When people ask us what we do, the simplest answer is that we solve problems. When we drill down into a little more detail, we like to call our system “Obstacles and Keys.” The basic idea is that every organization has qualities that are uniquely great. In truth, you don’t get very far in the world if you really aren’t good at any aspect of what you do. There is some reason that your customers keep coming back. That’s a key, and we can go a long way by maximizing your keys.
But perhaps more relevant to today’s conversation, there are also pinch points where any given organization falls down – where information can’t flow, where work can’t get done, where people can’t succeed. These are obstacles. The funny thing is, sometimes we are so focused on trying to find a solution, we don’t take the time to really dive deep and identify the whole nature of the problem. Finding obstacles is about just that. Where is the holdup, and what is causing it. This simple exercise can have really illuminating results.
Much of what we do at Arcade involves getting to the bottom of these obstacles, and then finding ways to break through that can be adapted to the unique shape of any organization. This is how we developed Forward Coaching.
So let’s talk a little bit about the problem. Performance Appraisals. You may well be cringing just reading the word. Team Members often dread them, Team Leaders feel like they aren’t worth the time – no one likes it when PA time rolls around. In fact, some leaders feel as though they are doing their teams a favor (and the teams ostensibly agree with them) by abolishing them altogether.
The problem is that we need them – team leaders and members alike.
The truth is, all of our obstacles can really be categorized into one of three categories: people, tools, and processes. However, when our tools or processes fail us, the solution feels simpler somehow. Buy the new equipment or don’t. Look for hitches in our project schedule. Where we most often get knocked off balance is when we are dealing with people-based obstacles. People are tough to figure out. When we stumble upon a people-based obstacle, we have to ask three questions:
1. Does this person actually understand what we expect/want them to do?
2. Does this person have the training to be able to carry out these responsibilities?
3. Does this person have the tools to get the job done?
All three of those questions have to be answered with a yes before we can even begin to talk about things like discipline, or letting someone go for being a bad fit. In our experience, people who aren’t working out at an organization most often are experiencing a breakdown in one or more of the above 3 questions.
Many years ago, when I was 18, I did a stint at a temp agency. The same things that drive me in my current career made temp work very interesting for me – I got to visit new companies on a regular basis, learn just enough about their systems to keep things entertaining, and I found I was good at jumping in and pinch hitting in most roles.
The last temp job I worked was at a local radio station. It was an easy job, some data entry and answering the phones. In the first two days, I had organized the front desk within an inch of its life, finished the entire backlog of data entry and between greeting visitors and answering phones, I explored the back room to find cleaning supplies and started spiffing up the lobby. My supervisor, Rhonda the queen of admin, was impressed. She said I had a good work ethic and asked me to help her with a more challenging task. For the rest of the afternoon, she sat at the front desk and dictated to me the ads that would run in every break for the following day. The software that we used was software I’d already been using for data entry earlier in the week, and it was pretty simple stuff. She told me what to drag to which spot, I dragged it there. Easy.
The next morning, Rhonda and the owner of the station met me in the lobby. They asked me if I was planning to get pregnant, which I now know was not a super good idea on their part, but I told them I didn’t think so. They offered me a full time job. I liked the people and it was kind of a neat place to work, so I signed on. I spent the morning answering phones, and that afternoon, Rhonda buzzed my phone. “How’s tomorrow’s ad schedule coming?
“I’m sorry, what?”
You could almost hear her grinding her teeth. “You were hired as a traffic manager.”
Now she was definitely making no secret of her annoyance. “I’m sure it’s in the paperwork we gave you.”
I picked up the stack, still in front of me. In all fairness, it was there, scribbled hastily on a line on the third or fourth page of the employee handbook that I was planning to read later that night, on my own time. Traffic Manager.
“I guess I thought we’d talk more about what, exactly, a traffic manager does.”
“Well, the main thing a traffic manager does is to line up all the ads for the next day, and if you don’t get those ads into the system by end of business, the system won’t have any ads to play tomorrow and there’ll be hell to pay.”
Long pause. “Can you show me how to do it?”
“I already did. Yesterday.” Right, yesterday. When I thought I was a temp, playing at some new interestingly ephemeral task. Now I had to figure it out on my own.
“Okay, Rhonda. I’m on it.”
And the truth is, it was pretty easy. The data entry I’d been doing was to put each ad into the system, and I was an old hand at that task by them – it was just rote data entry. ‘Traffic Managing’ was just dragging the ads into the next day’s schedule. I could see which songs would play when, and where the ad breaks were. Some ads had specific time slot requirements – before 2 pm, after 11 am, between 8:00 and 8:30 am – whatever. You’d place them in their blocks, moving out to the less ‘picky’ ads, playing a sort of administrative tetris until all the ads fit.
I found out, the next day, Rhonda standing red-faced at my desk, that you also had to keep from putting two advertisers from the same category into one ad block – I had unwittingly put two different car advertisements into the same commercial break, which apparently meant the advertisers might not pay for those spots. Apparently if it happened again, the loss in revenue would come out of my paycheck, though she was generously going to ‘handle it herself’ this time. That probably would have been nice to know beforehand.
