HBR: How to Help Your Employees Learn from Each Other

“Peer-to-peer learning is also uniquely well suited to the way we learn. People gain new skills best in any situation that includes all four stages of what we call the “Learning Loop”: gain knowledge; practice by applying that knowledge; get feedback; and reflect on what has been learned. Peer-to-peer learning encompasses all of these.” Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Kelly Palmer and David Blake:

How to Help Your Employees Learn from Each Other

When your team wants to learn a new skill, where do they turn first? Google? YouTube? Their corporate training programs? No. According to a study conducted by our company, Degreed, more workers first turn to their peers (55%)—second only to asking their bosses. Peer-to-peer learning can be a powerful development tool that breaks through some common barriers to skill-building — and it has other benefits as well.

Yet many organizations have yet to create a formal structure for peer-to-peer learning. In a McKinsey survey, Learning & Development officers report that while classroom training, experiential learning, and on-the-job application of skills are now in regular use as learning mechanisms, less than half of organizations have instituted any kind of formal peer-to-peer learning. One in three respondents said their organizations don’t even have any systems in place to share learning among employees.

In the research for our book The Expertise Economy, we found that managers are often reluctant to establish formal peer-to-peer learning primarily because of a perception that experts outside the company are more valuable as teachers than those inside it, and because peer-to-peer programs are spaced out over numerous sessions. In this context, sending employees to a single day of intense training from an outside expert is assumed to be more fruitful.

It isn’t. First, peer-to-peer learning taps into the expertise that already exists in your organization. Think of all the smart people that you hire and surround yourself with every day, and how much could be gained if peers shared their expertise with each other to learn and build new skills.

Peer-to-peer learning is also uniquely well suited to the way we learn. People gain new skills best in any situation that includes all four stages of what we call the “Learning Loop”: gain knowledge; practice by applying that knowledge; get feedback; and reflect on what has been learned. Peer-to-peer learning encompasses all of these.

For example, when Kelly was in charge of learning at LinkedIn, her team created a peer-to-peer learning program designed around the company’s key corporate values. One section of the program focused on difficult conversations; each participant was asked to identify a real-life difficult conversation they needed to have at work (especially one they might be avoiding). They were first taught about difficult conversations (stage 1); next they practiced with each other before holding the conversations in real life (stage 2). One of the participants, John, confronted his employee Mark about his missed deadlines, a pattern which had been negatively affecting the team. The conversation did not go well — John felt awkward, and Mark got defensive. When John shared this experience with his peers in the learning group, they openly shared their views and ideas, and their own experiences of similar situations (stage 3). As everyone in the group — not just John — reflected on what they had learned, they concluded that they had all become more confident and armed with ideas about how to better handle a similar situation in the future (stage 4). Later group members indicated that their real-world difficult conversations indeed had become more productive.

Learning

A learner’s development is dependent on a willingness to make mistakes, challenge ideas, and speak up about concerns — as John and his colleagues did in their group. Unlike some learning methods — like tests or exams, or high-pressure demonstrations of skills — peer-to-peer learning creates a space where the learner can feel safe taking these risks without a sense that their boss is evaluating their performance while they are learning. You’re more likely to have candid conversations about areas you need to develop with a peer than with someone who has power over your career and income. In peer-to-peer learning, the dynamics of hierarchy disappear. And unlike other methods — like classroom lectures or online compliance training — peer-to-peer learning provides a structured opportunity to have these discussions to begin with.

A secondary benefit of peer-to-peer learning is that the format itself helps employees develop management and leadership skills. Group reflection conversations help employees master the difficult skills of giving and accepting honest, constructive feedback. Because feedback flows in both directions, participants in peer-to-peer learning tend to put more time and energy into making sure the feedback they provide is meaningful. They think from the perspective of their peer, consider where each is coming from, and try to get specific about what will be most helpful and constructive. This doesn’t happen as often when a boss delivers one-way feedback to employees. Similarly, peer learning gives employees experience in leadership, handling different points of view, and developing skills such as empathy.

Setting Up a Peer Learning Program

Formal peer-to-peer learning programs can take many forms. As a manager, you can hold your program online or in person. Your program could pair participants in one-to-one sessions, create cohorts working together on real work problems over a few months, or involve weekly sessions in which individuals share the latest knowledge they’ve gained with their peers with plenty of time for discussion and reflection.

To make any peer-to-peer learning program successful for your team, we recommend a few best practices:

Appoint a facilitator. Although the structure of peer learning is horizontal rather than hierarchical, it’s important to have a neutral party who is not the team’s manager facilitate the program to keep in on track. This person — ideally a skilled facilitator — should organize sessions, keep everyone on topic, keep conversations moving forward, and maintain a positive atmosphere for participants to learn, experiment, and ask questions.

Build a safe environment. Peer learning only works when participants feel safe enough to share their thoughts, experiences, and questions. They need to be open and vulnerable enough to accept constructive input, and also have the courage to give honest feedback rather than telling people what they want to hear.

To build a safe environment, set ground rules. Some suggestions: confidentiality must be honored; feedback should be perceived as a generous gesture that should always be met with gratitude; participants should practice empathy, putting themselves in others’ shoes; and participants should never be mocked or embarrassed for expressing themselves in front of their peers.

Focus on real-world situations. Whenever possible, these sessions should focus on genuine problems to solve. People are more likely to participate, learn, and remember new skills if they are learned in the course of addressing a real-life challenge.

Encourage networking. It helps to set up online social networks around learning, organize networking events for people to discuss their area of expertise, and establish learning groups that meet regularly to discuss ideas. Some organizations build company-wide campaigns in an effort to get everyone involved.

