Evaluating Development Experiences
n an earlier post,
I talked about the importance of taking time for planning and monitoring employees' development.
Here, as a follow-on, I'd like to highlight a tool for evaluating development activities that I've found effective. It's adapted from an interview template offered in The Center for Creative Leadership Handbook of Leadership Development.
The interview asks an employee about the overall impact of the development experience, the degree to which the experience helped meet developmental goals, complementary coaching, and suggestions for improving the experience.Overall impact
- What was the best aspect of this development experience for you?
- What are the two or three most important ways the development experience has helped you?
- What are you doing differently compared to a year ago that is a reflection of this development experience?
- Has any aspect of this development experience helped you bring about improvements in your group? If so, describe those improvements and how they happened.
- To what degree has this development experience met the developmental goals it was intended to address? What capabilities have you enhanced?
- What, if anything, impeded your achievement of the targeted developmental goals?
- In retrospect, were these the most appropriate goals to focus on?
Suggestions for improvement
- What kind of coaching have you received?
- What benefits have you derived from the coaching?
- Would more frequent or detailed coaching have been helpful? If so, what are some examples of where you think additional coaching would have increased and/or accelerated your learning?
- Were there ways your coach(es) could have been more effective? If so, please give details.
- How can we improve this development experience?
- Do you have suggestions for individualizing the experience to make it fit the needs of different employees?
Note that you may also want to speak with people who work with the employee in order to deepen your understanding of the impact of the development experience on the individual and on your organization.###
Labels: Employee development, Employee performance management, Evaluation of training
How to Evaluate an Argument
eople often talk about the importance of critical thinking without providing much in the way of guidance concerning what critical thinking involves in practice. Here's a bit of a crib sheet.
You can find a variety of definitions of "critical thinking," some couched in fairly technical language, others more accessible to laypeople. The definition I like best I happened to find at a nursing department's website
Critical thinking is a process that challenges an individual to use reflective, reasonable, rational thinking to gather, interpret and evaluate information in order to derive a judgment. The process involves thinking beyond a single solution for a problem and focusing on deciding what the best alternatives are.
Aside from its use of plain English, what particularly appeals to me about this definition is its highlighting the relationship between critical thinking and judgment.
One of the key attributes of highly effective businesspeople is their ability to consistently exercise good judgment in areas where they are experienced. As I've argued before
, exercising good judgment is not just a matter of developing good instincts (though that's certainly important).
How do you put critical thinking into practice? The "critical thinking" entry
in Wikipedia suggests asking open-ended questions like the following when evaluating someone's argument concerning a particular issue:
- What do you mean by ____________ ?
- How did you come to that conclusion?
- Why do you believe that you are right?
- What is the source of your information?
- What happens if you are wrong?
- Can you give me two sources who disagree with you and why?
- Why is this significant?
The Wikipedia entry also provides a list of additional resources on critical thinking.###
Labels: Critical thinking
The High Seas
ne of the books I recommend to people interested in learning more about effective management practices is It's Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy,
by D. Michael Abrashoff. Abrashoff was commander of the USS Benfold
from June 1997 to February 1999, and much of the experience he draws on comes from that period, though he also touches on his entire Navy career, which began with his graduation from the Naval Academy in 1982 and continued until he returned to civilian life in 2001.
Abrashoff's approach was a concerted effort to win his sailors' trust and, ultimately, their commitment to making the Benfold
the best ship in the fleet. His book describes the steps he took and the ten key lessons he learned:
- Lead by example ""If [your people] see you fail to implement a policy you disagree with, they may think they have a green light to do the same. If they see you not telling the truth, they may feel free to lie as well. Likewise, if they see you challenge outdated business practices, they will follow suit."
- Listen aggressively "It seemed to me only prudent for the captain to work hard at seeing the ship through the crew's eyes. ... I tried to establish a personal relationship with each crew member. I wanted to link our goals, so that they would see my priority of improving Benfold as an opportunity for them to apply their talents and give their jobs a real purpose."
- Communicate purpose and meaning "It finally hit me that people were just showing up to collect a paycheck every two weeks. ... I decided that before I launched any big new policy, I would ask myself how my sailors saw it. If it made sense from their vantage, I probably had a pretty good policy. If it made no sense, I either had the wrong policy or I wasn't communicating clearly."
