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Finding Your Refuge, Your “Island of Sanity” through Peer Coaching

October 24, 2018

Fall is upon us. After summer vacation and quieter days online or in the office, activity boils back in a rush and suddenly it’s one stream of “I need this now,” “You’re the only one who can help,” “We’ve moved up the deadline on that project.” To handle all this activity, author Meg Wheatley says you need an “island of sanity,” a retreat or refuge where you can reclaim your best qualities and self. I learned about this idea from my friend and colleague Gabrielle Ganswindt, who studied with Meg and leads dialogue circles.

Peer coaching can serve as an island of sanity, for you and for others in your organization. Peer coaching is an outcome-oriented method that helps you take a step back, a look in the mirror, and gain a refreshed view of your work and life situation. A new perspective for rethinking where you would like to make a change or improvement. With peer coaching, you’ll make better choices, have more courage and skill to protect time and energy for the things that really matter; and feel more engaged and connected.

In our previous post, we introduced peer coaching and its benefits, relaying rigorous research by Polly Parker, Douglas T. Hall, Kathy E. Kram, and Ilene C. Wasserman and codified in their book, “Peer Coaching at Work: Principles and Practices.” In this newsletter, we’ll explore the first of three steps to successfully implement peer coaching, based on their research and my own experience with leaders and teams.

IDEA IN BRIEF:

STEP 1: HOW TO INTRODUCE PEER COACHING      

  • Choose a format. For example, will coaching take place 1-1 or in groups?
  • Create a strong foundation for the relationship.
  • Provide tools people can use to deepen self-awareness and get to know one another.
  • Establish agreements and commitments.

1-1 or Groups?

Peer coaching works in pairs or in groups. As an example, in a recent emerging leader program, we worked with the client to establish peer coaching groups that would support individuals in creating “Action Learning Projects.” These are specific products or services each individual would produce that were closely tied to the participants’ individual goals and objectives. Their peer coaches helped them think through their choices.Whether groups or 1-1, Parker, Hall, Kram and Wasserman’s research suggests that it is crucial that participants choose their peer coaching partners.

The first step to creating a successful peer coaching relationship is to create a strong foundation. Here’s how:

In any team or coaching relationship, a strong foundation is essential for success. Here are just a few of the elements:

 Personal sharing. I believe that personal sharing is the process of becoming more visible as a person, or unhiding. With today’s pace of organizations and the exponential rate of change and new knowledge, no one has the answers but many of us hide this, we hide our weaknesses, afraid to admit what we don’t know. On the flip side, we can lose sight of our strengths, which are essential to share.

 Norms/Agreements/Ground Rules/Principles: Whatever you call them, research has shown that the most productive relationships and teams are based upon agreed upon norms that each individual honors and practices. Example agreements:

  • Confidentiality
  • Promptness
  • Assume positive intent
  • Listen
  • Challenge

Commitments: If you’re embarking on a voyage to an “island of sanity,” you won’t reach your destination without commitment. Barriers will arise—the last minute, unexpected client deliverable; school calls and the kids are sick; budgets shrink. A sacred commitment is what you are willing to do to make your peer coaching situation a success.

Fall is upon us but December will be here before we know it. Time flies even if work-meetings seem to drag on and on. You reclaim your personal power over your circumstances by making time and saving energy for the things that truly matter. Using peer coaching, as your island of sanity, will help you get there.

Peer Coaching: The New Buddy System at Work

September 13, 2018

Recently, I took the plunge and started taking lessons toward scuba certification. That’s where I met Carmen Shultz, scuba instructor #8765432. Carmen proudly bares sun-damage spots and jelly-fish scars like war medals. Whether our group was in the classroom or in “confined waters” the right answers to Carmen’s quiz questions was, “the buddy system.”

Run out of air? Turn to your buddy.

 

 

Tangled in kelp? Signal your buddy.

 

 

Encounter a great white in the Boston Harbor? Stay close to your buddy.

Back up on the surface, organizational life has become a lot like the unpredictable waters below. The changing work of the future is here now and the waters are choppy.

For example, we’ve come to accept that 70% of the workforce is disengaged. One of the big reasons, studies show, is that people feel they don’t have a manager who cares or a buddy who has their back. This matters because we need an engaged workforce to deliver results.

