Monthly Archives: September 2020

A question of questions ~ Question technique for managers

question technique

Mastering the art of question technique

Last week in the Managing Performance Workshop one of the skills we discussed that cropped up time and again was question technique.

As any self-respecting salesperson will tell you, question technique is a key skill in the sales process.

But it’s also a critical skill for managers too.

Why?

Because by asking good questions you can:

  • Check understanding
  • Create buy-in
  • Get people’s involvement
  • Discover the root cause of a problem
  • Understand someone else’s perspective
  • Find out what’s going on
  • Find out how your team are feeling
  • Learn from your mistakes
  • Help others learn from their own mistakes
  • Help put people at ease
  • Find out what’s important to others
  • Identify people’s expectations
  • Seek ideas for resolving problems
  • Check on people’s progress
  • Help people identify their own strengths
  • Help people identify their development needs
  • Encourage people to think things through for themselves
  • Encourage people to take responsibly
  • Help people open up to where they need help or support
  • Keep difficult conversations on track
  • Help people plan and prioritise
  • Get to know your team better
  • Build rapport

I could go on, but you get the idea…

Last week the emphasis was on asking questions in relation to managing performance, but the ability to ask good questions is also important in recruitment, in meeting customers’ expectations, in dealing with complaints, in coaching, so it’s a skill well worth developing.

Of course, the way you ask questions is also important; we don’t want team members (or customers) to feel like they are being interrogated.

Questions to open up the conversation

To get people talking use ‘open’ questions, starting with the words:

What, how, when, who, where, why, give me an example, or tell me about…..

This will encourage the team member to go into details and not answer yes/no.

However, “why?” is a question to use with caution; it can easily come across as judgemental if we’re not careful. Also asking someone why something happened can be too broad a question which they may not know the answer to. So, as an example, instead of asking “why did you do that?” ask questions along the lines of “what triggered your response?” or “what was your reasoning for approaching it in that way?”, “what had you hoped to achieve?”, “How did you decide?

In the context of managing performance, e.g. in a one to one review, here are some questions to ask:

  • General: What did you do, how did you do that, what results did you get, how has that helped you, what’s was the impact on the customer/team/department.
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  • If something worked out well: what did you do differently this time, what was the end result, how did that help others (business, colleagues, customer, etc), how will you build on this for next time.
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  • If it didn’t go well: how did you overcame the problem, how did that work, what have you learnt from this, what can you do/can we do to avoid it happening again, what will you do in future, what help do you need from me?
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  • If they’ve had a challenge: what do you think led to that, what have you done about it, what have you learnt, what support do you need from me?
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  • When planning forward: what will you focus on, how will that help you or others, what will you do first, when will you start, how will you know when it’s working, what milestones will there be, what obstacles could get in the way, how will you overcome these, when shall we review progress?

Listening to answers

Whilst mastering your question technique you’ll also need to listen well.

  • Build rapport by looking and showing you are listening, by maintaining eye contact, nodding and using open gestures.
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  • Avoid taking notes while they are talking.  If you need to keep a record of the conversation, you don’t need to document everything, just key points, so wait until they have finished, then make a note of the relevant key points or anything you want to come back to later.
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  • Watch for any hesitancy in their answers. If you’ve asked a tough question they may need time to think about it, so avoid jumping in before they’ve had a chance to do so.
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  • Avoid jumping to conclusions or making assumptions – if they don’t give you all the evidence you are looking for, or their answers don’t give you enough detail, follow up with more questions.
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  • Listen to what’s not been said too.
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  • Stem the flow of irrelevancies or hobby horses by interruptions like “I understand your point.” or “I can imagine”…. “So what can you do…?”
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  • Summarise their points (using their words) to show your understanding.
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  • Don’t be tempted to stick to pre-formulated questions; build the next question round the answer to the last.

Because we all filter or delete information, it can mean the information we receive or questions we ask very general or vague, making it difficult for others to fully understand the question, issue or action required. Often it is necessary to drill down to get specifics.

This can be the case when reviewing performance with team members. We might ask a question about a situation and they may be vague or ambiguous with their answers. We interpret their response in one way (and often make assumptions about the detail) when they mean something else. Or maybe they are being vague deliberately, as they don’t have any details to give!

For example: you ask someone how they are getting on with a task you have asked them to complete by the end of the week. When you ask them on Wednesday how they are getting on they answer “Fine”. What does that mean? Does it mean they’ve nearly finished; that they are just half way though; that they have started it but waiting for some information from someone else; that they are stuck, but too shy to ask for help; or they haven’t even started yet?

This is when we may need to do some “Fluff Busting” and I’ve written about that here.

Take action and practise your question technique

If you only do one thing:

Next time you ask one of your team for an update ask specific questions so you come away knowing exactly where they are up to.

video: Understand your customers and team by asking quality questions..



