My friend, Jim Keenan, considers this a key characteristic of people he hires–are they coachable? Are they open to being coached, are they willing to listen, considering other points of view. It’s critical, but we don’t spend a lot of time talking about it.
A friend of mine, a top executive of a large company called me a few months ago. He was having trouble with one of his people. This person had been a top performer in past years. In recent years, he had struggled, he wasn’t making his numbers, every deal seemed to be challenge. Because of his past performance and his seniority in the sales organization, he tended to be a real opinion leader. My friend was struggling with how to deal with this individual, not only was his performance terrible, but he was poisoning the rest of the organization. Morale was declining, results were falling.
My friend had been spending a lot of time with this sales person. He was coaching, offering ideas, doing everything he could to get this individual back on track. Nothing was working, he asked me to spend time with the guy to see if I could do anything.
I sat down with him, I’ll call him Tim. Tim was immediately defensive, but that’s not unusual, after all I was an outside consultant, hired by the top sales executive to “help” Tim. It was understandable, so I spent time talking to Tim, learning about him, explaining my role, and how he might leverage me. We spent some time talking about recent deals—he’d lost most of them. In talking about these deals, it was always something else that caused the loss—the products “sucked.” the customer was “stupid,” we were “over priced.” The list of reasons went on. I would try to push back gently, saying the other sales people seemed to be having much more success. I hadn’t heard the same things (only every once in a while), he would always respond, “You don’t understand.”
Overtime, the same broken record played over and over. Whether it was his manager or me talking to him, Tim was always doing the right things. The reason he was not winning was always something else. Whatever suggestions we made were always discarded, he would say, “I’ve been your top performer, I know what do do! Just focus on fixing the problem with the products and the pricing, then I can start closing business! This company is really screwed up, if you don’t watch out, I’ll quit!”
I went on a few calls with him, perhaps we weren’t seeing the whole picture. I wanted to see Tim in front of the customer. You probably can guess what happened. In these customer meetings, while cordial and friendly, Tim was difficult. He had trouble listening to the customers. He’d listen long enough to hear a key word or phrase. Inevitably, he’d interrupt and start pushing. Whatever the customer came up with, Tim would bulldoze through, focused on what he knew to be right. Afterwards in discussing these situations, Tim would sit back, cross his arms and scowl. He’d say, “You just don’t understand, you are an outside consultant, you know nothing about my customers or our products, you are wasting my time. As a consultant you should be focusing our management on fixing the products and pricing!”
Over time, we started becoming more directive in our coaching. Tim’s manager and I sat down, we talked to Tim about his performance. We talked about his attitude and our observations about the impact on his relationships with customers and the rest of the sales team. We told him things would have to change. Through the meeting, we kept trying to elicit his feedback and reactions. His body language told us everything. We told him he needed to do certain things, outlining specifically the actions and expected behaviors. You can guess what happened, he executed some of it–all of it grudgingly and sourly. He’d come back in subsequent meetings saying, “See I’ve done what you told me to do, it’s not working, it’s wrong. When will you just leave me alone. I’m your top sales person, I know how to sell. Solve the real problems in this company and I’ll start bringing in the orders!’
This went on for about another sixty days, we finally terminated Tim.
You know the problems–you’ve probably seen a similar sales person in your career. The person that knows everything. The person that has shut themselves down from learning. People who live in the glory of their “self perceived success,” not the reality of their current performance. People who constantly blame everything and everyone else. These people are not coachable.
Being coachable is important. Regardless of who we are, we can always improve, we can always learn new things. World class athletes and others always have a coach. More importantly, they actively seek the adice of the coach. Top performers are never distracted by their current performance, they never rest on their laurels. They constantly look at others, they seek advice, they consider new things and stretch themselves.
Coachable people don’t accept coaching blindly– they challenge their coach, positively and proactively. They engage, they learn, they develop.
Are you coachable?