When Communicating, Inspire—Don’t Inform

I was once asked to give a speech at the regional National Speakers Association meeting in San Diego about my approach for effective communicating.  Specifically, they wanted me to tell them how I give a speech.  My approach is simple.

First, I offer up a concept that could help each person in the audience be a better manager, teacher, coach, or parent.  Next, I give an example or tell a story that relates to that concept.  I get people laughing.  I try to zero in on audience members as human beings and make my point in such a way that it triggers an emotional reaction for each person. Ultimately, I want them to walk out of the room with an idea they can put into action in their lives. Here’s an example of my approach:

Introduce a concept that will enrich the life of each member of the audience.  “Of all the concepts that I have taught over the years, the most important is about catching people doing things right. There is little doubt in my mind that the key to developing people is to catch them doing something right and praise them for their performance.”  The minute I begin talking about catching people doing things right, praising them and letting them know you noticed their good performance, the audience perks up. Everyone can relate to this topic in some way, both at home and at work, because everyone loves praise.

Give an example that relates to the concept. After I talk to the audience about praising in a general sense, I warn people not to wait for exactly the right behavior to praise others—because they could be waiting forever!  “In the beginning, when people are learning something and are not top performers yet, you have to praise progress. For example, imagine that you’re trying to teach a child how to say, ‘Give me a glass of water, please.’ If she has never spoken before, and you wait for that full sentence before you give the child a sip of water, what have you got?  A very dehydrated kid, that’s what!  So what do you do?  You have to praise progress. First, zero in on the word water.  Repeat it over and over again.  Finally, the child will respond with something like ‘loller.’ When that happens, hug and kiss the kid.  Call his grandmother and get the child on the phone so she can say, ‘loller, loller, loller.’ While that’s not water, it’s not bad.  After a while, though, you will only accept water.  Why?  Because you don’t want your child going into a restaurant at 21 years of age and asking for a glass of loller.  So praising progress helps people move toward desired performance.”

Tell a story that shows other applications for the concept. “Is praising important in relationships other than with our children?  You’d better believe it.  Have you ever seen a couple in a restaurant in love?  Margie and I were at a French restaurant not long ago, where we spent three hours enjoying a marvelous meal and elegant atmosphere. On one side of us was a couple in love.  When one of them would talk, the other would smile and listen.  I don’t think they cared if the meal ever came. On the other side was a couple that obviously had been married for a while.  In three hours, I don’t think they said four sentences to each other.  He finally said, ‘How’s your meat?’  ‘Okay,’ was the reply, ‘How’s yours?’  I whispered to Margie, ‘That marriage is dead but nobody buried it.’  How do you get from hanging onto someone’s every word to having nothing to say?  It’s the frequency with which you catch each other doing things right.”

Summarize the presentation with tips the audience can put into action. “The key to keeping personal and professional relationships healthy is to constantly catch people doing things right, and praise them by accenting the positive.  When you accent the positive, you have deposits in your human relationship bank account with that person.  Now, if that person does something wrong, you can point it out without devastating the relationship.”

The example I’ve just presented demonstrates how, when giving a speech, I try to present a concept in human terms and involve the audience in a way that it stirs an emotional reaction in each person.  I try to relate the concept to something that is present in the lives of every audience member so they can feel the power of the concept.  Remember that your job as a communicator and speaker is to inspire and change people’s behavior, not just to share information. If you use this approach when giving a presentation, you will keep your audience interested and give them something they will remember—and be able to use—long after they leave the room.

Transferring Training to the Workplace

I’m constantly amazed at how employees and managers seem to consider training for themselves and their people not as an important opportunity but as a fringe benefit, reward, or social occasion, with little if any plan or expectation on the part of attendees or their managers to maximize the investment.  This is a shame.

I find that with a minimal amount of forethought, the effectiveness, retention and practical application of almost any training opportunity can be greatly enhanced.  This is true whether it is a presentation, classroom lecture, experiential learning situation, or even an internship.  Here are three steps to follow to make sure training has a real impact on your organization.

Step 1:  Set learning goals prior to training.

Before any learning experience, set goals for yourself and with your manager of what you hope to learn during the training.  Just as we read faster and with better comprehension when we read with questions in mind, learning goals help us focus our attention and retention of concepts discussed in training.

For example, after you read the description of a training session, make a list of specific questions you would like to have answered while you are in the training. Ask how the session applies to your current or future job responsibilities.  Then talk about your expectations with your manager and others in your immediate work group.  Their comments might prompt you to form additional questions or learning goals for the training.  The clearer your expectations for what you want to get out of the training, the greater the chances you will achieve those expectations.

Step 2:  Use real-life applications in the training.

Once you are in the training, consistently try to apply what is being discussed back to your job and work group.  For example, if the course is about communication skills, consider how to apply this learning with your employees, manager, and colleagues.  If there is a chance to role-play, use someone you are having difficulty communicating with in your work group as a case study for your activity.  If the course is on leadership, make it an opportunity to actively define your philosophy of leadership with examples to illustrate your beliefs.  If the course is about problem solving, select one or more problems from your work environment to address during the seminar.

With other attendees and with the instructor, during a break or at the end of the day, discuss the application of the concepts to your focus area.  Also, before the session ends, check your list of questions to be sure all items have been addressed.

