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Welcome back to the MPN Thought Leader Podcast series. In this podcast, we speak with industry leaders about their perspective on doing business in the technology industry. Episodes feature interviews with inspiring speakers David Meerman Scott, Jo Burston, Dux Raymond Sy and Mario Carvajal, Carol Roth, Tim Hurson, Kris Plachy, and Mike Harvath and Reed Warren, covering topics from marketing to management to the future of the Intelligent Cloud.

Kris plachy (2)In today’s episode, we hear from thought leader and leadership coach, Kris Plachy, about the different ways we can coach individuals to successfully manage, develop, and provide more effective feedback to their teams. Kris is the Founder of Leadership Coach, LLC and author of Change Your Think: An Unexpected Way to Think About Managing People. She is an expert corporate coach in developing employees and executive-level management. Many managers find themselves in leadership roles without the necessary education or preparation to act as both technical experts and management experts. Kris discusses how to give better feedback, how to work with difficult people, and what the three most important elements of management really are.

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[VOICEOVER]:  Welcome to the Microsoft Partner Network Thought Leader Podcast Series. Today, we’re talking with Kris Plachy of Leadership Coach. Kris is a coach who focuses her expertise on people who manage people, primarily at the executive level. She explains that leadership is about handling troubling events and helping people work better together. As a leader you need to work on your organization, not just in your organization.

INTERVIEWER:  Welcome to our podcast.  My name is Julie Simpson.  I’m the Managing Director of Resource IT Consulting.  I’m here today with Kris Plachy from — who is a leadership coach.  Kris, tell us a little bit about yourself and your business.

KRIS:  Thank you, Julie.  Thank you for having me and chatting with me today.  My name is Kris Plachy.  I have a company called Leadership Coach, LLC.  And I’m a leadership coach.

So I really focus on coaching people who manage people, primarily at the executive level, right.  Helping them be more strategic with how they develop and manage high-performing teams.  I have about 20 years of leadership experience myself, prior to starting my own business just about five years ago.

And so I am very passionate about what I do because I’m — I think I speak from my own experience and have seen it so many times that we have a lot of people who get put into management positions who are expected to do a lot of things.  They need to be technical experts, they need to be management experts, and they also need to motivate and lead people to perform.

And I think we don’t necessarily do the best job at getting people ready for all of those responsibilities.  So my hope is to help leaders really deal, frankly, with most of the challenging elements of leading.  And I’ve sort of developed an unexpected specialty in helping leaders deal with what’s difficult.  Difficult people, difficult conversations, difficult situations, unexpected change, those kinds of things.

INTERVIEWER:  Wow, that sounds really, really interesting.  So tell us a few things about some of the work you’ve been doing.

KRIS: Yesterday I lead a quick talk at the Community Hub Theater on dealing with difficult leadership moments.  I think it’s fair to say that everybody who manages people runs into stuff that’s difficult.  And usually those things have to do with other people.  That’s where we tend to struggle the most.

And so in that session, I really focused and helped leaders recognize that the first person they have to understand the most when they’re dealing with something that’s difficult is themselves.  You know, what is it that they tell themselves, and why do they believe it’s difficult.  I really believe that nothing’s difficult until you believe that it is.

INTERVIEWER:  Wow.

KRIS:  And as soon as you tell yourself something’s hard to do, it kind of becomes that way, right?  So it was a quick talk, but it was really designed to help people sort of see difficult moments as a part of your practice as a leader, not an exception.  I think a lot of times leaders think, “I shouldn’t have to deal with this.”  Like it’s outside of the role, and then therefore, it’s a burden or it takes time away from.

The truth is, when you sign up to be the boss, you really — that’s part of what you do, right?  And so if we stop being in resistance to it, we can actually move through these difficult moments probably a little more quickly, and a little more soundly, and not have as much ripple or ruffling effect on the team.

INTERVIEWER:  Wow.

KRIS:  Right. How to work with difficult people.  They’re everywhere.  And it’s funny because this — this topic I kind of stumbled on, to be honest.  I wrote a blog — an article for LinkedIn almost three years ago.  And you know, you just post stuff on LinkedIn.  I just posted it.  And within three, four hours, I had 15,000 views.  And then it just kept escalating.  More and more people were reading it.

And I thought, “Oh, that’s so fascinating.  Maybe there’s a problem.”

INTERVIEWER:  Yeah.

