Tackle 3 operational challenges field teams face to practice, coach and share great performance.
Much effort is made to generate precious customer meetings, and we have little time to create credibility, relevancy and trust. The role of the manager coach is strategic to prepare teams to perform in front of customers. Gartner’s study in 2020 highlights the impact of an effective manager coach to improve performance by 26%, increase discretionary effort by 38% and reduce staff turnover by 20%.
Most organisations understand the importance of the role of manager coach but struggle to implement a scalable approach to coaching. What are the barriers, and how do tackle them? Let us examine this further.
Do you have a coaching culture?
There are cultural issues and operational challenges when deploying a scalable coaching approach with field-based teams.
When we ask customers, how they transform learning into application and performance in the field, often the reply is not clear. There is a reliance on business management tools and periodic performance reviews to replace daily coaching.
Coaching requires a manager to observe performance and provide regular and specific behavioural feedback.
In short “you coach what you see”.
Sales organisations with a true coaching culture, prioritize physical observation, training and coaching of their staff. I recently worked with a pharmaceutical organization that decrees that managers spend 80% of their time training and coaching their staff to prepare them for customer engagement. This requires creating time to practice specific moments of customer engagement as well as observing the actual customer performance. This enables the manager coach to provide specific behavioural advice to maximize their performance.
A sales organization needs to understand that they need to observe practice and performance to provide qualitative feedback. Many organizations however have team members remotely located from their manager and each other. They perform individually separated by time and distance and yet they are called a team and are expected to achieve a team goal.
What is Managerial Coaching?
Coaching skills by managers and leaders require participative management or leadership, facilitating growth and change by evoking an individual’s own resourcefulness.
Gartner research indicates that the “Connector” manager introduces employees to the right people for their development needs. They provide targeted feedback, they often connect employees to others for coaching and development and try to create a positive team development environment.
Clear mission with misconceptions.
It is important to provide a clear picture of the challenge’s companies face when designing a scalable coaching strategy. The strategy should form part of the cultural DNA where there is trust between team members and manager coaches, who feed-forward with specific actionable non-judgmental observations.
Many senior executives will tell you that coaching programs exist. Too often these programs are concentrated at the very top of the organizational pyramid. This is understandable as face to face coaching is expensive and time-consuming, but this can create a false feeling by top management that coaching takes place in their organisations when this is not replicated and deployed where it has the greatest impact.
The biggest impact.
First-line managers need to be cherished, they are closest to the action and have the greatest impact on performance through effective coaching.
Coaching by middle managers has a significantly stronger effect on staff sales performance than does executive manager coaching on middle manager sales performance. (2126 R. Agarwal et al.)
3 Operational Challenges to coaching remote teams.
So what is stopping organisations from implementing coaching culture at the operational level?
Beyond cultural awareness, we have identified 3 key operational challenges to implement a scalable coaching approach.
Time and distance
Firstly, time and distance separate a manager coach from their team, making it a challenge to get out from their desk, travel and accompany team members to observe their performance and provide constructive feedback. This challenge has been exacerbated in 2020 but will continue to pose a challenge moving forward.
Isolate and observe the behaviour
Secondly, even when the manager coach manages to accompany a team member and observe their performance, it can be a challenge to isolate the specific behaviour the manager coach wishes to observe during a customer meeting. Let’s take an example, Jill the manager coach agrees with David that during the upcoming four-legged customer meeting that David will focus on the use of relevant proof points in his sales argumentation. They prepare these proof points for the meeting, but the customer takes the meeting in a different direction, or David does provide a proof point, but the meeting lasts two hours, so Jill and David have different memories of the proof point.
Lack of confidence
Lastly, and again according to Gartner’s 2019 study, 45% of managers do not feel comfortable providing performance feedback. Managers often lack the experience, training and support to provide specific non-judgmental actionable feedback to team members. At Mobile Practice we have met many customers who say that they have concerns over their manager’s ability to provide coaching feedback. The term accidental manager is often used for a successful individual contributor who finds themselves as managers ill-prepared to transition and manage colleagues.
3 Phased approach to a scalable coaching strategy.
How can organisations address this challenge and put in place scalable coaching strategies that will drive performance and staff satisfaction?
There are 3 phases of scalable coaching implementation.
Phase 1 – Identity sales coaching culture.
Identify the organization’s current coaching culture and challenges that first-line managers face.
What is the culture of feedback within the organization?
Do people feel there is enough trust to make mistakes and to provide and receive feedback?
What activities are manager coaches performing today that take time away from coaching their teams?
Is the organization unconsciously incompetent, or consciously incompetent, consciously competent, or unconsciously competent?
