Last week’s coaching quiz answers—did you get them all?

Last week I gave you a short quiz to help you analyze performance problems by determining if the deficiency was a Know issue (K), a Do issue (D), or a Feel issue (F).  Let’s look at it again along with the answers.

  • One of your sales reps has worked for you for three years. She has recently attended a training program in making referrals in which she performed very well.  Now back in the office, she has not made a single referral to any customer after four weeks.  This is clearly a Feel issue, or F.  You have evidence that she can do the work, but she isn’t doing it, so there is some attitudinal obstacle.  Maybe she’s afraid to ask questions or make recommendations.  How will you find out what’s in the way?  When you coach her, simply ask!
  • The company has introduced a brand new product, which is fairly complex. You held one brief sales meeting to go over the highlights of the product but none of the staff is very familiar with it.  You overheard one of your sales staff give a customer an incorrect explanation of how the product works.   This is a Know issue, or K. The product is complex, you haven’t taught it adequately and the team doesn’t yet understand it fully.  There are lots of remedies here:  training, sales meeting product reviews, designating an expert in the office to teach the others, learning tools, such as quick “cheat sheets” and other interventions.
  • Your new customer service rep has been on the job for only six She is trying to use a Customer Needs Assessment form but is having some difficulty listening to the customer, recording information on the form and then asking the next question.  It sounds very awkward to you as you listen to her customer conversations.  This is simply a Do issue, or D.  She’ll get better at it with practice, just as all of us do the more we work with an unfamiliar activity.  Here’s an example. Ask someone to remove his jacket, and then put it back on this time putting the other arm in first.  Most of us put the same arm in first.  People have a hard time with it!
  • You have conducted several sales meetings in which you have stressed the importance of taking time to understand the customer’s needs before mentioning products or discussing features and benefits. Nevertheless, one of your sales reps launches straight into a presentation of all the company’s products and features the second the customer says, “I would like to speak to someone about opening a new”  I tried to trick you here. You don’t have enough information to answer this question. It could be that the rep doesn’t know what questions to ask, is unskilled at framing questions or hates to ask questions at all.  You must have a conversation and find out what’s in the way before you begin any remedial intervention.

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedNotice that with Know and Do, the solutions are pretty straightforward, but with Feel they are often complex.  In selling we know the power of the feelings issue, as it’s the biggest driver in sales.  Same goes for coaching. You must understand how feelings can interfere with job performance and then understand how feelings can influence the coaching conversation.

We’ll continue this discussion next week with more ideas on performance analysis and coaching best practices, following the same principle in coaching an employee as selling to a customer.   In other words…

Think Like Your Customer

Fable Friday: How to avoid fights with your friends and be a better coach

The great Italian painter and sculptor Modigliani admired the work of his fellow artist Utrillo, and this admiration was reciprocated. On the occasion of their first meeting they began by paying each other extravagant compliments.

“You are the world’s greatest painter,” said one.

“No, you are the world’s greatest painter,” said the other.

“I forbid you to contradict me.”

“I forbid you to forbid me!”

The argument became heated.  “If you say that again I’ll hit you.”

“You are the greatest…” and they fell to blows.

Later they made up over several bottles of wine at a nearby bistro. As they went out into the street, one said, “You are the world’s greatest painter.”

“No, you are.”

And so the fight broke out again, until both were down in the gutter, where they went to sleep. In the early dawn they woke up to discover that they had been robbed.

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedTough night wouldn’t you say?  But it could all have been avoided with one tip that good trainers follow and that all sales managers and coaches ought to.  It’s simply that when you give someone feedback, make sure it specifically describes the behavior. Never offer an “attaboy” or “Good job!”  Instead, tell them why.

Utrillo might have said, “Your mastery of brush strokes in painting delicate faces is masterful and you use light well.”  Now you have a discussion, not a fight.

Similarly, if a sales manager goes on a joint call and afterwards offers this feedback, what can the salesperson learn from it:

“You did a really good job in there. I thought you asked a lot of good questions.”

Instead, how about this:

“I liked the way you kept the customer talking, asking useful questions to build your point.  Your best two questions in my opinion were, ‘Other than cost considerations, what else is getting in the way of your making a change right now?’ and then ‘What’s the next step in moving our relationship along?’  These were engaging questions and I saw that the customer took his time replying, which means he was highly engaged.”

If you are a senior or executive level manager attending one of my workshops, I generally don’t have you role play with your team. It isn’t that you don’t need the practice or you’re unwilling.  It’s more that I want you to spend workshop time doing what you need to do more effectively, and that means being precise and specific in offering feedback to your own team members.

You grab a pad and pen and you sit and observe everyone. At the end of the session you give each participant some specific feedback on what you saw and felt.  You’ll see something amazing when you do this.  Everyone you address will be riveted on what you say.

People like feedback.  They want it to be specific and useful, so they can internalize it and compare or contrast what they did with what you observed.  It’s a new year, so why don’t you start doing it this way from now on. Instead of “Good job,” make it “Good job and here’s why.”  That’s how you…

Think Like Your Customer

Fable Friday: I’m a safe bet, Part II

[Today’s post will make sense only if you read last week’s Part One. Click the link above in blue and have a look if you missed it.]