- Create a climate of trust "Though the process is tedious and time-consuming, you will benefit if people feel more secure, are more willing to take risks, and have a positive attitude about the organization. ... It was because I never complained about small problems that I was listened to when urgent matters came up. I also did my homework so that when I presented the problem I had all the facts to back up my claims."
- Look for results, not salutes "As captain, I was charged with enforcing 225 years of accumulated Navy regulations, policies, and procedures. But every last one of those rules was up for negotiation whenever my people came up with a better way of doing things. As soon as one of their new ideas worked in practice, I passed it up the chain of command, hoping my superiors would share it with other ships."
- Take calculated risks "Show me someone who has never made a mistake, and I will show you someone who is not doing anything to improve your organization. ... I took only the risks that I thought my boss would want me to take, risks I could defend within my job description and authority. For the most part, they produced beneficial results, and my boss got the credit for that, so he didn't object."
- Go beyond standard procedure "Our budget for the nine weeks [of maintenance] was $3 million, and we brought it in at about $2.2 million. Not only had we gotten the work done right the first time two weeks ahead of schedule [by creating a new computer tracking system to manage the overhaul process], we had also cut the cost by some 25 percent..."
- Build up your people's confidence "The more I went around meeting sailors, the more they talked to me openly and intelligently. The more I thanked them for hard work, the harder they worked. The payoff in morale was palpable. I'm absolutely convinced that positive, personal reinforcement is the essence of effective leadership."
- Generate unity "Treating people with dignity and respect is not only morally right, but also highly practical and productive. Unity became the fundamental purpose of my leadership model. We achieved that goal because we learned how to make people want to belong to our 310-member club, ready to give their best to a fair-dealing ship that clearly valued them, no matter what color or sex they were."
- Improve your people's quality of life as much as possible "When I took command I had three top priorities: to get better food, implement better training, and make as many promotions as I could every year. Though some people titter when I list food as number one, the fact is that it raised morale and helped start the process of transforming our ship."
A nice summary
of Abrashoff's ideas was published in Fast Company
Labels: Leadership, Military training, Risk management
Curiosity Killed the Cat ... Not
couple of years ago, when I was working on an orientation program for a marketing agency, the client team reported a point the agency's president wanted included that struck me as particularly valuable.
The president and the team had been talking about what type of people were good for the agency. The first quality the president mentioned was "business curious
." (His other top requirements were business vision, strategic thinking, entrepreneurism, and relationship expertise.)
As soon as I heard this idea of being "business curious," it rang true because it brought to mind the sort of people I myself had seen move briskly toward finding, developing, and managing business opportunities.
My clients and I came up with the following key questions that an agency employee with healthy business curiosity would ask and explore:
- How does the customer make money?
- "Who" is the brand? What is its personality?
- What's happening in the client's industry?
- What is the target consumer like? How and where can we embrace him/her?
These questions are naturally oriented toward my client's particular business of providing marketing communications services. For your own business, a good place to start in constructing your set of questions for slaking business curiosity is the classic journalist's quintet Who, What, When, Where, and Why.###
All five questions are important, but I'd emphasize that you are very likely to need to ask "Why?" more than once. That's because your success with a customer, especially a quite sophisticated customer, depends on deep understanding of the forces and goals driving their business, their business environment, and their strategies.
Laughter is the Best Medicine I
hen I heard a report on the radio this morning about offbeat excuses for coming in late to work
, I couldn't resist passing along a selection. So, without further ado ...
["Laughter is the Best Medicine" (h/t to
- I dreamed that I was fired, so I didn’t bother to get out of bed.
- I had to take my cat to the dentist.
- I went all the way to the office and realized I was still in my pajamas and had to go home to change.
- I saw that you weren’t in the office, so I went out looking for you.
- I couldn’t find the right tie, so I had to wait for the stores to open so I could buy one.
- My son tried to flush our ferret down the toilet and I needed to tend to the ferret.
- I ran over a goat.
- I stopped for a bagel sandwich, the store was robbed and the police required everyone to stay for questioning.
