The Ed Eppley Experience
The Ed Eppley Experience

Episode · 11 months ago

Fixing to Firing, Part II - Coaching Tips From An Obsessed Coach!

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Kevin Hickey, COO of All 4 Environmental is obsessed with coaching. From youth basketball to Villanova University to his own company, Kevin eats, sleeps and works daily to master this critical aspect of management. He offers a refreshingly optimistic attitude about your talents' ability to get better and move to higher levels of performance. You'll appreciate how much the coaching he's received from others as impacted how he coaches his own people. Plus he offers you the opportunity to get a copy of All 4's Coaching The All 4 Way manual. This is GREAT stuff! 

Welcome to the Ed Epley experience, 20 minutes that simplifies the complex job of managing and leading people and inspires you to take action on what you probably already know to build and sustain a smart and healthy business. Here's your host, Ed F Lee to introduce this week's guest and business Leader. Welcome to the N. F L. E. Experience, your chance to get proven and practical ideas to help you run your business in a more successful and sustainable and hopefully profitable way. We are continuing a series of conversations with executives about the challenges associated with hiring, coaching, predominantly, I would say coaching discipline and even firing people. We had Katie Brown from Steamboat Ski and Resort on recently and this is the second one of those and today we have kevin Hickey Ceo of all four engineering there in the philadelphia area in terms of their headquarters. But they're around the eastern actually. Are you guys now clear across the nation. Do you have anything out in the west Coast? We are we have a California office that we started up in february. Yeah. So your travel will only increase and more opportunities to see more great golf courses around the United States. So I don't know whether the golf drives the acquisitions or the acquisitions drive the increase in golf, but it's good that you get to do that. So happy for you, Kevin, welcome to the Adeptly experience. Once again, thanks and happy to be here. Kevin has proven to me through words, but more importantly, actions that he is a student of the discipline of professional management. So I thought there's no one better at giving us thoughts and ideas about what works and doesn't work for him. That could be of value to you. So that's why I wanted Kevin to be one of the folks to weigh in on this topic of coaching and discipline and even if need be firing...

...parting with individuals. So kevin, let's get into it. I routinely here that this is one of the most challenging areas for individuals. What's been your experience, where does it fall in your level of difficulty? Is this something that seems natural, intuitive you to have these kinds of conversations, or is it something that you really had to learn to embrace and wade into, even though it wasn't always fun? Well, when it gets to, you know, the piece that you mentioned about, like if you're getting to a firing situation, it's the most difficult thing. I think that any buddy deals with, it manages folks. You know, I put it on the, on that scale, I put it very, very hard and just say in our organization, we're consulting group, so we're literally selling our people if you will, like their knowledge is what we're selling. So you know, we don't have a product if you will, our people are our product, you know, so in that type of organization and an organization that's predicated on coaching as a mindset, you know, as how we develop our people, it becomes very, very difficult when you get to what we would call off boarding and you refer to as firing. And the one last thing I'd add on that it is that, you know, we believe in a growth mindset, we believe that people are not fully baked and when I say fully baked, I mean like a cake, not like weed, but they have the capacity to learn and change. So like where do you draw that line? That's where it kind of gets difficult. You just opened up a whole possibility of other questions with that. I'm going to say those for a little later. I think. I love it. That's an awful podcast conversation. Yeah, maybe as far as far as, you know, we're not even recording. Right, right. Well, in terms of the coaching and discipline, how hard or easy have those been for you? Well, coaching has become easy, but only because I feel like I've put a lot of practice into it. It's something that I'm passionate about. I read a lot of different things. I've been coached...

...myself, I've been trained. So, you know, that's something that has been present for me. Yeah, but I go further that your ear is passionate basketball college in high school basketball guys. I know, and I I'm pretty passionate about the sport myself. So do you take a lot of your direction for what you would do in coaching based on what you see and have experienced in your coaching efforts away from business and in basketball. That's a good question. And you know, you know me well, so, you know, I'm a passionate Villanova basketball fan, so I actually have been able to watch jay right progress over his career here. He's evolved questions and watch him evolve and watched how he's responded to failure and how he has kind of changed his process and it is style and become more open to the concept that we also apply here. So it's been, it's been cool to like read his book, watch what he's been able to accomplish. Um, you know, in building a culture that has had great success on the basketball court. But I do think that coaching, like a sports team and coaching in our consulting environment are are not exactly all that aligned. Yeah. I think uh, sports analogies in business have some relevance, but you know, their ability to know whether they won or lost, um, is much more frequent in many regards than what we experience in business. And, and then there's also just the idea that money is not involved, at least not in, in the, in the moment. Yes, I think there's, you see these analogies with sports and coaching and also with the military in coaching, A lot of you'll read books and people will well, and, and these guys know what they're doing. I mean, they're...

...building high performing teams, but they have a certain amount of leverage with it. When you're, when you have a seal team, like those guys aren't going to just leave the next day because they got their feelings hurt. And so your conversations look a little different, right? Like when you have a captive audience, if you will well, and, and uh, in the military, you always have corporal punishment as a, as an extreme way of, of managing behavior. And, and we certainly don't have that luxury and business and not that we want it, but you don't have it. Um, so I agree. It's not the same, uh, scenarios, um, how how quickly do you move from coaching someone to disciplining somebody? Probably not quickly enough. Um, and, you know, it's funny ed and prepping for this and you used the word discipline. And I don't know that I've ever even used that word here At all for in the 20 years we've been in business. Um, we would maybe use the word feedback, candid feedback, uh, that we would provide. I mean, we, we also, I have the luxury of having a very high performing, um, professional workforce. So it's a little different than, say if I was, um, you know had a bunch of college kids working for me painting houses or something like that, you know? Um So uh I don't I very rarely I'm disciplining um often providing candid feedback and pivoting people to do different places. So let me ask you this, how often do you go from asking or suggesting to telling? It's just happened last week. It's relatively rare though I think that we we default to trying to get people to see it for themselves. Yeah I understand. But at some point as a parent you go from you know I wish you'd clean up your room to clean up...

...your room. Yeah. And um that's what that's what happened to me last week. We have multiple uh multiple programs that are implementing different software solutions, three or four different ones. And I basically called that team together and said I need a project plan from each of you on my desk by friday. Okay. I would call that, that's where I would call that more in the discipline the vein then I wouldn't coaching. Yeah, maybe 10% of the time I'm okay doing that to give you a number. Okay. Well that that's fair and, and I, and I'm not trying to force you to, to, to, to, you know, go down a path that you actually don't go down. If you don't do it, that's fine. It's it's no, it's not bad if you don't, but, but I'm just trying to help the audience understand. Is it something that you do do or don't do? And, and again, I think you, you point out an important qualification that you have in, in the, in your situations and that you're dealing with highly professional people, Although I find highly professional people oftentimes um more certain that what they're doing is correct. Yes. Yes, highly professional is also highly intelligent. They're very smart people. They also are very good at understanding how to, how to, how to work the process if you will well. And they also are convinced because of that. They equate high education. Oftentimes with high business acumen and those are not uh, there's, there's no correct direct correlation there not, especially not for us, our most of our folks are scientists and engineers. You know, I could say if there were a bunch of, you know, business grads or MBA is then they probably should have that correlation, but you're exactly right well, and as you may remember from our Perth leadership discussions that just having an M. B. A in no way means that you're going to be run profitable business. So that aside, that's a different podcast for a...

...different day. Um what in your career has most shaped how you coach and occasionally disciplined? I'll take that. Um the first one, I'll take them separate because I think they're, they're separate answers uh from a coaching perspective, what has most shaped me is my experience being coached. I wouldn't um I wouldn't be where I am today without the services of an executive coach that worked with me and, and uh several of them, uh I mean you included to a certain extent, although we never had a formal official coaching relationship, but I'm going to get it whether you want it or not, kevin, Yeah, you just, you just come right out with it. So, but being those of you who are listening that have worked with me, no, it it can't be stopped. So go ahead, keep going, Kevin. Uh you know, the most impactful experience was that process of going through and getting to a place where you peel back and go, this is about me. Um you know, I am the yeah, I'm responsible for the things that happened to me and I'm the cause of that, and those sometimes those things are good, sometimes those things are not good, and um I need to be able to kind of understand that, dig into it and go to work on it and you know, that was the most impactful experience. I started to see for me personally, you know, I was a big judge er of people and I didn't even really know it until it's kind of pointed out. Um I'll tell you what really changes that when you start your own company, judging other people is certainly not going to help you very much at all. If you're trying to grow an organization, what do you mean by judging other people? What is because you're describing and what I would consider uh consider negative context? Well, it was I was going to come at it from a negative perspective, may be looking for things that maybe weren't working as opposed to what was...

...and what is and what's possible. You're identifying flaws rather than opportunities. Yeah, okay. You know, as an engineer, your, like, your school that way, I that's I was going there, I'm glad you're I'm glad I'm glad you're bringing up. Yeah, I think lawyers, engineers, uh C. P A. S, um all the professional services disciplines are essentially taught to think highly critically. Yeah, you're, you know, you're, you know, I'm a mechanical engineer by degree since it's long ago, I've not done any real engineering, and I know you referred to us as all for engineering at the beginning of this podcast. That's a misnomer. We're all we're an environmental consulting firm. Any real engineering firm would be like, would laugh at us. We're not we're not really engineers. We have a bunch of engineers and I'm a mechanical engineer and you're taught to prevent things from failing. Yes. And it's all about mitigation, right? It's all about it's all about minimizing failure or risk and and it's about essentially seeking perfection so often and and we're anything but perfect, aren't we As human beings? We're all imperfect and in significant ways. Yes. And, you know, kind of understanding those imperfections to me is part of the coaching process to figure out, you know, where where you're weak and and that doesn't mean you need to necessarily go to work on that. Maybe you just need to be pivoted over to to, you know, your strengths, I've written in, you know, the leadership discipline. And let's be clear about how critical self awareness is. And it sounds to me like the coaching, each you've gone through has made you much more self aware without a doubt. Um, we've done exercises within our organization where we have had blind spot, one on one conversations, where I have asked a couple of my direct reports that I have a high level of trust already built...

...with, um, and I'll steal your line here. You know, tell me my breath stinks and, and, and, you know, that was and we did that for each other in a one on one, and that was tremendously powerful for the coaching process, because you were getting some really unvarnished, candid feedback Well, and the other thing, um, that you're talking about there, that I think would be really powerful for listeners to think about is when when you ask your subordinates to coach you, it really opens the door for them to be much more willing for you to coach them because you're not, you're not suggesting that you're above it or don't need it and and that you're as you're making yourself as vulnerable as you're asking them to make themselves with you. So to me that would be a wonderful uh, activity or approach to, to embrace to make pretty routine. So thank you for pointing that out, kevin. No, you're welcome. I think any anybody in an executive suite, you're always worried about being the emperor without any clothes. And that's a way to, you know, get to that. You've got to, you've really got to adjust your mindset. Walking into that conversation though, agreed agreed. And, and I I suspect, you know, if we do the right things hiring in the way we hire people, we make it known that we will be coaching uh right away, that this is not this is not something that we only do when there's a problem that that coaching, I I should feel if we're doing this right, I should feel like I'm being neglected if you aren't coaching me. Yes, Yes, Yeah. We we do that in the in the recruiting process. We let people know that we're a a coaching organization and an organization that is predicated on feedback and that, you know, that's just part of our process that you should expect. That, you know, it's...

...kind of important to distinguish what actually coaching is Ed versus mentoring or advice. So how do you see him differing? I see coaching as uh really working with someone too uh to a place of self discovery, like figure you're trying to help somebody figured things out for themselves. So what would mentoring be about mentoring is more uh this kind of way we do things around here. Let me help you or um or giving of advice. Is there less accountability in mentoring than there would be? Yes. Yes. Yeah, I think so too, in my in my mind people really struggle with this here, you know? So we've we've written coaching the off four way manual, that's how embedded in our organization this is so you know, we went through and took different concepts and put it into our our process. Um the first part of that is what is coaching versus you know, what is mentoring and what is advice and what is disciplined for that matter? So you're sending me a copy whenever you want to uh when we get done today, I would like you to send me a copy and if our listeners would want a copy, is this something you would be willing to share or not? Yeah, sure. There's nothing in here that's, that's, you know, uh, proprietary, so to speak. We'll talk about that at the end of the, at the podcast. If someone wants to pay me for it, I'll take money too. But you know, that maybe on the, you've come to see what's in it before I pay you. I know you're not paying before it, so that, you know me well. So that's, that's really good. You know, you, you said that when in the, the difference about how much time you spend coaching versus discipline is maybe 90 10, 90 coaching, 10%. Disciplining how much of the day or the week are you in in that mode where you're, you're coaching? I'm, I do a decent amount of coaching here,...

...probably eight hours a week is about average. Um Yeah. Right. Um But yeah, I have, I probably have a few more direct reports right now than where I will be in the next couple of years. And you know, we try to keep that to around 5 to 7 people right now. I have 10 or 11, but that'll, you know, that'll change as we grow when we did I send you the span of control uh survey that I got from, I was Mackenzie or accenture. Now, I probably should send that to you because it's a very interesting description about uh what spans of control makes sense based upon what kind of people you're managing and the work they're doing, that. It's not it's not one size fits all. I thought it was really well done. Now. I would love to I would love to see that. I think, I think it would apply in my case of having some more because I have some director level people that, you know, our it's different from a a coaching and managing perspective. It is and and the essence of it is that if you if the people you're managing are essentially doing all the same kind of work that you could have a higher span of control than if the people you're managing are all doing different kinds of work. Uh yeah, it does it and as soon as I read that was like uh yeah, all of a sudden I can see somebody could effectively manage 15 people. If they were like a call center, I could probably manage 15 people if they were all doing that specific job. Yeah, well you did right, essentially. Well Lance did, I didn't do that, but yeah, you're right. Um, so, so is there a process you follow in trying to help people discover what they need to know to be more effective? Or is it just a conversation that goes where it goes? It's a process of conversations, if that makes any sense. I can combine the two together as conversational techniques. Um, like an engineer right now, but go ahead, go ahead. All right.

Still comes out in me. Um, well, we have a lot of engineers, so they want to see a process. So to help others to be able to coach others, it helps them to understand kind of, you know what that what that process is. But um, it's more a lot of what you'll see and what I send you in our coaching. The Off Four way Manual is more about good questions to ask. It's about really honing your curiosity in the other person and that curiosity will lead to them. Um, opening up and having to answer things about themselves that maybe they would not have thought of otherwise. But there's certain people that are dense, there are certain people that just aren't going to get it, don't you? At some point, don't you have to just look at me and say, Ed, you're not you're not hearing me, You're not you're not getting there. We got a short circuit this week. We're gonna try something different and then you have to hit me with a two by four and say, here is reality and and here's what it needs to be and you're not you're not doing, here's what you need to do to fix this. I mean, I'm, if I'm, if I'm listening to you and I have this conversation, I'll bet there are times where you have to do something like that for sure. And that's, that's kind of to your initial point of like, how, how far do you go coaching wise until like, you're just not getting the results that you need to see? And um we're probably bad at that because because we lean more towards a coaching mindset, we probably let it go. You would say, you know, hey, and I've asked you to do this now three times and you've now messed this up three times. I'm gonna hit you over the head with a two x 4. Uh we probably go a couple more times and then hit you over the head with a two by four. But we will, and then we will put you, we put people in a performance plan, which I even hate the name of that because like, shouldn't there be performance anyway? Like that's, it doesn't make any sense,...

...but it's people just kind of know what that means. So you put them on a performance plan and you get very, very granular and you get very, very, um, you know, clear on what it is. It sounds like an episode of The Office right now. I feel like my life as an episode of The Office. I can't even watch that show. My kids laugh at it. I'm like, I can't watch that show. I just see myself and steve Carell. I can't watch it because it hurts to watch it. It's true. So hurts to watch it. It's like people think people don't necessarily, maybe they do note that there's more of that. That's true. That's not true in so many, so many businesses, thank God for me. I wouldn't have a job, right? I mean, it comes down to people though and people do you know, and how we interact with each other and we create some of this stuff. So it's becoming clear to me in this conversation, kevin that your culture has a huge over shadowing effect of the way you choose to coach and discipline that, that, that really is part and parcel. It's not, it's a, a big component in when and how you coach. It is. I mean, we're people first organization and we, you know, we will say our people come before our clients because if we're, um, if we're growing, our people were treating people well, If we're investing in our people and our people are investing in one another, then they're going to take care of our clients at a high level and our clients see that. Um, so yeah, you're right. And we lean more towards that. Um, but I didn't answer the second part of the question. You asked me a couple of questions ago, which is the, you know, firing piece of it and you know, that's probably what people wanna, that's all sounds great, but you act like you said, you get to a certain point, you have to off board people that don't fit and I think your questions, what did you learn, you know, those most impactful...

...in, in learning that? And we had a couple bad experiences where it just didn't feel, it didn't feel consistent with our culture when we got to the end and how that went and it didn't feel empathetic and it didn't feel compassionate enough to me. Um, and some of these I was involved with and some of these I wasn't involved with, but we kind of had one that was like the last one and I'm like, that's never gonna happen again, we're not, we're not accompanied, it is like, you know, hey, this didn't work out, it's thursday and now pack up your stuff and I'm going to escort you out of the building, that's never going to happen here ever again, okay, that's not how we roll, so we change that process and we, we have more of an off boarding process, hence the name, I mean you're not terminating people, you're off boarding them and there is a, just like you were bored, they're there to successfully get somebody to be part of the business, we're going to successfully help them leave the business. It's not the most cost effective thing in the world. Um the financial folks listening to this are gonna be like, you're crazy, this is ridiculous, There's no benefit to it, but there's a high, low, I can, I can put my head on the pillow at night and that's what's important to me from an integrity perspective. And what we've done now is we will work with people to leave and help them leave, so explain what that means. So we would put them in a performance plan and we finally get to a place and go, okay, this isn't working, but what's next for you? And what's that timeline look like and how can we, how can we help? And like, maybe being an environmental consultant isn't isn't your thing. Now, if they want to go to our number one competitor, I don't know that we're going to be like, you know, necessarily, it wouldn't, the process would be the same in that situation. We are in that situation, but we've had people, so the a couple situations we've had recently um where folks, you know, just, we're...

...not cut out to be consultants, that's not what they wanted to do, but they've gone on to work with industry and we gave them a three month time where we paid them to be here to look for another job. And that is not what most organizations would would do. But uh, Two things come to my mind one, you've you've chosen to make sure that this process, like all the others models, your culture. And then number two, frankly, you're you're operating a successful enough business where you can afford to do this. It's it's it's you're not being constrained financially of of your ability to give somebody the time to do that and and to to stay true to your culture. And to be clear to, you know, reference your book to be clear. Uh, a lot of these folks in some cases, you know, we have folks where you see inconsistent performance and, and that's that's a sign that somebody doesn't, isn't engaged in what they're doing. Like if they've shown the aptitude and the ability to do the job, but they can't do it consistently. You have to ask, is this really what you want to do? And those folks typically are these folks that we off board, like they're still able to do the work that we're doing. So we're not giving them, it's not eight hours a day. Go, you know, get on the job boards and look for your job. We're giving you work to do. We expect you to do this. And, you know, so we're not completely, yeah, you know, pure altruism, but, but but at the same time it's practical. And uh, boy, in terms of uh esprit de corps and as you said, and, and feeling good when you go home at night, I can see why you do it. We have relationships with folks that have off boarded here. Some folks that have off boarded here have recommended the company to friends of theirs. Um We have people that we've off boarded that our clients No kidding. That's a good testimonial to the validity of what...

