Assume Not, but Do Ask Away: Starter Steps for Effectively Managing Your Female Talent

Quite often the coaches at Hatwell are engaged by our clients to assist in the advancement of female talent.

We do this through executive coaching, small group training or by facilitating diversity conversations and planning sessions with managers.

From time to time, the question is raised: how should we manage our female population differently than our male population?

I understand the sentiment behind this question, but it is not the best question.

The better question, which will lead to more success for all, is this: how do we hold space for the variety of people, with all kinds of talents, and perspectives, to thrive in our organization?

You solve for this, and you will help to foster an environment of inclusion, creativity, and loyalty.

Furthermore, you will be helping to push back against the trend of extremely talented, hard-working individuals, many of them women, opting out of finance far too early in their careers.

In the accelerated, bottom-line driven world of finance, it feels inefficient to have to acknowledge the differences in motivation, perspective and skill set that people bring to the table.

In the spirit of expediency, a one-size fits all approach to management is the default mode.

And if the default is to manage the way that you were managed (and the yous we are talking about are either men or women who were managed by men) we find ourselves missing a huge opportunity to fully engage and lead female talent toward career longevity and long-term success.

We would much rather demand uniformity (to our way of thinking and doing of course) as we believe that would keep conflict and confusion to a minimum.

Certainly, it would keep us safely nestled in our comfort zone. Sadly, it would also leave inspiration and motivation out of the picture.

In the spirit of encouraging a more diverse and balanced workplace and in honor of International Women’s Day, let us consider what a more evolved and engaged management of a team of mixed gender people looks like within finance.

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Effective Management of Females (and Everyone) Demands Shedding the Safety of our Assumptions

When it comes to assumptions around female talent, these are some that can impede the effective management of an individual’s career:

They don’t want to travel because they have family at home. So, I can’t ask them to manage this client/deal/account.
They don’t need as much money because their partner is successful.
They are probably going to leave after 3-5 years, so we don’t need to manage their platform with an eye on promotion.
They probably don’t golf, ski, etc. so they wouldn’t want to be included in this client outing.
If I say hard things, give them difficult feedback, it will crush them, and they might even cry. It’s better if I just wait until the year-end review to soften the blow.
They are so much better with people; they probably would love to manage the juniors.
They are better at planning social gatherings; they will love to help with the party.
They wouldn’t want this promotion because it will demand way more of their time and energy.
They couldn’t push back on that client, so we need to put a tough male on the account.
They must not care about promotion, because they are never in my office advocating for themselves.
They must be happy because they never complain.
They don’t care about money; they never negotiate or even mention their compensation.
They are in this profession for intellectual and personal fulfillment.

Whether you think this list exaggerated or just skimming the surface of assumptions women face in finance, know that we all make assumptions. Instead of acting on your assumption, in the spirit of being a good manager, find out the truth about your female colleague. How? Ask her.

Effective Management of Females (and Everyone) Requires Conversation and Connection

Consider this a starter list of open questions that will quell assumptions and lead you to a more informed management approach.

To be a great manager, of all people, you must pay attention. You watch dynamics, you pick up on non-verbals, you listen to what is not being said, as well as what is being said.

It takes a lot of emotional intelligence to really see someone and help them in their careers.

The very act of listening to another human being creates connection and trust. To manage your female population effectively, try to see them as they are, not as you are.

If this is challenging, enlist the help of a female colleague or a colleague who has a reputation of managing all kinds of people well.

Recognize that you have things to learn and articulate that you need to get better—for the sake of the individual, the larger team and yes—the acceleration of progress for women.

To be a great manager, of all people, you must pay attention. You watch dynamics, you pick up on non-verbals, you listen to what is not being said, as well as what is being said.

As 2024 steps into gear, it's a great time to think about how you can reset and redefine your team's goals. 

Hatwell Group has helped hundreds of managers develop their teams, and we want to share with you a simple but effective framework for setting goals that we've found truly drives engagement and performance. It’ll help your team thrive in 2024.

So, let's talk about the 3 Cs of Goal Setting. 

First up, Context. When you're sitting down with your team, hashing out the goals for the upcoming quarter, do they see the big picture? It's about making sure everyone gets that even the smallest task is a piece of the larger puzzle—contributing to the success of the team, department, and the whole organization.

