Conversations That Inspire Growth

Create a step-by-step plan that shows people how to accomplish more and achieve proven results.

By Shawn Kent Hayashi, Founder, The Professional Development Group

There is a fine line between fixing people and inspiring them to grow. Training managers to inspire employees and teams is vital to an organization’s success. Want to know how to do this?

Developing star performers requires many meaningful conversations beyond the performance review. A conversation can be powerful and inspiring or flat and dull or somewhere in between. Are the conversations managers are having in your organization currently creating engagement and momentum?

There are 10 conversational strategies blueprinted in “Conversations for Creating Star Performers.” One of them is the Conversation for Developing New Skills. Before that conversation takes place, though, it is necessary to have a Conversation for Building Awareness.

This is the point in a conversation that determines if you are crossing a line with someone: If you begin to tell an adult how to develop a skill and he or she is not asking for that know-how, you have skipped over an important awareness-building conversation. People being trained need to acknowledge and understand why it is important for them to develop the skill. They need to ask to learn the skill. How do you get them to ask? Begin with an awareness-building conversation. Managers need to realize that knowing how to create this conversation effectively makes the difference between an eager learner and a resistant, defensive non-participant.

When raising awareness of a skill that needs developing, ask questions such as:

  • What one skill or ability would you most like to develop? Or what one skill, if you were able to perform at a higher level, would have the greatest positive impact on your career now?
  • What is important about XYZ ability to you (or your role)?
  • How would having the ability benefit you?
  • Who do you know who is particularly good at XYZ ability?
  • What do they currently do differently than you do?
  • How do they think about or approach XYZ?
  • Is there anything you realize they do not do that you are currently doing?
  • What else do you notice about XYZ?

Want to know how this sounds? Imagine I am managing Isabella, who recently was promoted to lead the Sales department even though she did not ask for the move. She was wildly successful managing the customer service team, and now for the first time in her career she has to start delivering large presentations to customers. You’ve noticed she seems anxious about this.

After greeting each other, here is how the conversation unfolds:

Shawn: What skill or ability will be most important for you to develop to be successful in your new role?

Isabella: I’ll be delivering client presentations, which is something I did not do in my prior role.

Shawn: Who do you know who is particularly good at presenting?

Isabella: Juan is a great presenter. He captures the audience’s attention immediately by sharing a story or example that links to the topic.

Shawn: What else does Juan do that causes him to be a presenter you admire?

Isabella: He knows his material so well that he can take questions at any time without being nervous. I guess that is because he has practiced so much. I want to be as good at presenting as he is.

(You’ve now heard her say she wants to develop this skill; keep the momentum going.)

Shawn: How do you think Juan approaches practicing and preparing for a presentation? What does he think about and practice as part of his preparation?

Isabella: Hmm, I never thought about that. Juan probably thinks about who is going to be in the audience and what they need to know. He always seems to be prepared for any type of question that will be asked, but he has probably thought about what the audience is likely to be questioning. He also has an agenda he has prepared in advance. He stays with his agenda for the most part, but at the same time he is flexible enough that he can move off of it if the audience changes focus.

Shawn: Yes, I agree. Is there anything you think Juan does not do in preparing for or delivering a presentation?

Isabella: Well, I’ve never heard Juan use filler words such as um, uh, or OK. He also does not look nervous because he stands up straight and has eye contact with the person or group he is presenting to. That is something I need to work on because I know I say um and OK too much when I am nervous. I realize this is something I need to work on.

(She has the desire to develop this ability for herself now; keep the momentum going.)

Shawn: Sounds like you want to be an outstanding presenter, too. What else do you notice about people who are great presenters?

Isabella: They tell their own stories, not jokes that don’t fit with the message or theme of the meeting. They have several stories they can use to connect with the audience, and they rotate from facts and data to stories and examples.

Shawn: Those are great observations, Isabella. You mentioned you want to be as good at presenting as Juan is. I’d be willing to work with you on developing this ability or provide an opportunity for you to attend a training program. (Isabella is nodding with a facial expression that looks like she is excited about the possibility.) Would you be willing to practice doing the things you’ve described during the next week? Will you put together a sample presentation and deliver it for me next week so we can observe what you are doing well and where you may need to make some adjustments in your delivery? …

Triggering a feeling of desire for growth before training begins sets the stage for a great learning experience.

Another version sounds like this:

When you think about the people who are doing what you really want to do, what skill have they developed that you have not yet developed? What is the next skill you want to develop within yourself? Can you think of someone who has that ability already mastered? If your role model could learn the process, the step-by-step actions to take to accomplish results, you can do it, too! Did you know you will make more progress by focusing on developing the one skill that is holding you back more than any other? However, you have to be the one who decides to identify and develop your blind spots and weaknesses. It does not work when someone bullies or uses fear-based incentives to make you develop your weaknesses—that creates only resentment and bitterness. You do not need to be fixed! If you already have developed your strengths and you are now on a plateau feeling stuck, you can decide for yourself to look in the mirror to see what is holding you back from where you want to be now. You can summon up the courage to focus on developing the ability that will create momentum for you next. It is your choice.

Isn’t it time to show managers in your organization how to have these conversations? You’ll see the payoff in eager learners who are inspired to grow.

