I was interested in reading the Harvard Business Review post, The Dirty Secret Of Effective Sales Coaching. It’s an interesting article with many good point and you should read it.
However, I think the authors present a very narrow view of the manager’s job and the goals of effective coaching. Many of the conclusions are pretty obvious, eliciting almost a “Duhhh” response. If you think about it, “coaching the middle” has a huge return. It should be obvious, there are more people in the middle, so every percent of performance improvement you get from this population has a great impact (when taken from a macro view).
However, my problem with the article is that it implies management’s focus on coaching is primarily on producing shorter term results. They say the performance improvement from the middle may be the difference between hitting or missing this year’s goals. I’ve no argument with that point-if the job of management was to optimize performance for just this year.
This is too narrow a view of management’s job and the real importance of coaching. Manager’s are responsible for developing the highest levels of performance in the organization both this year and for future years. This means we must take a broader view of coaching and performance management.
Coaching the middle can improve performance in the current year, and sustaining this through continued coaching should drive continued performance improvement over the years.
What about coaching the top performers? The authors would claim the return on this effort is relatively small and suggest reducing time on these top performers. But that misses the point. What if we want to move those top performers into bigger contributions? What if we want to have them take much more responsibility, step into new roles-maybe moving from a territory manager, to a major account manager, to a global account manager, to a strategic alliance manager? What if we wanted to develop some of them to step into stronger leadership and management roles?
I don’t think I’m alone in this view-some of the leading companies in the world take the development of their current and future leaders very seriously-providing rich coaching and developmental opportunities-less focused on the performance of those top performers today, but more focused on preparing them to perform in future roles.
What about coaching the bottom performers? Clearly we want them to perform, we can’t afford to have them dragging down the organization. Here coaching may take a different perspective-the key coaching issue might be how we develop them and move them into roles where they can really contribute and perform. Aren’t we as managers supposed to move our people from jobs in which they are C performers into roles where the can be A performers (or at least B’s). Sometimes those are roles in our organizations and companies, sometimes it means moving them out of the company.
Coaching is about performance management and improvement. It is about getting each person to play to their full potential, in roles that maximize their contribution to the organization-now and in the future.
If this were a static world, if our people stayed in the same role forever, if the requirements for performance never changed, then I could buy the recommendations of the authors more easily. Fortunately, that’s not the way the world works.
I think it’s management’s responsibility to coach everyone in the organization. We need to get those in the middle to perform better, we need to grow those at the top to take greater responsibility and grow their contributions, we need to do something with our low performers, not just let them linger.
I do agree with the authors, coaching is not democratic. It’s naive to assume this. Not everyone needs the same “cookie cutter” approach coaching. We coach each person with different goals and objectives. With some we are looking to improve performance in their current roles, with others we are preparing them for future roles. In some we are preparing them to move into other roles or out of the company. We invest different amounts of time in coaching each person. Some need more time, some need less. What we coach and how we coach will vary by individual. Coaching will have different time dimensions for each person, perhaps in the middle we are looking for improvements for this year, but we also need to be worried about next year and the future.
So coaching is not a “democracy.”
So who do we coach? I firmly believe it’s our responsibility to coach everyone.
How do we coach? We are irresponsible if we focus only on one dimension-for example achieving this year’s goals. We have to coach for the objectives and goals we establish for each person?
When do we coach? All the time.
What do you think? Am I being naive?
Dave Brock is President and CEO of Partners In EXCELLENCE, a global management, leadership, sales, and marketing consulting company. Partners In EXCELLENCE helps clients achieve the highest levels of performance by focusing on the customer.
Dave can be reached directly at email@example.com.
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