When I arrived, the Diebold man was trying various combinations of the four numbers he had set, and I could see at once he could not open the vault that way, as he had nothing written down.  So let me give you the problem.  You are given four different numbers and told they are the combination to a safe but you don’t know in what order. What would you do?

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedHere’s the solution I came up with.  Since the total number of combinations of those numbers must total 24 (remember no repeats), the best way to open the safe is to write down all the combinations, and as you try each one, you cross it off your list!

Let me illustrate.  Suppose the four numbers were simply 1, 2, 3 and 4.  Your list would look like this:


1234 2134 3124 4123
1243 2143 3142 4132
1324 2341 3214 4213
1342 2314 3241 4231
1432 2413 3412 4312
1423 2431 3421 4321

So I sat down at a desk and wrote down all the possible sequences on a pad of paper, then took it over to the vault and set to work. I figured it would take me an hour to open it if the numbers were right.  In fact it opened much sooner than that, and I became the hero of the bank, having saved them tens of thousands of dollars.

The bank rewarded my wife and me with a three-day weekend at a luxury hotel for this feat, and we got to see Jay and the Americans.  Remember this was back in the early 70’s.  (Cara mia, why, must we say good-bye…”)

When I returned to work, the buzz continued and I got frequent requests to open safes, unlock doors and perform other Houdini-like tasks, but I never succeeded at any of them.  In fact, I was never very good at anything, just lucky on two occasions, and those two occasions created an impression about me within the company that I kept for my entire career there, about ten years.

There’s a moral to this true story.  Have you ever worked with people who succeeded, were promoted, or simply continued to be paid by your company based mostly on the impressions of competency they created?  I have, and I bet you have too.  “How does this guy get away with it?” you ask yourself.

So in my next post, I’m going to give you trainers a workshop tip for management training programs.  You’ll learn how to help your participants see beyond impressions, and help them with techniques to identify performance issues and coach more effectively.

But for the next couple of weeks, I’m going to give you a break from all this thinking about number combinations, coaching techniques and business issues. I want you to do what I plan to do, spend time with family and friends, give thanks that you have an opportunity to contribute, and do something kind for others.  I’ll rejoin you in January.

Happy holidays friends.  And remember to…

Think Like Your Customer

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

More on why employees don’t do what they’re supposed to do

Last May I wrote about a book I discovered that for me unlocked all the mysteries of worker non-performance, and how these myriad reasons were connected to the training industry and current training practices.  You can find that post here. I based the post on the first chapter of Ferdinand Fournies’ excellent book “Why Employees Don’t Do What They’re Supposed To Do.”

If you’re a sales manager and your team seems to have challenges in doing the things you want them to do, this book is a must read.  In my post last year I covered the first of these obstacles, “They don’t know WHY they should do it,” and I gave you some examples and remedies.

Starting today, I’ll share some other reasons with you, skipping over Chapter Two, which is “They don’t know how to do it,” because when your team doesn’t know how to do something, that is a very good reason to train them, which is what I do. 

Instead, I’ll focus on the other less obvious reasons that are not addressed by training, the first of which is discussed in Chapter Three and is simply, “They don’t know what they are supposed to do.”  Now you may think this is absurd.  Of course people know what they are supposed to do, but let’s look at some examples.

First, go look at the job descriptions of any given job in your company. Let’s suppose we have a sales position, and tasks for the incumbent include “prospecting.” If you were to sit down with a dozen employees at random and ask them exactly what activities are included in the task “prospecting,” you would be surprised at the variations.

When I am prospecting, do I call people on the phone, ask customers for referrals, make on-site visits to local businesses?  What are the actual, discrete tasks associated with prospecting?  When clients give me vague descriptions of job goals I always ask these questions because they help clients think through what they really want the salespeople to do.

If I tell my team that the work day starts at 8:30 and from now on I want everyone to be punctual, what does that mean?  Should they be at their desks working at 8:30?  Walking in the door at 8:30?  Getting a cup of coffee in the cafeteria at 8:30? The concept “punctual” needs to be defined by behaviors.

Another obstacle occurs when managers use tired metaphors to describe performance.  Starting tomorrow, I want everyone to hit the ground running.  Good.  What on earth does that mean?  What does it mean when I tell my people that in order to achieve our sales goals everyone must have “a greater sense of urgency.”  I know just what urgency is, and I can even sense it, but what on earth am I supposed to do?

Next sales meeting, when you challenge your team to a higher level of achievement, check yourself for vagueness.  Qualify every mandate with behavioral descriptors, so you get in the habit of saying, “and when I say ‘make more calls,’ here’s what I mean by more calls.”

If this sounds like a good idea, then go ahead and implement it ASAP.  Whoops!  Did you ask yourself what ASAP means?  Good.  That means you got something from today’s post!

Think Like Your Customer