Case Study

Imagine this real-life scenario. A manager, Alex, told me his goal was to lead his employee, Bob, to change his communication style and preference about how he engages with other people even though Bob had never expressed the desire to do this.

I realized Alex was in fix-it mode with Bob. Alex had crossed a line that would cause failure if he continued in this way. Alex had to change his expectations of what was possible in developing Bob as a performer in the role he was in. The fact was that Bob was not a good fit for the work that needed to be done, and no amount of pushing on Alex’s part would change this. This is what I said to Alex:

Alex, are you saying you’ve set a goal to change Bob’s core communication style and preferences about how he engages with other people, but Bob himself has not expressed this as a goal? And your motive for doing this is because you want your boss to view you as a strong leader?

Alex replied happily, “Yes! Shawn, you understand completely what I am doing.”

I replied with a warm expression indicating no judgment in my tone or body language as I carefully explained the situation. We had to do some unpacking on his position. There

were two layers of influence in Alex’s goal that were worth examining. If Bob had not expressed a desire to modify his communication style preferences to be better aligned to the work he is responsible for, asking him to do so when he did not see the connection would cause him significant stress. If Bob decided on his own that this was his goal, it would still take a great deal of focus and energy for him.

The second issue was that highly effective leadership is not about convincing people to change their natural core style, strengths, and abilities. Leadership is more about identifying the natural talents that are already there and playing to those, developing the potential that is there now, and moving those employees into the roles that need the talents they have. We are viewed as effective leaders when we put the right people into the right roles, so there is a match between what the job naturally rewards as a results of the work that is being done in that role, and what the employee brings to the table.

I sensed that Alex wanted to make a square peg fit into a round hole. He wanted the first chair violinist to put down the violin and instead go play the piano. That would be painful—even more painful than admitting Bob was not the right fit for the role he was in. Why not help that square peg find a role that needs a square peg and then find a round peg for the work that needs to be done here?

As he reflected on what we discussed, Alex evolved his own thinking and posed his new question for our coaching work together: How could he develop people based on who they were and put the right people into the right roles that will bring out their natural talents?

Developing Skills Takes Time

As a trainer or manager, you are facilitating a development process by asking questions and sharing guidance, experience, and direction at the time they are most helpful. You may be modeling or demonstrating exactly how to do it. Providing opportunities to practice repeatedly leads employees to being at first consciously competent and later unconsciously competent.

Some skills or competencies will be easier for us to develop than others. What was something that was easy for you to learn to do? What was something that was easy for you but harder for someone else? Do you recall something another person learned much more easily than you did? I’ve observed that those people who have struggled to learn how to do something are often better trainers of that material than the people to whom it came naturally and who did not have to work at learning it. When people struggle to learn a new skill, they focus on each step. They practice over and over until they gain mastery. That practice becomes a gift in that these learners see distinctions in the skill development steps that others miss. These insights enable them to be better observers and to give clearer feedback to those they are coaching.

As a developer of star performers, create a step-by-step plan that shows people how to accomplish more and achieve proven results. You’ll need to create a document that shows off your track record. Do you have a plan to give your employees that provides them certainty and confidence that if they take the steps you’ve listed, they will produce the desired results? If not, you should begin to do so now. Break it down into actionable chunks that are sequenced from beginning to end in a framework of understandable elements that lead to clear milestones and outcomes. Ideas and action steps are the organizing pieces of your managing content. One of the distinguishing factors of success for world-class managers is the energy, enthusiasm, and optimistic confidence they have because they can share how to accomplish the desired results. Collect uplifting stories about people who have succeeded despite obstacles when developing the abilities you specialize in. Insert words and phrases that will help your employees feel inspired and believe in themselves. Here are a few to get you started:

  • I have confidence in you because I have observed you doing XYZ and I know if you can do that, you can learn how to do this, too!
  • If you put your mind to it and stay focused on achieving the desired result, you are going to succeed!
  • What was something difficult that you learned how to do in the past that now you do consistently well as a star performer? How did you learn how to do it? If you learned that, you can learn this, too!
  • If you have seen others do it, you can learn to do it, too. It may take you time, but if you are committed enough, you will be able to learn how to do it, too.

To be inspiring and connect the dots showing why having the new ability will be beneficial, you’ll likely have to unpack some thinking your trainees currently have and put new beliefs in place. Guiding aspiring star performers to identify a specific skill they want to develop is only part of the process. By being a life-long learner yourself, share your stories about how you learned the skill. This will build rapport and trust with your audience.

The performance review conversation is only one part of being a successful manager and coach. Every day, choose from the menu of conversations that create star performers as you talk with your team members. Are you ready to be known as the person who is able to engage, grow, and inspire others?

Shawn Kent Hayashi is an executive coach and founder of The Professional Development Group. Her clients include Fortune 500 companies such as American Express, Cigna, Johnson & Johnson, and Merck, as well as small entrepreneurial companies. An Emotional Intelligence Certified Coach, Hayashi earned an M.S. in organizational dynamics from the University of Pennsylvania. For more information, visit http://www.yourtalentatwork.com.

Training Top 125

Minneapolis, MN (November 18, 2014)—Training magazine, the leading business publication for learning and development professionals, today announced the finalists for the annual Training Top 125, which ranks companies’ excellence in employer-sponsored training and development programs.

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