How do I raise this with my manager?

July 29th, 2009

This is a question I am often asked during training sessions. Many people find it difficult to talk to their managers about things they are unhappy about, feel are not going well, or do not like about the manager’s style. Often, the situation has been going on for many months, with resentment building. Partly this seems to be related to the way many people feel their managers “should” behave. Comments include:
“But she’s my manager; she should know that.”
“My manager just doles out work without any discussion and we don’t like it, but we don’t know what to do.”
“I’m worried if I say something it will ruin my relationship with my manager.” In this case the relationship didn’t seem to be great anyway!

To some people, the manager represents an authority figure and they believe that authority figures should know the “right” way to do things and shouldn’t need to be challenged. I think this comes from a subconscious alignment of people in management roles with the way we are often taught to think about parents or teachers as children.

This situation is difficult for the member of staff. It is also a real disadvantage to the manager, who needs staff to be able to discuss problems and issues so that they can feel engaged and motivated at work, work well in the team, and contribute to the smooth working of the department.

Partly it is related to a lack of practice in speaking up for oneself and taking responsibility for oneself at work. One of the solutions is to provide staff with an opportunity to learn and practise how to raise and discuss difficult issues with managers by:
• Being respectful but honest
• Describing the issue with examples and how it affects them personally
• Saying what they would like to be different

For example, the employee whose manager “doles out work without any discussion” could learn to say:
“I would like to be able to have some choice of tasks. At the moment, you decide what we will each do. What I’d prefer is if we could discuss the options and decide together who does what. What do you think?”

Contrary to the belief that the manager “should” know how do things “right”, many managers would benefit from a bit of upward coaching of this kind from staff. This manager, who may not have had any training, may see the role of manager as “doling out” the tasks. Whatever the actual situation, the dialogue may clear the air and provide an opportunity to explain boundaries and show some flexibility which suits the tasks involved.

These are the sort of skills which are still often called “Soft” as if they are not as important as others. However, I hear of departments and teams reduced to a silent, simmering paralysis by this kind of inability to talk it through – a real threat to their productivity. For information on how I can help with these sorts of situations in organisations go to my website page on Communication.

Performance Management – two important skills may be the key

June 9th, 2009

Performance management isn’t only about how a manager communicates with staff, but out of nine qualities employees rate in reports of good managers in best companies to work for (, qualities of communication come into all of them (more details below).

My observations from studies on successful management in organisations, and from my work with staff and managers, is that the core of performance management is getting the best from your people and there are two main skills which good managers need which apply to most performance management needs, whether it is the annual review, the everyday briefing of individuals and teams, the feedback on a project, etc.:

1. Share information (not opinion!)
2. Ask questions (and listen to the answers!)

It sounds simple but I am on the side of managers when I say that I don’t think it necessarily comes easily to people for very good reasons:

1. Managers feel that their role requires them to make value-judgements – about the work of the department, the performance of the team and of individuals. And that is true, but in making the value judgements, they need to make sure that they are standing inside the situation and not making assumptions from the outside.

2. Managers think that giving feedback is about expressing value judgements. Fine when things are going well, but when they’re not, this feels uncomfortable – they wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end themselves. Being clear with people about what you need them to do and how they are doing it means holding the value judgement in mind, but not leading with it in what you say. Feedback needs to follow the information/questions model to be effective.

3. Managers don’t want to give people bad news, let alone consult them on it. This, too, feels unpalatable. You know it is likely to be uncomfortable, people may be angry and they may be justified. However, learning to deal with the situation constructively while managing your own emotions will be better for your relationship with your staff than hiding behind an email.

4. Most of us equate the management role with the parental role (both managers and staff) and indeed the exerting of social responsibility as a manager is very close to the role of parent. Our experience of our own parents, or of being a parent, doesn’t necessarily prepare us for being a successful manager.

I have found that an understanding of these key issues and working on the skills of sharing information and asking questions, using examples, discussion and role-play, provides managers with the tools and the confidence they need to do a good job of managing people. Seven out of ten people who leave organisations leave a manager. These are important skills and acquiring them requires a mixture of:
• Self-awareness
• Insight into others
• Behavioural skills

For more information on my work with managers on performance management please go to

If you are still wondering about the nine top qualities of a good manager as rated by employees of best companies to work for, they were:

Talks openly and honestly
Shares important information
Expresses appreciation
Supports and cares
Listens more than talks
Helps fulfil potential
Motivates us to give our best
Is a good role model
Demonstrates leadership skills

Valerie Fawcett (

What kind of coaching are you talking about?

