The following transcript is from an interview between Brandon Laws and Rebecca Naatz on the podcast episode entitled: “Servant Leadership, Coaching & Employee Development.”
Brandon: I’d like to welcome Rebecca Naatz to the podcast today. Rebecca is a Senior Human Resource Business partner at Xenium. Welcome Rebecca.
Rebecca: Thank you Brandon, thanks for having me.
Brandon: You’re welcome. Today we are going to talk about something near and dear to your heart. You said you love the coaching aspect of management and leadership so we are going to talk about coaching and developing employees in the workplace.
Brandon: Let’s talk about the objectives of coaching employees rather than just managing them. There’s this notion of coaching versus management, so if you could elaborate on that…
Rebecca: I see management as more of the skill enhancement and increased efficiency of the employee, the job they are doing, and the work they are performing for the department and for the company. I look at coaching as more along the lines of developing employee’s engagement – their innovation, their loyalty, their retention – and all of those coming together to give a peak performance for the company. Without allowing your employees to be creative and the freedom to feel confident, to develop ideas, and to grow, that you’re not getting as much out of them as you can.
Brandon: You know it’s interesting, in the last podcast we did, I interviewed a PSU professor on the subject of creativity in the workplace and trying to engage your employees. We didn’t get into the technical aspects of how to engage employees; it was really a high level conversation about getting your employees to feel like they have the right to be creative in the workplace. What are some of the ways that you’ve known to engage employees at a high level?
Rebecca: I think you have to know what’s important to them. What are the things that they are passionate about, that they find interesting, the areas they would like to grow in. Then when you have something come up that gives them the opportunity to work into those areas, you can take advantage of that and let them spread their wings a little bit. Even if you’re doing something as mundane as improving a process and you need new forms, if you have somebody who is really interested in design, let them do the design piece of it. Find ways to continue to keep them engaged and show that you’re interested in their skill sets and their growth and who they are as a person.
Brandon: I’ve heard the term Servant Leadership. Can you talk about what a servant leader actually is and describe some of the characteristics that would fall under that sort of leadership?
Rebecca: Under the servant leadership model there are actually 11 or 12 characteristics that you would see from listening, empathy, healing, stewardship, foresight, that sort of thing. But I think what they all come down to is, that your team is there working for you and for the company. They are there 8-10 plus hours a day and they are giving a good portion of their life to the work that they do, so I believe it is your responsibility as a leader to care about the whole person and develop them as an individual and a professional, giving them room to grow and to show and feel value. That’s how I approach the servant leadership piece – that I’m here not only to guide the work of the department and provide a service for the company, but also as a manager to pull road blocks out from employees who are trying to reach for goals and be successful in areas, and who are trying new things. I help them reach those pieces using some of the characteristics of a servant leader.
Brandon: Before we started recording you had shared an article with me called The New Leaders. It’s really about transforming the art of leadership into the science of results. With that, how can leaders practice some of the different styles in the article and be prepared to adjust their style as the situation allows?
Rebecca: I think just as every individual is different, and every situation and task at work can be different, you can’t have the same approach to each one every time because that’s not effective and you’re not going to get the results that you want. I think with leadership it’s similar. You have to be flexible with who you have in front of you, and the task and person, and you have to be aware of what their skill sets are, what their fears are, what their strengths are, and how to develop all of that together to get them to not only where you want them to be, but to where they want to be. The article talks about several styles from being a visionary leader, to being a coaching leader, to being a commanding leader, and there are places and room for each one of those. In particular, I think when you’re looking at being a visionary leader, that situation might be best approached when the company or the department is going through a major change or struggle and people need to see the vision. They need to know that you have a vision, and they need to know where they’re going and in order to see the bigger picture of what their contributions are going to create.