KRIS:  And so I ended up writing a book about how to work with difficult people, and have now put thousands of professionals through my “How to Work with Difficult People” face to face workshops.  And I recently just launched an online self-study video program on how to work with difficult people.  Because to be honest, Julie, we have — it’s epidemic.  It’s a problem.  It’s causing companies to not perform because people can’t work together.  And again, I think it’s one of those things that we all know, but we don’t know how to help people move through it, especially leaders.  Because leaders have their own difficult people that they try to negotiate.

So my hope is to kind of change the world just a little and help people be able to work together more effectively.

And then the last is something called “Performance is not an Opinion.”  Most managers, unfortunately, are not given a lot of training on how to give feedback.  And therefore, most feedback is an opinion.  You know, “You’re lazy,” “you’re disengaged,” “you look like you don’t care about your job.”  I hear all sorts of things people — managers say about their employees. “They’re entitled.”  “They’re just cashing it in.”  Whatever.  They say all sorts of things.

And they lead with their opinion, and then they get into all sorts of trouble.  They get into defensive conversations with their employees.  It becomes confrontational.  It feels like a lot of conflict.

And so then, managers understandably avoid the conversations because they get so icky, for lack of a better word.  And so what I teach in that program is that performance can be grounded in evidence.  If it can’t be, then you don’t have good measures in place.  And we’re talking about measurable outcomes, and we’re also talking about behavior.  Everything can be evaluated in evidence and in fact.

So instead of saying to someone, you know, they’re lazy, you would say, “I noticed for the last two months you’ve turned in your projects late.”  That’s what I’m going to talk to you about.  I’m not going to label you as lazy.  I’m going to talk to you about what I’ve observed, and what is provable.

Then when I have a conversation about performance, I’m rooting it in evidence and in fact.  And that’s not something we argue about.  The employee might have a different perspective, but that’s okay.  If it’s grounded in evidence, it’s clean, right?

And that just takes all the heat out of these feedback conversations.  Because I really do believe that if leaders, and teams, and organizations were holding themselves more accountable to delivery of high performance, and had these conversations more regularly, companies would skyrocket in performance.  But we are avoiding these conversations because we don’t know how to have them.

INTERVIEWER:  That’s fantastic.  So what you’re saying is that to deal with difficult people or deal with performance issues, to actually have a plan —

KRIS:  Yeah.

INTERVIEWER:  — that is tangible and —

KRIS:  Yeah.

INTERVIEWER:  — you can work to —

KRIS:  Yes.

INTERVIEWER:  — so that people understand what you are trying to do to help them as a leader.

KRIS:  Exactly.

INTERVIEWER:  And that is your job as a leader is to increase the performance of your team.  As leaders, we have to keep learning, don’t we?

KRIS:  Yeah.

INTERVIEWER:  And the way you learn and get feedback is to get that interaction.  And there’s so much variety of people here at WPC.

KRIS:  Totally.

INTERVIEWER:  And all sorts of partners, all types of different businesses.  And I’m sure there’s a definite thread that runs through that.  Whoever the leader, whatever business they’re in —

KRIS:  Yeah.

INTERVIEWER:  — there will be some similarities in their challenges.  Can you give me an example of a business that you’ve worked with — a business leader that you’ve worked with, and through the coaching, you’ve given them what impact that has had on their organization?

KRIS:  Yeah.  I’ve fortunately had quite a few wonderful experiences.  One particular — one of the things, Julie, is I can also — I tend to be hired to coach the difficult executive.

INTERVIEWER:  I’m sure.  I’m sure.  Kris to the rescue.

KRIS:  Nobody else wants to do it.  Get her.

But you know, really, the reality is, 90 percent of the people on this planet are trying to do the best job they can.  They’re not trying to be difficult.  Most of us are just doing — doing what we do because it’s what we know.  And as people elevate into executive roles, they’re less likely to get feedback.

And so what they did when they were a manager, if nobody caught it then, and now they’re the VP, or the Senior VP, or the President or CEO, certainly not some — they’re not going to get told that it’s not effective.

So in particular, I worked with one leader who runs a relatively small organization.  And he was on his way out.  I was hired by a group to coach him.  He had six months to turn it around.  He was very casual in his behavior.  He was flippant in his behavior.  Might have even had some favorites, at least people thought as much.  And so we did a 360 evaluation survey to get some rounded feedback.  And it was honestly the most difficult feedback I’ve ever had to give someone.  It was pages long.

INTERVIEWER:  Oh, goodness me.

KRIS:  But he was — see, the key here, Julie, with anyone if you want to help them, is they have to be willing.  It’s one thing to have behaviors that are difficult.  It’s another thing to have them, but say, “Yeah, I know it.  But I don’t know how to change.  But I’m willing to do the work.”  And he was willing.

