One of the most enjoyable parts of my job is serving as a mentor/guide/trainer to FORUM’s Managers-in-Training. These highly-motivated individuals spend about a year of their professional lives learning how to run a branch, exceed the sales and service expectations of our members, coach and counsel employees, and “failing forward fast” in the worlds of management and leadership. The finish line is a promotion to branch management.
Given the heavy-duty expectations of an MIT, and the speed with which they’re expected to become a trusted and effective leader, it’s easy for them to overlook areas in which they’ve either grown or struggled. To keep them focused on their progress, I ask each one of them to write a news story about their performance during the previous month. It should point out specific examples of successes and challenges in the areas of sales, member service, product/process knowledge, management, and leadership. Each MIT is also instructed to write about what he or she will need to do more of, less of, better, and/or differently to stay strong in the month ahead.
Admittedly, this type of monthly accountability reporting is not terribly creative. Many years ago, though, I added a small twist to the monthly assignment: they are supposed to write about themselves in the third person.
The point of the third-person perspective is to get them thinking objectively about their own behavior. The extent to which they can fairly and impartially document and analyze their own performance will predict how well they can do that with their direct reports when the time comes.
Virtually every MIT is a little skeptical of the exercise when they first learn of it. “How long should it be?” and “Should I format it like a news article?” and “How much detail do you want?” are three of the first questions I get. I tell them it should be as long and detailed as it needs to be to hit the necessary points (only schools have page length requirements), and the formatting work should only come after they’ve written the story. This helps me and the rest of branch leadership measure an MIT’s business communication skills.
After these questions are posed, an MIT will usually ask if they can see samples of previous news stories. I tell the MIT that he or she is welcome to ask any current or former MIT for a copy of their stories. This helps the new MIT form connections with their peers and those who’ve successfully completed the program, with the overarching goal of fostering a spirit of interdependence…rather than competition.
The news story also assesses an MIT’s time management skill, because the story is due by the 1st of the month at 5:00pm. If they wait too long and try to compose it during the last hectic days of the month, their procrastination will show up in either shoddy writing or poor sales/service performance. If they miss the deadline completely, it gives management a sense of their leadership character. Did the MIT take responsibility, or throw up excuses? Did they state how they won’t make the same mistake again, or did they act like it was no big deal?
These questions, and many more, are answered through a simple monthly writing assignment. And while it’s just one piece of the MIT’s overall training and development plan, it predicts their eventual success or failure in ways few other measurements can.