It started as an intriguing call. The VP of Sales called to ask for my help, “I need you to coach my people.”
I started asking my normal questions, “What’s going on with them, what are the areas they need the most help in, how is this impacting their performance, what behaviors to you want to see, why is this important to them, why is it important to you…….”
I went on, “Are there specific skills you are looking to develop? Is there a specific program or initiative in which you’d like to focus?”
The VP of Sales stopped me. “I want to hire you to coach my sales people on a day to day basis, nothing specific, but I read your book, I know coaching is important, I want you to do it.
I thanked him for his confidence in me and thinking of me, but asked, “What coaching are you doing for them?”
“That’s it,” he replied, “I don’t have time to coach, that’s why I want to hire you. I need to spend my time on other things…..”
“What are those things that are taking your time away from coaching?” I asked.
“I’m constantly in meetings, I have to run the business…” he replied.
“But coaching is a critical part of your job, why aren’t you integrating coaching into what you do every day?” I asked.
The poor executive was getting frustrated, perhaps regretting his call, “I don’t have the time, I have more important things to do, but I want my people to be coached. Are you interested or not?”
We agreed to disagree, I wished him luck and we hung up.
Don’t get me wrong, there are important roles external coaches can play in organizations. In helping build specific skills, or accelerate specific change efforts, external coaches can apply special skills and unique experiences to complement the coaching provided by their own leaders.
But outsourcing all day to day coaching is wrong. It’s tantamount to saying, “I like the title, but I don’t want to do the job!”
Let’s go back to the fundamentals. The only way managers get things done is through their people. After all, it’s the people that have the accountability to actually do the work. For example, managers don’t “make the numbers,” they enable sales people to make their numbers.
Stated differently, the manager’s job is to maximize the performance of each person on their team. Coaching has been demonstrated to be the highest leverage activity a manager can do to maximize the performance.
It doesn’t make sense, from a leadership point of view, from a performance management point of view, or a cost point of view to outsource the most important part of the leader’s job.
What about the managers that say, “It’s not that I don’t want to, I just don’t have the time?”
My reaction is, “Where are you spending your time? What other things are you doing that prevent you from spending time on the single highest leverage activity you can do?”
As I drill down on the responses to this question, usually, it comes down to the manager doesn’t understand what coaching is our how to coach. Inevitably, they are under the impression that coaching is a distinctively separate activity, that it is not tied to the day to day business management activities.
Coaching is actually most effective when integrated into the day to day business management activities of leaders. When we do pipeline reviews, we should leverage that to coach people on building and maintaining high integrity/quality pipelines. Or when we conduct deal reviews, we improve our people’s abilities to develop and execute winning deal strategies. Every meeting, every interaction with our people presents an opportunity to coach and develop their people.
Coaching is two way, it’s through coaching we learn what’s really happening in the organization. Of course, we may have a lot of data that helps us, but through coaching, we add color, context and meaning to what the data shows us. The data shows us what’s happening, in our coaching conversations, we can learn why things are happening.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some very specific roles that external coaches can provide support to managers as a complement to their own work.
But the single biggest tool that managers have to drive performance improvement, to engage and develop their people is through coaching. If you don’t want to do it, if you can’t make the time to do it, you are in the wrong job.