April 29th, 2009

The CIPD’s latest learning and development survey has found that 69% of organisations are now using coaching as a development tool. Are you using coaching as a tool in your organisation? If you answer yes, you could still mean something very different by that answer from your counterparts in other organisations.

I think there are three different ways that people in organisations can experience coaching, and managers can be involved in two of them:

1. A coaching style of management, in which managers coach staff when that is the appropriate style for the circumstances, to empower the individual and leverage their own ability to get things done. This seems to be the main focus of the CIPD report. It is probably the best way to build a relationship with a member of staff, and to develop them, but I agree with others that there will be circumstances in which the coaching style may not be the best management option, or when coaching by the manager may not be welcomed by the individual. Training for the coaching style of management may be in the form of a one or two day course.

2. Managers as coaches of people other than those they manage. I see this as a coaching scheme within an organisation, where managers are trained as coaches with a longer course and with supervision. They are then available to coach staff from other departments, providing some confidentiality and working with the individual’s agenda.

3. The external coach provides a level of confidentiality and expertise which will rarely be available from line managers. External coaches are not part of the organisational culture and can therefore help the individual to think outside the organisational box when that is helpful. Individuals at all levels are much more likely to ‘open up’ to an external coach in a way which will enable deeper forms of change, where that is what is needed. I think it is always likely to be the best coaching option for middle and senior managers, although they too will benefit from a manager with a coaching style.

These are all valuable forms of coaching, and I am involved in providing the first and the last, but I think it’s very important that people in organisations understand the different benefits they bring.

Managing people working under pressure – survey results

April 17th, 2009

The CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) recently announced the results of its four-year research project into how managers need to behave to prevent and manage stress at work amongst their staff. Their findings are not surprising but it is good to have it confirmed that key management skills are:
• treating people with respect
• communicating job objectives clearly
• involving staff in wider objectives
• talking one-to-one
• managing conflict

The psychologist Eric Berne (founder of Transactional Analysis), proposed that people have a need for:

Stimulation and
Recognition (which he called Strokes)

in life in general and at work. It’s a simple formula which is reflected in the management behaviours identified by the CIPD study. I use it as a basis for developing new managers, and helping them to identify how they can help staff to feel motivated to work effectively and go the extra mile, not just prevent stress. In 21st century terms, we are talking about “engagement”.

Structure means being clear about job roles, boundaries and objectives, reporting lines and career paths. It doesn’t require complicated competency frameworks; it does require managers to be able to be informative and descriptive and to co-create understanding with their staff about the requirements of the job.

Stimulation can mean many different things and will reflect different people’s values and interests. For some it will be pride in doing a good job, following a well-known work routine with expertise; for others it will be challenge and variety; good relationships with manager and colleagues; developing skills; using strengths.

Recognition includes being paid, but pay doesn’t engage the emotions in the same way as praise for good work and a working atmosphere that respects people for who they are as well as what they do. More in depth research has found that a warm “Thank you” from a manager or a team lunch to celebrate a job well done are more effective forms of recognition than an “Employee of the Year” award which is too impersonal and comes too late.

The term “engagement” which has now become the way to describe a mixture of motivation, loyalty and good performance reflects the real recognition that performance is not just about what people do, but what they feel at work. The management relationship is key to that engagement, and thinking about boosting provision of Structure, Stimulation and Recognition can make all the difference to that relationship.

Valerie Fawcett

Urgent Priorities and Working Styles

February 12th, 2009

I sat down at my desk this morning with a number of projects to work on, all of which had equal priority.  Then an email came in which had equal priority with the other tasks.  I teach time and priorities management, so this article is partly about the objective strategies I teach, but I realised that my working style was influencing my decisions so that I wasn’t being objective.  By working style, I am referring to the impact on work practice of the “driver behaviours” described by psychologist, Eric Berne. 


