gingerly trotted up the path feeling the red hot paving under my feet.

“Hey you” I optimistically called out but the culprit was by now turning into a small garden seemingly unaware of my pursuit. As I reached the garden I called again and this time he turned around in surprise as he was unlocking the door. “You have taken my daughters towel” I said, hoping that my voice sounded assertive even though I knew I was slightly panting from the exertions. The man looked perplexed and said nothing as I reached out and took the offending item from him.

Upon returning poolside my wife somewhat sheepishly now advised me that in fact it was from a neighbouring sun bed that the towel had been retrieved and indeed Agy’s was where she had left it!

Had I double checked my source’s information I could have avoided one difficult conversation (let alone the comical sight of me running and the resulting burnt soles). As it was I now had to face up to a second potentially difficult conversation!

Fortunately the young man had not yet rounded up his larger relatives (he turned out to be one of a party of Russians) and I was able to mumble an apology and thrust the towel back into his arms before scarpering.

So let this be a lesson – always check your facts especially if they emanate from a third party however sincerely given.

blue towel

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.