With a well-built peer-to-peer learning program in place as a complement to more traditional learning programs, your team will build lasting skills and relationships that will allow them to bring the skills they learn in those programs into their daily work.

 

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Everwise: Motivating employees close to retirement

“Engaging older employees, particularly in a mentoring program paired with younger workers, can help companies differentiate as they look to attract and retain the best employees, increase engagement and performance, and build a learning culture. More mature workers are a treasure trove of resources, experience, and advice. They can help younger talent grow and develop within the company, setting the stage for a more inclusive culture where talent at all levels and ages can thrive.” Below is a blog from Everwise:

Motivating employees close to retirement

Earlier this month, motivating employees close to retirement surfaced as one of the most popular topics in the Everwise user community of Learning & Development (L&D) professionals and learners. That’s not surprising–employees approaching the traditional age of retirement of 65 are one of the fastest growing segments of the workforce. Approximately 10,000 Baby Boomers have reached this stage every single day since 2011. And by 2035, the U.S. Census Bureau calculates that number will total 78 million. Just because Baby Boomers are nearing retirement doesn’t mean that they will stop contributing to the workplace in a meaningful way. And any employer wanting a skilled and diverse workforce needs to engage this growing – and valuable – segment.

Recognizing the value of older workers

Many employers view older workers as being less motivated and having less growth potential. They assume younger employees invest more time in developing new skills and are generally more excited about their jobs. Older workers, by contrast, are seen as coasting toward retirement and less interested in exploring new ideas and opportunities. As a result, managers feel it is difficult to encourage and manage older employees. They often overlook the benefits that this segment of the workforce can provide.

If you are hanging on to the notions that more mature workers aren’t energetic, eager and useful, your bias is showing. Older employees come to the table with a wealth of contacts, years of skill development, and a track record of experience that illustrates their strengths. After years of navigating the workplace, they understand how the business works, have important people and office skills, and can be a resource for training other employees.

Engaging older workers

Engaging older workers doesn’t need to be a big challenge or initiative. It turns out older workers are still dedicated to their work. A 2010 study found their performance was more stable and less variable from day to day than that of the 20-somethings. And just like with most of today’s employees, older workers value the ability to develop new skills on the job. AARP’s research shows that more than 80 percent of workers ages 45 to 64 view the opportunity to learn something new as an essential element of their ideal job. That means older workers are still very much open to being engaged by your L&D programs and initiatives, so be sure to include them.

To get the best results without gargantuan effort, remember that just like their younger counterparts, older workers want to find purpose in their work and have fun while doing so. It is not just the young who are positive and excited by their work. An AARP retirement study revealed that nearly 1 in 5 between the ages of 65 and 74 say job enjoyment is the single most important reason they still work.

Schedule some fun with social interactions that appeal to all employees. Start with a Friday team lunch or competition sharing and casually quizzing employees’ knowledge about the company or sector. You may find this offers younger and older employees an opportunity to get to appreciate one another as individuals as well as team players.

Recognizing their contributions – use mentoring!

Older employees can be an invaluable source of information and expertise. Recognize them as the experts they are. If you need to change the way things have been done, bring them into the discussion of the best way to implement those changes. That way they can feel a part of the process rather than being pushed aside or forced to change. You may even save valuable time by learning that an approach you’re considering previously failed, or that an approach succeeded and is worth accelerating this time around.

And pairing older employees with younger employees in a mentoring relationship will not only help the older employee feel appreciated but also help transfer knowledge more effectively. There’s no denying that mentoring is an effective way to develop and retain talent. Mentors can help motivate and inspire employees. Mentors provide an essential and experienced sounding board as well as ongoing encouragement and advice. Helping older employees find a larger purpose through mentoring may help them become more engaged and productive as well.

Make it clear that your organization is one where employees can stay, develop skills and achieve their full potential over the long haul. Show appreciation for those employees that have remained committed to a company. Celebrate their efforts at significant milestones. Make every retirement party count as an opportunity to motivate those who are staying and make a statement about the company culture.

In conclusion

Engaging older employees, particularly in a mentoring program paired with younger workers, can help companies differentiate as they look to attract and retain the best employees, increase engagement and performance, and build a learning culture. More mature workers are a treasure trove of resources, experience, and advice. They can help younger talent grow and develop within the company, setting the stage for a more inclusive culture where talent at all levels and ages can thrive.

To learn more from colleagues, experts and industry leaders on this topic and more, join our Everwise community.

CT: There’s a Reason Why No One’s Reading Your Emails

“With the volume of email we all receive, you can’ afford to keep writing bad emails that get ignored or deleted. When you follow all of these steps, you will maximize the chances of your emails getting opened, read, and acted upon!” Below is a blog by Carson Tate:

There’s a Reason Why No One’s Reading Your Emails

Are people not reading your emails? It’s frustrating when people don’t respond to emails. Your coworkers may never get that important information about a project you’re working on, and your boss may never answer the urgent question you have. Why? They probably get so many emails every day that they choose to ignore some of them to save time. Some of your emails may even get deleted without your recipient ever reading the message.

How to Get People to Read Your Emails

You need to figure out a way to make your recipients want to read your emails. Here are some simple tips to maximize the likelihood of your recipients reading your emails and actually taking the action you want them to.

Proof Your Emails Before Hitting Send

Proofing an emailing usually takes just an extra minute of your time, so there’s really no excuse for not doing it. If you choose to send an email with little to no punctuation, poor grammar, or simple typos, it shows a lack of professionalism. You are conveying a lack of time and attention to your recipient. When they see your email, your recipient may wonder how much you actually care about them reading your email. If you can’t take the time to go back through your email and make sure it’s clear and correct, why should they bother to read that same message?

Grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors are distracting. They detract from the message you’re sending and, in some cases, confuse the reader. If you want to be an effective communicator, you should always read back through your emails and make any necessary adjustments before you hit send.

Be Brief, Succinct, and to the Point

Email was invented to communicate information instantly. It’s a time-saver. But when you send someone an email that’s pages and pages long, you’re taking advantage of that person’s time. Most of us are reading our emails on mobile devices now. All of the scrolling through tiny text makes it especially difficult to read lengthy emails. So if a person opens up an email you’ve sent and sees that you’ve written them a novel, they probably aren’t going to take the time to read through it. Your email will either get deleted or forgotten before it’s ever read. When you write an email, get to the post quickly. Don’t ramble about unrelated topics or unnecessary information. Figure out the point of your email and don’t stray far from it in your message.

If you really think that you can’t be concise with the email you’re sending, you’re not using the correct platform for your message. Remember that there are other ways to communicate. Just because email has become our go-to doesn’t mean it’s your only option. So if you sit down to write an email and find that you have a lot to say, don’t write the email. Instead pick up the phone or go talk to your recipient in person. You’ll save both of you time!

Make Your Subject Lines Reflect the Current Topic

Your email’s subject line is your recipient’s first impression of you. And it may be their last impression if you don’t grab their attention enough to make them open your email. One sure way to get a person to NOT read your email is by keeping a subject line in an old email conversation even if it doesn’t reflect the current topic. This is off-putting and lazy. For the most effective subject line possible, always include two things:

  1. What action you want the recipient to take
  2. The date by which this action needs to happen.

This information will clearly and accurately tell your recipient what your email is about, and that will make them more likely to open your emails in the future.

Send a Link to Access Attachments on a Shared Drive

Sending several attachments in an email is overwhelming and inconvenient. It takes up precious space in your recipient’s inbox, and they have to spend time going through each attachment and downloading them. Don’t overload your recipient’s inbox. Instead, when you have three or more attachments, send a link so your recipient can access the attachments on a shared drive. When your recipient opens your message, they’ll see one link instead of attachment after attachment after attachment. It’s much more convenient and shows your recipient you care.

Include the Project Name and Next Action Steps

Have you ever opened an email that has an attachment but no body text? How does it make you feel? You probably think that the sender is rude to not even acknowledge you in the email. You may also be confused about why you’re receiving that email and what the sender actually wants from you.

Remember this is you’re ever tempted to send an email without body text. It might save you a little time, but it’s lazy and confusing. Give your recipient context. Always include the name of the project the attachment pertains to and what the next action step for your recipient is in the body of your email. It shows the recipient that you’re a professional who cares about effective communication.

With the volume of email we all receive, you can’ afford to keep writing bad emails that get ignored or deleted. When you follow all of these steps, you will maximize the chances of your emails getting opened, read, and acted upon! Don’t continue writing poorly crafted emails that might confuse or irritate the recipient. Take action and write better emails.

HBR: What to Do When You Have a Bad Boss

“People enduring high-stress situations often suffer from emotional exhaustion, robbing them of the energy needed to search for a new situation. It’s hard to quit without another opportunity lined up, and it’s hard to line up another opportunity when one feels depleted. Emotional exhaustion also strips people of the ability to envision a more positive experience — and hopelessness ensues.” Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Mary Abbajay:

What to Do When You Have a Bad Boss

Despite the $15 billion companies spend annually on managerial and leadership development, bad bosses are common in the American workforce. A study by Life Meets Work found that 56% of American workers claim their boss is mildly or highly toxic. A study by the American Psychological Association found that 75% of Americans say their “boss is the most stressful part of their workday.”

And a recent study by Gallup found that one in two employees have left a job “to get away from their manager at some point in their career.”

Surprisingly, though, another study found that employees end up working longer (two years, on average) for toxic bosses than nontoxic bosses. Why?

Quitting is hard

People stay in jobs with bosses they don’t like for a multitude of reasons. Some of the most common reasons I’ve heard during my 20 years of organizational consulting and coaching include:

  • I don’t have the energy to look for a new job.
  • I really like my job/colleagues/commute.
  • I need the salary. I can’t afford to take a pay cut.
  • There aren’t any other jobs that would be better.
  • I don’t want to lose the benefits.
  • I’ve invested too much to start over in a new organization.
  • This job pays too well to leave.
  • I don’t have the skills to get a different job.
  • Things might get better.

Many of the above excuses come down to basic human psychological dynamics. People enduring high-stress situations often suffer from emotional exhaustion, robbing them of the energy needed to search for a new situation. It’s hard to quit without another opportunity lined up, and it’s hard to line up another opportunity when one feels depleted. Emotional exhaustion also strips people of the ability to envision a more positive experience — and hopelessness ensues.

Loss aversion is another psychological process that makes it hard to give up something you have. We tend to strive to keep what we’ve worked hard to obtain. In the workplace this could be salary, status, stability, seniority, social connections, and all the other benefits we’ve accumulated over the years.

Additionally, research tells us that people stay in toxic situations when they are engaged in “high meaning” work. In other words, when people are emotionally attached and engaged in their job, they stay, even when they work for bosses who treat them poorly.

Last, we might also hope that a mean boss will change his or her ways, that the organization will take some action, and that things will improve.