 

IDEA IN BRIEF: PEER COACHING

  •  Peer coaching involves peers of equal status who support each other’s journey and goals.
  • For success, you must implement peer coaching correctly.
  • Use these three research-based steps to implement peer coaching in your organization.

Does organizational life need a buddy-system? 

Yes! But the old “mentoring” programs, when a wise sage imparted knowledge to a fledgling executive, don’t meet today’s needs. Instead, peer coaching has surfaced within the last ten years as a crucial and possibly more outcome-oriented alternative.

What is peer coaching? Is it different from mentoring?

Peer coaching is a “focused relationship between individuals of equal status who support each other’s personal and professional goals,” say my colleagues Polly Parker, Douglas Hall, Kathy Kram and Ilene Wasserman, in their latest book, “Peer Coaching at Work: Principles and Practices.” Through decades of research, these  experts in the field of mentoring and peer coaching have pinpointed the critical success factors that make peer coaching work.

Peer coaching is for everyone. In a world where no single person has the answers, we need to make the workplace safe for people to admit when they don’t have knowledge or skills and make it easy for them to seek advice and support. This will lead to greater organizational efficiency and ease in accomplishing the audacious goals organizations—and individuals—need to achieve to survive.

Why seek a peer coach or implement a peer coaching approach for your organization?

Peer coaching delivers what many people seek—opportunities to grow and develop, to feel connected. In their research, Parker, Hall,  Kram and Wasserman found the surprising benefits of peer coaching include greater “zest, empowered action, new knowledge and skills, enhanced self-awareness and a desire for more connection.” All of the benefits are well-accepted components of employee engagement.

Learning is a social process: cognitive scientists tell us that we learn and retain more when in relation with other people, a common trait of both mentoring and coaching. But I find peer coaching to be different from mentoring for several reasons:

  • Mutual goal-setting. Mentoring assumes that the mentor has knowledge to impart. The peer coaching process requires each learner to set goals and help the other move toward achieving those goals.
  • Method. Mentoring is often informal. Peer coaching uses a proven method – evidence-based approaches and tools which elicit insights and meaning and translate them into action.
  • Accountability. Mentors do not hold mentees accountable for outcomes. Peer coaching processes build-in accountability mechanisms.
  • Assumptions. Mentors may or may not be skilled in challenging mentees to face and challenge the assumptions that drive their behaviors. Peer coaching is a skilled process for surfacing assumptions.
  • Feedback and Feedforward. Mentors may pull punches or not. Peer coaches hold a mirror for one another and aren’t afraid to offer a picture of their colleague’s behavior and impact, or to offer advice for future success.

How can you successfully implement peer coaching in your organization?

Parker, Hall,  Kram and Wasserman outline three, evidenced-based steps for seeking a peer coach or for implementing an approach for your organization:

  1. Create a strong foundation for the peer coaching relationship.
  2. Create success through method, skills and self-awareness.
  3. Make peer coaching a habit, for yourself and for your organization.

In each of the next three newsletters, we’ll take a deeper dive into each of these steps, so you have a roadmap for implementing this new-economy way of generating knowledge, innovation, insight, engagement and connection, for yourself and for others.

What impressed me most about Carmen, scuba instructor #8765432, was her forceful yet caring way of ensuring that we each did what was needed to survive the unexpected while underwater. When it comes to scuba diving, I can’t imagine going to any depth without a buddy.

Like Carmen, all scuba instructors are required to have a number. People have come to feel like numbers in organizational life. Peer coaching is an important solution to creating a more human workplace, with greater depth of connection and learning.

But buyer beware: peer coaching isn’t just getting together for tea or happy hour. Success is a matter of being intentional. Before you take the plunge into peer coaching, make sure you have a plan.

The Remaining Secrets of Great Teams

July 21, 2017

Before my new book on career development, Take Charge of Your VIEW, launched last month, I was writing to you about the five key ingredients in the secret sauce that makes great teams. I took a break from this to let everyone know about my book release, but am now returning to let you know the remaining ingredients that lead to success.

A quick reminder, the first three ingredients are the need to inspire purpose, establish team norms and support each other.

