One research study after another shows that coaching makes a measurable, and substantial, improvement in the revenue performance of sales teams. Many organisations have acknowledged this, and implemented coaching. Yet recent research is still telling us that the overwhelming majority of employees don’t feel that they are being motivated to do outstanding work.
What’s going wrong? And how can businesses fix this problem, and ensure staff get the maximum benefit from the investment in coaching? Below, we set out a 5 milestone roadmap for making sales coaching truly effective.
1. Assess The Business Maturity Of Coaching Activity In Your Organisation
In a recent research paper from Integrity Solutions, 76% of firms agreed that sales coaching is a key driver of success. There was a 15% performance gap between firms that used it successfully, and those that struggled to implement it.
So to make coaching more effective, you need to analyse the extent to which it has been culturally accepted, and implemented, by the organisation. Is it a new arrival, which is poorly understood, and only partly implemented? That reflects an immature coaching culture, and a need to explain to the whole business, what benefits coaching can bring. This has to be the foundation of the rest of the coaching effort.
2. Get Everyone Aligned Around What Coaching Means
Once people are convinced that coaching can improve performance, it’s time to do some more detailed work around what coaching means in the organisation. The style of coaching is going to vary from one business to another. But the activity will have some common attributes, and the organisation needs to agree on these.
3. Agree On The Key Coaching Interactions
The best approach to gaining this consensus, is to look at coaching as a set of paired interactions. First there’s listening and asking. Listening is probably more important, as it helps coaches to find out what makes an employee tick. It will enable the employee to “own” the areas they need help with, rather than imposing the coach’s agenda too early.
The coach is more likely to gain insight through listening to the employee’s view of their own strengths and weaknesses. At the very least, they will gain an understanding of how the employee views themselves. This will help to shape the questions the coach asks, and make them more specific to the individual. And it will help the coach understand how to motivate the individual, which is the key to successful coaching sessions.
The other key paired interactions are praising and challenging. If there’s praise, give it first, to set a positive tone which will make any challenge that follows, easier for the employee to accept. Challenges should never be hostile or critical - they work a lot better if they’re presented as a challenge to the employee to think of a better way to approach their work.
Refract's Head of Sales, Richard Smith, carried out an interesting study on this, talking to 20 sales professionals. It’s clear from his results, that some coaches are providing top-down critical feedback, instead of helping employees to improve. And the inevitable outcome is that the employees switch off.
4. Allocate Time To Coaching, And Coach Everyone
Managers who are “too busy” to do much coaching, are too busy to succeed. Picking up the maturity thread, organisations that understand the value of coaching and are reaping benefits from it, allocate more time to it. A manager might be spending ten hours or so a week, coaching the team.
This time is used to coach the entire team. Research shows that even high performers can improve further, when they are coached. In fact, although this is counter intuitive, they may improve more than those who are struggling, simply because they have greater capacity and aptitude.
Poor coaching is often the result of coaches who don’t know what the organisation’s view of coaching is, and lack confidence in their own skills. They fall back on the kind of interactions they are familiar with, such as performance management style appraisals.
A recent article in the Harvard Business Review, entitled “Most Managers Don’t Know How to Coach People. But They Can Learn”, confirms the point that many managers who think they are coaching more broadly, are in fact simply telling people what to do. The authors dub this “micro management as coaching”.
To get beyond this, coaches need to be given training, and to be provided with a toolkit that they can use until they are confident enough to run successful “ad hoc” sessions. The toolkit might contain prompts about how to structure the session and resources that the coach can use. It's also essential to provide an opportunity for reflection after a session. The coach can think about how productive the session was in terms of motivation and skill enhancement for the employee, and how it could have been improved.
5. Encourage Self-appraisal
A really confident coach is quite happy to hear from the employee on how they thought the coaching went, and what they found more or less helpful. Asking for this kind of feedback is a sign of strength, not weakness. Of course, some employees are going to be critical and non-accepting, but then it’s important to accept that some individuals are not willing to take responsibility for their own success.
Most employees aren’t like this, and the opportunity to participate in a dialogue will build engagement and respect, and make people more likely to shift their behaviours in the direction the coach has suggested.
One of the great things about improving the way the organisation approaches coaching, is that it makes the activity far more rewarding for coaches. They appreciate that this is a professional skill, to which the organisation is prepared to devote time and money. A trained, valued and professional coach is going to have far more credibility when they meet an employee for a coaching session.