Although staying put may seem more secure than leaving, it actually comes with many risks. A study of 3,122 Swedish male employees found that those who work for toxic bosses were 60% more likely to suffer a heart attack, stroke, or other life-threatening cardiac condition. Other studies in American workplaces show that people with toxic bosses are more susceptible to chronic stress, depression, and anxiety, all of which increase the risk of a lowered immune system, colds, strokes, and even heart attacks. Some studies show that it may take up to 22 months to recover physically and emotionally from a toxic boss. While the idea of quitting may seem scary, the reality of staying in a job with a toxic boss can be even scarier.

How to manage

Bad bosses should be taken seriously. If quitting is not an immediate option, there are some practical things you can do to mitigate the potential damage of working for a toxic boss. While specific strategies depend on the kind of boss you have, e.g. bullies, narcissists, etc., there are some general approaches that can help you manage the situation.

Forget giving feedback. Make requests instead. It’s usually a good idea to try to talk to your boss and see what’s going on. But chances are a difficult boss may not be open to hearing feedback about his or her failings. So try making specific requests to get what you need. Be specific about the resources and support you need to do your job, explain your rationale, and articulate how this will benefit them and the organization. Think about timing, and try to have these conversations when your boss is calm and in an upbeat mood. Make sure to prepare, practice, and anticipate reactions.

Engage with your support network. A strong support network is critical when dealing with an emotionally challenging situation. Surround yourself with friends and people who support and encourage you. Have outlets outside work for socializing and reducing stress. Talk to a coach, therapist, or other trained professional.

Get plenty of exercise and sleep. Taking care of your physical and mental well-being is essential. If feasible, take a temporary break from work. Find activities outside of work that bring you joy and satisfaction. Consider mindfulness and relaxation practices such as yoga and meditation. Practice positive self-talk by reminding yourself that you are not the problem. Remember, you can’t control how your boss behaves, but you can control how you respond to their behavior.

Explore other opportunities within your organization. There might be ways to escape your toxic boss without having to leave your company. Look into other positions in the company that interest you, meet with colleagues and managers in other departments, think about where your skills might translate, and make a case for your transition.

Consider consulting with HR. Research your HR department’s reputation in supporting employee complaints before you approach. Let them know about the issues you’re having with your boss and what you’ve done to try to rectify the situation. They may have already helped others in the exact same situation and could offer solutions you hadn’t thought of.

Know when to go

Of course, be ready to accept that quitting could be the best solution. There are some unequivocal signs that it’s time to move on to the next job. If you dread going to work every day, if you feel physically or mentally unsafe at work, if you spend more time thinking about your boss than your work, if stress from work permeates the rest of your life, if your self-esteem has plummeted, it’s time to go. You must give yourself permission to make a career change — to let go of hope that things will get better, and to overcome the fear of quitting.

Once you make the decision to quit, it’s important to do it as professionally and gracefully as possible. While it might be tempting to go out in a blaze of anger and curse words, this rarely works out well in the long run. Don’t burn bridges. Here are a few tips:

Line up your next move. There is no magic bullet here: you just need start the job search.

Give proper notice: The standard for most industries is two weeks. Giving more time is always an option but try not to give less if you can help it. Write a proper resignation letter and tell your supervisor — in person — that you are leaving. Don’t forget, letters of resignation often end up in employee files and might be used if your former boss is ever called for a reference. Make sure your letter is professional.

Create a transition timeline. Clearly articulate your plans for transition. Be clear about what you are going to do before you leave and stick to it. If you promise to finish projects, then finish them. Don’t bite off more that you can chew, but don’t leave things on the plate that you promised to take care of. Leave your boss and your team fully updated on the status of all your projects, etc.

Be prepared to go early. If your boss is truly toxic, he or she could dismiss you the minute you give notice. Make sure you have your personal belongings, contact information, important papers, commendations, etc. organized before you give notice. Be sure to return all company property promptly and properly. Get proper documentation stating that you’ve returned it. The last thing you want is someone claiming you’ve stolen anything.

Do not bad mouth. Resist the urge to bad mouth your boss during potential job interviews or even after you land a new job. Hiring managers don’t know you and they don’t know your boss — all they will see is a complaining malcontent.

Remember, it’s okay to quit. Your personal and professional future may depend on it.

 

HBR: How to Motivate Frontline Employees

“We’ve written before that why people work determines how well they work — that someone’s motive for doing a task determines their performance. Our work has shown that if a person’s motive is play (for example, excitement from novelty, curiosity, experimentation), purpose (the work matters), and potential (they are improved by the work), then their total motivation and performance increase. But if their motive is emotional pressure (shame, guilt, insecurity), economic pressure (mercenary behavior), or inertia (no motive), then total motivation and performance worsen.” Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Lindsay McGregor and Neel Doshi:

How to Motivate Frontline Employees

One question that has long plagued organizations is how to improve performance among frontline workers, the people who actually drive customer experience. Our work with hundreds of companies offers a clear and simple answer.

To show how it works, we’ll walk you through an example. In 2016 the leadership team of a national retail organization asked us to help boost their frontline performance. They wanted to improve revenue, cost, risk, and customer satisfaction all at the same time. (They reached out to us because we wrote a book describing how these performance outcomes would be improved with an operating model that increases motivation.)

We’ve written before that why people work determines how well they work — that someone’s motive for doing a task determines their performance. Our work has shown that if a person’s motive is play (for example, excitement from novelty, curiosity, experimentation), purpose (the work matters), and potential (they are improved by the work), then their total motivation and performance increase. But if their motive is emotional pressure (shame, guilt, insecurity), economic pressure (mercenary behavior), or inertia (no motive), then total motivation and performance worsen.

The retail organization wanted to see how this applied to its stores. So we ran an experiment: We fully transformed the operating model of four stores (which employed around 60 people) for one year, and then compared their performance with that of the other 750+ U.S. stores.

