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Coaching

The Right Tools

When you start being coached, you sign up to beginning a process of lasting and transformative change. You are able to outline your true goals, put aside limiting beliefs and define the steps necessary to achieve great outcomes.

Believing that change is possible, and that you have potential to succeed is just the start of your journey. You need to identify the tools that you already have to hand, and the ones that you’ll need to acquire to bring that success to life.

Positive thinking must be back up with concrete actions to be effective, pairing the two is what brings positive change.

As an example, say you want to become a better leader. It’s a very common desire in people I work with, which might be manifested as a desire to seek a promotion or an expanded role, or they may wish to be recognised as being more effective in the role they are currently in.

Once you’ve reached the goal, reflect and consider what it means in more detail. Do you communicate well with your team but struggle with stakeholders? Is your tactical leadership strong but strategic vision weak? Understand your current reality and you can build your action plan for change.

Once you’ve done this, what tools do you need to support your change? For these types of changes, tools will often be improved skills rather than physical items. You might need to improve how you present information, manage conflict better or improve your negotiation.

All of these can be improved with training and practice. They won’t get better with purely positive thinking, but they’ll certainly improve much faster when you apply a positive mindset to the change.

Bring the right tools to bear and you’ll get the change you want.

Categories
Leadership

Showing Appreciation

If you are running remotely fully, or just more distributed than usual, then it can be tough to show appreciation in the ways that you are used to. The one that you’ve probably lost is the immediate positive feedback.

Giving feedback close to the event is one of the most important ways to make sure it’s understood and recognised. Giving a quick bit of positive re-enforcement on a good performance is especially beneficial. It’s the “Good job with the really clear chart on Slide 5” or “Great handling on the tough question from Marketing”.

You still need to give these little positive updates to the people you work with, but when there’s no corridors to walk around, it can be hard to find out the right way to do it.

It’ll depend somewhat on your culture, and on the meetings you are having, but you can consider these approaches:

  1. Just do the shout-out in the meeting. Works great for the truly positive and if the person you are praising enjoys the public recognition.
  2. Hold on for your next one-to-one. If you are having them weekly, then it’s probably still close enough to be effective. Grab some notes in the moment and refer to them in the session.
  3. Drop it in at the start of another meeting. You will be in and out of video calls all day, so pick a time when both you and the person you are giving the appreciation to are early to a call, and go for it then.
  4. Go big. If you’ve got a big all hands or departmental meeting, grab a few seconds in the appreciation section to recognise the great work.
  5. Send a note in instant messenger. This will be close to the situation, but can lose some of the emotion and meaning, so craft it carefully.

Five options to let someone know they did well, pick what works for you and which will also have the right impact on the person you are praising.

One final thought. Never ask for ‘a quick call’ from your chat software, especially if it’s the sum total of your message. That’s certain to put the fear into the person you are talking to. The unexpected escalation to a more personal form of contact is too often used for bad news, so avoid this approach wherever possible.

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Coaching

Bust the Jargon

When you are firming up goals and dropping the vague, you also massively benefit from busting the jargon.

The world is overwhelmed by synergy, thought-leadership and efficiencies. There’s still far too many rock-stars and even the occasional ninja in software development.

Most people who’ve been in business for a while will be accustomed to speaking the jargon. It’s easy to throw in a few more words and lose the meaning.

Try stripping it back and saying what you really mean. Take a statement that’s jargon heavy, and restate it into terms that people outside of your direct context could connect to and uderstand.

I’ve done it myself recently, and it can really take a few repetitions to get to something that’s really meaningful. Watch out for loops. It’s easy to replace a bit of jargon with something equally meaningless to someone outside of the bubble.

Imagine explaining your goal to a friend or family member. Would they understand what you want to do, or what achievement you are chasing?

Creating this clarity also lets you see how well the goal aligns to your values. Jargon can hide this, so strip it away and make sure you are doing what really matters to you.

