When is Assessor Training more than Assessor Training?

This week I spent two days with an NHS provider client delivering a two day Assessor Training to 18 senior people within the organisation.  The purpose of the training was to provide them with the skills to assess an internal development centre to benchmark clinical leadership within the Trust.  It was a lively and informative two days and there was lots of great learning about the fundamentals required to objectively observe and record behaviour, as well as how to classify and evaluate those behaviours and how to give feedback on it.

What really stuck me was just how valuable this time was to discuss, explore and really calibrate the organisation’s expectations of clinical leaders, in a way that could provide a structured, measurable framework.

A couple of the delegates were from the potential candidate pool for future development centres, they were able to see first hand the integrity of the system and the real desire to be transparent, ethical and supportive. Their positive attitudes towards the centres from peers will have far more impact in reassuring suspicious or nervous colleagues than any official communication strategy – don’t under estimate how anxious some organisations can get about the organisational agenda behind the centres.

The competencies being used have been around the organisation for a while, but still have not made it as everyday language and are not yet impacting on performance management and expectation setting. But after two days discussing, clarifying, understanding how to talk behaviour and impact, rather than person and personal, the assessors went away with a new set of skills not only for the development centres but to cascade and role model to their directorates and teams throughout the organisation.

Perhaps the most powerful part of the two days was the demonstration of how we tend to generalise our impressions of someone depending on what is important to us, personally. The facilitators modelled two presentations, each designed to have different strengths and weaknesses.

The first was passionate, engaging and highly impactful on an interpersonal level, but lacked evidence, specifics or a vision. The second used some inappropriate language, did not express any connection with the audience or patients, but beneath the delivery provided a strong argument backed by facts and evidence, set out a strategic vision and clear action plan.

Despite knowing that they were to evaluate the presentations on three separate criteria:

–  Interpersonal impact
– Setting a Strategic Direction
– Creating a clear plan of action

the groups initially rated the first presentation higher across all three criteria than the second.  Careful exploration of the evidence they had provided against each of the criteria showed that they had automatically applied the evidence for interpersonal impact across all the criteria and over generalised.  When it was properly debated and challenged it emerged that in fact the better presentation was the second, not the first as they had initially thought. Although both presentations had strengths and development points.

These senior managers were brave enough to reflect on how often they generalise in the workplace and as a result over or under estimate someone’s performance based on one aspect of their behaviour.  Such a deep understanding of how we function automatically and how that stops us seeing what is really there, is going to create some powerful organisational change.

Envision provides Clinical Leadership Assessment and Development within both acute and community trusts.

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Can playing cards in the Board Room help strengthen your top team?

What does our natural, survival instinct to stay alive have to do with being a high performing team and a pack of cards?

Recently I was at the Association for Coaching (UK) The Business of Coaching Conference in Manchester.  My kind friends at Work Positive had booked me a free delegate pass in return for helping them out on their exhibitors stand talking about their fantastic new product, Strengths Cards.  This was a no brainer – the cards are a fantastic resource that I have been using with teams and in one to one coaching sessions, and the conference had some great speakers on offer.  It was a win win as far as I was concerned.

It was whilst I was contemplating the evidence about a strengths based approach in teams and listening to the likes of Amy Brann, Roger Steare and Jocelyn Brookes that a seed began to grow in the back of my mind.

The next day I was coaching a Senior Director of a Global Biotech business.  We’d met several times before and he is a great asset to the company.  He is quick to see the problem, astute and practical in his solutions with a real understanding of the business.  You know the type, the one who sees the solution before anyone else has even recognised there is a problem.  Not only that, but he is passionate about the business and understands it almost better than anyone else.  However, this causes him a problem as he becomes frustrated when his colleagues can’t see things as quickly and clearly as he does and his immediate response is to point out where they are going wrong.  They find him abrasive and aggressive.  Unfortunately, his desire to get the best outcome has the opposite effect on the team’s overall performance.

I realised that his impact is causing others in the team to experience stress which is holding the performance of the team back.  When we perceive a threat (not even a real threat) like someone criticising us, our brain stem or reptile brain takes over with our fight, flight or freeze response, causing us to become defensive or resistant.  This is designed to help us survive in the wild, but in the board room the result is that we lose the ability to think about the situation creatively.  This was happening whenever my client began to get frustrated causing the team stopped working to solve problems, but instead work reactively to protect themselves against the perceived threat.

Losada and Heaphy in 2004 found that high performing teams emphatically use positive interactions to create safe and supportive environments that mean when team members challenge each other it is not seen as a threat and the team can respond in a creative, solution focused way.  Challenges are outnumbered by a ratio of around 1:5 by positive, building or supporting comments.  This is because when we feel stimulated and free from threat the brain stem allows our neocortex to become fully active and engage in executive functions like solving complex problems and being resourceful.

Working with this client has helped him to understand his impact and how it is preventing him from achieving his ambitious goals to grow the company.

So where does the pack of cards come in?  This week I met with the team and we used the At My Best Cards to begin to establish how to make best use of the strengths within the team in order to create a more positive environment.  They have already grasped that using strengths is a great way to challenge themselves without activating the stress response.  As a result they are well on the way to finding ways to deliver their strategy to meet their ambitious plans for growth.

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