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Creating better managers through coaching

Most sales and executive leadership programs are too general to provide opportunities for intensive, personalized work on self-development. Jonathan Farrington, chairman of the JF Corporation (jfcorporation.com), a sales coaching consultancy, says coaching, by contrast, enables individuals to gain insight into their own motives, interests and concerns. These link explicitly to the challenges they face in their leadership or management roles.

The growth of personal coaching

Farrington says forward-thinking organizations are looking for alternative ways to lead and manage staff. “The business world has experienced more upheaval in the past 10 years than in the previous 50: It’s no accident that this period of unprecedented change has witnessed a boom in executive coaching.”

A recent survey that polled HR professionals from Europe, America, Australia and Asia found that 88 percent of the respondents were planning to make more use of professional coaching. A little more than half of the respondents had introduced the practice in the past 18 months.

Coaching vs. traditional development programs

People may learn a great deal in personal development courses, but when they return to the workplace, they often have difficulty integrating what they have learned into their day-to-day duties, Farrington says. Quite often, what they may have learned simply slips from their minds.

He adds that between 50 and 70 percent of an organization’s climate, and hence its effectiveness, can be traced to management style.

“Effective leaders create a favorable working environment that boosts performance. This is where coaching comes into its own. Leadership is a set of skills, competencies and attitudes that individuals can develop through practice and by reflecting on their own actions and the impact this can have on others,” he says.

Coaching can also help executives acquire a greater awareness of their own leadership style. This is crucial if they are to develop the variety of styles needed to manage and lead in different situations. All too often, leaders rely on a command-and-control style, which has a negative impact on all but a crisis.

Coaching people on leadership styles produces positive results in most situations by creating a supportive environment in which employees feel empowered to give their best and find the solutions to problems.

Coaching: not just a remedial solution

“Not unnaturally, some diehards still hold with an old-fashioned view that coaching can be used only for remedial purposes, but those organizations that have embraced the concept fully have discarded that way of thinking,” says Farrington. “Their approach concentrates on leadership and personal development as part of building a high-performance organization - they are committed to moving away from managing by a culture of process to managing as leaders.”

He says his clients are not interested in adopting the style of coaching used by many companies to focus on simple issues - particularly how to get along with fellow team members. “They choose us because they believe we offer a more challenging style that digs more deeply into behavior and personality. This leaves executives with something more permanent that they can take away from the coaching sessions and use during the rest of their careers, rather than just as a one-time solution.”

It is not always easy to convince executives that they should submit to a scrutiny of their personalities and behavior, but in reality, those executives who balk at taking “the journey of self development” could soon find themselves isolated and lesser leaders than many of their contemporaries.  

5 Coaching blunders to avoid

Transforming your sales managers from good to great coaches can have a dramatic impact on sales. Steven Rosen, founder of STAR Results (starresults.com), a sales leadership coaching organization, warns sales managers to beware these five common coaching blunders:

› Blunder #1 – Telling vs. asking coaching

Sales managers see themselves as problem-solvers. One of the critical areas for developing top salespeople is the ability to self manage. Telling reps how to solve their issues doesn’t create self-managing salespeople. Be aware of when you are in “tell” mode and remind yourself, when you have fallen into a bad habit.

› Blunder #2 – I’ll-get-to-it coaching 

Many managers tackle busy work first. It feels good when you are up to date on e-mails and stress is reduced when you have all your reports in on time. But those activities don’t contribute to the bottom line. If great sales coaching can have a direct impact of up to 19 percent more sales, why is coaching not the No. 1 priority? Get out in the field and make coaching your top priority. Your boss will thank you and your reps will make lots of money. 

› Blunder #3 – Laundry list coaching

Great coaching is about focus. Helping a sales rep improve in one area of the job can have a major impact on performance. Managers who create laundry lists of areas for development will have little success. It’s too difficult for sales reps to make wholesale changes in how they sell. Development is about improving one or two things. Once the salesperson has demonstrated that they have acquired the skill or behavior, then you can move on to the next area.

› Blunder #4 – One-size-fits-all coaching

How many times have you witnessed a sales rep working on autopilot, making the same sales pitch to each customer and delivering the message in the same way. If your feedback to each rep is the same, you have fallen into the rut of one-size-fits-all coaching. Coaching differs from training. Training is about having everyone learn the same information or skills. Coaching, on the other hand, is about diagnosing each rep’s particular area for improvement. It is about adapting your coaching style to the individual and about developing individualized development plans.

› Blunder #5 – Way-to-go coaching

Many managers fail to get a commitment to change. They do a great job coaching by asking all the right questions and come to agreement on areas for development, but forget to get buy-in on how the problem will be fixed. It’s critical to have the rep buy into what steps he will take to develop. This requires a simple three- or four-point plan that includes what the sales rep will do between coaching sessions. One key is to have reps develop their own next steps and your role becomes one of holding them accountable. Without this in place the odds are that there will be no change in rep behavior or skills by the next coaching session.