What a topic! It brings me to the five steps that can help any person become a better coach of those who s/he is responsible for in terms of their performance. The five steps are embedded in the acronym: T.O.P.I.C. At my first management skills development school as a budding manager, way back when, one of the speakers focused on what he considered the formula for success in management and leadership. The formula around which he crafted his comments was: Talent X Environment = Productivity
His experience as an author and researcher in productivity matters confirmed certain key elements had to be in place for high productivity to flourish. His name, by the way, was Dr. Donald Clifton. The first element, Talent, had to do with having a system that would find and confirm top notch talent. In other words, high productivity cannot be achieved without talented people being in place to perform the necessary tasks involved. But, Dr. Clifton’s research repeatedly confirmed that even talented people could fail miserably, if not also offered an Environment that nurtures their talent. It’s like former President Dwight Eisenhower is reputed to have said: “You don’t lead people by beating them over the head. That’s assault…not leadership.” The point of that quote here is that for productivity to flourish, the work environment has to be positive and supportive. It has to allow people the opportunity to appropriately fail or make mistakes and not receive brutal, unfair punishment in return.
There are a lot of things that go into creating an environment that leads to high productivity. Things like a sense of purpose, vision and mission; a culture of trust, mutual respect and commitment; ongoing training and development…just to name a few. It is those latter couple of points that brings me to a business coaching model. A great manager/leader builds trust, mutual respect, commitment and ongoing training/development through being highly skilled at coaching people to apply their talent in the most productive way. To do that requires the skillful application of a 5 step model: T.O.P.I.C.
The “T” in the acronym literally is the first letter in the word, Topic, which is the first step in the model. The coach is always charged with starting any coaching conversation with clarity. People can’t be their most receptive to a leader’s need to coach unless there is clarity in the direction or purpose of the conversation. So, it is the manager’s responsibility to open the coaching conversation by referring to the “Topic” of specific performance for which the discussion is about.
An example of what a sales manager might say when launching into a coaching conversation with a sales representative might help here. It could go something like this: “Charlie, I would like to talk with you about your latest sales call.” A culture of trust, mutual respect and commitment demands that the manager deliver that line in a totally neutral tone of voice. It can’t be shouted or stated in a condescending way. It has to be neutral in tone, specific in topic and connote a sense of sincere interest in the person being coached. In that way, it allows the person about to be coached to not assume a defensive posture and closed mind. It is my opinion that seldom does defensiveness lead to openness. The greatest achievements are the result of someone being open to alternatives and change!
Having referred to the “Topic” of the discussion we are now at the second step in the model. It can be the hardest step for most people in leadership roles because we can be led into a “quick fix” mentality driven by our years of experience and the all-knowing attitude that experience can sometimes bring. We know what needs to be done and we’re more than happy to TELL the other person the solution to the productivity issue!!
Oh contraire! Great coaches resist the “quick fix” attack and follow the second step in this 5 step business coaching model. It’s a two word step that involves soliciting the “Observations/Opinions” of the person being coached. In other words in step two, allow the person being coached to express their observations or opinions about their performance.
And, the great coach follows a specific model to evoke those observations/opinions. First, is to take a positive approach to getting feedback from the person being coached. In the sales situation noted above it might sound like this: “Tell me what you thought you did well during the call?” It’s important here for the coach to keep the response focused on what went well. There seems to be a tendency more often than not for people to want to immediately digress to the negative…to talk about what they didn’t do. Great coaches don’t allow that to happen at this point. It is important here to have the person affirm their self-worth through focusing on what they did well. So, allow them to go on and on with what they think they did well even if you don’t agree with it. There will be time later for your thoughts.
Once the person has expressed their opinions on what they did well, then comes a critical responsibility of the coach. That responsibility is to encourage the person to look within by asking something like: “Is there anything you would change in how the call was handled?” Here again, the manager is still getting the “Observations/Opinions” of the person being coached. The only thing the manager should be doing at this point is encouraging the other person to speak. If anything is being said by the manager at this point it is to question for clarification and understanding, not to launch into a tirade of the manager’s perspective. The power of this approach is a greater sense of the coach as a person who is genuinely interested in the other person’s thoughts and feelings. It creates a powerful environment for personal growth and development for both parties to the coaching conversation.
