Thursday, July 20, 2017

Level Up

Recently, Imagine! has been working on changing our approach to performance management and performance evaluation. We have recognized too often at Imagine!, people in supervisory positions in our organization weren’t always given the tools they needed to be successful. So much of our ability to live up to our mission of creating a world of opportunity for all abilities depends on successful supervision, so we knew we had an obligation to try to address that challenge.

I had the opportunity on Tuesday to give a presentation to supervisors at Imagine!, providing some of the philosophy behind our efforts to improve our performance management, and I thought I’d share some of the key points of that presentation here on this blog.

More than anything, we want to give our supervisors the skills and tools they need to become coaches instead of just managers.
  • A good supervisor can step in and replace any person on the team. 
  • A supervisor is the reigning technical expert whose job is not to be wrong, and they can achieve this through technical competence and perfect checking. 
  • That’s not the same as being a coach. 
So to support supervisors in becoming coaches, we need to identify some essential strategies (and this is a good time to give credit where it is due: much of what I’m sharing here is a repurposing of Jim Wood’s book “The Next Level,” one of my favorite books on developing organizational greatness.) Essential strategies for turning supervisors into coaches include:
  • Market intelligence. Supervisors need to know what the environment is like at all times: who are competitors are, what they are doing, and how they are doing it; what are our organizations’ strengths and weaknesses are; what legislative issues may change our landscape, etc. 
  • Strategic Leadership/Strategic Planning. Human service organization are reactive far too often. Supervisors need, with the support of their organization, an understanding of the strategies behind decision-making, business processes, etc. 
  • Internal Infrastructure. If supervisors are to have any chance to become coaches, they can’t spend all of their time on tasks not related to their essential duties. Having a robust internal infrastructure in place, both at the level of the supervisor’s area of responsibility and throughout the organization as a whole, is imperative. 
The most important aspect of turning supervisors into coaches, however, is having a laser sharp clarity of purpose. A supervisor should be able to answer the following questions about the work they do and their area of responsibility:
  • What makes us different from others doing similar stuff? 
  • What are we most proud of? 
  • What are our talents and strengths? 
  • What do we do that others want to benchmark? 
  • How do we make a better life for people? 
  • Why do people choose us rather than others? 
  • How do we create an advantage for people we serve? 
  • What do we want our reputation to be like? 
  • How do we make the world a better place? 
I feel as though I can answer every one of those on behalf of Imagine! and the work we do. I also think most supervisors could do the same if they take a little to think about their answers. And I also think that if a supervisor can answer the questions above, then they already have the capability to be a coach. Knowing those answers puts them in the position to inspire, to challenge, and to offer meaningful and impactful feedback that is optimistic, encouraging, and has tangible corrections for those they supervise.

One example of coaching versus managing that I find especially relevant is one I shared on this blog a while back about Walter Malmquist, a two-time member of the US Olympic Ski team. In the post, Malmquist recollected a story about an assignment he received while still in high school from a ski coach named Jim Page. The assignment was for Walter to write out his goals for his ski career. For Walter, this was a transformational assignment, as it forced him to publicly commit to certain aspirations that had up until then remained unspoken, and therefore existed without any sort of plan as to how to make those aspirations a reality.

Walter noted:

“My coach’s challenge broke the ice which in turn made me think about myself and my aspirations completely differently than I ever had.”
  • my fantasies became my goals... 
  • my goals became consequences of my willingness and ability to confront/commit to address actionable items... 
  • my commitment to address actionable items became my day-to-day tasks... 
  • my day-to-day tasks became actions to record and monitor... 
  • my records became data to evaluate progress toward my goals... 
  • my progress toward my goals became my motivation to set new/better goals... 
  • my new goals became consequences of my willingness/ability to commit to address actionable items . . . 
Anyone at Imagine! can become a coach like Jim Page. So I’m proud of the fact that we are working toward a goal of making that happen – that all of our supervisors have a little bit of Jim Page in them. If we can make that a reality, there’s no telling how much better we can become as an organization (and I already think we’re pretty darn good!).

Then again, what do I know?

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