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Outsourcing “Coaching”

by David Brock on April 13th, 2021

Coaching is one of the highest leverage activities a manager must engage in to maximize the performance of each person on the team. Sadly, too many managers don’t take the time to coach or, when they do, they are very bad at coaching.

“Outsourced” coaching is rising in popularity–for many good reasons and too many bad reasons. In my own career, my managers have taken strong roles in coaching, and I have had a few “outsourced” coaches to complement what they do. And, as part of our business, we do a huge amount of “outsourced” coaching. I’ve gotten huge value from my “coaches,” and hope we create great value in our own coaching.

My biggest concern about outsourced coaching is when it is used as a surrogate for the coaching by an individual’s direct manager. Recently, I had a conversation with an executive who was trying to get me to coach his leadership team. As we discussed why he wanted to do this, he stated, “I know my people need coaching, I have no interest in doing this. It’s a bad use of my time, I’m not particularly good at it, and I don’t care about getting good at it. It’s easier for me to hire you to do the coaching.”

Outsourced coaching, provided by others or through software tools, should never be considered as an alternative to the coaching managers must do. It should only be used as a complement to a manager’s coaching.

Effective coaching, maximizing performance in the current role, is always most useful in a context. Issues like:

  • How effectively is the sales person representing the company to customers?
  • How is the sales person translating company strategies and priorities to the markets/customers?
  • Is the person creating customer experiences consistent with our go to customer strategies?
  • Are we creating, communicating, and delivering value that sets us apart from the competition?
  • Is the person working with their peers and others in the company as effectively and efficiently as possible?
  • Is the person demonstrating behaviors consistent with the values and culture of the company?
  • Is the person leveraging our tools, systems, programs, processes, training to maximum impact and effectiveness?
  • Is the person balancing their performance across all dimensions of the job?
  • and more…..

These are a mix of situational, customer, and company specific issues. They are dynamic, both in their mix and over time. An outside coach may be able to address some of these issues, but will never be able to address them in the specific context that the manager has.

Much of high impact coaching is situational and observational. “In this meeting with the customer, I noticed you doing these things…..” “In this project, I saw noticed how your interacted with people in these ways…” “I’ve gotten feedback on these issues….” It’s difficult, if not impossible for an outsourced coach to provide this feedback. The outsourced coach is primarily dependent on the perspectives provided by the person being coached. Sometimes, they may get feedback from others through things like “360’s” and other tools, but none of this is real time or situational.

The manager provides that direct connection to what is happening on a day to day basis. No outsourced coach can have that perspective–they may get occasional snapshots, or make educated guesses, but outsourced coaches are reliant on what the person being coached is telling them.

Where do outsourced coaches and coaching fit?

Outsourced coaches can help develop specific skills or capabilities for the person they are coaching. Some of it may be pretty simple/tactical, for example better work habits, time management, discipline. Some of it can be around developing specific skills, business acumen, strategic thinking, communications, deal strategy development, and so forth. Some of it may be helping them learn how to and improve their own ability to coach. Most of these are less situationally or contextually specific, though great coaches help the person adapt these to their specific roles, companies, and situations. Sometimes, outsourced coaches serve as an outside sounding board, helping people think differently, or for getting an outside perspective.

Often, the outsourced coach is more focused on longer term development of an individual–either to help them grow in their current role, position them to take on greater responsibility in the company or to develop them to advance in their career.

Increasingly, we are seeing “technology” solutions to coaching. We see conversational analytics providing “insights” on conversations. They might provide analytic based recommendations. These can be useful in helping us identify some of our own habits: Are we talking too much? Are we asking more questions than we are making statements? They offer us comparative insights, providing us data showing our performance relative to others, providing limited recommendations for improvement, “Others tend to ask these questions or use these words…”

Some tools offer simulations you can leverage, guiding you to “right,” or “better” responses.

These tools are in their infancy and, in my opinion, are relatively limited, but offer promise in the future. Today, they tend to help us become more aware of habits or things that we do, but for which we are unconscious. If I think back, every once in a while I would record myself on a call. Afterwards, I would listen, often thinking, “Did I really say/do that?” The modern day version of these technology based coaching tools are variants of listening to recordings or watching a videotaped discussion.

But they tend to focus on specific skills, provide observations about what we have done, and recommendations about what we might do differently. But they are limited, they don’t help us think differently. They can’t help us think about complex situations, evaluating different strategies. They aren’t very helpful in specific human to human engagement. They tend to help on single situations–for example a call–but are not very helpful with a flow of interactions over time.

All these “coaching” sources can provide some value. But the “connecting” point for all of these is the manager and their day to day coaching. Outsourced coaches, or technology based coaching tools complement the manager but cannot and should not displace the manager.

The highest leverage we have in developing performance in the current job and for a person’s long term development is the coaching provided by managers.

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