In contrast to that, there are situations where you want to be a bit of a commanding leader. That could be where there’s a major change in the company or whether there’s a big crisis or problem, and employees would like to see that there’s somebody in charge and somebody who is making decisions, who is confident in getting past the crisis. In that case you need to make decisions and set people tasks and have them go and do the work and see that there’s an outcome to it. But that wouldn’t be the right approach in every situation. In fact, if you overuse the commanding leadership approach, you probably alienate a lot of people and make them feel devalued at some point down the road.
Brandon: Putting myself in the shoes of a leadership position, when I have a new employee who is starting, I almost feel like I’m at the manager level. I’m trying to get to know this person and I’m being more directive than anything else. It feels like over time as you get to know this person- their likes and interests, and what their skill sets are- then you become more of a coach. Maybe talk a little bit about that in your experience and working with other clients.
Rebecca: I absolutely agree with that. When you’re first starting to work with a new employee you’re getting to know their skill sets, you’re getting to feel your way with them in a personal professional relationship – their communication style, the things that will motivate them and the things that will de-motivate them, what their interests are – so I think there’s a lot of transactional management and a lot of exchange of information. I give questionnaires to my new employees where I ask things like: what motivates you, what are some of your favorite hobbies, what’s your favorite color, what’s your favorite “this.” Then when it comes to rewards and recognition I have some things to go back to that are meaningful to them, and that’s important to me. As an employee, I’m an employee too; I want my manager to care about me. In fact, I read a study recently which said of 47 different characteristics that a manger could have, the one that was voted number one most important, was the assurance that their manager cared about them as a person. I think that’s really meaningful. It could have been wage, it could have been promotion, it could have been advancement, it could have even been one of the more common things you hear like being “in-the-know” and knowing what the company is doing, but this is one where people said I want my manager to care about me as an individual and I think that’s really key, that’s really important.
Brandon: I don’t know where exactly I read this but the number one reason people leave is because they either don’t get along with their manager, or they don’t like their manager, and it’s just really difficult to work with the person. I can totally understand where you’re coming from with that.
Rebecca: That’s often the case.
Brandon: In terms of coaching, how important is it to give employees assignments that really stretch them, help them grow a little, and get them out of their comfort zone?
Rebecca: I think it’s very important. I think the ideal time for this (and if you were to talk to any of the folks who work for me they would tell you) I tend to stretch them when it comes to their goal setting and areas that I know will be good for them down the road in their career development, but I know that they may not be as confident in. If I’m not giving them a goal to do it and supporting them along the way, it can be hard for somebody to just do those difficult things on their own. That’s where I often pull in some of the stretch goals. I try to make it as friendly as possible with the suggestion of doing it. I don’t ever make anybody do something or tell them that they have to because their not bought in, and you need people to be bought in if they are going to try something new and be brave. I’ll often make the suggestion of “just think about this, here’s a goal that I have for you, I know it’s a little bit uncomfortable, think about it and let me know what your thoughts are.”
Brandon: Do you do regular check-ins and how do you follow up on these goals? I’m assuming you have some sort of document that you’re trying to document the goals and where they are at.
Rebecca: Absolutely. I make sure that I have the goals printed out and I keep them in each employee’s folder. Every time that we have a one-on-one, which we do our one-on-one’s monthly, part of our discussion revolves around how they are doing on their progress goals. Do they have any roadblocks? Do they feel like they have enough time to get these done? Is this still applicable to what they are doing? I just do a check in of how they are doing and how they are feeling about it. For the ones that are more challenging, I give them the encouragement to continue. Often times for my group and the group that I manage, some of the stretch pieces have to do with presentations and the client service piece that has to do with presentations. That can be really hard for people so we will sometimes train, role play and talk about it. I’ll give them tips that I’ve used and let them feel their way. We touch base on a monthly basis, and we keep that in front of me and in front of them.