Berne said that we make decisions early on in our lives about what we need to do to be safe and loved.  We make these decisions out of awareness, or sub-consciously, and they are based on the limited view of the world that we have as children.   They all have their strengths, but they are called “drivers” because they influence us out of our awareness, pushing us to do something in a way that feels “natural” or “necessary”, but which doesn’t represent a considered and balanced choice.   For that we need to be aware of our drivers and be assertive with ourselves about their influence.  Drivers are more likely to affect us when we feel under pressure.


There are five drivers and Berne said that we were likely to have two which played a stronger role than others, although we may recognise the influence of all five at some time.    Here’s a brief description of all five and how they might influence your prioritising decisions followed by some other strategies which might help when you’ve got some objectiveness back!


Be Perfect.  “You’re only OK if you get everything right.”  This is characterised by a need to do things the “right” way and not let anything be left undone.  It’s my strongest driver and its strength lies in accuracy and conscientiousness, but, this morning, it was making it difficult for me to decide the priorities because each one seemed to need “mulling over”, to make sure I would have done it right, not missed anything out.  It can also encourage the doing of small, less important items, because you can feel the satisfaction that you’re more likely to have  done them “right”.  The antidote to the effects of this driver is to tell yourself that “You’re good enough” and I realised that on my first task I could do a perfectly good enough job and get it done quickly as well.


Please Others.  “You’re only OK if you please people.”  If you are influenced by this, you have the strength of being thoughtful about others’ needs, but where there are equal priorities, you may highlight the ones which meet others’ needs over your own.  The antidote is to tell yourself that “It’s OK to get your own needs met”, and learn to say “No” to other people’s emergencies which, when you talk to them, may be more flexible after all. 


Be Strong.  “You’re only OK if you hide your feelings and wants”.  If this is a strong one for you, you probably keep going long after others and long after it’s good for you, and you may persist longer with a problem because of your principle of doing things by yourself.  It may be that you will get things done quicker or more easily if you tell yourself that “It’s OK to ask for help”.  You don’t have to be an island.  That other viewpoint, or extra piece of information may be just what you need to zip through that task.

Try Hard.  “You’re only OK if you keep trying hard at things”.  If this is one of yours, you may start lots of different things, and pursue lots of ideas at once, but have great difficulty finishing any of them.  Then your list of equal priorities can become very long.  You’re persistent but you need to make some decisions about which things you are going to do and then be tough with yourself about finishing them.  I had to do this to come up with the relatively short list of equal priorities I started with!   Tell yourself “It’s OK to do it” and then set yourself a timetable for getting that job finished.  Avoid going off at tangents as there will be many which present themselves.


Hurry Up!  “You’re only OK if you do everything right now”.   In many cases this gives people the virtue of speediness, but with equal priorities, you’re left in a paralysis of indecision or in a whirlwind of multi-tasking.  Tell yourself “It’s OK to take your time”.  OK, I know you can’t always take that literally, but it means that you can apply some objective criteria to what needs to be done first.  Some of these are the strategies I used today and I advise people to consider.


Prioritising Strategies

Which task will provide leverage by allowing others to move forward?  Doing that will mean you are making life more productive all round and will get the benefits yourself.


Which task is most time sensitive? – That is, which will have the most difficult repercussions if you don’t get it done pretty quickly?  (And if you’re a Please People person, I don’t mean just that others will be put out).   Perhaps you need to take account of other people’s availability to complete the task, or losing a discount, or missing a regular slot or an advantageous meeting opportunity.


Which is highest value?  Which of your job outcomes is most important to the role you have and which task has the highest value in terms of that outcome?  So, if your most important outcome is to finish the project, then prioritise the task that will go furthest towards fulfilling that.  Or, which tasks will have the most impact on your other tasks?


Another strategy I like is one I call the Mark Forster strategy because it comes from the work of the Time Coach Mark Forster (  It involves making a short list of the types of work you need to do, e.g.

  • Answer e-mails
  • Prepare for meeting
  • Project X
  • Project Y

You then work down your list with the help of a kitchen timer, doing 20 minutes on each and moving on when the timer goes off, until you’ve either had enough (about half a day, I find), or you need to go to a meeting.  New items which arrive go into the categories and have to take their turn there.


Lastly, another Mark Forster strategy is to do the thing you’re avoiding, instead of getting stuck into the one you want to do most.  It is probably the most important, will not be nearly as bad when you start, and you’ll feel great when you’ve finished.  Especially if you’re a Be Perfect or a Try Hard!

Valerie Fawcett