The more you can view training as a chance to pause and examine problems and situations in your work setting, the more apt you are to get lasting value from the program. Even if the training doesn’t call for it, make an action plan so that when you’re back on the job you will be able to implement learnings and insights you gained in the program.

Step 3:  Follow up on learnings once you are back at work.

As soon as you are back on the job, get out your original learning goals and see how many you achieved.  Share what you have learned with others—your manager, your peers, or your employees.  Having to explain things you learned will help you integrate those concepts into your own behavior.

Identify at least one change you can make right away to gain momentum for making other changes and to keep from slipping back, unchecked, into the status quo.  With others in your work group, share your action plan for doing things differently as a result of the seminar and seek support for the changes you plan to make.  Even the most determined person can benefit from the support and encouragement of others when trying to change his or her behavior.

Set a time in the not-so-distant future to review your plan and your progress.  Hold yourself accountable by sharing your plan with your manager or others in your department.  The extent and frequency of your follow-up is crucial to maximize the practical application of your learnings.

These three rules are not difficult to apply—in fact, you can have fun doing so.  The time invested in getting the most out of training will help to increase your learning and its application and retention so that the initial investment in the learning activity will be paid back time and time again.

The Art of Managing Monkeys

Do you ever go home feeling that you’ve spent the whole day doing jobs on other people’s “to do” lists instead of your own?  Do you feel that you’re doing more but accomplishing less?  Your life may seem out of control, but it doesn’t have to be if you learn the art of monkey management.

Several years ago I had a chance to work with the leading expert of monkey management, Bill Oncken, Jr., who authored, with Don Wass, one of the all-time best-selling articles published by the Harvard Business Review entitled Managing Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey?  Bill and I joined forces with Hal Burrows to write The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey (Morrow, 1989).  It was a fabulous experience and I learned quite a few things about managing monkeys that still hold true today.

For those of you who are still scratching your head, allow me to explain. A “monkey” is the next move after two individuals meet, as illustrated here:  Say you meet an employee in the hallway.  He says, “Can I see you for a minute?  We have a problem.”  He explains; you listen; time flies. Twenty minutes later you know enough about the problem to realize you’ll have to be involved, but you don’t know enough to make a decision.  So you say, “This is very important, but I don’t have time to discuss it now.  Let me think about it and I’ll get back to you.”

The detached observer understands what just happened, but when you’re in the middle, it’s harder to see the big picture.  Before you met your staff member in that hall, the monkey was on his back.  While you were talking, the matter was under joint consideration, so the monkey had one leg on each of your backs.  But when you said, “Let me think about it and I’ll get back to you,” the monkey moved squarely onto your back.

The problem may have been part of your employee’s job, and he may have been perfectly capable of proposing a solution.  But when you allowed that monkey to leap onto your back, you volunteered to do two things that this person was generally expected to do as part of his job:  (1) You accepted the responsibility for the problem, and (2) you promised him a progress report.  Just be sure it’s clear who’s in charge now, your staff member will stop in on you several times the next few days to say, “Hi!  How’s it coming?”  If you haven’t resolved the matter to your employee’s satisfaction, he may begin to pressure you to do what is actually his job.

To avoid this travesty, monkey management is necessary.

Managers must be careful not to pick up other people’s monkeys.  When they do, they broadcast the message that the employees lack the skills to care for and feed the monkeys themselves.  Managers who grab monkeys off their people’s backs often kill employee initiative, and everyone is left waiting for the boss to “make the next move.”

Nobody wins when you take care of other people’s monkeys.  You become a hassled manager and don’t feel very good about yourself.  And you have workers who look to satisfy their needs elsewhere, because they feel underutilized and unappreciated.  They often become dependent upon the boss.  The care and feeding of other people’s monkeys is the ultimate lose/lose deal.

Bill Oncken, Jr. developed four rules of monkey management to help managers give back monkeys without being accused of buck-passing or abdication.  They are:

1.  Describe the monkey. The dialogue between a manager and a staff member must not end until appropriate next moves have been identified and clearly specified.

2.  Assign the monkey. All monkeys shall be owned and handled at the lowest organizational level possible.

3.  Insure the monkey. Every monkey leaving you on the back of one of your people must be covered by one of two insurance policies:  (1) recommend, then act, or (2) act, then advise.

4.  Check on the monkey. Proper follow-up means healthier monkeys.  Every monkey should have a checkup appointment.

If you follow Oncken’s rules, you’ll stop viewing your people as the major source of your problems and will soon start seeing them as major solutions, because each of their backs can be a depository for several monkeys.

Try monkey management—it works!

What do you expect of people?

Here is a small sampling I really enjoyed from my book with Don Shula, Everyone’s A Coach.

The way managers treat people is powerfully influenced by what they expect of people. If a manager’s expectations are high, productivity is likely to be excellent. If expectations are low, productivity is likely to be poor. It is as though there were a natural law that caused a person’s performance to rise or fall to meet his or her manager’s expectations. My wife Margie has often said that one of the reasons she didn’t get into trouble when she was a young person was that she knew her parents expected the best of her and knew she would be a good role model for her younger sisters. She never wanted to let her parents down. Continue reading