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Who Should We Be Coaching?

by David Brock on January 10th, 2012

I’ve been reading a number of different posts on the topic of “Who Should We Be Coaching?”  There seem to be a variety of views, most of which I struggle with.  Some say focus on the middle, suggesting the return on coaching time for both high performers and low performers is not high.  Some focus on the high performers and middle.  In general the low performers lose out.

I’m struggling with some of the ideas, these ideas, frankly, I think it’s the manager’s job to be coaching everyone.  This doesn’t mean each person requires the same amount of time in coaching.  Nor does it mean we have a cookie cutter approach to coaching everyone on the same thing.

Also, I think too many people tend to view things as relatively static.  If competitive sales practices stood still and we didn’t need to improve or innovate, then perhaps we could reduce our coaching for top performers.  But things are always changing, everyone needs coaching and development to continue to improve and innovate.  Without this, top performers soon become mediocre performers.  The bar on selling is continually being raised.  In fact a large part of our job as managers is raising that bar–continuing to innovate and improve, consequently, helping our people develop new capabilities, skills and coaching them in these improvement initiatives.

It seems to me, that coaching needs to focus on several areas for each person:

  • Top performers:  No one is perfect, top performers, in fact, always look for the little edge or the little improvement.  Managers need to spend time helping these top performers discover these improvements.  The world of selling never stops–leveraging your top performers for constant improvement and innovation is an important aspect of coaching–managers should be leveraging top performers to help innovate and improve, taking what these top performers discover and leveraging this across the sales organization.  Finally, part of the manager’s job is to coach people not only in maximizing their performance today, but to maximize their potential contribution in the future.  Manager’s need to look at developing top performers to take greater responsibility–whether it is moving to a higher level as a sales person, moving into management, or moving into some other role.  Coaching is not just about today, but it is about preparing people for tomorrow.
  • Mid-range performers:  There’s no argument here, we want to see continued improvement in the performance of our mid range performers.  Unlike our top performers, there is clearly a need to improve what they are doing today.  As managers, most of our time will be focused on performance in their current roles.  At the same time, we must also prepare them for the future–if the bar is being raised, we have to prepare these people to meet these new challenges.
  • Low performers:  We can’t afford to ignore them, we can’t write them off.  As managers, we need to coach them—getting them to improve their performance, meeting our expectations.  Alternatively, we have to move them into a job where they can be a top performer (sometimes that’s moving them out of the company).  All of this is part of the manager’s role in coaching, doing nothing is not an option, that is if the manager is doing her job.

As managers, we are responsible for the performance of all our people.  We have to make sure each person is performing at the highest levels possible in their current roles, we have to prepare them to grow in their job and to grow in their ability to contribute to the company.  If we can’t get them to reach the levels of performance required, we have to move them into areas where they can perform.  All of this is part of what managers do in coaching.

I wish it were simpler, but they aren’t.  Managers have to coach everyone.  The time we invest has to be appropriate for what we are trying to achieve with each person.  We can’t “schedule 15 minutes of coaching” for each person–it doesn’t work that way.  What we coach each person on is different–we have to coach to maximum impact for each individual.

What do you think?  Am I missing something?

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  1. Richard Gibson permalink

    Very good assessment. I particularly like your comment on moving some people on to different assignments. I think it is crucial for managers to understand their people and what their skills set, and sometimes personal wills, allows them to excel at resulting in a more fulfilled life. I believe more people advance to the “Top Performer” position when they are properly slotted in careers. And likewise more companies excel when their people are properly slotted and fulfilled. Thanks for the article.

    • Richard: Thanks for the comment, I couldn’t agree with you more. Too often, managers have tunnel vision, doing their teams, organizations and their people a disservice. Regards, Dave

  2. Dave, great article and couldn’t agree with you more that managers need to coach their people. Speaking with our clients, we are hearing more and more the need for managers to become coaches. The challenge is that managers don’t know how to coach or what good coaching behaviors look like. Managers have always been “specialists” managing processes. They haven’t developed the skills to be a “generalist” leading people.

    • Thanks for the comment Sunita. Coaching has always been one of the core elements of any manager’s job. It is the highest impact activity in improving the performance of individuals and the team.

      The problems are, they may never have been told that (by their managers who also probably don’t know that they have to be coaching), they don’t know what coaching is, they don’t know how to coach, and they have few examples of great coaching behaviors.

  3. David I like this post but who is Coaching the Managers..In my experience in working with large and small teams of Managers, Many managers have no clue how to coach…

    • Great question Norman! Too many managers don’t know that coaching is part of their job, or don’t know how to coach. There are couple things. First the senior managers have to be coaching and developing the managers reporting to them. Part of that is coaching them how to coach. Second, they have to walk the talk, they have to do great coaching themselves. If they are bad coaches or don’t coach, how can they ever expect the managers reporting to them to coach? Finally, I think it’s always useful to get some very good training on coaching.

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