As we predicted, we saw the performance of our experimental stores increase significantly. Productivity (revenue divided by expense) increased by 20% year over year (far more than the 9% increase in revenue that the control group stores averaged); customer satisfaction increased by 11% (the control group saw it decrease by 4%); and sales increased by 8% (the control group saw only a 2% increase).

We should note that this organization is one of the top performers in its industry, so the baseline performance was already high. But we believe that by taking similar steps, the average organization can improve performance even further.

Focus on Learning, Not Pressure

Prior to this pilot, the operating model of the stores was focused on creating emotional and economic pressure to drive performance. District managers would often hear, “You need to get your team to try harder,” or “This is really not what we would expect from your store,” or “Other stores are doing better.” On occasion, managers would use special rewards or threats to motivate better performance.

This playbook is the norm in most organizations. Based on what we’ve seen, frontline employees are among the lowest in total motivation.

To engage the front line at the retail organization, we implemented a new operating model focused on optimizing play, purpose, and potential while reducing the pressure. This required four major changes:

Reduce the economic and emotional pressure. To ensure this front line could focus on learning, we eliminated high-pressure motivation tactics, including sales commissions, high-pressure conversations, sales-based promotion criteria, and public shaming. We explained to leaders that great leadership isn’t about pressuring people to do their work. Rather, it is about inspiring your people to want to do their work well, so they can perform adaptively.

Incorporate a spirit of play by encouraging experimentation. To drive performance with play instead, we wanted to focus on increasing experimentation. Experimentation fosters curiosity, allows for novelty, and sets the pace of learning — all of which are important components of play.

To encourage experimentation, each store maintained an idea board that tracked the primary challenges the store had to solve, as well as ideas for solutions. For example, in one store, a challenge was how to get more walk-in customers. Colleagues could add any ideas they had, whenever they wanted. The challenges themselves were used to focus ideation on what mattered the most.

Employees were asked to choose an idea on the board and experiment with it. Every person was expected to have at least one experiment that they owned at a given time. They learned about hypotheses and about how to reduce an experiment to its minimum effective dose to get a useful result. Each store also had a weekly 45-minute meeting for teams to review their past performance and experiments, without shame or blame, in the spirit of generating new ideas.

There were rules. Experiments had to be doable on the job using only the budget, tools, and time already allocated to each store. Colleagues learned how to focus on creating low-risk experiments (experiments that were “above the waterline” so as to not sink the ship). Once an experiment ended, lessons were systemically captured and shared. There was no pressure for an experiment to work as long as something was learned. If an experiment didn’t work, the team wouldn’t throw it out, but instead would seek to understand why and launch a different experiment.

Create a sense of purpose around the customer. To build a genuine sense of purpose and meaning, the employees in the experiment stores were taught how to connect every product, process, and policy to the benefit and impact they had on customers. If they couldn’t connect an action to a customer outcome, they were taught that it was safe to ask questions until they understood.

Systematically manage apprenticeship. While experimentation is focused on learning strategic or process improvements, it is equally important to manage the pace of learning through apprenticeship. In a culture of apprenticeship, people receive high levels of on-the-job coaching by others who are higher in skill. And just like the system of experimentation, the system of on-the-job apprenticeship has to be tightly managed.

Here’s what we did: Each store was given a set of 30 frontline skills for employees to learn. This included things such as “generating ideas through sales and service data” and “building advisory relationships with prospective customers.” Everyone was asked to choose the skills that they believed would most improve their performance if they learned them. While leaders would help with this decision, the choice was ultimately up to each individual, with leaders focusing on finding on-the-job moments to learn.

We told leaders to identify and share the strongest skill (the professional “superpower”) of each individual on their team. The point of this was to make it easier for colleagues to seek help with learning skills from their colleagues. For example, one person’s superpower might be “solving complex service problems,” while another’s might be “introducing new products to customers.”

Every week, employees would have a brief development discussion with their leader on how they were progressing on learning their skills. Goals and metrics were transparent to everyone so that nothing was hidden.

As leaders and colleagues focused on skill development, performance problems were no longer met with blame and defensiveness. Instead, if a colleague was struggling to perform, the immediate focus became learning and teaching.

Seeing Performance Results

Only a few weeks after this new model was put into place, the teams’ behaviors started to fundamentally shift.

For example, in one case, one of the most junior members of the store led a successful experiment on how to move customers through the checkout line faster. Another store member conducted an experiment on how to better explain a product’s features to a customer. Another had an experiment on how to improve signage visibility.

At an individual level, colleagues started to open up to their teams on what they wanted to learn. Coaching accelerated. People became far more engaged in their work. At the end of eight months, year-over-year performance at our pilot stores had increased significantly, compared with the control stores. The approach is now being scaled across the organization.

Broadly speaking, in front lines today, productivity growth has stalled, while employees are feeling less engaged and more stressed. Moreover, employee retention on the front line continues to be a problem. Too many organizations are responding to these trends with more pressure and micromanagement, which only worsens the problem and increases risk.

Small increases in productivity and retention can have a significant impact on the bottom line. Our rough calculation suggests that improving retention by one percentage point in a 5,000-person front line results, on average, in $2.5 million in annual benefit. (That number assumes a fully loaded cost of $50,000 per person, and a $50,000 cost to replace a new hire and make up for lost productivity while the new hire is found and trained.)

Now is the time for organizations to invest in workers. By implementing a frontline management system focused on driving performance through total motivation, you can build the ultimate win-win.