And so we did a lot of — a lot of self-awareness discussions, and a lot of reality checking.  Like this was funny to you, but it wasn’t funny to them.  And he radically changed his organization.

And not only that, see, part of the challenge — one of the things we discovered is he wasn’t managing his people very well.  And so there were also problems in all the departments that he was not really engaged in.

INTERVIEWER:  Right.

KRIS:  And once we started peeling back all the layers, we recognized okay, he’s got some stuff he’s doing that’s not effective.  But because he’s been disengaged, he’s allowed this to happen.

INTERVIEWER:  Right.

KRIS:  And so by the time we were done — it took about nine months.  He had repositioned people in the organization, put them in different roles.  And their profits escalated very — pretty rapidly.  It was cool.  And it’s actually an industry that wasn’t, — could have been effected because it’s impacted by the oil industry.  And so it could have had some ramifications.

So the long-term of that is it did really well.  They’re trying to maybe position the organization to sell it, and now they can because it’s in a much better position.  So it was a great — it was a very rewarding experience.  As a coach, it was very challenging.

INTERVIEWER:  Yeah.

KRIS:  But the key to any — like you said, as leaders, we need to keep learning.  I tell my clients, you know, I’ll test for about three sessions.  And if you’re not willing, I’m not going to work with you.

INTERVIEWER:  Right.

KRIS:  Because willingness is the only — I can’t control that.  It’s hard to change, right?  I always ask folks in my class, like what was the last significant behavior change you’ve made in your life.  And most of us don’t do a lot of that.

So then when we ask people to make big changes like change the way they talk to people, change the way they manage their facial expressions, that’s big stuff.  That’s a big ask.

INTERVIEWER:  Yeah.  Huge.  Huge.  So that’s fantastic, Kris.  You know, I run a business myself.  And I always saw my responsivity as sales, because that’s what I was good at.  And I had someone else who was responsible for finance, someone else who was responsible for delivery.  And I had a leadership coach.  And I said to him, “You know, my job is sales.  My job is not operations.  My job is not finance.”  And he said to me, “Julie, you are the leader.  It is all your job.”

KRIS:  Oh.

INTERVIEWER:  And we have a responsibility to take ownership of that —

KRIS:  Right.

INTERVIEWER:  — and be committed to the other —

KRIS:  Right.

INTERVIEWER:  — people that join in with our success and help to grow the company.

KRIS:  Uh huh.

INTERVIEWER:  So I completely identify —

KRIS:  Yeah.

INTERVIEWER:  — with what you’re saying.  So if I’m not fortunate enough to be able to work with you as a business coach, so I’m listening to this and I’m thinking okay, I hear you.  I feel that I could be open to change, what would be the top three things that you would say to a leader?  What could they do to help themselves to grow, and develop, and make a difference?

KRIS:  Yeah.  So there’s always sort of — to me, there’s like those essentials, right?  So the first one that I believe ever person who manages people should do is they should have clearly defined expectations of everybody on the team.  This is typically the one thing that doesn’t exist.  And it’s pretty easy to fix because we have them anyway.  We just often don’t communicate them.

INTERVIEWER:  Right. Yeah.

KRIS:  So and those expectations should be aligned with the performance and the mission of the organization.  But I expect people to be honest.  I expect people to provide solutions.  I expect people to tell me the truth as a leader.

And sometimes I even — I often invite managers to do that as a team.  You know, what do we expect of one another.  Setting expectations and having them clarified is at the heart of an accountability culture.  We have to have those agreements.

The next thing is, do we have established criteria for performance for every position in the organization.  Not person, position.  People fill positions.  We don’t create positions for people.  And that’s when we get into trouble. I know sometimes we have this great person, we try to plug them in.  But positions should be clearly defined, and have whatever the language is, key performance indicators, key trends, whatever it is that we evaluate to determine the success of a position.

If we can’t measure the success of a role in an organization, we have to ask ourselves why we have it.  Otherwise — because the whole reason we have companies is to deliver something to the world.  And every role in a company helps serve that, right?  So expectations and clearly defined measures for roles.

And then on top of that, I would add individual performance goals.  So we have measures that define a role’s success, and then how does each person in the role contribute to that.

INTERVIEWER:  Okay.

KRIS:  And that will vary based on their tenure, their experience, their client load, their market, right.  You know that as sales, right?

INTERVIEWER:  Absolutely, yeah.

