Thursday, October 25, 2018

Interviewing for Coachability and EQ

It’s time to refocus back on interviewing, the stakes are high as hiring managers are confronted with the challenge of interviewing candidates that are savvier than ever. Applicants have educated themselves on the insider tips for winning the interviewing game. With the increasing difficulty in obtaining reference information and candidates who are well-rehearsed, interviewers are baffled at how to separate the style from the substance. This week we explore ways to uncover a critical skill needed for job success: coachability.

Maybe it’s the world we live in today or maybe it’s a generational thing, but employees seem to be very sensitive to feedback and are easily offended. For any of us to grow and thrive at work, we have to be willing to hear feedback and not only accept it but also make a behavioral change in order to improve. We call this coachability. How does someone interview a candidate and know they are coachable?

It’s important to know that coachability is learned. It is the result of several skills used in combination: self-awareness, flexibility, and optimism. You can ask questions to validate each and all of these skills in the context of being coachable.

We recommend using the behavior-based interview format and asking for a complete answer (circumstance, action, and result). For more information on this, check out our companion webinar which includes top interview questions broken-down by skill.  And, a handy template for an interviewing 3x2 grid.

1." Describe a time when you were unfairly criticized and tell me what the details were." 

This question is designed to uncover two things: the candidate's Self-Awareness and their definition of criticism. Be sure to get a specific example from them. The word "unfairly" is important to include as you will be assessing how justified the feedback they received was against their actions. Would a reasonable person think it was fair or unfair criticism? You also want to understand how sensitive they are to receiving negative performance feedback. In your opinion, does the example they share represent criticism or feedback? Do they take action to change their behavior as a result? Being coachable doesn’t mean we only change when we agree with the feedback, but also when we don’t.

2.“Tell me about a stretch assignment you were delegated that really challenged you.”

First off, you will find out if they have had any recent stretch assignments and their definition of “stretch” and “challenge”. I also like to follow up with questions about how the assignment came about – did they ask for it or was it required? I like to get a lot of details from them so I can also assess how they managed the stress of it and what they learned from the new experience. Coachable people are proactively willing to get out of their comfort zone and try something different.

3. “We’ve all had occasions when things at work don’t go our way. Think of a time when it happened to you and what the circumstances were.  Give me a specific example.”

A pessimist will say they have several examples of this situation they can share. An optimist believes that setbacks or failures are isolated and do not allow them to permanently damage their sense of hope. Optimists believe that positive change is possible in themselves and others, so even when you ask for details of a challenge you will likely hear that they learned something good from it and use that information for the future. Coachable people take all experiences and use them to improve.

Technical skills and experience are always easier to ask about and assess in a candidate. Although the emotional intelligence skills may seem more difficult to measure, by using a systematic approach and asking the right questions you will get much higher quality information. Coachability is a key functional skill for every role and often determines retention, employee engagement, and job satisfaction.  

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Being Blind to Your Downstream Impact

It can be easy to underestimate how much our behavior impacts the people around us. Sometimes, it can play out in the case of the "submarine boss," a leader who is silent for a period of time, then suddenly surfaces and makes requests that create chaos and knock every other boat out of the water.  Other times it's a case of having an "initiative du jour," when a leader directs the group to take on one pet project one day and then switches the group to another project the following day. It's important to be aware of the downstream impact we have on our teams and how much disruption we may unknowingly cause.

Being Blind to Your Downstream Impact

As a leader in any organization, it's easy to have a blind spot regarding your downstream impact: you may not have any advisors to give you feedback, and your direct reports may silently defer to you. Chances are that they will never let on, at least directly, to the disruptive effects of your decisions, initiatives, requests, and behavior. For the manager who regularly communicates the belief that "my priorities override everyone else's" problems may occur. Employees can start to feel disrespected and become disgruntled. The leader may become the butt of a few jokes around the office or, worse, set him or herself up to be undermined by others as they disengage and fail to alert the leader to possible trouble or even set the leader up for failure. No one wants to work for a dictator, even a benevolent one.

Every decision you make as a leader ripples through your organization in waves, and the amplitude can become more intense the farther "downstream" it flows. Too many managers forget that the choices they make, even seemingly small ones, can have far-reaching effects throughout the organization. Notoriously shifting priorities, feeling hot about a project one day and cold the next, making everything a priority at once so that nothing is prioritized-all of these behaviors, and others, can get in the way of sustaining the organization's long-term goals and cloud the company's vision. By clearly reading the potential effect your behaviors have on others-by exercising empathy-you can avoid the pitfalls of being blind to your downstream impact.

Some examples:
  • shift priorities on a whim or treat everything on their mind as a top priority
  • assign "simple" tasks that are actually time and resource-intensive
  • level jump, i.e., give assignments or directives to those further down the chain of command rather than to direct reports
  • assigning things without deadlines and then reacting with urgency or disappointment when they are not done on your timeline
The Battle of Ego vs. EQ

Ego says, "I have needs and my team will meet them." Ego says, "When I have an idea, I should have others implement it." Ego thinks about itself and doesn't notice the impact of its actions on everyone else. Ego doesn't pause either to reflect on how others might perceive its behaviors.

