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Managers, Tough Conversations, and Training

Posted May 20 2009 9:32am

Does your company provide solid, "how-to" training for supervisors and managers? I'm talking about the kind of training that helps them become good, effective managers of people, not just tasks . You know: the people who make and get your product/service out the door.

How to Experienced manager and training authorityWally Bockhas some pithy thoughts related to the two postshereandhereregardingHonesty, Boldness, and Sins of Omission:

Making Thing Worse By Trying Not To Make Things Worse

I think most of us have been raised to avoid/minimize confrontation. That's bad enough in the situations you describe. But it is corrosive if you have a supervisor who won't step up and call attention to behavior or performance that are not acceptable. Sadly, very few companies even consider this when they promote someone from individual contributor to a boss. Even fewer offer training in how to do confrontation well. This leaves us with a legion of bosses who are making things worse by trying not to make things worse.

I think the issue is different at work and in personal relationships. In the latter, there's a context and a history that is part of every honest conversation, whether it's specifically evoked or not.

At work, rank is always either part of the discussion or casting a shadow across it. So if you're going to talk about behavior or performance at work, you need a bit of a script to achieve the outcomes you describe above.

1. Start with What the conversation is about. Be specific. Describe behavior or performance without adjectives. Adjectives trigger emotions.

2. Say Why it's important to have the conversation. Describe the impact of or reaction to the behavior or performance.

3. Then Wait. Waiting is crucial. Without it, a conversation is unlikely to happen.


I believe Wally's observation and suggestions are dead-on. There was a stretch of time from the late 1970s through the mid 1990s where supervisors and managers were required to participate in training that gave them skills focused entirely on managing, guiding, and building people. That mandate has clearly diminished. Now we hear:

Two of My Favorite Myths

1. "Everyone is a leader!"  

Really?

Then explain the volumes of books, articles, and speeches lamenting the fact that there is a lack of leadership in (you name the organization, company, or government). Also: I've never seen someone lead effectively who didn't first know how to follow effectively. 'Following' isn't a weak, one-down posture. It's an entire set of thoughts, behaviors and skills that help a person understand how best to navigate an organization and what it means to serve and perform.

2. "We don't train people, we train dogs. We educate people."

Very cute.

Did you get "educated" in order to pass your driving test and parallel park? Do airline pilots and Space Shuttle commanders simply wave around their Ph.D's on "Aerodynamics and the Meaning of Life" or do they practice the right things over and over again before being allowed to fly? And is there some reason why you and your spouse look at each other and say, "Why does Duke the Dachshund behave better than Ashley and Jared?"

I'm sounding the trumpet call for "Here's how you do this" training for anyone who has to supervise anyone else.

Why?

Because it's the direct link to performance, retention, and creating an organization filled with people who know how to do the right things the right way.

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