Here are the final two ingredients:

Ingredient #4: Ownership

What I believe: when it comes to work, quality is love. My Nana’s sauce was delicious because she sweated the details: she hovered over the bubbling red liquid to ensure it simmered at just the right temperature, protected it from high heat, and focused her attention as she added salt or oregano.

Your work quality is your love. It reflects the time and energy you are willing to allocate to provide great service, produce a great product, be a great Manager/Leader.

Crucial to ownership is understanding that group quality is every individual team member’s job. Each team member is the one person ultimately responsible for their own tasks and when each individual achieves, the team as a whole achieves.

Tips you can use: In your next team meeting, ask each team member to describe what quality means to them. Tell them about why you are passionate about your work. What do you love? How can the team help one another demonstrate ownership for what you achieve together?


Ingredient #5: Trustworthiness

What’s the most important ingredient in the relationship between team members? Trust, you say?

Philosopher Onora O’Neill respectfully disagrees. Focusing on trust “gets the equation backwards,” O’Neill says in her TedTalk. Trust is something other people earn from you. Trustworthiness, on the other hand, is something you earn from other people.

O’Neill defines trustworthiness as your capacity to consistently demonstrate three qualities, being:

  • Reliable: you follow through with commitments and keep promises.
  • Sincere: you are transparent about your motives.
  • Competent: you demonstrate the skills needed to get the job done.

Instead of worrying about how your colleagues need to earn your trust, be the kind of person that your colleagues trust. You will not only get more done together, but will have more fun doing it.

Tips you can use: In your next team meeting, ask team members to describe how they can personally demonstrate more trustworthiness.

That’s a wrap! Thanks for going on this journey with me to uncover the 5 key ingredients in the secret sauce of great teams:

  1. Inspiring Purpose
  2. Team Norms
  3. Supporting Each Other
  4. Ownership of the Work
  5. Trustworthiness

I hope you’ve taken away some useful insights and practical tips.

In the meantime, I wish you and your teams much satisfaction and success, wherever you are in your journey.

Who Do You Work For?

July 6, 2017

Welcome to Careers 3.0 – we all work for ourselves now.

A few days before my new book, Take Charge of Your VIEW, launched on June 2, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Marion Estienne PhD, in her podcast on leadership, Present Tense Future Perfect.

We had a wonderful conversation about my book and the nature of career development today. Here are some nuggets from our wide ranging conversation:

Corporate culture has changed from a place where employees follow a pre-determined path of tasks and promotions that automatically take them to the next opportunity in the organization (Careers 1.0) to one where the employees seek out opportunities that line up with their passions and strengths. In today’s “careers 3.0 culture” you work for yourself, whether you have your own company or work for an organization.

No longer is career development side-lined to the HR department of a company. In companies that thrive today, career development is a core part of corporate culture. Companies want engaged employees and engagement surveys show that career development ranks as one of the top three qualities people look for in a company. The bottom line is that people are looking for work that taps into their best self.

This is a win-win for the employee and the company. The best leaders and company cultures are those that support their people to take charge of their careers by exploring how they can develop themselves within the company and providing opportunities for self-development. Two factors must exist for this to happen: first, employees must be given the tools to help them navigate work opportunities at the organization; second, managers must be willing to have these meaningful conversations with employees about their development and engage then in conversations about their VIEW.

Today’s Tip: The best leaders and company cultures are those that support their people to take charge of their careers.

I invite you to listen to the entire show about career development today and the six-week journey my book will take you through to find your best self.

Present Tense Future Perfect podcast link here.

Direct link to my interview here.

How to Inspire Purpose in Your Team

April 25, 2017

TODAY’S TIP: How to Inspire Purpose in Your Team  

In our last post, we discussed that there are five key ingredients to creating a great team.

Inspiring purpose is the first ingredient that distinguishes great teams from good ones.

Ingredient #1: Inspiring Purpose

Whenever I ask a group of leaders, “What makes a great team?” I hear the same, accurate answer: a common goal.

It’s like saying the secret to great tomato sauce is tomatoes.

To delve into this a little more, let’s return to my grandmother’s kitchen.