How important is happiness at work

happiness at work

How to create happiness at work

This week is “Week of Happiness”, so I feel it’s appropriate to talk about happiness at work today.

I am a firm believer that the happier your team the happier your customers.

Happiness spreads and a happy team makes for a better place to work, lower staff turnover, fewer absences, your team are more productive and work better together, and it’s easier to recruit, all of which adds up to lower labour costs.

Although I’m not suggesting that happiness and engagement are the same thing, I am sure the two go hand in hand.

I know I talked about “Mood Hoovers” a couple of weeks ago; the ones who don’t like it when you are full of the joys of spring, when they’ve got out of bed on the wrong side and made up their mind to stay in their miserable state all day, determined to burst everyone else’s bubble and literally suck your good mood, all your energy and all your happiness from you. None of which is conducive to creating happiness at work.

Anyone who knows me well, will know I’m not a great one for formality. But I do recognise that informality is not an excuse to be unprofessional. I believe you can still have some fun and create a happy team whilst remaining professional.

Helping people be happy at work makes them more receptive and engaged (which is important for you) and enjoyable (important for the team).

Although you can’t force people to be happy, you can create a culture where happiness thrives.

Here are 10 ideas towards creating a culture of happiness and making your team more productive.

  1. Like so much in your business, it starts with you. If you are moody, unapproachable, or take yourself too seriously, this inevitably rubs off on others. But I also believe the same can be true if you are happy, that happiness spreads.
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  2. Understand what’s important to each of your team members. Take time to talk and listen to build relationships, and show an interest in them as individuals. Clarify expectations, not just what you want from them, but what they want from you and the job.
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  3. Involve your team. Seek their views and ideas on things that impact them particularly in areas where they have more involvement than you.
    E.g. many of them will spend more time with customers than you and often spot things you might miss.
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  4. Show you care. Be approachable for people to talk to you, but still listen and observe, so you can pick up on and deal with any concerns quickly. Identify where people need support, where they need more resources or a better system. Use problems or mistakes as a learning opportunity rather than apportioning blame.
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  5. Do something fun but with a serious note in aid of charity. It might be a one off to mark an awareness day such as Red Nose Day, Children in Need, or Macmillan coffee morning, or maybe in support of a charity with special meaning for one or more of your team. Or a longer term project in support of a chosen charity throughout the year. This is a good opportunity to bring people together from different departments, and gives people a sense of purpose.
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  6. Add variety. Create opportunities for the team to do something different to what they are used to, to make their day more interesting.  Take people away from their usual environment occasionally (as long as this doesn’t make them uncomfortable or become a distraction) such as holding meetings outside. Break up routine activities with fun energisers and ‘right brain’ activities. These might seem trivial, but getting your team members involved keeps them energized and in a better state of mind.
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  7. Recognise and acknowledge people’s contribution. Remember to say thank you at the end of a busy shift, when someone has helped a colleague, or gone out of the way for a customer. The more specific your thanks, the more value it has. Celebrate successes, not necessarily just things at work, but also things which are happening outside of work; their own personal achievements, or causes for celebration, such as gaining a qualification, passing their driving test, having their first child or grandchild, a big birthday, etc.
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  8. Show you trust your team members by empowering them to make decisions on things which come under their responsibility. Give them the flexibility to do things in the own way, the way it feels most comfortable and natural to them providing of course it’s safe. Very often the way which people work – it’s the end result that’s important not how they actually arrived at that end result. Particularly with customer interaction, this allows people to be themselves.
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  9. Show your commitment to helping people develop. Not everyone wants to progress, but that doesn’t mean to say they don’t want to be stretched or given opportunities for new challenges.
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  10. Have some fun. Do something as a team (or whole company), whether it’s 5 aside football, a quiz team or trying something nobody has done before, such as I did last year in an archery competition.  Let them choose, but give it your backing, cheer them on and celebrate their successes. Even better if you can combine it by celebrating with a treat. It can be as lavish or as little as you like: afternoon tea, wine tasting, pizza night. Create some light hearted competition with quizzes, games or league tables. Copy some of the gamification ideas you see on apps such as awarding badges, progress charts, treasure hunts.

Take action

If you only do one thing: pick just one of the above ideas that you don’t do already and make a point of focusing on that one thing today.

Video: Happiness in Creating a Service Culture



Managing Performance

managing performance

It’s that time of year again when the acorns are falling, and the squirrels are stocking up for winter.

But, what’s the connection between acorns and managing performance?

Having several large oak trees in my garden I know only too well what can happen to acorns if you leave them on the ground. Either the squirrels bury them, or they get covered over by leaves, and before you know it you have a small forest of oak saplings.

