Hints & Tips Articles

Welcome to Zia Executive Articles. Here are a collection of short articles covering topics from leadership and coaching to team and individual development.

  • Coaching
  • Leadership and Management
  • Teams and Individuals
  • Mentoring
  • Coaching:

    Leadership and Management:

    How do I Motivate my Team - Tips for Managers

    It's a question I am asked frequently when working with managers. The research into motivation runs far and deep and every business school, journal and magazine has focused on it. So, needless to say, theories aren't in short supply. From my own experience, motivation is not something you can "train" into people. It's not a skill or a competency. Motivation is an internal process, driven by our intrinsic values and beliefs - the things we hold most dear. When you begin to understand those values and beliefs, you then begin to understand what you can do to motivate your people. One way is by incorporating motivating behaviours into your management style. The managers I've met that are good at this are not only good managers, but good leaders as well. So what does this mean? Here are a few simple questions to ask yourself.
    1. Be a manager your people can trust and respect - This seems like an obvious one, but it takes time to build and can be lost in an instant. Trust and respect are earned through your actions. How consistent are you? Do you follow through on the promises you make? Do you avoid making promises you can't keep? Do you stand up for your people? Are you part of the team or do you stand apart? Do you give your team credit for their achievements?
    2. Know your team - This is about how well you know your people. What do they like? Dislike? What do they value? Not value? What hidden talents might they have that you can tap into and recognize? The best managers I've worked with have figured this out. They really understand what makes their people tick. They make time to get to know them whether it's over a cup of coffee, or at the pub after work. And they use their knowledge to get the best performance out of their people while at the same time meeting their people's needs.
    3. Challenge your team - Give them the opportunity to do work that is interesting and challenging. Smart and ambitious people like stimulating work and having a say in what or how things get done. How often do you engage your people in decisions? How good are you at delegating work. Do you dump work or micromanage it? Do you give them projects that will stretch them and help them learn? Do you support them as they learn?
    4. Be honest with your feedback - Employees want feedback, even feedback that is uncomfortable. How often do you provide feedback (outside of performance reviews)? Do you sugar-coat messages? Do you focus on the limiting behaviours and praise the person? Do you coach your people? Honest feedback especially when there are performance problems is difficult, but if done well, can be a powerful motivator. A corollary here is, how often do ask for feedback from your people?
    5. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate - Communication is one of your most powerful motivating tools, especially true during times of change. How well do your people understand the bigger picture - the goals, the strategy? How well do they understand how they fit into it? How can you help them understand their fit? Don't assume if you've said it once, the message was heard. People hear through the "lens" of their values and beliefs. Use multiple modes of communication, and again, don't forget actions do speak louder than words.
    Motivating behaviours won't guarantee a motivated team, and sometimes there are organizational challenges that fall outside of a managers control. But focusing on the things you can control (and influencing the things you can't) can go a long way in building motivation, loyalty and productivity in your people. Good luck and Thanks for reading!

    How do I give Feedback to my employees: Tips for Managers

    Giving performance feedback can be a traumatic experience for managers. Ok, traumatic is a bit of an overstatement, but it is a question I am often asked when I am working with team managers.

    Throughout our lives, feedback has enabled us to learn and develop our knowledge, skills and abilities. It is, in fact, a fundamental component of learning. And almost everyone wants to know how they are doing even if the feedback is uncomfortable to hear. Feedback gives us the information we need to make a decision on what to do next - it offers us a choice. And when feedback is given effectively it is one of the most powerful tools in a manager's toolkit for building trust, performance, and motivation in their team.

    There are countless models for giving feedback, such as STAR, AIM, SBI to name a few. All of them are useful, but what I have found works best is when managers adopt and adapt the principles below. These suggestions are loosely linked around the GROW coaching model:

    When to give feedback - performance feedback is best given fresh, not months down the road when it may have been forgotten. Find time to provide feedback often - e.g. over a cup of coffee, in the cab on the way back from a meeting, in a weekly/monthly catch-up meeting etc. Frequent feedback also helps to catch performance problems early rather than make it a once a year "dump" and avoids the performance appraisal "surprise". Try to be balanced with your feedback addressing both positives as well as negatives throughout the year.

