Want to Raise Productivity? It’s not like this.

 It’s strange that so many managers still think that they need to have all the answers to the problems facing their teams or departments. They then insist on telling their people what to do, especially if there’s a crisis or a tight deadline to hit. After all, these managers were probably once the experts, the ones who had all the experience, and therefore – at least in their minds – ought to know what’s best.

What’s wrong with this approach?
1. It’s exhausting for the manager, doing the problem solving all by him/herself.
2. It’s really hard work trying to get a (at least partly) disengaged workforce to listen and follow up on the commands.
3. Anyone working for this manager will feel that they are undervalued, wasting their creative energy, and not being listened to.
4. Although that knowledge and experience do have some value, a dependence on the manager develops into being spoon fed information for the next task.
5. And of course, PRODUCTIVITY DROPS.

What else can you do to get results?
The answer is to have a different type of conversation, a conversation where telling is replaced by coaching.
Managers who use their coaching skills find that their people are actually more productive and more engaged in their work. They witness their team’s capacity to think for themselves, to take on greater responsibilities and to develop and make a bigger contribution to their organisations. These managers also notice a growing confidence in their teams’ abilities and their potential to grow.
In their roles as “manager-as-coach”, they listen, probe, challenge and inspire, and through the attention they pay and the questions they ask, they provide fuel for their people to be creative, improve their problem solving and their commitment to taking positive action.

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The UK’s Most Persistent Weakness

Businessman run on 3d hamster wheel


It’s in the news everyday: UK PLC is falling behind its European and Global competitors because of low productivity. The business media says it, the academic community says it, and the HR thinkers and researchers say it too. They talk about our Industrial Strategy to highlight essential investment in technology, education and practical skills. Then there’s investment in leadership courses, MBA, ILM etc.

But, there’s little mention of what is fundamental to productivity: the quality of the relationship between staff and their line managers.

Of course, businesses need leaders who can solve problems, make plans, recruit good people, create strategy and take products and services to market profitably, but they also need leaders with soft skills, leaders who can foster and nourish strong inter-personal relationships in the work environment.

Soft skills have to be included in the leader’s toolkit, if we want to address our age old UK problem of low productivity. In other words, managers need the ability to connect with their staff, and provide leadership at a more personal level.

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Promoting Someone? Take the Right Steps


When it comes to growing your business, you reach a point when your workload is not sustainable. You and your existing management team simply don’t have enough hours in the day to cope, and you are going to need more leadership capacity. You could hire another manager or team leader externally, or decide to promote one of your key (technical) performers from within the business itself. But whatever you decide, you know that there are risks involved; will your new manager deliver the business growth you need; will they earn the respect of their team; will they handle their new responsibilities; will they handle the pressure? The list goes on.

According to “Growing Your Small Business”, a report by the Chartered Management Institute, poor management was identified as the leading cause of small business failure, and was blamed for 56% of insolvencies. So, there’s good reason to make the right choices and get this new manager working to their full potential and up to speed quickly.

Here are 5 steps to help you cut out the risk

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Expectations Matter

the 2 pound coin

A typical scenario for a small business:

Imagine for a moment that you have recently promoted one of your star performers, Laura, from your technical team. Of course, she has a great track record, and is delighted with her promotion, she is keen and ambitious. However, she does have a few doubts about what’s expected, and didn’t feel quite ready yet to step into leadership, but she really wants to make a go of it.

As the manager of that productive and ambitious individual, you might be tempted to make a few assumptions like;

  • Laura knows what she is doing, so she shouldn’t have any problem with the team.
  • I’ve given her enough good example on how to lead the team.
  • She can be just like me and do it my way; after all it’s worked well so far.
  • And of course, if she gets stuck, she can always come to me for advice.

But what if you put yourself in Laura’s shoes, and ask what assumptions she might be making? They could be;

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Thank you – and I mean that most sincerely


There are many ways for you as a leader to say thank you to a member of your team for a job well done, but one of the best ways is to recognise the specifics of that job, the behaviours you observed and the impact they had; and finally to deliver that message of appreciation promptly.

Working with leaders who are new to people management, I find that they often need some structure to the way they can communicate their appreciation to their staff. They need something clear, concise, relevant and accurate, so that they can be sincere and leave their team members in no doubt about what they are doing right.

There’s a model you can use here called SBI; that’s Situation, Behaviour, Impact and I’ve mentioned it before in a LinkedIn post in relation to delivering corrective feedback .

However, that same model can be used for saying thank you; here’s how.

Situation: Think about the specific scenario(s) in which the job was well done, the environment, the setting, the timing, who else was involved etc.