Think about it like giving your team a map instead of just directions. When they have the full map, they can navigate on their own, make smart decisions, and they won't need to run to you every time they hit a crossroad – they'll feel empowered. 

Next, Clarity. Think back to some of the tough year-end conversations you’ve had. Often, the disagreement isn’t about what was done, but whether it matched what was expected. We've all heard it before: "I didn't know that was part of my job," or "I have boosted sales, but you never said it had to be by 10%!" It's like a lightbulb moment when you realize that clear goals could've saved you from those awkward conversations.

It's crucial that everyone's on the same page about what needs to be done, by when, and where the responsibilities lie. Even the goals that seem less tangible need some form of measurement. Otherwise, we're just setting the stage for miscommunication and frustration.

And lastly, Challenge. You've probably heard that goals should be achievable. Well, that's true, but great goals, the kind that really get people motivated, they demand a bit of a stretch. They nudge your team just outside their comfort zones. It's in that space, that stretch zone, where real growth happens.

Optimising Goal Setting: Achieving the Perfect Balance

Imagine a rubber band. If it's just sitting there, not stretched, it's not doing its job. Stretch it too far, and snap – it's no good to anyone. But stretch it just enough, and it holds everything together perfectly. That's the sweet spot for goals. They should push your team to reach further, but not so far that they break. It's about hitting that perfect balance where they're growing and feeling that buzz of achievement, without tipping into a full-blown panic.

Setting these kinds of goals takes a bit more effort, but the payoff is massive. By embracing Hatwell’s 3 Cs, you can kick the year off right, ensuring that your teams will be more productive, more engaged, and ready to drive their own success. Plus, this investment may spare you from having to deliver a more challenging message at the end of the year.

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Six Steps to Position Yourself for Promotion in 2024

It's never too early to prepare for your next career step. Promotions aren't handed out freely; they are earned through dedication, hard work, and careful planning.

Here are the six essential steps to launch your path to promotion:

Schedule a Feedback Conversation with Your Manager

One of the most critical steps in preparing for a promotion is having an open and honest conversation with your manager. Ensure you schedule this discussion by the end of January. It is crucial to understand what areas your manager believes you need to improve to be promotion-ready. Seek their insights on areas for development and align your goals with the organization's expectations.

Networking

Building a robust network within your organization is essential for career growth. A senior professional I coached at a leading Private Equity firm mentioned last June, "You can tell it's promotion season as the requests for meetings come pouring in." Many wait until it's too late, and then the sponsor knows why they are suddenly becoming friendly. Start early in the year by producing a list of individuals you believe might be asked about you during the promotion process. These individuals could include colleagues, mentors, and senior leaders. Reach out to them for a coffee meeting or a casual conversation. Building relaxed relationships early on can help you gain valuable allies and advocates when promotion season begins.

Networking

Take Presentations Seriously

When you can present in front of stakeholders, take it seriously. These become a dress rehearsal for promotion. Craft a well-prepared opening and focus on your delivery. Stakeholders want to promote someone clear, confident, and authentic, so ensure you exhibit these qualities when you present.

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Demonstrate Leadership

Even if you're not in a formal leadership role, you can exhibit leadership qualities in your current position. Own your work, inspire the team when times are tough, and lead by example. That could mean staying focused in meetings, putting your phone away, taking on extra work, and absorbing some of your manager’s stress. Leadership skills hold immense value when it comes to securing promotions.

Demonstrate Leadership

Dress and Act the Part

Your appearance and demeanor can influence how others perceive you in the workplace. Dress professionally and in a manner that aligns with your organization's culture—project confidence and poise, as these traits are often associated with leadership potential. Take a look at those at the level above. How do they dress? How do they act in front of senior people? There is free help all around if you look for it.

Maintain the momentum

The road to promotion can be long and draining. It can sometimes feel like a part-time job. But if you really want it, go after it.  Ensure you check in with your manager at least once a month. Ask for constructive feedback. It’s a valuable tool for improvement. Don't shy away from seeking feedback, and use it as an opportunity to grow and refine your skills. Asking for feedback also sends a message that you are serious about improvement.

Positioning yourself for promotion in 2024 requires proactive effort, continuous self-improvement, and unwavering commitment. 