...you're doing. And that's at the end of the day. That's when I go back to Adam, like that's the result of that and that's the result that we want to get a couple more questions because we're coming up against our time. If somebody wanted to rate themselves and being able to decide how good they were or weren't at coaching, what would you tell them? How would they know, How would they know how to rate themselves? In other words, if somebody said self evaluate a scale of 1 to 10, how good am I at coaching others? Well, you have to ask the people there coaching, I would ask them to go out and get feedback and that's what we do with our coaches. Like there's two measures that are really like the feedback from the person they're coaching and the results that the person they're coaching is produced that to me would be the number one. Is there evidence that the people you're coaching are actually getting better at whatever it is they're doing. And if you want to get it really concrete, it's do they become more productive or don't they? Right, I'm gonna throw an athletic analogy, but does their batting average go up or doesn't it? Yeah. And you can usually see that pretty clearly, especially in a coaching arrangement, because typically in the coaching situations that we have, we ask people to kind of identify, like what's the one thing you got to narrow that down? So we're working on something consistently and, you know, it takes a little while to build the trust to unearth with that one thing is, but when they are able to identify that one thing, then it becomes very easy to see, like the results that you, that you get on with you, okay? And then if somebody wanted to really elevate their capacity to coach and have these conversations in an effective manner as possible, what would be your advice to somebody who, based upon hearing what we're talking about today goes, I want to get as good as kevin, what would you tell them to do? Well, first of all, who knows if I'm any good or not have to go through that process, but I'd give him four things at number one, go get coach yourself, you've got to submit yourself to that process and understand it from the perspective of the one being coached. That's the first thing I would do. The second thing I do is I go get trained, you can do that, there's self...

...learning, there's plenty of great resources out there to get trained. The third thing I do, I identify your purpose, why do you want to do coaching if you're doing that to try to change people that may not end very well. You need to make sure that your, you know, kind of completely and genuinely invested in their success, whatever that might be. It might go down a path that you don't necessarily anticipate. You have to be able to roll with it that way. Kind of like tapping into strength, finding strength finding superpower. I describe it as if the reason you're coaching me is because you're trying to make yourself your results better and it's not because you're trying to help me, I'm gonna receive that coaching entirely differently. Then if you're trying to help me be the best version of myself. Exactly like I said, we have really smart people, they sniffed that out. The hard question, people sense that. So, you know, if you're not genuine, it's not gonna work, identify your purpose or number four is just really be mindful around developing purposeful curiosity, asking good questions and really like invest yourself and being curious about that person I call it. Suspending judgment that I'm going to assume. I don't know what I need to know. So therefore I'm going to be more curious in the way that you're describing, I think. And this is one of those things that sounds really simple when you and I are talking about it right here and it's really hard to do well, especially when you know you're right Or you think you are. Yeah, I mean that after 40 plus years in business, I know I'm right, 99% of time. So why should I have to listen to somebody? Exactly. Uh, I enjoy listening to you, kevin. It's always a pleasure you've given the audience here, a lot of meat for the time they've invested. So if they want to reach you, if they want a copy of the All four coaching handbook, what's, what's the best way for them to reach you? Let's just shoot me an email at K Hickey, K H I C K E Y at all. Four inc dot com. It's A L L. The number four I N C dot...

...com. What a pleasure it is always to be with you virtually or in person. We need to schedule some time for a golf soon, hopefully. And you know where I would love to do that if we can and we will, I know we will kevin and it's an honor and privilege to call you a friend as well as compatriots. So thank you for all you do for me and for the listeners here on the NFL experience. Same to you, Ed and thank you for having me on. I thoroughly enjoy our conversations here. Well, you too, thank you for listening to the Ed Epley experience. For more information on building a more sustainable, smarter and healthier business, visit www. The Epley Group dot com for resources, tips and Ed's latest blogs. That's B Eppley E p p l E Y group dot com. Plus take a free assessment at the epic group dot com slash assessment to find out how you measure up as a highly skilled and accomplished manager and where to focus on improving your skills. Yeah.

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