Then, should come the step most less effective coaches do first. They offer their personal perspective on the performance issue in question with great confidence, enthusiasm and even sometimes with an arrogance of certainty! This assertiveness and insensitivity totally shuts down a collaborative conversation that could result in personal growth and greater productivity for the person being coached. Great leaders don’t assert their will on those they lead. They compel those they lead to want to follow the leader’s will. Big difference! Big change in performance results! Great leaders do that by recognizing leadership is not being out in front of the group with a great big title. It’s being right in the middle of the group with a great big heart!
So, in step three of the model, the coach offers his or her “Personal Perspective” on the individual’s performance. The model that is most effective in offering the coaches perspective is similar to that which is followed when encouraging the Observations/Opinions of the person being coached. That means the coach should first share his or her thoughts on what the person did well. Continuing with our example of a sales coaching situation, the coach might say something like: “As I reflect on your actions during that sales call, I am impressed with how you helped the prospective client understand the issues of concern they faced and how your product could specifically eliminate those issues. You demonstrated great empathy, knowledge and skill at helping the prospective client make the right decision. You should feel very good about that!” In this phase of this step, the coach should be reinforcing the behaviors s/he wants the sales representative to replicate during every sales call. The comments should be very specific as to the actions the sales representative modeled during the conversation and always focus on the positive.
Once the above aspect of this step of the coaching model is completed the natural flow of the conversation should move to the areas of growth opportunities for the person being coached. The verbalization of this part of the coaching conversation should, again, be neutral in tone and collaborative in spirit. An example: “One opportunity I see that would allow you to become even more effective is to delve even deeper into the prospective client’s situation by asking more open-ended questions. This will allow the prospect to share insights that could broaden your ability to be even more helpful to them through the solutions you provide.” The coach, having offered his/her “Personal Perspective” as suggested above, has positioned the coaching conversation as a positive and collaborative opportunity for personal growth for the person being coached.
Now, the coaching conversation can become even more powerful in delivering improved performance through the next step in the model: “Involvement.” During this step, the parties to the coaching conversation become involved in a collaborative approach to problem solving to improve the performance. The coach might start this part of the conversation by saying: “What do you think are some ways that would help you to hone your skills at asking open-ended questions?” The conversation would continue in a collaborative, neutral and focused way until agreement has been reached on appropriate actions that should be taken to reinforce the skills needing development. Once agreement is reached then the next step of the coaching model is “Confirmation.” The parties to the coaching conversation develop and confirm action steps necessary to implement the solutions to any performance issues. It is this step that assigns accountability and provides an affirmation of the coach’s belief in the person being coached. A coach that does not lead his/her people to understand their specific accountabilities for personal growth and development is a leader that will achieve mediocre results at best. It is my opinion that mediocre leader is an oxymoron.
Continuing our example from above, this part of the conversation could go like this: “So, based on our conversation we have agreed to the following action steps to help you in honing your skills at asking open-ended questions. First, you will develop a list of twenty open-ended questions that might typically be used in your sales conversations. You and I will then collaborate on refining your list of questions so that the language is exactly what you want so you can feel comfortable in asking the questions of a prospective client. Following that discussion we will work together in a series of role-playing sessions where you can practice your use of the questions. Then, I will accompany you on three sales calls where you use your new skills and provide you immediate feedback following each conversation. We will then determine any additional developmental steps that may be needed, if any. Is that your understanding of our plan?”
Having reached a clear understanding of the results of the “Confirmation” phase of the coaching conversation, it is extremely important that the person being coached be left with a sense of being affirmed by the coach. The coach’s comment could be as simple as: “I believe you are already a very effective sales representative and the actions to which we have agreed will help you grow to an even higher level. It is my pleasure working with you.” Following the business coaching model outlined above will allow for the “Environment” part of the formula of success in management to be its most inspirational. It will lead to the T.O.P.I.C. of discussion around the water cooler being positive, uplifting and highly productive.
I help people and organizations “Profit Through Performance.” As an author, consultant, coach, speaker, and trainer my areas of expertise are performance improvement solutions and great leadership. In that regard, I offer expert business solutions in time management, strategic communications skills and success principles.
Author of Life’s Ride or Fall…You Make the Call: Thoughts, Stories, Lessons Learned and Actionable Ideas to Help Create the Ride of Your Life! Available at AuthorHouse.com, Amazon.com and other fine booksellers.
Professional member of the National Speakers Association, Florida Speakers Association and the Global Speakers Federation. Past President of the Florida Speakers Association. Florida Speakers Association 2008 Member of the Year.
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