    Who goes first? - Ask your employee to tell you how they think they performed. A couple of starter questions might be: "So how do you think that went?", "What has gone well this year?" "Is there anything that you could have done differently?", "What would you like to improve on for next year?" Asking an individual to express their own views first helps them feel more comfortable with the process and establishes some common ground around which you can base your own observations. It also gives you as the manager some information about where the individual places their performance. Is it in line with your expectations? Below or above? And also helps you gauge how they will respond to the feedback you need to give. If there is a big discrepancy, it may signal a defensive response that you can plan for.

    Recognize the positives - Recognize where your employee has improved or done well since your last feedback conversation. Stay focused on providing concrete examples of observed behavior and importantly the impact of the behavior. This helps to reinforce behaviors that are valued and helps to set a positive tone for the rest of the conversation.

    Just the facts please - feedback should be very specific and factual. Avoid giving generalized feedback based on personal opinion or biases. If the feedback is potentially contentious, employees may interpret this as a personal attack and react defensively. Instead focus on actual events that are factual and supported with behavioral evidence. Linking this with the impact of the behavior allows employees the opportunity to understand the feedback more clearly. This in turn will enable them to respond more openly.

    Focus on behavior - In performance feedback, the goal is to change or reinforce the behaviors that impact performance; it is not about changing the person. Focusing on behavior during your feedback meetings also helps to de-personalize feedback. A defensive response probably means they've taken it personally.

    • Focus on person - "You're problem is you're not a team player"
    • Focus on behavior - "On several occasions, I have observed one of the team asking you for help and you refusing. Today was an example."

    If the feedback consists of situations where the individual clashes with others and they feel that they are not at fault ask the individual to say what they felt they contributed to the clash and what they might have done differently to avoid it.

    Feedforward - There is a tendency at times to dwell on the negative. Move the conversation forward as quickly as is appropriate to keep the discussion focused on positive next steps e.g. what can be done by the employee to improve performance. Ask the individual to contribute their own view about possible solutions. Explore options and ways in which the individual could be helped. Be prepared to give positive advice and guidance to the individual if they are having difficulty in finding a way forward.

    Next steps - towards the end of your feedback discussion always seek to secure agreement on a concrete way forward. Establish an action plan and agree timescales to revisit. This plan should contain specific things that the individual will do differently and any support you will provide. When will you meet next to update?

    Happy Endings - always try and end on a positive note. Remind the individual again of the positive aspects of the feedback and what you value about their contribution. Encourage them to take the actions necessary to overcome any difficulties and remind them of your willingness to support them in this process.

    The key is to use feedback regularly and to make it a two-way conversation that recognizes the employees part in the process. It is most powerful when it is given regularly, honestly and constructively even if it is uncomfortable for all those involved. But practice does help and the more you do it, the better you'll get. Good luck!!

    Teams and Individuals:

    Other Topics:

    Designing a Mentoring Programme? Here are some things to consider

    So why do you want a mentoring program? Is it for networking? communication? change? new employees? development? Programs have been designed for many reasons and some for no reasons other than linking people together. In any case once you have defined your goals for a program the design of a it becomes clearer. In this article, we present a few things to consider.

    Uses and Benefits

    As mentioned above, formal mentoring programs within organizations are generally used in a framework of development. They may also be designed to include a highly effective means of managing talent and be useful in succession planning. They are powerful in aiding the management of change and in communication, specifically, the sharing of information and knowledge.

    Additional ways mentoring programs can been used include:

    • Improve productivity and loyalty
    • Facilitate teamwork
    • Foster creativity and problem solving
    • Create "champions" of the organization's visions and values

    The benefits to the organization and the individual are numerous. Among other things, mentoring programs can facilitate greater confidence and transfer of knowledge as well as quicken career progression for employees. Equally it gives mentors the opportunity to develop their coaching and people management skills. Below is a sampling of potential benefits.


