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Not long before this episode, James recorded a solo piece on FAQs and little known things about hiring, recruiting and leading a team from the Philippines. One of the questions he addressed was, how do you get your team to think for themselves?
Today’s episode brings back VirtualDOO’s Lloyd Thompson to help dig into the topic. He and James consider how many business owners long for a team needing minimal supervision.
They talk about creating an environment where failure is okay and thinking for oneself is encouraged.
And they cover the micromanaging boss, when you are the problem, how to train your team for autonomy, and more.
Table of contents
1. Do I have to show them everything?
2. From India to the Philippines
3. A team that challenges you
4. Team coaching and GROW
5. Rewarding positive behavior
6. The idea of situational leadership
7. Think 10-pin bowling
8. Who is Lloyd?
9. The trouble with visionary behavior
10. Leading your team by example
11. When the coaching doesn’t work…
12. Where a DOO comes in
Do I have to show them everything?
A lot of business owners wonder, why pay a team who don’t think for themselves and just do what needs doing? The founder might as well do things themselves.
Lloyd sees it a lot – clients ask him why they’re doing all the driving and decision-making; why they’re forever answering common sense questions.
As a result, these business owners are stuck in daily operations where they’re plying their team with tasks but providing all the solutions. This keeps them from focusing on marketing and strategy, and it makes the business unsellable, because they are the business.
From India to the Philippines
Before James’s current team, he tried to apply for a VA to Your Man In India. They had a massive waiting list.
A friend told James of his team in the Philippines, and offered to get him someone. James took him up, though he had no idea at the time what he was looking for or what he’d have them do.
He asked his friend what his team did for him. They just put together a new product, said his friend – they researched the market, created the sales copy, built the website, hooked up the emails and the cart, and had started the marketing promotions.
James was astonished. Fast forward to today, however, and he will tell anyone these VAs can blow your mind. You just have to unlock them.
That’s the goal of this episode, to take founders out of the cycle – hiring, handing over tasks, taking them back, firing, and then trying again – by unlocking the potential of their hires.
First James wants to clarify: you need a team; no one VA is going to take over everything in your business. And you need knowledge – you need to know how to coach your team.
And, says Lloyd, if you’ve got a team who just come to you all the time and expect solutions from you, you’ve probably trained them that way. You might actually be the problem.
Lloyd would say there are two types of coaching, conscious and subconscious.
Conscious is obvious – that’s when, if someone comes to you with a problem, don’t give the answer, but lead them to it with questions. It might be the same answer you have in your mind, but you’re training them to think.
A team that challenges you
As a corporate, Lloyd had a huge Philippine team, and one thing he became aware of was their cultural reluctance to challenge a hierarchy.
James agrees: you could call it politeness.
Lloyd needed a team to challenge him. So he would present ridiculous ideas and wait for his team to resist.
At first it was, Yes, boss. He had to tell them he’d be more upset if they let him do something stupid.
Such a good point, says James. He loves that his own team calls him out on things he says on his podcast that could be damaging.
Your team have to feel safe, says Lloyd, that they can make mistakes. A good approach is to ask them how something could have been done better, what they think the options are, and how they can keep something from happening again.
Team coaching and GROW
Which brings Lloyd to the topic of team coaching.
Say there’s a problem, maybe technical or people-related – maybe your website server had a meltdown. This is an opportune time to bring your team together and let them exercise some critical thinking.
In such a situation, Lloyd applies the GROW framework – GROW stands for Goal, Reality, Options, Wrap-up. Lloyd forgets where he learned it, but it’s a simple coaching framework you can use for many instances, one on one or in teams.
So the goal, in this example, would be to determine why there was a server meltdown, and figure out how to keep it from ever happening again. Note: the goal is NOT to find out who’s to blame.
After setting the goal, next is drawing the reality – literal drawing, as in diagrams, on either a physical or a virtual whiteboard. A construct of boxes and arrows.
Lloyd’s tip here is not to be too accurate – admit you’re wrong, and invite members of your team to jump in. You want to engage the technical people, those sticklers for fact, and get them to draw the reality for you.
Once everyone’s agreed on the reality, you get to the options. Now, you might have options already in your mind, but you want your team to come up with them – ask them questions to lead them there, and hopefully some will be proactive enough to think up something themselves.
Let your team weigh the pros and cons of each option, and come up with the best one. This is important, because in the process, they’re buying in, instead of passively acquiescing to the boss’s idea.
Finally, when you all have an option picked out, you can wrap up and conclude.
Rewarding positive behavior
In James’s business, the GROW thing seems to happen automatically.
The website goes down, it comes back up, and James gets a message from his webmaster saying she checked with the hosting company and they were doing an unscheduled backup. The problem’s fixed and needs no further action.
A simple thing James does during meetings is thinking out loud. He might have noticed some posts in socials get more reaction than others – what do the team think of that?
They might have a discussion and agree to check back on it next meeting. And what will happen more likely than not is James will receive a spreadsheet listing the posts and how they ranked according to social shares and comments, and which types did well on which platforms.
James responds with praise, which reinforces positive behavior that’s good for the business. A line that’s stuck in James’s mind is, catch people doing something right – and when you do, says James, praise them.
