How to Coach Your Employees With Questions

How to Coach Your Employees With Questions

As an executive, manager or supervisor you are supposed to have all the answers. After all, that is why you get paid the big bucks: to solve problems. And most of the problems you deal with are typically people problems. If there are people challenges in your organization, then as the leader you are the answer.

But what if it’s the questions that you actually need?

In his new book The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead, best selling author Michael Bungay Stanier notes that the key to successful leadership is successful coaching. But he also says, “You’re probably not getting very effective coaching; and you’re probably not delivering very effective coaching.” The difference between ineffective and effective coaching is asking questions. But not just any questions: the right questions.

In his book, Bungay Stanier offers the seven best questions any manager can ask an employee to improve their performance. Below are three of those questions and how to best implement them. For the remaining four, be sure to pick up a copy of The Coaching Habit (it has tons of solid information to grow your leaders).

(1) The Kickstart Question: What’s on your mind?

Bungay Stanier says staring with this question you can turn a chat into a “real conversation….It’s a question that says, ‘Let’s talk about the thing that matters most.’” Rather than wasting unnecessary time (and what leader has an excess of time these days), this questions is about getting quickly to the thing that matters most.

(2) The Focus Question: What’s the real challenge for you here?

This question gets to the heart of the challenge at hand. With the coaching habit there is no more beating around the bush. Too many times when employees start a conversation about a situation, they start off topic and not what is really on their mind. They chase rabbits. This question forces your direct reports to peel back the layers and identify the core issue.

(3) The Lazy Question: How can I help?

The lazy question works in two ways. First, it forces the other person to make a clear request, by forcing her to get clear on what it is she wants or needs. Second, it is a self-management tool to keep you as the manager curious and keep you lazy: it prevents you from spending time doing things you think people want you to do.

Now that you know some of the questions to ask, what do you do what the information? Here are a few application suggestions:

  • Ask these questions when you are coaching your employees
  • Use this book as a management training tool with your leaders
  • Implement these questions in management team meetings

Those are just a few key insights and application points from three of the questions in The Coaching Habit. The book offers many more ideas, tips and resources to improve the way you lead. As John Maxwell says, “everything rises and falls on leadership.” If you want your organization to rise with your leadership, then it starts by asking the right questions.

To discover what those right questions are, read The Coaching Habit.

Building Brand Fans

Building Brand Fans

This blog entry authored by Taylor W. Wells, Communications Director for On The Mark Strategies.

Banks and credit unions face stiff competition for consumers these days. There is a cacophony of voices out there, all vying for a few moments of attention from your members or customers.

And, with few exceptions, we offer pretty much the same products and services. The challenge, then, becomes one of memorability. In other words, how can banks and credit unions stand out in the minds of existing and potential consumers?

More and more, that comes back to brand. Financial institutions must develop, launch and nurture genuine and authentic brand personalities that match what they best do with the niche audiences they best serve. A common concern amongst banks and credit unions going through a re-branding process is one of cost. How can our financial institution, the question often goes, stand out amongst the crowd while working with a limited budget?

The good news: there are ways in which you can build a memorable brand with consumers that don’t have to break your marketing budget. Take, for instance, and experience I had with a well-known furniture store recently. I went to the store looking for a matching share for my already-existing dining room set. The young salesman was friendly, helpful and acted like my relatively small (potential) purchase was the most important thing on his plate that day.

I decided not to buy the chair that day. Imagine my surprise when, in the mail the very next day, there was a hand-written card from the young salesman, thanking me for coming in, specifically mentioning the model chair for which I was looking and inviting me to come back any time should I decide to purchase it.

The big-picture lesson here? Building brand fans is all about the small touches.

Keep in mind, I had made much larger purchases from the furniture store in the past and on that particular day wasn’t even looking for something terribly expensive. But, to the young salesman, it obviously mattered. And he extended his brand to me with superior service, friendliness and what I’m sure was a relatively inexpensive thank-you postcard. It’s also worth noting that, even when I was in the same store browsing for considerably larger purchases, I never received a thank you card from the salesperson at that time.

This experience stuck out with me strongly enough that I did, in fact, go back to the store to purchase the chair. It was an inexpensive and easy way for the furniture store to cultivate an existing customer into someone that made an additional purchase.

This translates well into the world of financial institutions. With your existing members and customers, it is the small brand touches that can make the biggest impressions. And again, they don’t have to cost a ton of money. Inexpensive postcards, telephone calls, emails and even interactions on social media are not expensive to accomplish. But, they can mean the world to a member or customer and can (as evidenced in my example) even result in deeper product penetration. What was a simple extra dining room chair in my case could translate into another loan, checking account or savings product for your bank or credit union.

Branding is a huge job but don’t let it scare you. There are plenty of things – especially little things – you can do to help build a memorable brand in your consumers’ minds. Other than an inexpensive postcard, what ideas do you have to help build your brand that won’t simultaneously break your budget?

Go for Brand Loyalty Beyond Reason

Go for Brand Loyalty Beyond Reason

When discussing the importance of brand loyalty with banks and credit unions, we often touch upon the importance of “lovemarks.” Lovemarks are, as described by their website, “… the future beyond brands, they inspire loyalty beyond reason and deliver beyond your expectations of great performance. Simply put, they are products, people and places you love.”

Think about the brands you love and why you love them. Odds are, most are “sexier” brands, such as Apple, Amazon and Target. People are often loyal to brands such as these, beyond reason. However, one of the top brands people typically mention that they absolutely love is Harley-Davidson. Check out the photo above. Here is a man who, upon passing away, made it a part of his will that he be buried with his beloved Harley-Davidson. This is a man that definitely wanted to take it with him.

Is that loyalty to a brand beyond reason? That all depends on your perspective. To this gentleman, being buried with his Harley-Davidson was no more unreasonable than say, people waiting in line for days for the newest Apple gadget. Or people paying ridiculous amounts of money for their favorite designer cologne or perfume.

The point is — the brand was able to create loyalty in its niche base beyond reason. And there is no reason why your bank or credit union should not strive for the same.

Admittedly, financial products and services are nowhere near as sexy as souped-up motorcycles, fancy perfumes and cool electronic gadgets. But, people need the products and services provided by your bank or credit union. The trick becomes developing a relationship between your consumers and your financial institution that approaches the “lovemark” status.

When it comes to banks and credit unions, this is primarily driven by culture. When you think about it, pretty much every bank and credit union offers the same products. Sure, we may have different names for them and put different colored bows on top, but, for the most part, a checking account is a checking account and a used car loan is a used car loan. People are not likely to remember the bullet points describing the benefits of your products and services. But what they will recall, with ever-enhancing loyalty, is the way you made them feel when they interacted with you.

That is why it is so critical that every consumer interaction revolve around and reflect positively upon your vibrant brand. Your staff, from the back office to the front line, must remind every single consumer, every single day, about who you are and what you do. A great example of this comes from Southwest Airlines. Known for low-cost airfare, Southwest is also famous for its quirky, fun and off-the-wall flight attendants and flight crew. If you’ve been on a Southwest flight, you probably heard a or comment from one of these people that woke you up from the typical flight doldrums.

It is this consumer engagement, far more than mere product cross-selling, that can help you accomplish similar things with your brand. In fact, in order to truly develop deep “lovemark” relationships with your consumers, you may have to sacrifice short-term sales goals for long-term relationship goals.

Brand loyalty beyond reason is not a quick-fix proposition. It will take years of planning, development and training in order to work. In the end, however, it is only this type of consumer relationship building that can move your bank or credit union brand into “lovemark” status.

For more information on specific brand loyalty implementation, please visit this previous blog post. And Simple Bank founder Josh Reich offers additional great at “How a Bank Can Be a Brand You Love.”

And if you ever have a consumer so in love with your bank or credit union that he or she asks to be buried under the lobby, please let us know!

Branding Lessons From My 103 Year Old Grandmother

Branding Lessons From My 103 Year Old Grandmother

When my grandmother passed away recently she was 103—she missed 104 by only a few short weeks. She lived an extraordinarily full (and long) life. When we celebrated her life and legacy there were tears, laughter and joy at her funeral.

