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.

 

Business schools discover the power of EQ in leadership development

This is a very readable journal article on how a business school invested in a program to explore and develop the emotional intelligence of its students. It is well researched and its reference list would be a great place to start your own research into the history and contributions of emotional intelligence.

My take: While the study focused on a business school, its report and its supporting research have significant implications for all business and organizational leaders.

First finding of the study:  In this study, they were able to see a significant improvement in EQ competencies after a two year program of assessment and development

Second key item of interest, the writers referenced a study in which employers ranked the core MBA program objective of “knowledge of fundamental business concepts” only 12th out of 15 dimensions explored. Those organizations identified “courses that aided in the development of interpersonal skills” as the most significant shortcoming of traditional MBA programs.

Abstract: Over the past two decades an escalating interest in the construct of emotional intelligence (EI) has made its way into the popular press, professional press, and peer reviewed journals. Not surprisingly, an interest in EI is also gaining ground in academic settings (Parker, Duffy, Wood, Bond & Hogan, 2002; Parker, Hogan, Eastabrook, Oke & Wood, 2006; Parker, Saklofske, Wood & Eastabrook, 2005). Several major longitudinal studies have laid a sound theoretical foundation supporting the development of EI competencies as a component of the MBA curriculum (Boyatzis, Stubbs & Taylor, 2002; Boyatzis & Saatcioglu, 2008). This paper will describe why and how one MBA program took theory to practice and piloted the integration of content designed to develop competencies related to emotional intelligence into its curriculum. It will also review the results of an applied multi-year study that measured the results of the curriculum pilot. The study was conducted using one of the most widely used instruments for measuring emotional intelligence, the Bar-On Emotional Quotient Inventory (Bar-On, 1997), to identify significant changes between the beginning and the end of the program in the aggregate measures of emotional intelligence competencies.

Click on the image of the report title page to read the entire report.

 

 

Are we really coin operated?

As a recovering sales manager, I have always laughed at the proposition that “sales people are coin operated”.  Notice that I said I laughed, not that I didn’t agree.

What would you say if I told you that quite a body of research is telling us that “extrinsic motivation” (e.g. bonuses and commissions, carrots and sticks) actually makes performance worse, not better.  On the other hand, “intrinsic motivation” (I work because I love what I do) is the more durable motivator, especially in the 21st century.

I’m reading Dan Pink’s book, Drive, and I recommend it highly. If you’d like a compelling TED video on this same topic, done by Pink in 2009, check out this YouTube video.

Emotional Intelligence as an Enabler to Great Leadership

The research is compelling.  Emotional intelligence is a powerful enabler to being a great leader.

This short video explores research by the Center for Creative Leadership, Multi-Health Systems, and Google which demonstrates the power of emotional intelligence (EQ) to strong leadership and employee engagement.

What’s your experience?

Ascendent is a certified to deliver the Hogan family of personality assessments, including EQ, as well the Multi-Health Systems EQ-i 2.0 assessments.  Maybe we should talk!

How can you say, “It’s not just about the numbers”?

I want to use this column to explain what I mean when I say “it’s not just about the numbers”.

In business, the viability of a firm depends on its ability to create the numbers it needs to exist! No one can debate that.  My all-time heroes, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, knew that and made profit their number one corporate objective.

At the same time, Bill and Dave recognized that the numbers by themselves could not create an environment where people can grow, where they can ensure the success of those they care about, and where they can make a contribution to their industry and their community.  All of those things are critical for the employees of an organization to feel that their work matters and to fully engage in the mission of the organization.

So looking at it another way, the key word in my catch-phrase is the word “just“.

The high-tech industry in particular, has become so competitive, and the importance of current quarter business results so compelling, that leaders often sacrifice everything to get “the number”. What they miss,  is that focusing just on the numbers destroys the employee engagement that is so critical to achieving the business objective. Most mature adults understand that meeting the business objectives is job one. They just don’t want it to be “job only.”

As leaders, we have to appeal to all levels of their motivation. We have to help them feel a part of a community, to feel that their company and their colleagues, really care about them as individuals, and that the company ties its business success to values that transcend more than just return to shareholders.

This is why I get so excited about deploying the power of coaching into modern organizations. It’s the best way for leaders to connect their teams to the motivation and skills they need to hit their numbers, while making their workplace a human and fulfilling place to invest their time and their skills.

Your Culture is Your Best Teacher

culture_iconIt was the spring of 1981 and I had just joined Hewlett-Packard as a sales representative.   I was drinking from the fire hose.   It was my first sales job and I was learning a new career as well as a new company.  It was a heady time for HP.  We were undisputed leaders in our market and were growing rapidly in the general business expansion of that time.  What I observed around me was a great deal of youthful energy, and the primacy of our new products and their contribution to the markets we served.  One example of that energy was how we interacted with our product divisions.  When the divisions came to town, it was a natural rallying event for the sales force.  We gathered after hours, shared drinks and refreshments with the visitors, and then grilled them mercilessly for the latest intelligence about markets, competitors, and new products.  They in turn grilled us for what we were seeing on the front lines.  It was intense, but it happened in an atmosphere of shared commitment and collegiality.  I found it wildly invigorating.