- A bee flew in my car and attacked me and I had to pull over.
Reader's Digest) will appear on the Streamline blog every now and again, so please stay tuned.]###
Handling Negative Feedback
ike many people, I happily collect bits of advice that help me cope with challenging situations. One such nugget that I have applied quite often since I first encountered it, came from a Crisp Publications
pamphlet that seems to be out-of-print.
I wasn't expecting anything unusually memorable as I read through the booklet, which, as I recall, a client had given me to review as part of the background research for a course on supervision.
As it turned out, the basic process the booklet recommended for handling negative feedback has become my own, and it is also what I have often passed along to others. It goes like this ...
Suppose someone says something to you like, "You'd get a lot more done if you weren't such a perfectionist." What to do?
I won't talk here about the aspects of this situation relating to maintaining good relations with the other person. Instead, I'll just share the two-step process for responding appropriately to the content of the feedback:
- Ask yourself: Is this feedback legitimate? Is it a fair observation about what I do or say?
If your honest answer is No (perhaps you're confident that you exercise good judgment in deciding how much attention to give to dotting i's and crossing t's in different situations), you need go no further.
If your answer is Yes, proceed to Step 2.
- Recognizing that the person's feedback is accurate, what is the best way of addressing the issue?
The more important the issue, the more attention you should give to dealing with the problem.
Labels: Coaching, Communication
If You Can Talk, You Can Write
can't help but notice how often people who are engaging and persuasive when they speak, take a defeatist view of their ability to write. Or they let themselves be satisfied with subpar writing when, by adhering to a few basic, reader-friendly principles and techniques, they could produce much better letters, memos, proposals and reports.
I am firmly of the opinion that if you can talk, you can write. So one suggestion I often offer people who find getting words down in writing is painfully slow, is to use a dictaphone or other recording device for the first draft.
You are almost sure to find that your words flow more quickly if you just let yourself talk in a natural way. Don't worry about stylistic issues; you'll deal with those when you revise. Just speak about the points you have to cover as though you were explaining to a friend or colleague over coffee.
After you've transcribed your recording, perhaps making some initial revisions on-the-fly, you can work on polishing. Here are basic principles and techniques
to keep in mind:
- Make sure that the content and tone of your document match your audience. For example, a letter to a client will generally be more formal than a memo to an internal team you're on.
- Provide a summary at the beginning. (In a report, this would be the "executive summary.")
- In a document longer than a page-and-a-half, use subheads to make it easy for the reader to see at a glance the main points you're making. (Reading through the subheads is also a good way for you to check that the flow of your document is smooth and logical.)
- Back up assertions with evidence, and give the sources of your evidence.
- Avoid implicit assumptions that are open to dispute. Instead, make all significant assumptions explicit, and explain why you believe they are reasonable.
- If inserting graphics won't take more time than you can afford for the particular document you're working on, include visual aids that help your reader grasp your logic and evidence.
- Use transitional statements to guide your reader from one point to the next in your exposition. ("In light of the demographic trends just described, we recommend ...")
While working on your final draft, you can use this checklist
as a guide:
- Any unnecessary words that can be pared away?
- Any debatable assertions not backed up by relevant evidence? Any evidence cited without giving the source? Any unsafe assumptions?
- Any grammatical errors?
- Any spelling mistakes?
- Any clichés that give the writing a tired sound? Any alienating jargon?
- Any specialized vocabulary that you can't be sure your readers know? If Yes, substitute more familiar terms, or provide definitions that your readers can understand.
- Any abrupt jumps that should be fixed by adding transition statements?
- Any sentences that are too long to follow without struggling and rereading?
Labels: Communication, Documentation
Bring Web 2.0 Tools to Your Intranet
nybody who has found life is easier nowadays because of Web-based search tools and information-rich sites like Wikipedia
should be keeping track of how these "Web 2.0"
tools can be adapted to corporate intranets.
In the latest issue of the Sloan Management Review,
Andrew P. McAfee, an associate professor at Harvard Business School, offers an overview
of use of tools like blogs and wikis in the corporate setting. His description and analysis is based on research at a number of companies that have introduced Web 2.0 tools.