Later in the week, I found the meaning of another little box from the data entry, ‘in-house,’ which meant that rather than being given a recorded ad by the advertiser, we had to record the ad ourselves. I found that out after we nearly missed airing an ad that hadn’t been recorded. It was, apparently, my responsibility to track down whether or not we had a recording for any ads marked ‘in-house,’ and if not, to drag one of the sales people downstairs to the studio to record it, or to go and record it myself.
I was able to get others to record the first couple of ads, and then when I finally couldn’t convince anyone else to drop everything to record a Honda ad, I did it myself. I didn’t have to manage any recording equipment, the DJ did that, I just had to read the ad copy.
The next day, Rhonda was angry again, as I had, apparently, spoken too quickly recording the ad, and the company wanted it pulled. Guess where that was going to come from?
I don’t tell this story just to bag on poor Rhonda, in fact, when I lamented about the things I didn’t know, things she definitely did know how to do, she would tell me that no one had taught her these things either. This was just the way of the world.
The point is this. At the end of that job, when I finally left in frustration, we had two different stories. You just heard mine. Rhonda’s frustration was that I had seemed competent and ambitious, but then displayed a distinct lack of quality as an actual traffic manager. Had they had a system in place to identify what I needed to know and to help me get to it, I would have been a lot less lost. Had Rhonda made the time, on a semi regular basis to just sit down and give me room to ask questions or build a little rapport, perhaps I wouldn’t have so many memories of her, red faced and angry, slamming things around my desk because I’d made another unforgivable mistake. And if she had ever interacted with me when she wasn’t angry at me, perhaps I’d have asked the questions that would have avoided some of those mistakes.
This happens all the time. Every day. Maybe not as egregiously as my radio station experience, but just as frustrating – for the leaders and the team members.
Enter Forward Coaching. What it is, in short, is a system that provides the space and structure for those important conversations to happen. It’s a tool that guides those conversations. Here’s how it would have looked at my radio station.
- Define Job Responsibilities – Arcade would have come in and sat down with Rhonda, the station owner, and other team leaders to define what exactly does a Traffic Manager do? What do they need to know to do that job, and what, exactly does that job entail. What does a DJ do? A sound engineer?
- Coach Prep – Now it’s Rhonda’s job to get to work. Before the Forward Coaching session, Rhonda needs to define what is most important to her specifically as a supervisor – what should I do if I wanted to be the ‘Rock Star’ team member that she thought I was when she hired me. Second, and this is key, Rhonda also needs to come up with the metrics for measuring each of these. For example, if one of her ‘Rock Star Qualities’ is that I get to work on time, the metric for that might be ‘Clock in no more than 5 minutes after 9 am’ or it might be ‘Clock in at precisely 9am, not a minute before or after.’ Finally, if we’re assuming a yearly meeting and I’ve been there for some time, Rhonda should think a bit on my strengths and weaknesses as a team member, to prepare for our session. (As far I know, she would likely identify my only strength at the time as ‘Not Being Pregnant’) The Forward Coaching Packet includes some questions and some scratch paper for the Coach to make notes of the answers.
- Team Member Prep – My turn. I’d get some questions to start thinking about the answers to, and some scratch paper to keep my thoughts straight too.
- The Session – Rhonda and I would meet. First, we’d go through each of my key responsibilities (defined in step 1), one by one and have a casual conversation. During the session, we’d fill out a single page log, where we outline goals, strengths, and anticipated obstacles. We’d build a little rapport, I would understand what I need to do, and Rhonda would be clear on what, if anything, I needed from her to help me do my job.
- Check ins – Once per quarter, Rhonda would make time to sit down over a cup of coffee for fifteen minutes and check in on how my progress is coming toward my goals, make sure there are no new questions, and that no new training or tool needs have come up.
That’s Forward Coaching. It’s easy on writing and paperwork, it’s casual and intended to build solid rapport within teams, and it makes it a whole lot easier for everyone to see all the working pieces of any obstacles that might arise.
We call the whole process a System – the system involves the series of meetings, the different responsibilities carried by coaches, team members and company leadership, and the processes that keep everyone awake and aware of their goals throughout the year.
We call the packet of documents a tool – this is the set of documents that makes up our Forward Coaching System, and is developed specifically for you, tuned to the specific responsibilities of each role at your organization. We call it a tool because it’s like a set of instructions that you just have to follow, one step at a time, to carry out the System.
While we have assisted clients in rolling out their own Forward Coaching systems in a variety of ways, our most successful rollouts are when we provide full support, from helping you to develop and communicate the job responsibilities through providing training sessions to help everyone understand what to expect and how to use the Forward Coaching tool to succeed.
Interested in learning more? Give us a call or e-mail Mary@ArcadeWayfinding.com today!
Also, we have an upcoming session on January 26, but reservations are filling up fast! Learn more here: