Sales managers and leaders are often given the task of playing the role of a ‘player/coach’. Yet rarely are new managers prepared for this task.
I don’t mean the individuals who transfer into an organization with these skills in hand, but rather the individuals that are promoted into their first leadership role, or move into a new organization with their first true role of managing and coaching sales people.
Through the interview process the hiring team will ask for examples of coaching. They will look for evidence of a previous coaching methodologies and experience. They will look at how individuals were able to transcend the role of an individual contributor and move to leading peers or influencing cross functional teams.
Yet I believe that there is a critical element missing. Unless the leader can articulate the coaching style and clearly define the expectations during both ‘in the moment coaching’ and scheduled feedback sessions there will always be an element of uncertainty. The coach may or may not be able to clearly articulate their process. The coached team member may find value in the coaching. Alternatively they might feel that the influence the leader is attempting to exert is ‘meddling’ and providing little value. This is especially true in cases where the leader continually solves problems for the sales team member.
Early in my career I had the opportunity to be trained by some excellent folks at IBM. The coaching methodology I learned became the foundation for all of the coaching systems that I learned and adapted to my style. As I’ve met sales teams. – either as a leader or as a consultant/interim leader I have always shared this methodology with my Teams. This clarity – the clear expectations and focus on solutions rather than blame – allows both me as the leader and the staff to understand that I will always be available to share and solution problems. However I will not always be the one to solve it.
This system – Goal: Reality: Options: Will – allows both the leader and the staff member to clearly understand expectations in a coaching session.
Simply put this system is broken down in the following fashion.
Goal: What is the objective of the coaching situation? What are we trying to solve together? The key here being together. This is not the staff member dumping a problem on the Leader. Nor is it the Leader abdicating authority and letting the sales person figure it out themselves.
Reality: What does the environment *really* look like relative to the issue at hand. This is the time for complete openness and honesty between the salesperson and the Leader. As Leaders we need to practice active listening without judgement or blame and seek to help our people develop analytical and situational awareness skills. The Team Member that is being coached needs to be brutally honest with the situation at hand. This is the time to share the good, bad, ugly, and surprises in the situation. The employee needs to be comfortable enough with their leader to be willing to share everything. The Leader has to be willing to listen, make notes for further clarification, and focus on the situation – not the actions (or inactions) of the Sales Team Member.
Too often the coaching methodology breaks here as the Leader reacts to information by chastising or belittling the sales employee that should have ‘known better’. It is important that coaching is not a performance discussion. It is a way to help our people build skills and advance their agenda as well as the agenda of the organization. It is a way for us to share wisdom, participate in groupthink and build strength in our teams rather than create a divide.
Options: This is where there is an open interaction between the salesperson and the manager. As Leaders we need our Team members to bring forward a list of potential solutions to discuss. Are we looking for the Team member to have all the answers? No, of course not. However we are looking for the salesperson to have some ownership of the solution and have thought through some potential answers to the issue at hand. As these solutions are explored, a free flow of ideas should occur with both parties analyzing and evaluating and enhancing the solutions in a nonjudgmental way.
Will: The last step in the process is one of commitment. What is the sales person willing to commit to as a course of action? What assistance is needed in order to execute on the potential solution? What checkpoint will be built in for escalation to the Leader (who is now briefed fully on the situation)?
This simple methodology – the GROW formula – can be used by leaders at any level in an organization to promote connectedness and a cohesive approach to problem solving. The days of expecting Our Team Members to solve all problems for their Leader or for Team Members to ‘dump and run’ issues on their Leaders are long over. Together Leaders and Team Members can solve problems – but only if they trust each other and are open to sharing and learning from situations. At that point the whole organization benefits from this GROWth.