And not too easy to pull up once they’ve got their roots down.

So, the connection with managing performance?

Dealing with performance is a bit like picking up acorns.

If you pick up on problems early enough they can’t “germinate”. But left to fester they become much harder to deal with.

I often find junior or inexperienced managers in particular tend to avoid dealing with poor performance.

Below are 10 principles you can share with them to give them support, but if your team would benefit from some more in depth guidance, this is what I’ll be covering on my Managing Performance Workshop next week.

It’s 3 bite size session of 90 minutes each, over 3 consecutive days (Monday 21st – Wednesday 23rd), and designed with junior managers and supervisors in mind (although any managers who shy away from dealing with performance would benefit).

And if you register before 16th September  you’ll benefit from the early bird rates.

So, what are the 10 principles?

  1. Set expectations, so everyone in the team knows what’s expected of them and why
  2. Be consistent so there are no mixed messages
  3. Address any issues straight away
  4. Conduct regular 1:1’s with team members where you can review performance and any support that’s needed
  5. When feeding back on performance stick to facts, not your interpretation of the facts.
  6. Recognise not all performance shortfalls are down to the individual – there may be other factors at play beyond their control
  7. Use the ‘3E’ structure (i’ll be covering this in detail next week)
  8. Focus on the end result. Your goal is to resolve the issue and improve performance in future
  9. Be mindful of your tone and language
  10. Recognise that failing to take any action about poor performance sends the message to everyone else that it’s OK

Of course, every business should have its own disciplinary process, and I am not suggesting by-passing that. But if you nip issues in the bud hopefully you won’t need to get as far as the disciplinary process.

Take Action on performance

If you only do one thing. Share this list with your junior managers and supervisors and give them the support they need to nip poor performance problems in the bud.

p.s. Book before Wednesday 16th and get the Early Bird Offer of £27 per
person or £97 for a group booking (up to 5 attendees).
After this date registration will be £47 per person or £197 for up to 5
attendees from the same business. (All prices subject to VAT)

Book here now to get the benefit of the early bird:
https://www.naturallyloyal.com/resources/managing-performance-workshop/

Related Video



Suicide Prevention

suicide prevention

Spotting warning signs

Being told a colleague has committed suicide is sickening. This has happened to me twice, and I sincerely hope it never happens again. It was bad enough for me; I just can’t begin to imagine the pain for these people’s families. You keep going over in your mind if there is anything you could have done to prevent it, had you seen the signs, but subconsciously dismissed them?

The World Health Organisation estimates that over 800,000 people take their own life each year – that’s one person every 40 seconds. That’s tragic.

This Thursday (10th September) is Suicide Prevention Day. We know that employees have had the added stress of Covid-19, so now more than ever we need to be on the lookout for the warning signs.

I am no expert on mental health, so I asked my colleague Ase Greenacre, a mental health counsellor, if she could share some insights and tips with us to reduce the risk of ever having to hear of a colleague’s (or anyone else’s) suicide.

Ase wrote:

Suicide warning signs to look out for:

Change in appearance: weight loss or gain, lack of personal hygiene, increase in minor illnesses.

Change in behaviour: Increased alcohol intake, drugs, aggression, self-harm, putting affairs in order, emotional outbursts, risk taking that are out of character, sleeping a lot more than usual, stop attending activities that used to be important, stop seeing friends and family.

Intense feelings: Sadness, shame, loneliness, desperation, hopelessness, anger and disconnection.

Here are some tips on how to approach someone you might feel concerned about:

  • Create a safe space for the person/s who needs to talk
  • Find the right time and place Assess the situation – make sure it’s safe for you to approach
  • Approach in as normal a way as possible
  • Listen and communicate non-judgementally
  • Give support and information only (not advice / don’t try and fix!)
  • Pay attention to body language. Use attentive posture, comfortable eye contact, and gestures, expressions, and intensity that match the speaker’s
  • Use thoughtful, open-ended, empathic questions to invite deeper thought and consideration: “How did you feel then? “
  • Remind yourself that respectful empathetic listening is a gift you may giveand it does not mean “I agree with you”
  • When the speaker pauses, you can briefly summarise what you heard in your own words, without solutions (this is the hardest part). When you need to say something: introject, don’t interrupt

MHFA England – Mental Health First Aid in the workplace

Ase also recommends every business should have mental first aiders, in the same way you have a normal first aider.

Mental Health First Aid training is a must for all organisations.  The optimal quota is 1 mental Health First Aider for every 10 employees to provide adequate staff support.

As companies return to the workplace, awareness of the mental health of staff is even more prevalent as the experience and feelings around Covid-19 varies from person to person. There will be many different reactions and behaviours that will require understanding, empathy and patience. Some might also require more attention, and this is where a Mental Health First Aider come in.

What is Mental Health First Aid?

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is an internationally recognised training course which teaches people how to spot the signs and symptoms of mental ill health and provide help on a first aid basis.

MHFA won’t teach you to be a therapist, but just like physical first aid, it will teach you to listen, reassure and respond, even in a crisis.

Adult MHFA courses are for everyone aged 16 upwards. Every MHFA course is delivered by a quality assured instructor who has attended our Instructor Training programme accredited by the Royal Society for Public Health and is trained to keep people safe and supported while they learn.

To become a MHFA you need to do a 2-day training course. Sessions include activities, input and discussions in a small confidential group.  All learnings have value for your work environment as well in your private life.

There is also a 1-day Champion MHFA course which is also a great step towards awareness and support within the company.

You will gain:

  • In-depth understanding of mental health and the factors that can affect wellbeing
  • Learn how to spot warning signs and triggers of mental health concerns
  • Gain confidence in how to approach someone, assist and support them
  • Focus on real skills as well as tips and tools to feel able to engage with this very complex area.

You will receive:

  • Mental Health First Aider certificate from MHFA England
  • MHFA manual
  • MHFA workbook
  • MHFAider badge & lanyard
  • MHFA line managers guide where applicable

How will attending an MHFA course help?

Research and evaluation shows that taking part in an MHFA course:

  • Raises awareness and mental health literacy
  • Reduces stigma around mental ill health
  • Boosts knowledge and confidence in dealing with mental health issues
  • Promotes early intervention which enables recovery

Thank you Ase for your tips.

To learn more or book onto an Adult MHFA course contact Ase directly at : ase@mrtconsultants.co.uk or go to https://mrtconsultants.co.uk/

If you only do one thing towards suicide prevention:

Get yourself or at least one of your team booked onto a Mental Health First Aid in the Workplace course. In the meantime don’t ignore the signs. If you don’t feel you can help, at least point people in the direction of those that can.


How to earn trust

earn trust Why you need to earn trust

According to a recent Harvard Review Survey 58 percent or people say they trust strangers more than their own boss.

This is truly shocking.

If your team don’t trust you, imagine what impact that can have on their performance, your staff turnover, your customers’ experience and your bottom line.

If you want your team to thrive, stay engaged and wow your customers start by ensuring you have their trust, and that people believe you and you will do what you say you will do.

I’ve written previously about demonstrating your trust in your team.

But trust is two way.

How to earn trust

How can you earn trust, and get team members to put their trust in you too?

  1. Show you genuinely care about them, and always have their best interests and long-term well-being at heart, not just business interests.
    A specific – but probably counter intuitive  example – is not giving in to the excessive or unreasonable demands of a customer who is having a negative impact on the well-being of team members.
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  2. Keep commitments. Do what you say you’ll do and avoid making commitments you will struggle to keep; breaking a commitment or promise is a major way to destroy trust, particularly when it’s somethings that’s important to the other person.
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  3. Lead by example, so there are no mixed messages. If you aren’t seen to adhere to the same principles and behaviours you expect from your team this is a sure way to lose their trust. Be of service and support to others in the same way you’d expect your team to be of service or support to their colleagues and your customers.
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  4. Don’t play favourites. No one likes a teacher’s pet and if one person gets recognised more than others or gets singled out for recognition it will certainly not go down well with those who don’t get the same attention (as well as potentially embarrassing the person who gets all the glory).
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  5. Show personal integrity. Lack of integrity can undermine almost any other effort to create trust. It goes beyond honesty.  One way of manifesting integrity and earn trust is to be loyal to those who are not present.
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  6. Demonstrate trust. When you demonstrate your trust in your team you will usually earn trust in return.
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  7. Play by the same rules. Sincere appreciation is an essential ingredient to earn trust. Ensure all your management team all use the same criteria for rewarding and recognising the team’s contribution, so people don’t get confused or feel deflated when something worthy of recognition gets ignored.
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  8. .Habit forming. It takes time to build and earn trust, so if you have new members in your team or you are new to the team, focus on small daily commitments.
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  9. Apologise when you’re wrong. It is one thing to make a mistake, and quite another not to admit it. Saying “I’m sorry” or admitting when you’ve forgotten something or messed up will go a long way to avoid losing trust.
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  10. Trust yourself. Earning trust from others is not enough if you don’t have trust in yourself. If there’s something you really believe to be right you have to show others what you stand for and what you stand against

Take Action

If you only do one thing to earn trust:

Treat your team with the same care, courtesy and respect as you’d like them to show your customers. Listen to them and take on board their requests, and work with them to make their lives easier (which invariably helps productivity and frees up time to improve service levels).

Related video: Do your customers and team feel trusted?