Of course, my grandmother taught me tons about life. She was the matriarch of our family and always offered unconditional love to those around her. Even though she was a proud and long time member of Bossier Federal Credit Union, we never once talked about branding. Since she was raised on a farm, picked cotton as a kid and lived in the south our conversations were more about picking purple hull peas, making homemade biscuits and gardening the perfect vegetables.

But the truth is, Grandma Arnold’s legacy demonstrates several branding principles. Here are three branding lessons my grandma’s life taught me about branding:

  • Build your brand on love—My grandmother lived a very simple life. But that simple life was built on love. She loved everyone with which she came in contact. It’s the same with our brands. Herb Kelleher, the founder of Southwest Airlines, once famously said, “if you love everybody and have fun doing it, you’ll make so much money you won’t know how to spend it all.” Saatchi and Saatchi famously talk about lovemarks when it comes to branding. As you build your organization’s brand, don’t just do it to make money. Do it to love others.
  • Focus your brand on people—My grandmother had 35 direct descendants and came from a family of nine brothers and sisters. So family (and people) were in her genes. She didn’t just love: she loved people. It’s the same with brands today. We live in an oversaturated world of technology. Every “trend” talks about digital this and mobile that. But when it comes to branding you better make sure your messages focus on and resonate with real, live human beings. Don’t lose sight of being real and authentic with people.
  • Market your brand on stories—During my grandmother’s funeral the preacher told several stories. The one about how she wouldn’t move the seat she sat in at church after my grandfather died. The one about traveling 200 miles every October on my dad’s birthday to visit his gravesite. Branding is no different: people don’t remember your marketing messages. They remember your stories and how you make them feel. The best brands tell stories. Make sure your brand efforts involve a great deal of story telling.

I will miss my grandmother. Her warm hugs, her cackle of a laugh and her love of snuff. She taught me so much about life—and about branding.

The Darker Side of Social Media

The Darker Side of Social Media

If you operate on any of the more popular social media platforms for your bank or credit union, you know that member or customer complaints can get pretty nasty online. For some reason, people feel emboldened to say things from behind the keyboard that they might not say to another person’s face.

A few weeks ago, fast food giants Wendy’s and Burger King had a somewhat heated exchange when discussing their relative value meals on Twitter. I’ll try to forget about how creepy I find the Burger King “King” when discussing the exchange.

Wendy’s shared a tweet about its new “four for $4” value meal. The next day, Burger King responded with a tweet about its “five for $4″ value meal that also included the zinger “five for $4, because five is better than four.”

Then it got interesting.

A Twitter follower of Wendy’s pointed the Burger King tweets out to them, egging them on with “what are you firing back?”

Wendy’s quickly tweeted “edible food.”


Although Wendy’s did remove the tweet, it’s out there forever and plenty of people saw it.

All burns aside, what can banks and credit unions learn from this exchange?

Number one – don’t get involved in social media wars with your competitors.

Number two – you will never ever ever win an online debate with a member or customer.

The member/customer could be 147% wrong, but once they take their grievance to social media, your one and only recourse is to address their concern and invite them to take it up with you in it off-line forum. Any other response will more than likely generate an angrier response from the consumer, and the one who ends up looking bad is almost always the financial institution.

Here’s an example:

Member/customer on Twitter: “I just got turned down for a loan at your credit union/bank and couldn’t be more disgusted. You guys totally screwed me over and I’ll never do business with you again.”

Credit union/bank response on Twitter: “thank you for your feedback. We are concerned to learn that you were not pleased with your experience at our bank/credit union. We would like to discuss this with you in detail. Please reach out to us at (email address) or (telephone number). Thank you.”

From there, they can howl at the moon if they don’t like your response. In the public eye, you did acknowledge their concern and gave them a way to discuss it with you off-line. Online fights are a lot like schoolyard fights from our childhoods. A circle of people will gather around the combatants, both to watch and to egg them on. With modern social media, that circle can be thousands or millions of people. That’s an audience you don’t want and a fight you can’t win.

While Wendy’s may be +1 in the online value meal war with Burger King, the best practice to pick up from this is simple. Use your social media platforms to interact and engage with members and customers in positive and nurturing ways. And when that angry consumer pops up (and believe me, they will eventually) politely acknowledge their concern in the public social media forum and give them ample opportunity to take it up with you off-line.