Looking back on it, I was learning powerful lessons from the corporate and local cultures within HP.  As a company, our values included a commitment to technology and making a differentiated contribution to the state of the art in our markets.  That had started with Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard in 1939 and it was a cornerstone of HP’s culture.  The behavioral norms I observed in the Dallas sales team included the willingness to dedicate after hours time to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by the visit and the importance of blending professional and social interaction in building teamwork across the company.  I was also figuring out how to get things done inside HP.  The factory relationships that I built over a beer and snacks would enable me later to find my way to the right product development team to get a special feature I would need to close a major sale.  I didn’t learn that in a breakout session within a newcomers’ orientation course.  We were living it every day, and I learned it in a way that no workshop could teach me.

As a consultant, I have seen many very promising change initiatives die on the vine for lack of full adoption.  I believe that there are important considerations here for leaders who are considering some form of training to drive an organizational change:

Aggressively test the new ideas and behaviors against the prevailing cultures.  Are they complementary or likely to clash?

Where the new behaviors are not tightly linked to or supported by the culture, treat the project as a change management challenge.  Acknowledge the time, effort, and money it will take to integrate the change into the DNA of the organization.  Does the benefit justify the investment?

Consider the long-term impact that you are seeking. As cultures change slowly, it will likely take years for the organization to fully embrace the new ways as “just the way we do things around here”.  Can you afford the time?  Will the benefits endure over the time it takes to realize them?

Your culture is your best teacher.  Respect it, and put it to work on your most important change initiatives.

Jim Collins, Meet Michael Porter.

Here’s a link to great blog article from the Harvard Business Review blog, posted today.  I always enjoyed Jim Collins’ books on strategy, and of course, Michael Porter is the marketing strategy god we all read in business school.

A great quote from the article for those of that believe that great leadership is a necessary complement to great strategy…

So, is it great by choice…or making great choices? MBA students and their professors tend to divide the world into two separate domains:  people and numbers. There are the “soft” subjects like leadership and organizational behavior, and the “hard” ones like finance, accounting, and operations. Of course this distinction only makes sense in the classroom. All good executives know that the central challenge of performance is seamlessly integrating the two into a working whole. Good strategies do just that. Jim Collins, meet Mike Porter.

Readability meets rigor, and they get along just fine…

Jim Collins, Meet Michael Porter

Salespeople provoke your customers… Sales Leaders, provoke your team!

Is Solution Selling Dead?

In an excellent article from the March 2009 Harvard Business Review, Philip Lay, Todd Hewlin, and Geoffrey Moore (Crossing the Chasm) suggest that “solution selling” is getting long in the tooth, and prospects are getting hardened to that approach.  They are overwhelmed with suitors wanting to peer deeply into their eyes and ask open ended questions on “what keeps you awake at night?”  In my own selling, I’m finding my prospects increasingly unmotivated by the classical solution selling approach.  Even if I have an existing relationship or an introduction from someone they trust, I find their eyes glazing over quickly as I attempt a classical fact finding discussion.

Here is how the authors describe a more edgy alternative, “provocation based selling”:

“Provocation-based selling goes beyond the conventional consultative or solution-selling approach, whereby the vendor’s sales team seeks out current concerns in a question and-answer dialogue with customer managers.  And it differs dramatically from the most common approach still in use—product based selling, which pushes features, functionality, and benefits, usually in a generic manner. Provocation-based selling helps customers see their competitive challenges in a new light that makes addressing specific painful problems unmistakably urgent. This approach isn’t right for every selling situation you’ll face in a downturn, nor does it apply only under challenging economic conditions.  But for many companies that see their old approaches losing power, its time has come.”

Harvard Business Review, March 2009, “In a Downturn, Provoke Your Customers”

So what does this have to do with leading and developing our teams?

Simple.

Our team members are our customers for our efforts to help them develop.  We are competing for their attention and sense of urgency as they make decisions on where to spend their time and energy.  Like their customers, they are overwhelmed with unmet quotas, reluctant prospects, and declining customer budgets.

As much as they want to please us, and grow, they are performing triage daily.  We have to provoke them and build a case for the importance of investing in their development of  their skills and effectiveness.  They have to feel enough urgency around their development objectives to make time and dedicate resources.

As you approach your next one-on-one, how will you provoke them with the value proposition for personal development, and the compelling impact on them and their business if they fail to act?