Coaching For The Bottom Line: Moving Beyond Talent

January 18th, 2010 | Posted in Coaching, Performance Management | Comments Off on Coaching For The Bottom Line: Moving Beyond Talent

The legendary New York Yankee slugger Mickey Mantle put it succinctly: “I could never be a manager. All I have is natural ability.”

Could Mantle’s insight apply to some of the managers and supervisors in your organization, too?

When we talk to senior sales and service leaders, they tell us proudly how well their managers and supervisors are coaching and developing front-line representatives. But when we talk to the representatives themselves, we often hear a different story.

It turns out that what passes for “coaching” is – more often than not – just “evaluating.”

What’s the difference?

Evaluation is the process of measuring results against a standard. The focus is on reporting about past performance.

Coaching is the process of improving results by changing thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors. The focus is on changing future performance.

The distinction seems clear. So why are so many managers and supervisors just keeping score instead of getting into the game and actually helping their employees win?

Many Coaches Are Victims Of Their Own Talent

It turns out that in many sales and service organizations, the managers and supervisors are typically former representatives who were promoted because of their high performance. Like Mickey Mantle, many of these high performers are gifted with wonderful natural abilities. But they’ve never learned how to coach and develop other people – especially those who may not be blessed with the same innate gifts.

As a result, most managers and supervisors coach the same way that they were coached when they were front-line sales or service representatives. In practice, this means that they typically:

  • Evaluate rather than coach.
  • Do not look beyond the data to analyze the behaviors that are creating the data.
  • Treat all employees the same way instead of tailoring their coaching approach to each individual.
  • Do not gain their employees’ buy-in and commitment to change.
  • Over-utilize feedback as a coaching tool and underutilize other coaching techniques.

Focus On The Behaviors Behind The Numbers

Let’s consider just one typical situation – not looking beyond the data to understand the behaviors that are creating the data.

Call centers have an understandable focus on efficient performance. One typical measure of representative efficiency is Average Handle Time (AHT) – the average amount of time the representative spends on each call including both talk time and hold time. In most centers, the AHT measure also includes “wrap” time, the additional time required to update customer records or complete other related tasks after the call. Average Handle Time plays a key role in helping call centers staff appropriately to handle customer call volume.

Imagine that one of the representatives on your team has high Average Handle Time. How would you coach for improved performance?

Before you answer, consider just some of the possible scenarios that might account for the rep’s high AHT.

  1. The representative doesn’t understand Average Handling Time or why it’s important.
  2. The representative doesn’t know what is considered to be the standard of performance in terms of AHT.
  3. The representative doesn’t know how well she is doing relative to the standard.
  4. The representative spends too much time in unproductive chatting with her customers.
  5. The representative actually met the standard on most of her calls but had a few calls that were extremely long. These long calls had a big impact on her average.
  6. The representative can’t talk to the customer and input information at the same time. After the call ends she needs a lengthy wrap time to update the customer’s records.
  7. This rep generally ends up handling the difficult customer problems that were not resolved by other representatives.
  8. The representative doesn’t know how to quickly access appropriate reference information.
  9. This rep is a top seller and feels that the extra time she takes with her customers is the key to her success. Your company provides big incentives for top sellers, and there are no negative consequences for high AHT.
  10. In the past, this rep had very good AHT. But many other reps in the office have high AHT and there are no expectations for them to improve. This rep got tired of carrying more than her share of the load.

Clearly, your coaching approach would vary significantly depending on which scenario you encountered. But with so many possibilities, how do you determine your approach?

Numbers Are Just The Beginning

Performance data provide you and your coaching team with a great starting point – but only a starting point. Be sure all of your coaches take the time to investigate what’s behind the data before they start coaching for improvement.

One more thing. While you’re working with your coaches to improve their performance, remember to take some time for yourself. Take a few minutes to get away from the office, to clear your head, or to get some exercise. And remember these words from Mickey Mantle: “If I knew I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself.”

Coaching Tips

  • Make sure you coach before you evaluate.
  • Look beyond the data to analyze behaviors and find the root cause.
  • Tailor your coaching approach to each individual.

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