Categories
Leadership

Outcomes Matter

When you are trying to measure what matters, frame it in terms of Outcomes, rather than Outputs. When you start to measure something, then that number will tend to improve as you focus on it. If you are committing to something, then ticking off progress towards is an important way to help you get there.

It’s vital to make sure that the focus is on the actions that end up moving the right needle in the right way. Getting this right can take some time, so it’s worth putting effort in at the start.

The classic example from the tech world is measuring of how many lines of code a particular person has written. It’s a terrible metric, but let’s dig into the why.

Firstly, it’s easy to game. Software engineers can look at this, and just write code that does the same thing in more lines of code. It ends up being counter productive, as you see more complexity for no actual benefit.

Secondly, it’s not linked to the benefits that you are trying to bring to customers. Software exists to solve problems but the number of lines of code is not linked to this. This means the measure is incentivising something that’s not connected to your true goals, which is a bad place to be.

You can run this process with any sort of measure you want to use:

  1. What outcome are you aiming for?
  2. How can you measure progress towards that outcome?
  3. If the measurements are focused on, what behaviours will that drive?
  4. Does that behaviour support the outcomes you are driving for?

If you’ve got good measures that support positive progress to a great outcome, then you are in the right place to move forwards.

You will tend to find that your measures become a bit more complex, as you try to balance multiple behaviours. That’s a positive thing, but make sure to refine them until they are as simple as possible, while still driving you towards the best outcomes.

They’ll also become more specific to your particular situation, which again is a positive as it ties you more closely to the problems that you are trying to solve.

So instead of measuring the amount of code written, you may instead consider how you can help the team make more releases per month whilst reducing the number of issues caused in the production systems.

That’s better, as it’s encouraging fast and small releases, something we enjoy in tech as it reduces risk and means that we can learn faster by putting features in front of customers sooner.

Even better may be to aim to increase revenue, conversion or another core business metric. That brings more of the team together, allows you to focus on solving problems and may results in creative solutions like removing low value of complex features, which you’d never do if you were just focused on writing lots of code.

Focusing on the right outcomes is a powerful driver to positive change and unlocking the creativity of the people you are working with. As a leader that’s a core part of your role, so put the effort in early and reap the dividends of an engaged and highly performing team.

Categories
Coaching Leadership

Accepting Feedback

A really great way to get a better view on the impact your actions have is to practice the art of accepting feedback.

If you are in the habit of blaming the messenger, then pretty quickly you’ll find that no more messages are sent. You’ll lose access to a valuable source of information and be making decisions on much shakier ground.

Of course, this is rarely a problem if the news is good! It’s very much a skill to practice when hearing something difficult, when the impact of your actions is at odds with your intent or when the messages don’t align with your view of who you are.

So, what’s the benefit?

If you accept feedback with poise and grace, then it’s likely that whoever if giving it to you will continue to do so. It builds trust that you can handle difficult conversations and that it’s worth continuing to have them.

Practice this skill as it can be difficult to master. If you’ve struggled in the past, then reflect on the reasons why. Do you leap to your own defence? Are you quick to point to your intent? Do you try to flip the conversation to your own hurt feelings?

To start with, try this. Thank them for the feedback. Then stop, and don’t attempt to address it immediately. If you need to, say that you’ll need some time to reflect on the thoughts they’ve shared.

Feedback is a gift, it gives you more information than you had before, about an area that may be hard for you to see on your own.

In the same way that a pair of socks for your birthday may not be the most looked for gift, so might any specific piece of feedback. You might plan to send those on to the charity shop the next day, but you’ll still thank the giver in the moment.

It’s about building the long term relationship. Remember that and you’ll be learning more about yourself and supercharging your journey of positive change.

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Coaching

Nothing is Perfect

The only truly perfect thing is nothing. There are no problems, no mistakes and nothing that can be improved.

That’s why a feeling of needing to be perfect is always going to be limiting. You default to doing less, aiming towards nothing. It’s an approach that will stop you realising your true potential and instead you end up lost in the noise.

Instead, look towards something that’s good enough to go out into the world. When you are creating something, think about what done is before you start. Find your cheerleaders and seek out their advice. Go through a couple of iterations with this group, then get it out and start learning.