    • Career advice and advancement
    • Opportunity to network and raise profile
    • Improved self-confidence - especially with new employees/grads
    • Learns to understand the "formal" and "informal" structure of the business
    • Speeds the induction/orientation process
    • Someone to talk with openly


    • Opportunity to stay "fresh", in touch with what is happening on the "frontlines"
    • Act as a role model
    • Opportunity to develop people management skills as part of their personal development
    • Feel valued
    • To contribute to the future of the organization


    • Increased loyalty of employees
    • Increased productivity
    • Support for and acceleration of organizational change
    • framework for successions planning and talent management

    Success Factors:

    If the program is carefully planned and specific outcomes and business objectives are set along with consideration for the points below, the chances are high that the organization and the people involved will experience high rewards. But it cannot be stressed enough that the "right" systems and practices for your organization need to be put in place or be ready to roll out, before a mentoring program should be launched. Some things to consider:

    • Mentors possess skills in line with coaching and developing people: good listening skills, the ability to relate and give feedback, be supportive and non- judgmental, to be confident
    • Goals and objectives of the process are firmly established at the outset of the program. This will also aid in the evaluation of the program
    • Mentoring is recognized, promoted (usually led by example) and valued by senior management as an important part of the manager's role or of the organizations culture. It is not, however, mandatory.
    • Program have good co-ordination and the time and resources to enable that to happen - programs can be administratively intense especially in formal programs during the matching processes
    • Good training can make all the difference to help both mentors and mentees to get the most out of their relationship at the start of the program when objectives are set and ongoing for support.
    • Mentors and mentees need to understand their respective roles and to be supported to review the relationship and progress made on an ongoing basis
    • Evaluation!! Incorporate an evaluation process ideally in the performance management system to provide information that can be used to make programs more effective in the future as well as track the benefits.

    A few words on informal programs:

    In some instances it may make more sense to launch an informal mentoring program or indeed run informal alongside formal programs. In either case, informal programs have most of the same benefits of formal programs, but matching of mentors and mentees occurs spontaneously without a formal matching process.

    Formal mentoring programs tend to "force" people together based on limited criteria and information gathered from some sort of questionnaire/application form. Whereas informal matches tend to be based on personal alignments such as values, beliefs, and individual needs. In my experience, formal programs are useful for introducing mentoring to an organization with limited experience of mentoring or alternatively if very specific goals and objectives need to be achieved and measured. Informal programs are useful when the organization already has a development oriented culture. Most of the mentoring relationships that I have been in and continue to be in have been informal and spontaneous.

    In either case, given time, a mentoring culture can develop whereby mentoring becomes spontaneous and self-sustaining. In addition, I have used online mentoring, mentoring pools and group mentoring as a way to continue to integrate mentoring into an organization's culture and to provide "just in time" mentoring.

    Some Barriers and Problems:

    It is important to bear in mind that mentoring programs can be extremely powerful developmental tools but they are not a panacea and they will not "fix" problems in the organization. If there are inherent organizational cultural issues, the program may be doomed to fail even before it begins. For example, senior managers don't feel there is value in it and therefore don't support it, or the skills needed to mentor effectively don't exist within the mentor population and are not provided for.

    Mentoring programs are most successful, when careful consideration to the care and support they require is given. For example, what kind of matching process will you use? How will you ensure mentors and mentees understand their roles? Is there a need to evaluate your program?

    Some of the factors that can contribute to the failure of a program include:

    • Organizational culture does not support it
    • Mentors and mentees are expected to participate, choice is not an option
    • Poor match of Mentor/Mentee
    • People who are not in the mentoring program may feel left out or resentful thus countering the potential benefits of the program - there are most always more mentees than mentors

    So what next:

    The success of a program is dependent on many factors, not least of which is the organizational culture into which it is launched. Formal programs can work in some organizations, but in others, the constraints of a formal program actually inhibit the success. Likewise informal programs may be more appropriate if the organization's culture supports it and measurement isn't really needed. Start by understanding what you want to achieve and then build a program that meets those needs and considers the points above. But most importantly, just do it. Your employees will thank you for it!