What gets in the way of good coaching?

After a long career in human performance consulting, I tend to see the same things happen over and over, and I’ve gotten so I can almost predict what will happen next.

One of my clients is planning a major change, and they’re having discussions on how to ensure its success.  So you can imagine the topics: How do we introduce it?  How do we train our people?  How do we remain constant to a different way of doing things?

One area that is always discussed is how the sales managers will lead and coach.  In other words, how will the sales manager act like a sales manager?

I’ve long thought that a word that needs a clearer definition is “coach.” It’s a word with many connotations, and most of them come from the world of sports, which often confuses people about what coaching “sounds like.”

So what if we start out by agreeing that true coaching is a collaborative effort between the coach and the performer, and its objective is simply to improve performance.  So if I coach you, I should discuss with you what your objectives are, set my expectations for your performance, agree on your role and mine, then teach you, model desired behavior, provide opportunities for you to practice, reinforce desired behavior and provide corrective feedback.

Of course if I am your manager, I will go further. I will ensure that when I learn your objectives, they also meet my sales goals for you, and I have the right to hold you accountable in the most serious way for poor performance.  Let’s not mix up coaching and managing okay? If I’m just your coach, it’s possible you may not perform to your potential, but that’s your business.  If I’m your manager and you don’t perform to your potential, that makes it my business and I must manage that situation in a businesslike way.

Many years ago an executive at a New Jersey bank told me, “You know what my managers think coaching is?  It’s telling people what they did wrong.”  I had to laugh at the time, but I have seen this so often that it isn’t funny. It’s more the norm.

If I’m unhappy with your performance, I’m going to have a strong conversation with you about it, but it will differ somewhat if I’m just the coach, or if I’m the manager.  When the manager “coaches”, he or she should facilitate the conversation:  “You tell me what you think is in the way, how you are doing things now and how you expect to achieve your goals if nothing changes.  Then tell me your plan for change.”

That conversation sounds like good coaching, but the manager should then be very clear about the expectations and the consequences for undesirable performance.

Now there is one step in the conversation above that was missing. Did you pick up on it?  The coaching manager says first, “Here is what I’m seeing you doing on a sale…”  This is different from “Here is what I’m seeing in your sales results.”  You see, in both coaching and managing, you have to invest the time observing the actual behavior, for example, going on a joint call.

If you’re a sales manager, do you think of yourself as a good coach?  Then tell me how many joint calls you make in a month, and I’ll tell you if you’re right.

Think Like Your Customer

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About Gregory LaMothe
I teach people how to sell things. I own the company ActionSystems. Visit my website at www.actionsystemstraining.com.

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