Friday, December 10, 2010

They Needed Your Permission

While coaching a senior executive from a large corporation, she talked about managing her time better.  She said that she should delegate more effectively.  Her role had been recently expanded.  With that came, not only additional accountability and responsibility but also additional staff.  She complained that she is swamped with an exponential increase in emails and actions required of her.  In addition, the number of decisions she had to make increased too. She was busy, busy and busy.  What bothered her was that some of the decisions were rather trivial and she felt that her staff could make them.

It reminded me of a similar situation I was in.  I had just been assigned to lead a larger operation in the Asia Pacific.  Most of the staff had heard of me before my arrival.  But, they really did not know me as a as a person.   I was excited and eager to impress my new team and my management.

A senior manager from my Asia Pacific operation came to me to discuss an issue and to get a decision.  I listened, asked a few questions and without hesitation told him of my decision.  I felt good about my decision and the senior manager executed it flawlessly.  The manager came back some time later with another issue and looked for another decision.  Again, I listened, ask some questions and made my decision.  This time, I felt a little uneasy with the whole episode.  I thought that it wasn’t a difficult decision and that the senior manager could have made it.

The manager came to me for another decision.  Again I listened and asked some questions.  This time, I asked him what decision would he have made if he were me.  He looked surprised and hesitated.  At the end he told me what he would do.  I listened attentively and said, “That is wonderful! I would have taken the same decision.” So off he went and executed the decision.

He came back again for another decision.  I listened, asked some questions and asked him what he would have done.  He told me and I acknowledged it as a good decision.  This time I didn’t stop there.  We talked a bit more about decision making and what style he is used to.  It was then that I learned that he could have made all those decisions but feared making them as he was previously “burned” for empowering himself.  We ended the conversation with a limit of authority where he was empowered to make decisions.  He NEEDED MY PERMISSION to make those decisions and he got it.

After listening to the story, my coachee decided to try it out.  The next day I received an email that titled, “It Worked” from her.  She spoke to her staff about not requiring her approval for routine work and her staff said, “Oh! I didn’t know that I could do that.  I am just used to checking with the powers to be.”  In this circumstance, the staff is the power.  The staff was pleased and so was my coachee.  She received fewer emails, fewer routine things to review and can dedicate more time to envisioning and enjoying her other activities.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Disagree and Build

I have got over the discomfort of agreeing.  There are times I disagree.  I needed to find a way to disagree without creating bad feeling.  If the disagreements are handled poorly, I felt that I will be judged as not supportive.  I wanted them to know I disagree but will continue to find a way to meet the objective.
I observed the participants and their interactions in many meetings.  Everyone was focused on the topic.  There were times when an idea is attacked.  But the presenter of the idea did not feel attacked.  I looked upon this exchange with wonder.  My culture indicated to me that an attack is an attack.  If you attack my idea, you attack me.  Participants in these meetings can discredit an idea and debate to great length the merits of the disagreement.  At the end of the meeting after all the argument, the parties that were on opposite side of the issue were chatting and laughing together.  It amazes me that there were no ill feelings.

I learned much observing them.  At the end of their debate the original idea evolved into a stronger one.  The original idea was built into one that everyone accepted.  This was wonderful.  It looks like I am painting a rosy picture.  There were times when things don’t go well.  Usually it is when the proposer felt attacked and did not want to budge from the proposed idea. 

The key is Building an idea.  I started with agreeing.  Now I learned how to agree and build.  I learned to make statements like, “That is a wonderful idea and should work well in Asia.  It will work even better if that is translated into local languages.  Thus, providing a budget for translation will ensure a successful implementation.”  After a short discussion on translation, the conversation moved to which languages and amount to budget.  It is not a debate of the need for translation.

So how do we DISAGREE?  For me, Build is again the key ingredient.  My observations led to conclude that I cannot just disagree and stop at that.  People expect an alternative – a build.  If you can’t find a build, then you may have to drop the disagreement.  It could mean that your knowledge of the topic is not deep enough or your conviction is not strong enough.

In a meeting on a development of a learning program that will be rolled out globally, there was a discussion of what motivates a person to act.  The case example was that both the TV set and the fridge broke down at the same time.  To make matters worse, the Super Bowl is televised live the next evening.  You had enough money to replace one.  Which one would you?  I disagreed with the example to be used.  I said something like, “I think a case study to force a person to a difficult decision is important to the program but to the audience in most countries in Asia, Super Bowl has no significance and an overwhelming number will select replacing the fridge over the TV.  This defeats the intent of making a difficult decision and a deeper understanding of the person’s need.  I suggest that we redesign this portion to enable local customization.  For instance, we may use a situation of a fridge and buying tickets home for the Spring Festival family reunion. In another country, we may use the World Cup with the fridge.

This conversation turns out to be more pleasant than just saying it doesn’t work without offering an alternative.  So, to DISAGREE, I learned to AGREE; then AGREE and BUILD; and finally DISAGREE and BUILD.