The authors give special thanks to the following executives and experts for their advice on this article: Deborah Moe, Mandy Norton, Dan Wilkening, Jamie Warder.

HBR: 4 Signs an Executive Isn’t Ready for Coaching

Are you investing in the right people? Do you have people who are uncoachable? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Matt Brubaker and Chris Mitchell:

4 Signs an Executive Isn’t Ready for Coaching

The stigma of asking for or being assigned an executive coach is vanishing quickly. The growth of the industry tells us so. In the U.S. alone, $1 billion was spent on business, personal and relationship coaches last year, according to IbisWorld, up about 20% from five years earlier. And the number of business coaches worldwide has zoomed more than 60% since 2007, according to one coaching association. But while executive coaches have improved the performance of many already-good managers and sanded the rough edges off many less effective ones, they aren’t a miracle cure. In fact, we have seen many companies waste considerable sums by assigning coaches to managers who just aren’t ready to be coached, no matter how effective the coaches may be.

So how do those who control the coaching purse strings — HR, talent managers, and other buyers — avoid throwing money away on uncoachable executives? Considering that a year’s engagement with a top executive coach can cost more than $100,000, it’s an important question.

From nearly 35 years of coaching hundreds of executives, our firm has noticed a pattern of red flags that indicate when a coaching investment will be wasted. Here are four things to watch out for:

  1. They blame external factors for their problems.

When things go wrong, does this person always have an excuse? Maybe they point a finger at the quality of their team, a lack of resources, or even their boss.

When leaders argue about the validity of your reasons for offering coaching, or offer excuses or defenses for poor results, it can be a sign that they lack self-awareness. Before any coaching can be effective, they need to wake up to the ways their actions affect others.

One CEO we worked with was known for his smart turnarounds of a large media company. But he was struggling to get along with his executive team. Finally, several board directors suggested he should seek out a coach. After multiple sessions, he had shared little information about himself, and we were no closer to figuring out the root of the problem. Stymied, we suggested that we observe the next executive team meeting.

Suddenly, all was clear. We were shocked by how he controlled the conversation in the room. He simply spoke over other people with a volume of words that was unfathomable. When he left the room to take a call, his team members erupted with frustration. It was obvious that this CEO was completely out of touch — something that became even more apparent later on, when he asked us to tell the board how positively he was responding to coaching.

Leaders like this often ignore criticism if it doesn’t jibe with their view of themselves — and such feedback is easy to ignore if it’s buried in a performance review or mentioned briefly in a larger conversation. Conducting a non-judgmental, just-the-facts 360-degree review could help them see the reality of their situation. Until they can see what others see and why it matters, they won’t examine their behavior, and coaching will be useless.

  1. You can’t get on their calendar.

Some leaders claim to be receptive to coaching but just can’t find the time. They may cancel sessions at the last minute, constantly reschedule, or, when they do show up, be visibly distracted. They lack space for coaching both in their calendar, and in their mind.

Unlike the oblivious leader, the too-busy leader is often quite likable. They will apologize for being hard to pin down, and be very direct about how busy they are. Don’t be surprised if they’re flattered to be offered coaching. But coaching can’t be crammed into the schedule of a leader who wears their busy-ness as a badge of honor. Their inability to prioritize is a sign they need coaching, but their unwillingness to make room for it suggests they won’t be a good coaching investment.

A brilliant engineer we know had been promoted three times in four years, and by the time he was nearly 30 he was a group president at a U.S. manufacturing company. Diligent, humble, and smart, he could hold a room spellbound with only a marker and a whiteboard as he worked out solutions to highly technical problems. However, as adept as he was at the technical aspects of his job, he now had 20 people reporting to him whom he had no idea how to manage.

After three months of coaching, his superiors could see it was going nowhere. The executive often rescheduled his sessions, telling his coach he didn’t have the time. He believed he couldn’t set aside the time to improve himself. That made him uncoachable.

HR managers should do some reality testing to ensure the too-busy leader is willing to make room for coaching. To benefit from coaching, too-busy leaders must make the space to be fully present, both during the coaching sessions and after, doing the difficult work of developing new mindsets, skills, and habits. Ask this person what tasks or responsibilities they’d be willing to give up or delegate, even temporarily, to make time for coaching. If they struggle to think of any, give them a gentle but firm ultimatum as part of a career planning conversation: that they have plateaued at the company and won’t go to the next level until they make time for self-development.

  1. They focus too much on tips and tactics.

Some leaders eagerly agree to coaching, but then avoid the deeper inquiries required for meaningful transformation. They’re willing to modify behaviors, but not beliefs. They view coaching as medicine that, if taken regularly, will help them get ahead.

The quick-fix leader becomes frustrated when their coach asks questions that require self-reflection. They want answers, not questions. “You’re the expert, you tell me,” they’ll say in response to questions from the coach, or “What if I did this?” Everything comes back to tactics. (A related warning sign is if a leader asks how quickly the coaching can be finished — especially if they demand that the cycle be compressed.)

Although coaches sometimes offer suggestions, their real job is to help executives uncover the assumptions driving their behavior. Only then can a coach help them challenge self-limiting beliefs that block their development. However, the quick-fix leader has little interest in this process.

One CEO we worked with was leading a family business that had recently been sold to a large company. He was told by a leader in the new parent company (who himself had benefitted from coaching) that coaching would help him make the transition. The CEO gladly accepted, wanting to be seen as a peer.

However, it wasn’t long into the first coaching session that he showed his entire focus was on “doing whatever other successful people did.” The coach worked tirelessly to shift the conversation to the CEO’s purpose and goals. Each time, however, he shifted the discussion back to the “secrets of success” of other organizational leaders he wanted to emulate. Ultimately, he was passed over for a permanent role on the parent company’s leadership team, and left the organization.