Is your organization unaware of the benefits of coaching team members? Are they aware of the challenges that managers face in providing effective coaching support to team members?
This naturally is the biggest issue. an organization first needs to understand the challenges before implementing a coaching culture and empowering managers to become effective coaches.
An organization realizes that the current culture does not foster trust and that managers are not prioritized, trained, and supported to coach their teams. An organization is ready and willing to change. This is an organization that looking for strategies to put in place the organizational culture and structure to train and support managers and to remove activities that prevent them from prioritizing coaching activities.
The team has put in place measures to foster a coaching culture and approach. It is a deliberate task with metrics measured regularly with constant consistent communication to support the approach.
The metrics are in place, but the conscious deliberate approach has been replaced by “This is how we do things around here.”
A company must make an unbiased assessment of where they are on the spectrum. This assessment must be made from the bottom up. Good intentions at the senior management level are not enough. The evidence must come from the field.
Do the sales teams feel that they receive coaching support to help them improve their performance?
Is there a culture that supports trust and the ability to make mistakes and share? Do the managers feel that that they have the time, desire and skills to coach their teams?
What is stopping them from coaching their teams more?
It is important to understand what key issues that need to be addressed. Beyond a general culture, are there training and support issues for the managers, or activities that prevent time spent coaching?
Once you have identified where you are on the spectrum, you can start to put in place strategies and look at the operational challenges to observe and coach remote teams.
Phase 2 – Managers need to focus on activities & skills.
Remove tasks from first-line managers and invest in their coaching skills. For managers to spend more time coaching, they must stop spending time on tasks they currently perform today.
Organisations I have seen where this works the best, remove the burden of sales activity reporting so that the conversation can focus on the performance rather than focusing on reporting numbers.
Secondly, the manager needs to become the trusted adviser to their teams who facilitates insight and good practice. They need to be the “Guide by the Side” not the “Sage on the Stage”.
The manager needs to understand the manager coach’s role and the skills and support to accompany their team in the pursuit of performance. When and how they should provide specific coaching feedback to different team members.
Sales manager coaching training may be required to be implemented with the support of senior management and the involvement of external coaching organisations to help train the managers and provide shadow coaching support.
Phase 3 – Tools to help practice & coach each other.
The final step is to identify the right tools to enable managers to observe even when they cannot physically be present to train, observe and coach performance.
Due to the nature of remote teams, organisations need to rely on technology to practice and record performances that can be shared synchronously or asynchronously. These tools when used effectively help teams’ practice, coach and share great performance.
Tam members play out customer scenarios with 3D environments that replicate the physical work environments. This can be useful depending on the nature and environment of your workplace or customer environment. This does require investment in technology and time to set up and configure the environments.
Telephony and CRM tools
Record and replay customer phone calls which can be leveraged as a basis of a coaching conversation. This works well for organisations with a focus on telephone sales. These tools record and analyze telephone conversations to identify key metrics and specific words used within the conversations.
Video conference tools
The manager coach and a team member record role plays synchronously online. This enables the manager coach and the team member to act out specific moments of key customer engagement. This works well when you can schedule time in the calendar to practice. However, be careful to protect this time, as it can be compromised when the important topic of practice and coaching is superseded by an urgent customer or personnel issue.
Companies that adopt a systematic approach to role-plays between managers and team members successfully transfer this discipline to online synchronous coaching sessions.
Asynchronous practice and coaching tools
|Complement face to face and virtual sessions with offline skills practice and coaching. Sometimes it is challenging to synchronize calendars to set up a time to practice. Create a simple structured scenario that they can share with their team to practice and record a short video reply to a key moment of customer engagement, a positioning statement, a question, or even an objection.|
Team members can practice anytime and review their own performance before sharing with their manager for feedback. This repetition and feedback embed learning and matures attitude and mindset.
The manager can review the reply as many times as they need before providing considered feedback with the support of the structured evaluation criteria.
When a team member performs a great reply, the manager can recognise their contribution and share this with the whole team.
The right culture, right approach, right tools.
Making an intentional shift to add coaching skills to managers and leaders’ toolkit helps build a coaching culture within an organization. Building a successful coaching culture requires three pillars: coaching strategy, alignment with organizational culture change, and coaching infrastructure (Hawkins and Smith 2013).
A scalable coaching infrastructure requires investment into first-line managers supported by the right blend of tools and techniques to suit your teams and your offering.
I think Kevin Dorsey VP Sales at PatientPop, says it best “Everyone practices, the best do it on purpose, the rest do it on prospects.”
How are you scaling your coaching culture through the people that make the biggest difference?
Author: Ben Eddy, Co-Founder @ Mobile Practice