I’ll say it right up front. I love coaching. I’m very passionate about it, and the reason is that when coaching is done successfully, the coach can see the results as they happen. My first real experience as a true coach came in my first sales management job, and in that experience, I realized that successful coaching is a partnership between the coach and the coachee. My most recent coaching experience reminds me of that, and in this article, I’ll outline how to make coaching work.
First, I’d like to point out one critical aspect of coaching. Coaching is an individual process and a collaborative process. That means that coaching is not training (which typically is a group experience with a defined curriculum), nor is it discipline and dictation (which is a “do this or else” process). Successful coaching requires investment of energy from both parties, and if either party drops the ball, their efforts will not be successful.
With that said, here is the basic coaching process:
- Seeing the coachee in action: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. You can’t coach from your desk. The only way to coach sales behavior is to observe them live and in person. That means doing ride-alongs, listening in on phone calls, or watching them on video calls (whichever is their main venue). Only seeing them in action gives you the real-world perspective you need to be able to coach accurately and fairly.
- Identify a behavior (or behaviors) that, if changed, will increase the coachee’s success. Everyone has behaviors that can be improved upon. Your job, as a coach, is to identify those behaviors and come up with a plan for improving them. One word of caution here. The rule of three applies – never ask your coachee to change more than three behaviors at a time; if you do, they will likely just shut down.
- Sell the new behavior to them. The best coaches are also salespeople; they understand that the best route to change is through selling the benefits, not dictating. Explain how it benefits the coachee (not you) to change the behavior, how they will be more successful, have more fun on the job, etc.
- Gain the coachee’s buy in. Now, ask the coachee how they feel about the new behavior, and if they agree that it could help. Failing that, ask if they at least buy in enough to give it a full-throated try. If you’ve done a good job of selling the behavior to them, gaining commitment to give it a whirl shouldn’t be difficult.
- Role play the new behavior. Now, role-play the new behavior with them to see if they grasp the basics.
- Put them in a situation to implement the new behavior as soon as possible. Now it’s time to get real; they should be placed in a real-world situation ASAP to use that new behavior. It’s even better if you are present to again use this as a coaching opportunity.
- Follow up periodically. Make sure that the new behavior is now part of their professional repertoire; also, make sure that the change is generating the results desired.
- Re-coach. A coach’s work is never done. Now it’s time to continue the coaching process by finding new opportunities. Remember, even your very best team members can improve.
If your coachee is open to change and improvement, trait-fit for the job (this is critical), and is willing to put in the hard work and effort, great things can be accomplished. A client of mine recently had this experience. We had identified two sales managers whose performance was marginal, and frankly, they were potential turnover candidates. We made the decision to invest time in coaching them. My client did a great job of coaching them up, and now, a year later, those same two sales managers are being groomed to be given more responsibility in a promotion to Regional Manager. Those are the moments that make any coach proud.
People are not disposable. Yes, sometimes we have to terminate substandard employees – but it’s usually worth the time investment to attempt to coach them up first. I don’t have patience for employees who won’t do the hard work that the job requires, but I do have patience with employees who simply haven’t been given the skills to succeed yet. Successful coaching is the most critical skill that any manager has, and the most gratifying. Make sure you take the time to be the best coach you can be. I do, and I love it.