To prompt this kind of leader to be open to self-reflection, remind them of all the other times they vowed to change but were unsuccessful. They then might realize they need to work on more than just changing their game plan. Or, introduce them into a preliminary mentoring conversation with one of the leaders they admire. Tell the mentor to share their experience of struggling to develop.

  1. They delay getting started with a coach to “do more research” or “find the right person.”

To be sure, it’s important to have a good fit between a leader and his coach. But a continual rejection of qualified coaches should give you pause. A related red flag is if the person is acting confused, and asking repeatedly why coaching has been suggested. Assuming you’ve clearly explained why coaching is necessary, this could be a defense mechanism and a signal that the person is not ready to confront their shortcomings. It usually stems from insecurity.

Being coached can be daunting, and not everyone is ready to take it on. We remember a physician leader who was hired to turn around a business unit of a large medical center. When his staff challenged him, he became emotional. Told by his boss that he needed a coach to help him control his emotions, he was hurt and angrily asked “Why?” — failing again to control his emotions. He was too full of hidden fears for the coaching to be useful. His boss eventually reassigned him, and ultimately he left the organization.

Reframe coaching as an investment the organization is making in their development rather than a personal fix. Tell them your firm provides this resource for high-potential, top performers to accelerate their success. If this leader can view coaching as something positive to help them achieve their goals, they may warm up to the process.

When Going Coach-Less Is Not Viable

After hearing us say that a certain leader is not a good candidate for coaching, an executive who brought us in will often say a variant of this: “Well, he must be coached. We can’t let him continue to manage others the way he has, but we can’t fire him easily either because we need his skills badly.” But imposing coaching on someone who just can’t handle it at the moment isn’t going to help anyone. Companies are better off directing their people development investments elsewhere — skills training or academic programs are often better options.

Invest your coaching budget in people who have shown the willingness and the capacity to change, and you’ll get a much better return on your investment

Critical Questions for Becoming a More Effective Leader and Reaching Your Potential

Recently, I came across some notes from a book I read in 2011 that I’d like to share — What to Ask the Person in the Mirror: Critical Questions for Becoming a More Effective Leader and Reaching Your Potential by Robert S. Kaplan:

Critical Questions for Becoming a More Effective Leader and Reaching Your Potential

Vision and Priorities

In the press of day-to-day activities, leaders often fail to adequately communicate their vision to the organization, and in particular, they don’t communicate it in a way that helps their subordinates determine where to focus their own efforts.

  • Have you developed a clear vision for your enterprise?
  • Have you identified three to five key priorities to achieve that vision?
  • Do you actively communicate this vision, and associated key priorities, to your organization?

Suggested Follow-up Steps

  • Write down, in three to four sentences, a clear vision for your enterprise or business unit.
  • List the three to five key priorities that are most critical to achieving this vision. These should be tasks that you must do extraordinarily well in order for you to succeed based on where you are positioned today
  • Ask yourself whether the vision (with priorities) is sufficiently clear and understandable. In addition, ask yourself whether you communicate the vision and priorities frequently enough that your key stakeholders (e.g., direct reports and employees) could repeat them back to you. Interview key employees to see whether they understand and can clearly rearticulate the vision and priorities.
  • Identify venues and occasions for the regular communication, reiteration, and discussion of the vision and priorities. Create opportunities for questions and
  • Assemble your executive team off-site to debate the vision and priorities. In particular, consider whether the vision and priorities still fit the competitive environment, changes in the world, and the needs of the business. Use the off-site to update your vision and priorities and to ensure buy-in on the part of your senior leadership team.

Managing Your Time

Leaders need to know how they’re spending their time. They also need to ensure that their time allocation (and that of their subordinates) matches their key priorities.

  • Do you know how you spend your time?
  • Does it match your key priorities?

Suggested Follow-up Steps

  • Track your time for two weeks and break down the results into major categories.
  • Compare how this breakdown matches or is mismatched versus your three to five key priorities. Make a list of the matches and mismatches. Regarding the mismatches, write down those time allocations that are 2s and 35 and could therefore be performed by others-or should not be performed at all.
  • Create an action plan for dealing with the mismatches.

For example, commit to delegating those tasks that could just as easily be performed by someone else. Decide, in advance, to say no to certain time requests that do not fit your key priorities.

  • After a few months, repeat the preceding three steps. Assess whether you are doing a better job of spending your time on critical priorities.
  • Encourage your subordinates to perform these same steps.

 

Giving and Getting Feedback

 

Leaders often fail to coach employees in a direct and timely fashion and, instead, wait until the year-end review. This approach may lead to unpleasant surprises and can undermine effective professional development. Just as important, leaders need to cultivate subordinates who can give them advice and feedback during the year.

  • Do you coach and actively develop your key people?
  • Is your feedback specific, timely, and actionable?
  • Do you solicit actionable feedback from your key subordinates?
  • Do you cultivate advisers who are able to confront you with criticisms that you may not want to hear?