On Sundays, we’d hover by the white stove stop, waiting for Nana to turn her back. When she wasn’t looking, we’d dip a torn corner of fresh Italian bread into the pot of tomatoes, basil and olive oil simmering into a boom of red sauce and sneak a quick taste.

The purpose of food is nourishment. More than that, Nana added love. She stirred frequently, added ingredients slowly, and probably smiled as she turned away from the pot and we swooped in. Her food brought us together and kept our Italian heritage alive. That’s what inspired us and made her food great.

In my experience, great teams feel great commitment to something beyond a common goal – they feel inspired by the greater purpose of their work. As a leader, you have an opportunity every day to connect people’s goals with greater purpose to their work. This is important for everyone, especially Millennials. If you want to accomplish great things together, regularly remind people of the inspiring purpose for their work.

Tips You Can Use:
Here are a few secrets from my toolkit to help you inspire your team to greatness.

  • Working One-on-One: When you delegate a project or task, be sure to explain the “Why” behind the person’s goals and how their work relates to the purpose or goals of the team or the organization. “When you do this task well, you’re contributing to the company’s vision to cure cancer for patients,” or, “By doing this project well, you’re helping the team innovate new ways of working,” or, “Even though this may seem routine, it matters because other team members are relying on your quality work product to achieve our team’s goals.”    
  • With your team: One of my favorite team development experiences that I designed is called “I am Here.” At your next team meeting, take five minutes out of your agenda. Ask people to take out a paper and write the reasons why they chose to work in your company or team. Then ask them to share their answers with the team. I’m always amazed by the common threads people offer. This experience works well in large groups as well.

In our next post, we’ll leave Nana’s kitchen and turn our attention to Palo Alto, California, where Google’s data-geeks uncovered the next key ingredient of great teams. I’ll offer more details on the other four key ingredients and actionable steps you can take as a leader to put them to work in your teams.

KEY TAKEAWAY: great teams feel commitment to something beyond a common goal – they feel inspired by the greater purpose of their work.

 

Stay tuned for our next post to learn about the next key ingredient to great teams.

The Secret Sauce of Great Teams

April 7, 2017

TODAY’S TIP: There are 5 key ingredients to building great teams

In my Italian family, food was love.

Sunday came with a big pasta dinner and my grandmother’s red sauce bubbling gently to a simmer in the pot on the stove-top. We have lots of wonderful cooks in my family, but no one could make sauce like my grandmother. Even if she gave you the recipe, your food would come out good, but not great.

Today, I confess to take-out more often than homemade meals. But I love my work and carry my grandmother’s ethic with me.  As I coach, I help leaders build a great culture to achieve bold goals.

Continue reading »

Enable Your Employees to Take Charge of their Careers

March 30, 2017

In our last post, we introduced three tips for moving people in to the Nexus at your organization. As a reminder, the Nexus is that brilliant place where company business goals and people’s passion meet for optimal performance.

Here we will dive deeper into these concepts so you can easily apply them at work:

  1. Be specific when communicating your vision.People want clear direction and meaningful work. In Jeffrey’s company we generated a list of projects and tasks that are specific to the company. Managers use the list in career conversations with people to match development goals with work that optimizes the Nexus.
  1. Strengthen your coaching muscle.As managers, we tend to give people advice but they learn more when we ask meaningful questions. At Jeffrey’s company, we trained managers how to coach for both continuous and career development
  1. People don’t learn from challenging assignments, they learn by reflecting on their experience.Schedule time for periodic conversations that reveal insight and lessons learned that people apply to improving both on the job performance, which prepares them for future roles and opportunities.

Remember, relationships are ongoing and there is no finish line.

We’ve been following Jeffrey in our recent posts, whose challenge was to keep people engaged who had worked at his company for more than three years. At Jeffrey’s company Prior Consulting piloted tools that enabled fresh career conversations. Some people left after realizing that the source of their burnout was the result of a small overlap between their interests and the company needs. This is healthy.
Jeffrey reports that managers, not HR, take ownership for building relationships with people, delegating more effectively and coaching people more frequently.

The benefit: people have a clear sense of their strengths and development areas. Managers and employees work together to close the gaps.

KEY TAKEAWAY: If you want to move your team into the Nexus, enable people to take charge of their careers.