Lloyd thinks the timing of the feedback is important, too. If it needs saying, say it right away – if they’ve done a good job, say it’s fantastic, and why.
The same goes for negative feedback – the sooner you can deliver it after an incident, the better for behavior.
The idea of situational leadership
Another place Lloyd wants to go is adaptive coaching, or in the corporate world, what they call situational leadership. This is where you adjust the level of coaching or direction you apply to the team member you’re looking to coach.
A beginner, for instance, someone new in a particular skill, will need high direction, possibly SOP-like steps. Then after a while, you can move into a coaching style.
Eventually, they may hit a problem, make a mistake. That’s when you let them know failure is okay, and proceed with coaching – what do you think happened and why? What do you need to do?
As they gain experience, you move more from high direction to coaching. And when they’re an expert, you need to back off and act in terms of, how can I support you? What new skills do you want to learn?
Think 10-pin bowling
James is thinking, the perfect metaphor for it is probably 10-pin bowling.
For beginners and kids, they have a ramp that you can roll the ball down to hit some pins.
When you’re a bit more advanced, they retire the ramp for bumper rails. You’re throwing the ball now, but it can’t go in the gutter.
And when you’re skilled enough, the bumpers go.
If you were to offer an expert bowler a ramp, he might not be too happy.
And the flip side is true too, says Lloyd. If you let a beginner play without ramp or bumpers, they could be upset when every ball goes in the gutter.
So look at each member on your team – are they ramp level, bumpers, or are they free bowlers? And have you given them appropriate training?
Are you restricting people who are actually good? James knows high achievers do not want to be brought down to a standard level.
If you’ve gotten high performers, James says, let them high perform, get the hell out of their way.
If someone wants to know more about it, look up situational leadership, says Lloyd.
Who is Lloyd?
James thought Lloyd would say, get my book.
Well listeners can absolutely get his book, Lloyd laughs.
9 Ways to Leave Your Day-to-Day Operations, by Lloyd Thompson, is at virtualdoo.com or on Amazon.
James once asked Lloyd to describe himself in three words, and Lloyd said he’d get back to him on that. Now James is following up.
Okay, says Lloyd. One, he’s persistent.
James will vouch for that.
James will vouch for that too.
And Lloyd would like to say he’s fun, because he thinks that’s important. It’s one of his company core values that he’d like to set the tone of how people engage with each other.
In the spirit of fun, James thought it would be good to put his guest on the spot.
The trouble with visionary behavior
James has noticed, the more successful some of his clients get, the more likely they are to miss calls or suddenly reschedule, reprioritizing things on the fly. That’s where an integrator like Lloyd brings stability to the business.
What Lloyd sees with founders and business owners is they are high visionaries wanting to spin a hundred plates. Lloyd has to say, what’s the priority, what’s going to move the needle the most?
Let’s get the top three down and get them done, and then we can move to the next.
Erratic behavior confuses the safety-oriented team member, says James. It creates stress and anxiety.
That’s why a lot of people would do well to plug in an operator.
Leading your team by example
Lloyd agrees. And James’s observation lets him segue into the second type of coaching, subconscious coaching.
This is about leading by example. If you have company core values but don’t adhere to them yourself, you can’t expect your team to act otherwise.
Lloyd once worked with a business that had 10 core values (which really is too much – three to five is great). And one of those core values was human first organization.
At that business, they were using a tool to track time, screen recording what people did on their computers.
The founder said to Lloyd that one of his team was watching Netflix on his computer. He didn’t feel he should pay the guy, when he was watching Netflix.
Were the outputs good, asked Lloyd? They were.
Well, if the output’s good, he said, that’s what I’m interested in. Carry on.
It would be weird, says James, if people didn’t do non-work stuff on their computer. And watching the team’s every move is not the way to encourage autonomous thinking.
When the coaching doesn’t work…
Now if the coaching, conscious or subconscious, doesn’t work, what next?
First of all, Lloyd recommends questioning yourself – have you done the coaching, have you led by example? If not, the problem is probably still you.
If you have done what’s necessary, Lloyd says, then list down your team. Put your core values against their names, and see who’s actually living them.
If someone is not following most of your values, you have to ask: are these the right people for my business?
Hire by core values, lead by core values, review by core values, says James.
Feedback by core values, Lloyd adds.
And exit by core values, James says. He’s had people leave for failing a core value.
Where a DOO comes in
The coaching Lloyd has talked about isn’t easy. And if the founder hasn’t the time to spend with the team to get it right, they may need someone else to do it – that’s what a Director of Operations is for.
James sees that, and recommends the service of VirtualDOO. There are two ways to go about it – you can hire VirtualDOO to handle your stuff forever, or you can hire them with a plan to eventually build your own system and not need them anymore.
They’re month to month, says Lloyd. They’re there to enable the team, not entrench themselves in the business.
If you want to bring in a full time DOO, VirtualDOO are ready to assist and support them in the transition. And they do audits too, so if you want to see where the gaps are in your business, that’s something they offer.
James and Lloyd have talked about getting your team to think. If you’d like help with that, check out VirtualDOO.com.
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