All masters learn their craft over time, and they learn by finding out what works and what doesn’t. Perfection doesn’t let you do this, so don’t get hung up on perfect. Start learning as soon as possible.

If you are driven towards perfection, then try this exercise. Think about something you’ve done that you thought was perfect at the time. Find the old document or presentation, and dive into the detail. I’m certain that you’ll find a lot that could now be improved upon. This is a demonstration of your learning over time, of mastering your craft.

You let this creation out into the world. It was well received, positively remarked upon and may even have landed you more impact or influence in your role. It wasn’t perfect. It was real, it was valuable and it’s something you can do more of.

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Coaching

Star of Your Movie

You are the star in the movie of your life. Everything that happens to you, everything that you do or think, it’s all vital and it’s all going to get top billing.

There are co-stars, special guests, cameos and bit-part players. Different people will loom large in some acts, before becoming lost to the story as you move on through your journey. Some of these will be very easy to predict, some will be very unexpected.

Everyone else you encounter will also be starring in their own movie. Their story is of top importance, and you might just be an extra in a crowd scene.

Sometimes you can be blocked from taking action as you assign too much importance to your own place in the story. If you shy away from a step that’s positive because of what someone else might think, then stop and consider where you sit in the story of their life.

Change can be uncomfortable, but if your large change is just going to have a transient impact on someone you don’t interact with much, then that’s not a reason to hold back.

Changing jobs is a really great example of this. It’s going to have more lasting impact on your co-stars (immediate family) than anyone else. These are the people to consult with, to care about and to be a key part of the journey.

Everyone else will notice the change, but only as to how it impact their own movies. Co-workers might feel some passing pain but they’ll adjust. Your real supporters will celebrate the change, and might just turn into stars of the next act.

Anyone who doesn’t celebrate wasn’t worth worrying about. A bad boss who bemoans your success because it’ll cause them more work just becomes a funny character to only ever be recalled in a minor flashback scene.

If you find it difficult to make a change in your life, draw out your movie poster. Care deeply about your stars, and don’t let the bit-part villains hold you back.

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Coaching

Consistency

Keep on showing up. Meaningful change is hard and there are no quick fixes or shortcuts. Set a pace and stick to it and you will build up significant progress over time.

The compounding effects of consistency are incredibly powerful, but in the early days it can be hard to recognise the positive benefits.

For each small step you take, keep on learning and improving, but keep on taking those steps. When you’ve found something that’s moving you towards your goals, keep on doing it.

It’s better to set your schedule and keep to it, than it is to go in bursts and then do nothing. Setup your commitments accordingly. Write a blog post once a week and publish every Monday, rather than write five in a month but share them all in the last week.

If you are helping people on LinkedIn, then set aside a chunk of time each day, and keep on that schedule. Don’t dip in for a few days and then disappear for a week.

Building the consistency not only gives structure to your efforts, it helps people to see your commitment and to understand the engagement they can expect.

Celebrate your small wins early on, then celebrate the bigger ones as you build up steam.

Keep showing up, and after a while people will be ready for what you are bringing. That’s when the consistency pays off.

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Coaching Leadership

Find your Cheerleaders

When you are identifying your options to achieve your goals, it’s really powerful to understand who is going to cheerlead your success.

Who is going to support you, run ahead of you and broadcast your wins?

The initial effort to get the fly-wheel of change spinning by yourself can be overwhelming. If there are other people to push along with you, then it’ll start moving more quickly. You’ll be able to top-up that energy faster and build impetus at pace.

So, identify people that will supportive of the change you are attempting to bring about. How does the work align to your manager’s needs and desires? Are you solving a pain point that will benefit your peers, or other team members?

Maybe you are pushing forwards an initiative that’s stalled. Find the sponsor, figure out what help they need to get moving again at weave those actions into the next steps you are going to take.

If it’s a real and positive change, you will have supporters. Find them, enlist them in your cause and get them out there shouting about your success.