Behaviour: Focus here on what it was specifically that you observed or heard about.

Impact: Think now about the benefits of that behaviour and the immediate and longer term results which would follow.

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Retaining Talent – an essential key to sustainable leadership


KPMG’s Ian Brokenshire reported last week on the cost of losing valuable employees, the reasons why they quit, and the fixes which could be put in place to retain them.

I’ll spare you the alarming statistics, but Ian highlighted three key areas where businesses could do more.

  1. Improve the relationships between management and staff.
  2. Recognise and reward good work and results achieved.
  3. Assess the level of staff engagement using effective surveys and exit interviews.

I’ll focus here on the first two key areas and offer some tips for leaders.


Relationships depend predominantly on the quality of the conversations that managers have with their staff, along with the commitment to making these conversations a habit. Here are some of the things which you can do.

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Don’t wait too long for that difficult conversation

A good telling off

Whenever you’re concerned about someone’s performance in your team, you know that sooner or later, you are going to have to deal with it; and the sooner the better.

It could be about being late for work or taking an ever-extending lunch break. It could be more serious and nudging close to a disciplinary type of offence. Whatever it is, you know that you really must have a conversation about the issue.

(It could even be that you need a difficult conversation with your own boss, perhaps he or she is not getting the best out of you because of the way you are managed.)

And you know that if you delay this conversation, things will only deteriorate. For example, the guilty party may just chip away at your credibility as leader, and before you know it, set a precedent for unacceptably poor behaviour across the team.

So, what are you to do about this difficult conversation?  First of all, be prepared.

There’s a 5 step process for this type of conversation.

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Why would your people jump ship? (#donttelljustcoach)

the officeA couple of years ago, when I was co-leading HP’s internal coaching network, a new manager sent me an email asking for some tips on getting started in leadership. He said something like:

“Hello John, I am so excited about my promotion. I have 6 resources working for me. Do you have any useful tips?”

His request made me cringe and my response to him was:

“Congratulations on your promotion. My first tip for you is to remember that your “resources” are actually people. So, you have 6 people working for you. Would you like to discuss this further?”

He didn’t respond, and I wondered what kind of a boss this guy might turn out to be; just who exactly are these 6 “resources” going to be reporting to?

And only last week in the Business section of the Bristol Evening Post, there was a review of a recent report from Investors in People “Job Exodus Trends 2016”, with some interesting conclusions.

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Putting the GROW Model into Action (#donttelljustcoach)

another growIn last week’s post, I described the importance of your skills as a manager in having the right conversations with your staff; the dialog, the 2-way conversations in which you avoid the temptation to tell them what to do.

This week, I’ll say more about the GROW model and the basic steps, which are;

  • Goal: Defines exactly WHAT is to be achieved, perhaps a project deliverable.
  • Reality: Describes the current situation, gaps to success, environment etc?
  • Options: Creates ideas of what could be done to bring the goal into fruition.
  • Way forward: Defines the commitment to action and the accountability.

GROW is a structure for a coaching conversation, but it is not intended to be completely rigid in terms of its sequence, and the need to complete any step before moving on to the next one. In fact what often happens is that the conversation moves back and forth between steps. For example an exploration of the Reality or Options steps leads to new awareness and insights, from which it is easy to see that the Goal needs to be re-defined. Perhaps the Goal was not specific enough, perhaps it was not challenging enough.

The most important aspect of the model is that it begins with getting clear about objectives, and ends with getting clear about the commitment to specific action and follow up.

Here are some further tips on using the model, along with some typical questions that will help you to keep the conversation moving.

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Want more productivity? Don’t tell your staff what to do, just coach (#donttelljustcoach)


When it comes to raising productivity, emphasis might be placed on investment in technology, systems and/or processes. Of course, these are important, but investment in people, their relationships with their managers, and their level of engagement with the business can (unfortunately) be overlooked.

Investing time in the right conversations with your staff will raise their productivity. It will give them a greater sense of responsibility, ownership and connection with the goals and mission of the organisation that you are all part of.

I am not referring to conversations which simply allow you as manager to provide all of the answers to their questions. In your position of authority, you may think that this is your job, but it’s not.

I am talking about dialog, 2-way conversations in which you give them the opportunity to work things out for themselves. But to make the conversation work, you as manager must give them the opportunity to talk, and then, you must learn to be quiet and listen. People are creative if you give them the opportunity. They want to be heard, they want greater autonomy, they want to develop their skill mastery, and they want to belong.

So, how do you make those conversations happen?

In other words, how do you as manager, coach your staff to achieve higher levels of performance and productivity?

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