Brandon: I know there’s been times in my career where at first I may have been so excited about doing something, whether or not my manager was encouraging me, and I was really excited about doing it, got into it, and then it just didn’t fill me up and I wasn’t super excited about it. With that said, the people you’ve worked with in the past several years, you may have set some goals around some things that at first they were excited about but then it just really wasn’t applicable to what they were doing and wasn’t filling them up. How do you address something like that?
Rebecca: I think there are two different kinds of approaches. I feel like if it’s not applicable anymore then let’s not take the time and energy to spend on that, let’s refocus it to something that is meaningful to the person’s position, or the position they are aspiring to, or meaningful to the company. But, if it isn’t something that’s not bringing as much fulfillment as they thought it would, I would say let’s keep on track with that because our goals that we typically set are also meaningful to the work we are doing. It may be that the department or the team will still find value in the end product, so I would still encourage them and support them. If it was a bigger goal that maybe wasn’t as much of a focus from their whole set of goals that they are working on for the year then we could adjust it, but I would still maintain it in that instance.
Brandon: This next question may be sort of obvious on the surface, but I think you’ll have some insight to this. Over time, how does coaching and development play a factor in the growth of an employee versus being the directive and authoritarian type of manager?
Rebecca: When employees know that you care, it engenders loyalty, dedication and commitment. Those are all things that reap really good results for your team and for the company. Also, that’s important personally to me as a leader, that people thrive on my team and that they grow past what they thought they could and achieve things that they maybe didn’t think they could achieve. It’s important for me to provide that opportunity. I don’t look at it as I’m giving them this; I don’t feel like I’m making it happen. I feel like I’m allowing them the space, tools, resources, encouragement and support to be able to rise up and meet those goals and do those things that they didn’t think they would be able to do. I think that’s key in maintaining somebody’s professional development, and retention of employees. As we all know, retention and turnover is very expensive, but there’s also an emotional impact to the team and the department when something like that happens.
Brandon: Can you tell me what the major difference is between transactional management and transformational leadership?
Rebecca: When you’re talking about management, sometimes people just have the manager title, so they refer to themselves as the manager. Sometimes people don’t like that word because they feel like it’s too directive. There are some things that you’re actually doing, which is managing tasks and I think that’s part of the key difference. In transactional management, you’re planning and you’re budgeting, you’re organizing, you’re directing and you’re delegating; those are things that have to be done, those are things that are necessary, but I don’t know that they are necessarily leadership. I think leadership comes in the strategy, in the vision, in the listening and the caring and the creativity – that’s where I think the leadership piece comes in.
Brandon: Over the last several months we’ve been talking a lot about emotional intelligence here at Xenium. How do you think that plays a role in the development of employees – it’s a tougher subject to really grasp. We talk about IQ all the time, but what about emotional intelligence?
Rebecca: I think it’s absolutely vital. I think that, again going back to that statistic that the majority of employees want to know that their manager and their leadership cares about them as individuals, well how can you do that if you don’t know who they are as individuals? I think it’s absolutely vital that you get to know who they are, what their fears are, what their goals are, what their hopes are, what their dreams are, how they like to be communicated with, and the things that fill them up. I also don’t think you can fully take advantage of the strengths and the qualities of your employees if you don’t know those things about yourself as a leader and knowing what is important to you in your relationship you’re your employees. I think you have to have that emotional intelligence about your own emotions and your own wants. In particular, what Rodger and Valerie Pease with Inspiration Works brought to our group was this acronym called ICE. ICE being the three main things you need for emotional intelligence, which are: Inclusion, Control and Esteem. When you look at that, intuitively it makes sense that those are important, but I think that those intuitive things can also be forgotten by the wayside when you have all of these tasks to be done. I think it’s important to have a constant reminder of how you are providing pathways for your employees to feel included and to feel like they have control in their roles and to feel esteem.
Brandon: Great summary, I appreciate that. Give listeners some ideas of the things that have worked for you at the tactical level in terms of developing employees. Whether it’s meetings once a month, like you had said the one-on-one meetings, maybe certain forms you are using. Anything that has worked.
