Go Deep, Be
Courageous, Emerge a Winner!
Serving the Business and Professional
Community since 1983!
N. Elizabeth Fried, Ph.D.
How Can Executive
Coaching Improve Time Management and Performance Feedback?
In my prior article I discussed my definition of an
executive coach and how I work with clients to improve their communication
skills. Specifically, I covered addressing difficult conversations, active
listening skills, and developing presentations. This time we are going to take
a brief look at time management and employee development.
When time management is a concern for a client, a top
Steven Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, which is
the industry staple. I also recommend, Prioritize, Organize: The
Art of Getting it Done by Peg Pickering. Although it was published
in 2002, it contains a series of very useful exercises and practical tips.
Time management impacts a number of areas. Let’s start
with conducting a meeting. Running an effective meeting requires planning and
setting an agenda. This typically begins with sending out agenda requests to
attendees, determining priorities based on the allotted time, then disseminating
the final agenda to attendees with estimated time allotments for each item.
This process insures that attendees can be prepared and know what to expect,
helping to keep the meeting on track. A scribe should be assigned to take
minutes and note action items. These minutes should be completed within with a
day or so and sent to all attendees. Subsequently, these action items usually
top the list of “old business” for the next meeting and hold people accountable
for their assignments.
Additionally, the meeting should start on time and end on
time, which requires that the executive stick to the plan. It is easy to get
derailed and waste time if this simple practice is not observed. Showing up
late or being disorganized is ultimately disrespectful to all attendees. It
telegraphs the message that your time is more important than others. All
documents should be organized and easy to retrieve when an agenda item comes
up. Shuffling through papers in search of the relevant document is irritating
to attendees, making the executive appear unprepared and can derail the
Another aspect of time management is setting priorities.
That requires eliminating distractions and determining what is important,
urgent, not important, or can be delegated. Generally at the end of the day,
the executive should plan for the next day, resulting with a clear list to start
the day fresh. At the start of the day, the list should be reviewed and items
checked off as they are completed. At the end of the day, the list should be
reviewed and priorities reassessed for anything that may not have been
completed. For incomplete items, I have clients ask themselves, “Why?” Was it
simple procrastination? Was it an unexpected emergency? Was it a series of
minor distractions? Answers to these questions will help them prevent avoidable
issues in the future so they can be more effective the next day.
Delegation is another aspect of time management. Holding
on to tasks that should clearly be delegated or micromanaging employees can
derail an executive. While delegation is a fundamental management skill, I
often find that a newly promoted president or CEO hasn’t fully mastered this
skill and doesn’t effectively use his or her support staff to assist with this
process. For example, seasoned executives will typically have his or her
administrative assistant review requests for action and determine which member
of the leadership team should handle the action item. A skilled administrative
assistant will forward the request to the appropriate leader, inform the top
executive of the transmission, and then maintain a tickler file (a follow-up
file) to check on the status. The assistant will follow up to insure that the
action item has been completed and inform the executive of the progress. The
executive only gets involved if there is an issue preventing completion or
requires special attention. The key for this to be effective is that a brief
meeting takes place between the executive and the administrative assistant
(usually first thing in the morning) and that the assistant has a deep knowledge
of the organization and the complete trust of the CEO or president.
Additionally, the executive must insure that leadership team be made aware that
the assistant is to be respected and has the full authority to act on his or her
behalf. Here is where some
coaching is required with executives. Many are unaware of how to
effectively utilize their support staff. Once they understand the value of
this, they recognize how it saves them significant time, allowing them to focus
on more strategic, rather than tactical issues. It should be said, that the
effective use of support staff is not restricted to the head of the company.
The senior leadership executives can also apply these skills to delegate to
their respective management teams.
With electronic calendars and emails, it is easy for an
executive to get caught up in doing some of this work directly. It is important
that the assistant have access to email and calendars to insure against
potential miscommunications as well as prevent follow up action items from
falling through the cracks.
When executives are promoted to the heads organizations,
their new roles responsibilities put them in the spotlight. Externally, this
means they are now the face of the company to its shareholders and the public.
Internally, it means setting the standard for effective, high integrity
leadership as a role model. This includes setting and promoting the vision,
mission, core values, and business strategy to help inspire and motivate all
their constituencies, from the senior leadership team to rank and file
employees. As the organization’s ambassador, this requires top-level
presentation skills, an often difficult challenge for clients with a technical
or scientific background. In my prior article I discussed how to develop a
compelling presentation using the concepts provided in the book by Dan and Chip
Heath, entitled Made to Stick. Additionally, these executives may need
the help of an acting or speech coach to help them with the delivery component
as well as an image consultant to help them to “dress the part.”
Another critically important and often overlooked executive
role is being a coach to support the growth and development of the leadership
team. The executive’s job now is also to help the other leaders become better
thinkers and prepare for succession. This means regularly giving feedback, both
positive and constructive to insure the company maintains that its “A” players
stay on track. Employee development requires providing time, resources, and
support to allow for the refinement of critical skills required for their
current jobs and growth opportunities to prepare them for the future.
In my experience, executives typically think they are doing
an adequate job of providing positive feedback. When their 360 degree feedback
reports reflect lower scores in this area, it gives them pause for thought.
Additionally, they are often further surprised when I have them do the “penny
exercise.” This requires that they take five pennies and put them in one pocket
at the beginning of the day and then each time they see a genuine opportunity to
acknowledge something positive or show appreciation, they tell the employee and
transfer the penny to the other pocket. Most of the time, they are shocked to
discover that they have only transferred one or two pennies all day. They often
tell me, “I guess I thought it, but it just didn’t come out of my mouth.”
The awareness of the deficiency of giving positive feedback
provides the opportunity to work on both acknowledging employees as well as
being very specific in the feedback they offer. For example, just saying,
“Thanks, you did a good job on the Dynasty presentation,” is not enough. They
need to be specific so that the recipient truly knows what he or she did well
and can continue that behavior. Specificity provides the “stickiness” needed to
ingrain desired behaviors. A more effective acknowledgement would be: “You did a
great job on the Dynasty presentation. Your slides were well-designed, your
explanation of their issues was concise and on point, your frequent smile and
tone of voice projected warmth. These combined factors all contributed to our
winning this account. We appreciate your hard work!”
Additionally, if the executive felt the presentation could
be further improved and wanted to add some constructive feedback as part of the
coaching effort, the executive should first ask permission to give this
feedback. From a neuroscience perspective, this request enables the recipient
to feel in control and avoids defensiveness. It’s also important to use the
word and not but when offering to give constructive feedback.
Using but will negate all the good things that were just said and person
will only hear what was said after the but. For example, an executive
might approach the rest of the comment with: “…and if you would like further
feedback on how to continue excelling on your next assignment, let me know. I’ll
be happy to share some ideas for you to consider at a time that works for you.”
As the top executive continues to grow in his or her role,
developing sharper time management and personal coaching skills in the areas of
giving positive and constructive feedback will help to improve productivity and
boost morale. Next time, we’ll talk about emotional intelligence. Stay tuned.