McAfee uses the acronym SLATES to reference the tools:Search
Addition of the Google toolbar (or a similar search tool) has made retrieving information from a corporate intranet much more practical than when people were limited to using the intranet's navigation tools.Links
When a search tool returns a list of search results, the pages are in order according to how frequently people link to them. In other words, the order reflects the collective judgment of users concerning the relative importance of the pages listed.Authoring
People who might hesitate to contribute information about their practices
and work products
to rigidly structured knowledge management systems, are more likely to share expertise via blogs and wikis.Tags
Instead of having the intranet webmaster and staff decide on how to categorize content, users supply tags that they choose themselves. To see how this works, you can have a look at del.icio.us
, a site that enables people to organize their Web bookmarks and to see how other people are categorizing favorite websites.Extensions
In the same way that Amazon uses your purchases to come up with recommendations of other items that might appeal to you, a corporate intranet can use extension tools to help a user find relevant information that the user might not think to look up without a helpful hint.Signals
By using a tool like RSS (Really Simple Syndication), users can be alerted when new content of interest has been added to the intranet. This saves time because users don't have to make a point of checking from time to time to see if anything new has appeared.
By adopting Web 2.0 tools, a company can ensure that its intranet is continuously updated. Just as important, the updating reflects everyone's interlinked work so that the processes people use to accomplish their work are more visible and more easily accessible.###
Labels: Web 2.0
Preach What You Practice
first encountered the advice to "preach what you practice" in a sermon delivered a good number of years ago by William Muehl (a professor of divinity who also had a law degree). This idea was new to me and it made a huge impression. Muehl argued:
Failure to express the assumptions upon which one's actions are based can be the best defense in the world against an honest analysis of those actions. Suppose that you were called upon right now to preach a sermon, for example, using what you did yesterday as a storehouse of illustrations? ... Unless one is asked to do some such improbable thing ... the occasion to examine the quality of [one's] routine activities rarely arises.
Muehl was addressing the issue of honesty about motives and values in a religious context. I later came upon an equally compelling argument for "preaching what you practice" in the world of business.
In "Lead for Loyalty," a 2001 article
in the Harvard Business Review
, Frederick F. Reichheld of Bain & Company reports:
A study of the "loyalty leaders" the companies with the most impressive credentials in [loyalty among customers, employees, suppliers, and shareholders] has convinced me that ... outstanding loyalty is the direct result of the words and deeds the decisions and practices of committed top executives who have personal integrity.
Reichheld goes on to say that six concise principles capture the commonalities among the relationship strategies of the loyalty leaders. At the top of the list is "preach what you practice."
Here's Reichheld's summary of all six relationship strategies:Preach what you practice.
It's not enough to have the right values. You must clarify them and hammer them home to customers, employees, suppliers, and shareholders through your words and deeds.Play to win-win.
If you are to build loyalty, not only must your competitors lose. Your partners must win.Be picky.
At high loyalty companies, membership is a privilege. Clarify the difference between loyalty and tenure.Keep it simple.
In a complex world, people need small teams to simplify responsibility and accountability. They also need simple rules to guide their decision making.Reward the right results.
Save your best deals for your most loyal customers, and save your best opportunities for your most loyal employees and partners.Listen hard, talk straight.
Visit call centers, Internet chat rooms, and anywhere else customers offer feedback. Make it safe for employees to offer candid criticism. Use the Loyalty Acid Test survey
. Explain what you've learned and communicate the actions that will be taken.
Just to round out the story ... The time-tested causal link underlying Reichheld's analysis is that greater loyalty means greater profits.###
Bridging the Knowing-Doing Gap
op performers differ from average performers not just in skill, but in how consistently
they apply their skills to their work.
In their book, The Knowing-Doing Gap
, Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton of Stanford University report on why people so frequently fail to actually apply what they know. They also offer suggestions for bridging the knowing-doing gap. Here is a summary of what their research shows can help you get greater impact from your training efforts:
- Promote an action orientation in which people address issues as soon as they emerge.
- Make sure employees know what most fundamentally impresses your customers namely, the ability to generate ideas and translate them into forms that deliver performance.
- Give attention to context: Help people understand the business, your organization's strategy, and the competitive environment. Discuss business examples and models.
- Focus attention on factors critical to organizational success and on issues that are impeding success.
- Present ideas that are focused and tangible. Ideas that people can grasp concretely are much more likely to be accepted than vague and general recommendations.
- Build a network of people who can bolster each other's efforts. Make sure it's easy for knowledgeable people to talk to each other.
- Use the Pygmalion effect people tend to live up to your expectations for them.
- Drive out fear. Fear contributes to knowing-doing gaps because people will act on their knowledge only if they believe that they will not be punished for doing so – that taking risks based on new information and insight will be rewarded, not punished.
Labels: Management practices
Assess Your Listening Skills
f you haven't thought recently about how well you listen, you can use the tool below to decide whether improving your behavior in this area is something you need to concentrate on.
Use a scale of 5 (always) to 1 (seldom) to give your honest assessment of how consistently
you practice the following listening behaviors:
- I give the other person ample opportunity to speak.
- I encourage the other person to keep talking by making eye contact, rephrasing, requesting clarification, etc., while avoiding premature questions, advice, assurance, and agreement.
- I demonstrate that I understand by playing back what the other person has said.
- I make sure the other person is receptive to my messages before I attempt to deliver them.
- I am non-judgmental, both in what I say and in my tone of voice.
- I defuse objections by not being defensive. Instead, I encourage the other person to tell me more about their concerns and issues.
Development Planning ... for Real
he temptation to cut corners arises constantly. If a task is of minor importance, you certainly should give into this temptation -- without going so far as to be negligent -- in order to move on to more important things. But it's easy to kid yourself that something is relatively unimportant when it's not.
An example that comes immediately to my mind is planning for employee development. To my surprise, I have seen development planning all too often given short shrift even though it is clearly not a minor responsibility.
For both managers and employees, taking time every quarter to discuss, agree on, and evaluate progress in development activities is vital for making sure desirable individual and organizational capabilities are being cultivated.
The worst dereliction in this area that I have personally observed involved a company whose managers would routinely mislabel sales objectives for the coming year as "development objectives." (That was the managers who actually bothered to address development planning at all. Many did not.)
Instead of discussing with employees what the individual employees' top-priority development needs and aspirations were, these managers passed up the opportunity to help gird for future competitive battles.
It's easy to delude yourself that setting sales and other business goals, and then being tough in pressing employees to meet them, will produce growing competence simply through monetary incentives and accumulating experience. The strongest companies in any industry are not so delusional. They make sure their managers know how to accelerate learning by working with employees to plan the best ways to build commercially valuable skills and knowledge.###
Labels: Employee development, Employee performance management
n today's world, full of distractions, it can be hard to find touchstones that provide focus and practical guidance for addressing the myriad challenges that can arise on any given day.
Of course, there is no single principle that answers all questions about how to respond to challenging people and events. Still, of all the personal rules you might adopt to help you get through the day -- while preserving healthy working relationships for the long haul -- none is more robust than "treat others with respect."
Before you ask, "What could be more obvious?" call to mind some of the work situations in which you were the one who was disrespected. In addition to arousing unhappiness and resentment, most likely the other person's attitude was a singular factor undermining progress toward accomplishing whatever needed doing. Of all the things you might have changed in order to make the task or project go more smoothly, I suspect that having the offending party accord you and anyone else involved garden-variety respect would be high on the list.
Which is exactly my point. Aside from the ethical issues involved in riding roughshod over others, there is so little slack in schedules nowadays that focusing on dealing with others in a way that maximizes attention to the work at hand, and minimizes interpersonal friction, is especially powerful for making rapid progress. That's why consistently respectful behavior is one of the hallmarks of a true professional.###
The Value You Create
ow secure is your job? Or, a bit more generally, how employable are you?
Obviously, the answers to these questions depend on a number of variables, many of which are beyond your control.
For instance, you certainly don't control how volatile your industry's financial performance is. And, unless you're at the very top of management ranks, you don't control how quickly or slowly your organization lays people off when profits are under pressure.
What you do control, at least in part, is how you spend your time, how you frame the issues you work on, and how you organize execution of projects and tasks for which you're responsible.