Begin by initiating a feedback conversation with your manager, building a strong network, treating presentations seriously, demonstrating leadership, dressing and acting professionally, and actively seeking feedback. 

Embrace the journey, and 2024 might be the year of your well-deserved promotion. Good luck in your pursuit of career advancement!

Seek Feedback and Learn from It

Why you should always buy the wine you think is more expensive

We all suffer setbacks and disappointments in our careers, some are able to rebound quickly others struggle and it can become a heavy weight that drags them down for months and sometimes years. In this post Hatwell Coach and behavioural change specialist, Liv Blaney discusses proven strategies to help you build resilience and bounce back quickly.

Navigating Disappointment and the Neuroscience of Resilience

Disappointment after losing out on a promotion. Slogging it out on a project only to find that it fails to meet expectations on launch. Putting in the effort to lose weight but somehow managing to put weight on. Everyone suffers from disappointments, and managing responses to disappointments is a topic that is frequently brought to coaching. Knowing how to rebound enables you to throw yourself towards targets without fear of what will happen if you don’t succeed. But what separates those people that rebound quickly to those that don’t? 

A recent study at Kyoto University shows that there is a difference in the way the brain operates in those that do rebound quickly and those that don’t. To understand it, its worth knowing about dopamine, one of the chemicals in the brain that plays a critical role in the brain circuitry that manages motivation, pleasure and reward.

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When your brain anticipates or receives a reward (like when you start eating tasty food), then dopamine is released, which is linked to alertness, happiness, and focus. The amount of dopamine released is even higher if that received reward is unexpected – like an unanticipated hug or being given unexpected praise. Its also been shown to have an impact on motivation – just visualising a positive outcome can help increase motivation levels, reduce anxiety and improve chances of success. Incredibly, increased dopamine also increases the chances that you will perceive success: studies have shown that if you give individuals a wine that is more expensive, they will perceive it to be better tasting than the same wine with a lower price tag. Perception becomes reality, to an extent, when dopamine levels are increased. From a workplace perspective, this means that when you’re working with your team to set goals for them, they should be perceived as achievable and the team should be bought into achieving them, as it will significantly increase their chances of achieving them. 

Understanding Neural Responses and Moving Forward

On the flip side, when you expect a pay rise but you don’t get what you want, or when you expected light traffic but got stuck in queues, what happens? When outcomes don’t meet your expectations, the level of dopamine drops, leading to something akin to a mild threat response – the kind of response that our ancestors would have had when a woolly mammoth entered their cave. The researchers at Kyoto found that there are two types of neurons – what they termed type 1 and type 2 – that are related to our responses when we are disappointed. Type 1 neurons kick in immediately, dropping dopamine levels and making us feel bad. That’s the initial slump when you get the bad news, the one that triggers the threat response and makes you angry, sad, or shocked. Then at some point, the type 2 neurons will kick in, and they will increase the dopamine levels, increasing your motivation levels again and empowering you to try again. The difference between those that rebound quickly and those that don’t is the speed at which those neurons kick in – which depends on whether you allow yourself to ruminate on the failure, or process it and move on.

That then leaves the question as to how you can move on from rumination. The key thing is to identify when reflecting on the past experiences isn’t serving you anymore – typically, when you’ve learnt all you can from it. A coach can help you differentiate between helpful thinking patterns and unhelpful thinking patterns, so that you can push forwards at the right time. Mindfulness can also help raise your own awareness of what pattern your thoughts are in. Once you start shifting your thinking towards the future, your brain will support you by increasing your dopamine levels and therefore your ability to focus on moving forwards, and your motivation to get there. Cultivating a positive mindset will help you perceive the outcome as more positive when it happens – whether the outcome is a tasty but expensive glass of wine or a successful project completion.

Lifting the mask

This morning, deciding I need a change from my workout playlists I’m listening to Steven Bartletts Steven Bartlett - Entrepreneur, Speaker, Investor, BBC Dragon Podcast series, The Diary of a CEO which has been on my “listen to” list for weeks. As I listen to the first episode, I realise how much his descriptions and the dialogue he has with his guest remind me of my profession as a coach and the conversations I have with my clients.