Rebecca: I think from the get-go, if we look at the lifecycle of the employee, I think the recruitment process is very important and finding out not only can this person complete the task that I need them to complete in this role, but are they the right fit for the department and the team and do they desire to grow, to do more, and to communicate well with their teammates. Once we have the person on board, I like to get to know them as an individual and have them tell me a little about themselves, and have an exchange of the sharing of that. What are some of their life experiences, what’s their family like and if that’s something that’s important to them. Finding out what those things are and bringing those up in conversation and checking in (if somebody is going on vacation or somebody is going to a family member’s wedding) checking-in and saying how was the wedding, how was the trip, and showing personal interest – when I actually feel it, so it’s true. This is authentic; I’m not just checking something off of a list because I think I should. I want to have that type of cohesive communication and relationship with my employees. That is carried over into our one-on-ones and we talk and I have a couple things that I like to check-off. One is progress towards goals, so we review their goal sheet, I may ask them about a project they’ve been working on and then I let them set the stage for anything else they want to talk about. Sometimes, I would even say often times, it tends to be things that are more personal and kind of what’s going on in their life or something they are looking forward to. It isn’t always just about the work they are doing but we are still making a connection and we are building trust and I think that’s key.
Brandon: What I hear you saying is that the personal connection is one of the most important pieces of the coaching and professional development of the employees.
Rebecca: Absolutely. I don’t think a person can successfully be in a leadership role if they don’t genuinely care about the success of their employees, not just their department and their function, but about their employees.
Brandon: What about a manager or leader who is managing more people than they could meet on a weekly or monthly basis, 40 employees or more, I’m sure there’s people out there who do manage that amount of employees.
Rebecca: That’s true. The size of the group I manage is about 12, so for those who are doing double or even triple that, that would be hard to fit in, and it’s time consuming; but I think it’s meaningful and purposeful. I would say that there are ways to have those one-on-ones. Maybe they are shorter, maybe they are every other month, maybe some of them are over the phone and maybe they are combined with a meeting or a lunch or some other purpose so that it makes it manageable for the time of the leader. It needs to effective for the leader too, and I think that there are ways to still do that. I think it’s a mistake to say it’s just too big of a group, I can’t do anything or I just can’t take that personal investment.
Brandon: In rounding up this discussion we’ve had, is there a way to measure your effectiveness as a coach? I know that’s probably hard, but I imagine some of it’s based on the success the employees’ are having in meeting their goals.
Rebecca: Absolutely. I remember hearing somebody say once that you’re an effective leader if you can be absent and your team operates well without you. I find that there is meaning in that. In addition to looking at the independence of my team when I’m gone, I also check-in with them. I think checking-in with your team is important, peer feedback or 360 reviews, so people have the opportunity to give back objective or autonomous feedback is important. But also ask at the end of every one-on-one the two questions that I ask are:
- Do you need anything from me?
- Is there anything else I can be doing for you?
I used to start of with just asking is there anything more I can be doing for you, and then I thought I’m going to also ask is there is anything less I could be doing for them because I think that’s a balance too. Sometimes people might find that they need less guidance and I just need to know that. If I know that they feel more independent and that they want to stretch their wings on something, then I try to be less involved with that particular task or function and let them take the steering wheel on that. Those two things are some of the most vital. Their ability to be independent without you and still be successful, and asking for input and feedback.
Brandon: So the most important piece of this is keeping an open feedback loop so the employees can let you know how much they need you on a regular basis.
Rebecca: You had mentioned before how well they’re doing and I think that’s absolutely an important indicator as well. If your team is growing and people are advancing and achieving the things they wanted to and following the career path and direction they want to and feel challenged but capable, then I think that’s a clear sign that you’re doing a good job as a leader.
Brandon: Our guest today has been Rebecca Naatz of Xenium. Thanks for joining the program.
Rebecca: Thank you Brandon.