How are you showing up for your people?

woody_allen“80 Percent of Success is Showing Up”    (Woody Allen)

I joined Hewlett-Packard in 1981.  My second level sales manager was a character named Bob Sandefer.  Bob had already been around HP for over 25 years and was a legend with our factories.  Over the next five years, I would be part of Bob’s team, both as a sales rep and later as a first level sales manager.  Over those years, I had plenty of disagreements with Bob on a variety of topics.  He was tough as nails.  As the years passed, and I got a little smarter, two things occurred to me.  First, on virtually all of the areas where we had disagreed, he was right.  Much more importantly I came to really appreciate how dedicated Bob was to “showing up” for his people.

On anything to do with the business, Bob had very strong ideas on how to take care of customers and through doing so, to grow the business.  He would be in your face in a heartbeat if he sensed anything less than total dedication to HP or the customer.  He had high expectations, and enforced them to the last inch.  On the personal side (after five, mind you), he showed a really remarkable ability to get to know everyone on his team (about fifty people), their personal strengths and shortcomings, but also their spouse, kids, and how big the new house had to be…  At 5:01, he would hold court, and the office was usually full until after 7, with one person or another going in for coaching.  We didn’t call it that, but that’s what it was.  It often involved a minute or two of those  intense “feedback moments” but that didn’t seem to matter.  He was like a candle to a moth.  The interaction didn’t just happen in the office.  If there was a wedding, a funeral, or any other kind of significant life event, he was there.  Period.  It didn’t matter where you were on the list of fifty.  You were one of his people.

As a perspective on coaching, Bob’s strength in building productive coaching relationships was his ability to show up on a variety of levels.  No one could touch his knowledge of our business.  Beyond the business, he put in the time to connect with everyone on a deeply personal level.  He expected you to have a plan and he had the audacity to remember it and ask you how it was going the next time he saw you.  If you fell short of your plan or his expectations for you, you learned accountability in a hurry.  After some of his accountability sessions, you might feel like you had been kicked around the block, but you knew that he knew you and loved you with every kick.  It wasn’t just kicking.  He celebrated with us, cried with us, and was very predictably there for us, 24-7.

A lot of coaching was delivered on that very firm foundation.

Give up the role of expert

professor500The sales effectiveness literature is full of descriptions of the benefits of coaching for sales leaders.  In a study of 2400 sales organizations, the Sales Executive Council found that sales teams that reported three or more effective hours of coaching per month also reported 17% higher quota attainment than teams who reported two hours or less.  Coaching works!  Yet, in the same study, senior sales executives ranked the coaching ability of their sales leaders to ninth in a list of ten key sales management competencies.  One step up from dead last!  What is preventing sales leaders from doing better in this critical skill?

As I work with sales leaders, one of the most common objections to coaching that I hear, is that many of their people are very experienced, maybe in some cases, more experienced and expert than the leader themself.    Both leaders and reps often view “coaching” as knowledge transfer, or skills transfer.  “Teaching”…  Neither of them want to engage in coaching unless both feel that the coach personally has specific knowledge or skills that the coachee doesn’t have.  An opportunity for learning (by all concerned) and better selling is lost.

How do we break this “deadly embrace”?

Here are seven key ideas to make coaching relevant and powerful for both coach and coachee:

1)  Begin by rethinking the definition of coaching.  Tim Gallwey, author of the “Inner Game of Work” says it this way:  “Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching.”  There is a time to teach and a time to coach.  They are different tasks.  Use them when and where they fit.

2)  Redefine the core value that the leader-coach brings to the coaching dialogue.  Relieve the leader-coach of the responsibility to always be the subject matter “expert”.   Instead, make them responsible for being the best coach on the planet, executing  the coaching process in an excellent way.  The best athletes in the world have coaches.  Those coaches are hired for their value in terms of unleashing potential, rather than teaching a skill.  (The Gallwey book is an excellent read on this idea.)

3)  Helping the coachee develop “awareness” of the Goal, the rewards for achieving it, and the consequences of missing it.  Along the way, make sure they understand that they are the primary owner of their number.  Even though the sales manager’s attainment of their number depends on the rep attaining their goal, the coaching process should be based on the rep’s 100% ownership of their goal and 100% sense of responsibility for achieving it.  That ownership fuels their “commitment” to achieving the goal.  Coaching provides them a way to figure out how to do that.

4)  Develop a complete understanding of the current Reality, and the factors which create the gap between Goal and Reality.  Resist the temptation to begin strategy definition or action planning until the gap is very clearly defined.  This temptation is the toughest one I see sales coaches succumb to.  They go to action, once they see a connection between gap and their personal experience.  Be aware of the temptation, and hold your tongue!  Ask another question!

5)  Help the coachee create Options, a strategy for how to close the gap.  Help them think through the problem and formulate their own hypothesis for how to solve it.   Do pro’s and con’s.  Explore trade-off’s.  Don’t hand them the answer, even though the expert in you is certain you know what it is.  This is tough to do.  Hang in there!

6)  Help them develop an air-tight definition of next steps.  Be SMART, with Specific definition of task, Measure of success, confidence that the task is Achievable, Resources are clearly defined, and a specific Timeline for when this will occur.  SMART tasks facilitate accountability to the action plan, one of the key values of great coaching.

7)  When the action plan calls for teaching a critical skill that you possess….  Find the best teacher.  Maybe that’s you.  Maybe its not.  If it really is you, the sales leader, then, ok, teach it.  But teach with respect.  Ask permission to teach.  Make them seek the teaching before you force it on them.  Tough assignment:  Give them the safety and freedom to reject your offer to teach, while helping them stay accountable to their Goal.  It’s their problem.  It needs to be their solution.

Finally, as one of my coaching colleagues put it, “Don’t coach people that don’t want to be coached.”  As a manager you still have an obligation to develop your team, but if they they rebuff your help, they have made a business decision.  OK!  They own the results of their plan.  At some point, it’s best to say, “Okay, I’ll coach somewhere else.”  Like any other negotiation, the willingness to walk away always seems to strengthen your hand.  That builds your credibility.

Give up the role of expert, so that you can be free to play the role of coach.