If you like your current job, and want to do what you can to keep it, or if you're intent on landing a satisfying new position, there is nothing more important than focusing on specifics of how you personally can create value.
Here are basic questions you should ask yourself regularly. Having specific, brief, and persuasive answers
to these questions will help you make the case that you bring reliable value to the table, whether you're talking to your current employer or to a prospective employer.
- Why am I doing this? What does it contribute to accomplishing the mission I'm responsible for? If you're working on a team, change "I'm" to "we're" in the second question.
- What will progress in this endeavor (and eventual success) mean for my organization (present or prospective)? What value will result?
- How can I leverage my efforts by collaborating with and/or consulting others?
- Who needs to know about my efforts and progress? What do I need to communicate? What's the best way to get the word out?
o with your gut." That's often exactly the right approach to making a decision, especially if moving too slowly will put you at a competitive disadvantage, or you're reasonably confident you'll be able to adjust your course as you go along.
But there are also plenty of situations where pausing to think again gives you your best pay-off.
A prime example is hiring. Yes, it can be clear within seconds of meeting a candidate that the person is not what you need. On the other hand, even if you're initially rather dubious about a candidate, you're better off taking time to explore the person's ideas, track record, and approach to handling situations relevant to your business. You may very well end up giving the nod to someone who at first blush did not seem suitable.
Whenever a situation is ambiguous -- whether it involves hiring, or designing a new product, or solving a problem, or anything else where you're aiming to optimize -- taking time to think again is likely to improve your outcome. This despite what you may have heard in oversimplified discussions of management practice, such as careless summaries of Malcolm Gladwell's book, Blink
Try asking yourself, "What if the actual state of affairs is exactly the opposite of how it seemed to me at first?"
This helps you identify the range of possibilities to consider in order to reach the best decision. It can also stimulate creative thinking and generate an approach that you would have overlooked if your initial gut reaction had carried the day.
For a good discussion of when and how to use intuition in decision-making, I recommend this article
by Thomas A. Stewart and Nancy Einhart.###
Labels: Critical thinking, Hiring and getting hired
Getting Two (or More) Birds with One Stone
very preplanned training event (as opposed to less formal training, such as coaching) can be enriched by taking advantage of natural opportunities for building skills complementary to those that are the main focus of the the training.
The most common example of this principle is aiming to strengthen oral and written communication skills while addressing such objectives as improving employees' strategic account management, or their use of competitive intelligence.
At a minimum, all training materials should model effective business writing -- the writing should be clear, concise, and well-organized.
As for oral communication -- the training facilitator should make a point of providing manageable doses of feedback on such broadly applicable skills as listening well and speaking persuasively and authentically.The payoff from paying attention to all key skills with a natural role to play in a particular training context:
Participants not only build the skills and knowledge needed to meet specific objectives (e.g., launching a new product; increasing profitable customers' satisfaction), but they also deepen their professional capabilties and judgment.###
Labels: Communication, Employee development
henever I give her an assignment, I know she will make it happen."
People who can take on a project and complete it despite any number of obstacles and competing demands on their time are hugely valuable. How do you recognize them?
For any important project, look for specific individuals who already care about seeing it succeed -- or who are open to your well-crafted explanation of why the project is important and of where a good outcome will lead.
In other words, make a point of assigning people who will push the project forward because completing it well is something of critical importance to them. For some people, the motivation is exercising sophisticated technical skills, for some it is shepherding a group effort to fruition, for most it's a mix of motives. The point is that "critical caring" distinguishes the best candidates for the particular project.
This approach to making project assignments is just a special case of the general principle that you improve your odds of achieving goals if you take advantage of people's strengths (as opposed to asking people to spend significant amounts of time doing things they don't care about, or even actively dislike).
In sum ... keep an eye out for signs of what particular individuals enjoy and welcome. Then use these insights in deciding where to ask them to apply their talents.
PS Later this year, Jerry I. Porras, Stewart Emery, and Mark Thompson are publishing Success Built to Last
, an investigation of the extent to which the principles laid out in Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies
(an instant classic co-authored by Porras and James C. Collins) might also apply to individuals. I'm looking forward to reading the book because, according to advance reports
, it provides fresh evidence of the importance of "critical caring."###