In contrast, EQ says, "My team has needs too and I will consider them when making my own known." EQ also signals the leader to consider the impact of making impulsive or last-minute requests on others in the group, recognizing that people have their own responsibilities to juggle. EQ reminds the leader too that treating employees with respect breeds return respect for the leader as opposed to trampling on others, which can lead to weakened support and loyalty.

If ego has the leader thinking in terms of "the team is here to serve me," then EQ has the leader thinking the converse: "I am here to serve the team." In practice, it is a blend of both of these approaches that helps to get things done in an organization, but the other-directed, EQ-related mindset can ensure that the leader never steps too far in the wrong direction.

The goal is to get good at recognizing when your ego is leading the way, causing you to instinctively make requests or engage in behaviors that have not been fully thought through in terms of possible downstream impact. If you have the urge to pitch a new strategy to your team, act on the latest business book, or hand out bonuses just because it feels right, notice this instinctive feeling and, instead of acting on it, pause and reflect on whether it is truly the right course of action-first, for yourself, and then for your team and organization.

Next, it's time to read the environment and exercise some empathy. How will your request or the big idea that you're thinking about acting on really affect your employees? Will it move the organization forward or disrupt workflow? Where would you rank your request or idea in terms of other organizational priorities? Is your ego leading the way or are you truly onto something important?

When you are ready to respond, keep your self-control at the ready. If after looking within and outside of you, you still feel justified to introduce your new idea, make requests, or engage in the desired behavior, do so with sensitivity to everyone else. This may mean calling a meeting with your executive team to get their input and perspectives before rolling out a new idea. Or it may mean your requests acknowledge the required time outlay and give others enough time to shift around priorities. Or maybe you simply ask, "How does that work for you?"

When you use EQ rather than allowing your ego to reflexively lead the way, you may abandon some ideas and initiatives; others will be rolled out with pacing and consideration. That's good news for everyone as you maximize workflow and your best ideas get implemented in a way that works for the whole team.

This article is a summary excerpt from Ego vs EQ: How Top Leaders Beat 8 Ego Traps Using Emotional Intelligence. Click here to order a copy of the book, or here for companion webinar.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Delegating for Development

I frequently get asked what I think is the best way to teach new skills on the job.  My answer is often delegation.  There is a difference between delegating tasks with the intent of completion versus delegating tasks with the intent of learning and completion. Want to increase employee accountability and minimize the risk of failure? Check out these quick tips to make the most of your assignments.  

Development Activities vs. Job Duties
Small actions you take can provide you with a double benefit when delegating that maximize opportunities for employee learning while they work toward accomplishing job duties. 

Important things to consider:

  • Development activities should come with added levels of support. As the employee learns, they will have questions. Pre-plan whom they should go to first and what sources are available to them. You may also suggest some "hands off" sources if you know there is a risk of them learning bad habits first. You will need to make yourself available on a predictable schedule so the employee has access to you as they learn.
  • Development activities must allow room for failure. Don’t assign a super-sensitive, high visibility project to your employee as a stretch assignment. Pick something that has a long deadline, that you may have time to review and finalize before it goes public or something that has a minor risk if it isn't "perfect." Think about how to paint a picture of success so they know what to strive for. And then be ready to accept less than perfect. 
  • Development activities need a post-mortem. In today's rush-around, no-resource world we complete projects, check them off the list and move on to the next thing. After a development activity is assigned, schedule a formal meeting to discuss process, roadblocks, successes and key learnings. It can be as simple as "what worked/what didn't work.” Use it as an opportunity to springboard to the next assignment. Assess your employee to see if they are continuously incorporating new skills into their daily work; this is a way to measure their learning agility.              
Most organizations today are relying on "on-the-job" (OTJ) training to develop employees to increasing levels of skill and competence. For OTJ to be effective, it requires a different approach to delegation and categorizing job tasks into development activities. This process aids learning, allows employee autonomy and accountability, and minimizes the risk of failure.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Month in a Minute

All photos from the Brainier User Conference.
Why did we crop the photo of the three of us?  Because, we
think it's pretty incredible just the way it is(we asked a 
passerby to snap a quick picture)

Wow, we made it to the 4th quarter. In September we had the opportunity to all get together to attend the Brainier User Conference in Minneapolis, it was a great event! With technology changing constantly it is always good to catch up on the latest trends and solutions in the learning management system world. The good news is that emotional intelligence skills are as in demand as ever and employees who demonstrate flexibility, self-control, stress tolerance and empathy are highly sought after and valued in the workplace in every industry. My keynote is being converted into an eLearning module that will be available on their platform so you can catch it if you happen to be a current customer of theirs.

At the conference, I had the pleasure of meeting their CEO, Jerry Cox. He gave the welcome message and then stayed at the event, sitting in the ballroom at a table with clients and employees. I was impressed. Too often the key executive will make some opening remarks and leave immediately after they are done to tend to more pressing issues. Not Jerry. Then, a few days later I got a handwritten note from him in the mail. That’s right, handwritten. Who does that? What a rarity in today’s world that a busy executive will take the time to write a personal thank you note. The impact was huge. It was a good reminder to me to send more handwritten notes, it’s a small thing that has big meaning.