KRIS:  And then lastly, I believe that the one thing leaders can do to really maximize performance is have a coaching practice.  Most of the time when we see failure, we see a gap in coaching.  And a lot of times the reason we have that gap is because managers don’t know how to coach. They know how to brief.  They know how to tell.  They know how to review.  They don’t know how to coach.

And it’s not overly complicated.  But there are a lot of options out in the world to kind of learn some basic coaching skills.  But meeting with people consistently, one on one, not just as a team.  Whether it’s once a quarter, once every 30 days.  Where I come from, we met with people once a week because the cadence of our business was really fast.

INTERVIEWER:  Wow.

KRIS:  And that’s time for me and you.  And I really encourage leaders to give that agenda to the employee.  Because I don’t care how successful they are.  They want time with you.  It’s just the way that it works.

So setting expectations, having established performance criteria and having a coaching practice.  If there was nothing else people could do as leaders, those would be those things.

And if you’re curious about knowing more about those in a little more detail, I have a podcast on my website.  And all of those are covered.  Like how to set up expectations, how to set up key performance indicators, how to set up a coaching practice.  And all of that can be found on my website at leadershipcoachllc.com.

INTERVIEWER:  That’s amazing.  I think you’re absolutely right about giving people time.  You know, I think all of the people in my organization say to me the most valuable thing I can give them is my time.

KRIS:  Yeah.

INTERVIEWER:  To listen to what they’re doing, to listen to their challenges.  And you know, what do I think they could do about that.

KRIS:  Yeah.

INTERVIEWER:  And sometimes just talking about it, and having that conversation, at the end of the day, we’re all a team.  We’re all working together.

KRIS:  Yeah.

INTERVIEWER:  And what you can do as a leader is end up in a glass tower and look down on your people.

KRIS:  Right.  Wonder what they’re doing.

INTERVIEWER:  And that’s not the way it is, is it?

KRIS:  No.

INTERVIEWER:  That’s absolutely not the way it is.

KRIS:  It doesn’t help you get the best results.

INTERVIEWER:  Definitely not.

KRIS:  And if you’re meeting with them consistently, you can also catch things before they get too big, right?

INTERVIEWER:  Yeah, before it explodes.

KRIS:  Whatever your performance evaluation process is, you know, I always tell people if you met with everybody once a month and documented your outcomes, then when it comes to performance review time, you’ve got twelve months all done.

INTERVIEWER:  Yeah.

KRIS:  You don’t have to sit there and try to figure out how to put together a performance view for a year —

INTERVIEWER:  Yeah.

KRIS:  — if you haven’t really been consistent in meeting.  So yeah, it’s a valuable practice.

INTERVIEWER:  Yeah.

KRIS:  It takes time.

INTERVIEWER:  Yeah.

KRIS:  And that’s the one thing managers will say is, “I don’t have time.”  And I’m always like, “You don’t not have time.”

INTERVIEWER:  That is a great point.  That is one of the last things I was going to say to you is that in the Microsoft Partners Channel, most of the leaders are also working in the business full time.  They’re either consultants, or architects, or they could be developers, or they could be —

KRIS:  Uh huh.

INTERVIEWER:  — doing business development.  And that’s what they see as their day job.  And you know, someone taught me a long time ago, work on your organization, not in your organization.

KRIS:  So good.

INTERVIEWER:  It will accelerate your success.  But it’s a huge leap to do that.

KRIS:  Yes.

INTERVIEWER:  And having a coach, someone like you that you can turn to and refer to to give you that confidence that you’re making the right decisions, and trusting, and coaching and developing your teams, that can only be a great thing for any Microsoft partner.

KRIS:  Uh huh.

INTERVIEWER:  Kris, thank you very much.  It was lovely to talk to you.  And your website again, for people that want to get in touch with you?

KRIS:  Yeah, great.  It’s leadershipcoachllc.com.  And on the website you’ll find I have a podcast.  I write a weekly blog.  I also offer some of my own courses on some of the topics we’ve been talking about.  So I try to make as much available because I appreciate not everybody can hire a coach.  Not everybody can get to a course.

But my goal, as I said, to try to get as much of this information in the world so that people can do better for themselves, and ultimately better for their team.

INTERVIEWER:  Fantastic.  Thank you very much, Kris.

KRIS:  Yeah.  It’s my pleasure.

INTERVIEWER:  It’s a pleasure to talk to you.

[VOICEOVER]:  Check out the other podcast episodes in this series to learn more from Microsoft Partner Network thought leaders. Keep in touch with us via LinkedIn, Facebook, and YouTube by searching for the Microsoft Partner Network, and be sure to follow us on Twitter @mspartner. And if you like the podcast, don’t forget to rate and review it.