For those of you who don’t know him, Steven is 29, at 21 having dropped out of university he founded the now listed, social media marketing agency @SocialChain, currently valued at over $600m. He has also recently become the newest dragon on the UK Dragon’s Den (the UK's version of Shark Tank for those of you reading this elsewhere in the world) a show I am without shame hooked on.

In Bartletts own words “in each episode, I sit down with some of the world’s most influential people, experts and thinkers and embark on a curiosity-driven journey to discover untold truths, unlearned lessons and important insights that will make me, and the audience’s lives more enjoyable, more successful and more fulfilled “.

It’s the focus of the conversation and the descriptions he uses that resonate with me, they show up as a parallel with the work we coaches do with our clients. In that one sentence, Steven has encapsulated what and why coaches do what they do.

Clients show up at our door with a host of goals, aspirations, challenges, and unanswered questions. Often, they’ve tried everything to advance their cause or answer their questions but failed. The promotion passes them by, sales continue to slip through their fingers, they remain paralyzed by fear every time they’re required to speak publicly, and confidence continues to allude them.

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When clients contract with a coach, they extend to us an invitation to “lift the mask”—subtly, skilfully and in a safe and unjudgmental space. We help our clients understand why they are the way they are and why they behave the way they do. The journey to this understanding confronts their internal dialogues and the restricting narratives that control every aspect of their lives; the long-time written stories that hold them back. We challenge them to write a new narrative; one that creates a platform for sustained personal growth and learning. Ultimately, this new narrative,sets them on a course for “more enjoyable, more successful and more fulfilled lives”.

I’m acutely aware of how Bartlett and his guests are “lifting their masks” as I listen this morning. Theirs is a journey of joint discovery as they peel back the layers of their professional and personal experiences and explore the insights they unearth. It’s a powerful mix of personal acknowledgement and inspiration to anyone listening.

It is always true that a coach can only lead a client on a parallel journey of discovery if they have already availed themselves of the work they propose to their clients. As I listen in the gym this morning, I’m keenly aware again of my mask, of those limiting narratives that creep back into my consciousness, diluting my focus and dampening my potential. Leaving the gym and stepping out into the bright light of the winter morning, I am challenged again to create my narrative for the day, one that ushers in possibilities and action.

So now I turn my gaze to you. As you read this, I challenge you to stop for a moment, to listen again to your internal narrative. What's it telling you?

Is it forward-looking, inspiring, and propelling you towards your goals? Or is it focused on the past, limiting your growth, diluting your focus, and dampening your potential?

If that’s your story, perhaps it is time to consider lifting your mask.

So Glad you Asked…

So what is a great inquiry? It’s the ability to ask questions that fully focus on learning new information. Too often, we simply don’t ask questions and assume our truth is the only truth. But even when we do ask questions, we often do so with an expectation of how others will respond. When we do this, we’re not truly demonstrating interest in new information and alternative perspectives.

It’s simple to advise a manager to “just ask open questions” (i.e., questions starting with ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘how’ or ‘why’ rather than closed questions starting with ‘do you, don’t you, shouldn’t you, isn’t that) and while that’s a good start, it’s not enough to shift your mindset.

When asking an open question, you must enter the discussion fully prepared to receive information that may be contrary to what you believe (or hope to be true). You must be open to receiving the information you hear, and incorporating new learnings into your pool of data. Then you must be willing to re-evaluate your decisions or beliefs with that new information now available. 

This means avoiding the trap of #confirmation bias that occurs when you willingly disregard information that contradicts your existing beliefs.  Truly using new information to see new perspectives means a readiness to let go of a firmly held belief and getting comfortable with being ‘wrong’.  The purpose of questions is to learn. The purpose of learning is to improve. The only way that happens is by admitting what you don’t know, acknowledging your mistakes and being passionate about seeking new information that may change your perspectives, opinions and approaches.

This requires humility, openness, and a constant desire for growth. It means allowing yourself to be corrected (especially by those who may be subordinate to you), a willingness to apologize and the strength of identity to always admit that no matter how experienced you are and how much you know, someone will always have information or a perspective that you don’t. That is the mindset that keeps on a lifelong path of leadership and professional growth.

I’m always looking for great reads and highly recommend checking out HBR’s recap of management tips of the year. In it, the author highlights John Hagel III book “Good Leadership Is About Asking Good Questions” reminding leaders to lead with questions, not with answers.

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