3 Ways to Create Optimal Performance at Work

February 27, 2017

As a manager, you need to create optimal performance from everyone in your organization.

In our last post, we learned that quality relationships between managers and people leads to higher employee engagement and increased performance. We also learned that career development is the key to building these quality relationships between managers and their people.

Coaching and mentoring builds quality relationships and allows employees to meet the challenges of their work today while charting their future path.  Millennials, in particular, need to know they are growing in their role, to be satisfied and engaged with their work. Career development activities do just that.

The goal of all this is to move people into the Nexus: the place where company business goals and people’s passion meet for optimal performance.

Here are three tips for moving people to the Nexus:

  1. As an employee, be specific when communicating your vision.
  2. As a manager, strengthen your coaching muscle.
  3. People don’t learn from challenging assignments, they learn by reflecting on their experience.

KEY TAKEAWAY: When employees and managers work together on career development, everyone at the organization benefits.

In our next post, we will take a deeper dive into these three tips so you can learn how to easily apply them at work.

The Key to Higher Employee Engagement

February 13, 2017

In today’s post we will be talking about the manager/employee relationship and how that affects workplace engagement and productivity.

TODAY’S TIP: Career Development = Quality Relationships = Employee Engagement

Remember Jeffrey from our previous post? His challenge was to keep people engaged who had worked at his company for more than three years. He realized that the Nexus, that place where an organization’s goals and people’s passion meet, creates optimal performance for both the organization and the person, and that this is the best answer to employee engagement and company success.

Jeffrey discovered that the best way to reach the Nexus was for his organization to focus on the quality of relationships between managers and people. Quality relationships happen when mangers actively coach their people on their career development path, and this lead to high levels of engagement.  Career development happens on the job, when people have challenging assignments and managers that coach effectively.  The outcome: higher employee engagement and people’s willingness to give their extra time and energy

Why?

People long for coaching and mentoring, especially when it comes to feeling good about their work today and charting their future path.  In fact, career development ranks as the top reason why people switch jobs, especially Millennials. Show your employees you care, and they will show you that they care. When employees get grounded in their personal values, they perform better, says author Amy Cuddy. Career development activities, such as having employees create a personal vision to guide their life and work,empower people to uncover their passion and take charge of their careers.  


KEY TAKEAWAY: 
Actively mentoring your employee’s career development path is the surprising key to building quality relationships and engaging employees.  Stay tuned for our next post which will give you tips on moving people to the Nexus in your organization.

New Year’s Goal? A Win/Win Year

February 7, 2017

At this time of new year renewal and resolutions, I am very excited to launch the Prior Consulting blog. My goal is to bring practical tips and the latest trends on leadership and culture so you can increase your personal performance, efficiency and effectiveness.

TODAY’S TIP: Focus on the win/win at work to achieve more together

If you are like most of us, your list of resolutions is long and daunting. Here’s a tip to ensure success this year: whether you work for yourself or for someone else, focus on the win/win – this is the intersection, or the Nexus, between your personal goals and the goals of your organization.

The Nexus is the place where your performance and passion meet. It is the zone where your best-self aligns with your organization’s goals, to achieve big goals in 2017.  Developing a role at your company that targets your talents and passion creates the most satisfaction – and happiness -as you and your company work together to achieve audacious results.

Here’s an example:

Jeffrey had a problem. As head of Human Resources of a successful, Cambridge-based biotech firm, he found that people with more than three years of experience with the company were losing passion for their work, popping into his office voicing their dissatisfaction. Managers didn’t know how to develop people. People were unsure how to take charge of their careers. Managers complained that people seemed disengaged; work quality could be higher. What was the source of the problem?

Jeffrey and company managers were searching for the Nexus, where company business goals and people’s passion meet for optimal performance. Visualize a Venn diagram with two overlapping circles, with company mission and goals on one side, and people’s career vision and capabilities on the other. The bigger the overlap between these circles, the greater the outcomes for both the company and its people.

What moves a company and its people into the Nexus?

KEY TAKEAWAY: optimal performance is achieved when company business goals and people’s passion meet.  

Stay tuned for our next post to learn more about Jeffrey and how he helped his managers and company achieve more together.

 

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