Coaching teams to higher performance is a best practice for sales leaders. And it’s a very hot topic in business right now. In fact, every client we work with recognizes the importance of developing good coaches within the ranks of their management teams.
Thousands of books have been written about coaching, ranging from biographies on notable coaches and their coaching philosophies to coaching winning teams and athletes as an analogy for success in business and sales. Coaching is a philosophy, a discipline, and most importantly, a skillset. Although coaching resources are vast and widely available, coaching remains an elusive skill set for many to master.
While attitude and character traits cannot be taught, skills and behaviors can be taught and coached. The truth is, anyone can be a coach.
At ValueSelling Associates, we coach sales managers so they are empowered to coach their own teams, and we coach sales reps to reinforce the ValueSelling Framework® within their daily sales processes. The concept can be academic, so let me share examples of competences that demonstrate excellence in coaching.
1. Being a role model. Coaches must have relevant experience and be able to demonstrate mastery—to know what to do and how to do it to inspire others. You don’t have to be the world’s best, but you do need to be consciously competent. That means knowing how to break down skills and behaviors to the basics, helping to foster competency and even mastery along the way. Can you imagine taking a music lesson from a music aficionado, who couldn’t play the instrument? Would you invest in a golf lesson from someone who loved golf, watched it on TV every weekend, yet never picked up a club and hit a golf ball? An effective coach must have at some point “walked the talk” and have proficiency in the skill set required.
2. Adding value. While the principle of value-add is quite simple, it still gets overlooked. One undeniable truth about coaching is that you have to add value if you want to develop a win-win partnership with the person you’re coaching. Individuals work with coaches for a boost in performance. For coaching to be successful, the coach must have perspective, experience, and most importantly, the relationship to hold the “coachee” accountable. Coaches help assess current performance, identify future performance and create action plans to get from here to there. If there is no buy-in or value-add in that process, the coaching process will not work. Think of times when a professional sports coach has lost the confidence of the team and its players. Once that happens, the potential for a winning combination is completely lost.
3. Creating partnerships. Coaches are partners with receptive, open and coachable players. The partnership becomes the culture and the way things get done. A world-class team is built with a common purpose and mutual respect. You can’t coach someone who isn’t aligned with the team goal. In fact, coaching an individual to excel, who doesn’t want to improve, is entirely unfulfilling! I have one client who defines a coach as someone that is part psychotherapist and part performance consultant. Coaches not only know what to do, they understand why someone would want to do it. Attitudes can’t be coached, but an individual’s personal motivation can be discovered and tapped.
4. Giving feedback. All great coaches are skilled at giving feedback. We often hear that feedback is a gift. There are two different types of feedback: developmental and, its polar opposite, evaluative feedback. Developmental feedback is the skill set that separates the stellar coaches from the mediocre. The fundamentals of developmental feedback include:
It targets improving future performance.
It impacts behavior.
It is not an event. It happens all the time.
It is informal and interactive.
It is truthful.
It is specific.
It is positive and motivating.
Make sure your coaching integrates the skills of role modeling, adding value, partnering and giving developmental feedback. And keep in mind that mastering coaching skills should not be limited to managers. Teams often have player-coaches and leaders who can contribute to the development of others. According to both Don Shula and Ken Blanchard, “Everyone’s a coach!”