Suggested Follow-up Steps

  • For each of your direct reports, write down three to five specific strengths. In addition, write down at least two or three specific skills or tasks that you believe they could improve on in order to improve their performance and advance their careers. Allocate time to directly observing their performance, and discreetly make inquiries to gather information and insights in order to prepare this analysis.
  • Schedule time with each subordinate, at least six months in advance of the year-end review, to discuss your observations and identify specific action steps that could help them improve and address their developmental needs and opportunities.
  • Write down a realistic list of your own strengths and weaknesses. Make a list of at least five subordinates from whom you could solicit feedback regarding your strengths and weaknesses. Meet with each subordinate individually and explain that you need their help. In your meetings, make sure to ask them to give you advice regarding at least one or two tasks or skills they believe you could improve on. Thank them for their help.
  • Write down an action plan for addressing your own weaknesses and developmental needs. If you have a direct superior (or trusted peer), consider soliciting advice regarding your developmental needs and potential action steps. Depending on your situation and level in the organization, consider the option of hiring an outside coach.
  • Encourage each of your direct reports to follow these same steps regarding their direct reports and themselves.

Succession Planning and Delegation

When leaders fail to actively plan for succession, they do not delegate sufficiently and may become decision-making bottlenecks. Key employees may leave if they are not actively groomed and challenged.

  • Do you have a succession-planning process for key positions?
  • Have you identified potential successors for your job?
  • If not, what is stopping you?
  • Do you delegate sufficiently-
  • Have you become a decision-making bottleneck?

Suggested Follow-up Steps

  • Create a succession-planning depth chart for your business unit or organization. This document should include at least two or three potential successors for your own position.
  • For each potential successor, write down their key development needs and specific actions you might take in order to develop their capabilities in relation to potential future positions. Work to develop and shape these specific development plans.
  • For those key tasks that you have committed to finding a way to delegate, begin matching those tasks with specific candidates on the depth chart. Make assignments.
  • Categorize delegated tasks in terms of their levels of importance to your enterprise. Based on this analysis, note which tasks need to be done at extremely high levels of quality, and which can be done at “sufficient” levels of quality. Ask whether you have calibrated your level of involvement to this categorization, and remember that “involvement” should often take the form of coaching the subordinate, rather than a direct intervention. Make a commitment to “picking your spots,” to ensure that your direct interventions (beyond coaching) are justified by an appropriately high level of task importance.
  • Ask your business unit leaders to perform this same exercise with regard to their direct reports.

Evaluation and Alignment

The world is constantly changing, and leaders need to be able to adapt their businesses accordingly.

  • Is the design of your company still aligned with your vision and priorities?
  • If you had to design the enterprise today with a clean sheet of paper, how would you change the people, key tasks, organizational structure, culture, and your leadership style?
  • Why haven’t you made these changes?
  • Have you pushed yourself and your organization to do this clean-sheet-of-paper exercise?

Suggested Follow-up Steps

  • Identify a key business unit or function to tryout the clean-sheet-of-paper exercise. Create a small task force based on the selected names from the succession-planning depth chart exercise. Attempt to draw professionals from at least two to three different business units and/or functional areas. Give the team a specific assignment, and emphasize that they should assume that there are no sacred cows to be protected. Make clear to them that while you may not follow every piece of their advice, you want their candid views and most likely will implement at least some of their suggestions.
  • Agree on an appropriate time frame. Take into account that this assignment is not in place for doing their day jobs. Make clear that you are available to answer questions or give guidance, but you plan to stay away from this process in order to avoid influencing their analysis and conclusions.
  • Debrief the group regarding their findings. Also, conduct a post mortem to determine what you and the task force learned from the process of doing this exercise.
  • Develop a specific action plan for implementing at least some (if not all) of the group’s recommendations.

The Leader as Role Model

Your actions are closely observed by those around you. They send a powerful message about what you believe and what you truly value.

  • Do you act as a role model?
  • Do your behaviors match your words?
  • How do you conduct yourself under pressure?
  • Is your conduct consistent with your stated values?

Suggested Follow-up Steps

  • Write down two or three key messages you believe you send with your behavior (versus your speeches). Seek advice from key subordinates and advisers who directly observe your behavior, in order to answer this question: is there a disconnect between the messages you wish to send and those you are in fact sending?
  • Do this same exercise for your key direct reports. What messages is each of them sending about what is truly valued in your organization? Again, make discreet inquiries, if necessary, to do this analysis. Incorporate this work into your coaching of these executives.
  • Think of a situation in which you felt enormous stress at work and regretted your behavior. Write down the one or two issues that created the stress you were feeling- acknowledging that these issues may have had nothing to do with work. How would you behave differently if you could replay this situation? Write down one or two lessons you take away from this exercise.

Reaching Your Potential

Successful executives develop leadership styles that fit the needs of their business but also fit their own beliefs and personality.

  • Are you pursuing a path that is consistent with your assessment of your strengths, weaknesses, and passions?
  • If not, what are you waiting for?
  • Have you developed your own style at work?
  • Do you speak up, express your opinions, and conduct yourself with confidence?
  • Do you encourage your people to be authentic and express their opinions?

Suggested Follow-up Steps

  • Make a list of your three greatest strengths and your three greatest weaknesses. Get advice from your senior, peer, and junior coaches or advisers in order to make sure your list reflects “reality” in relation to your current job and aspirations.
  • Develop a specific action plan to work on your weaknesses. Action steps might include specific job assignments, seeking feedback within your organization, and/or getting an outside coach.
  • Encourage your subordinates to do this same analysis and action planning. Discuss these plans in your coaching sessions for subordinates.
  • Think of a situation in which you were at your best, when you performed extremely well and felt great about your impact. What were the elements of this situation? What tasks were you performing, what was your leadership approach, what was the context, and what other factors enhanced your performance? What lessons do you take from this, regarding your passions, values, and other key elements that help bring out your best performance?
  • Think of a time when you brought out the best in others. What was your motivational approach? What was your leadership style? What other elements allowed you to bring out the best in others? When you reflect on this situation, what lessons do you learn about yourself, including about your philosophy and values, as well as how you might best motivate others in the future?