Coaching rules of peak performance

September 1, 2001
Orlando Ceaser
Orlando Ceaser

Orlando Ceaser is president & CEO of Watchwell Communications. He was formerly the senior director of diversity for AstraZeneca. He is the author most recently of “The Isle of Knowledge.”

Pharmaceutical Representative

The aim of coaching is to improve performance and minimize the difference between expectations and the results delivered. Coaching should develop each employee into a peak performer, or at least to his or her maximum potential. We know that growth will follow the proper amount of support, positive stimulation and personal initiative. Many coaching models instruct managers in proper coaching techniques and etiquette, and the successful ones can be easily assimilated. One way to ensure retention is to attach the coaching principles and vocabulary to activities reinforced by daily events.

The aim of coaching is to improve performance and minimize the difference between expectations and the results delivered. Coaching should develop each employee into a peak performer, or at least to his or her maximum potential. We know that growth will follow the proper amount of support, positive stimulation and personal initiative. Many coaching models instruct managers in proper coaching techniques and etiquette, and the successful ones can be easily assimilated. One way to ensure retention is to attach the coaching principles and vocabulary to activities reinforced by daily events.

Location

During the coaching interchange, the employee must be receptive to the message. The environment should be conducive to a productive discussion. This can be accomplished by sensitively selecting the setting, whether it is a meeting room, restaurant, office or automobile. Comfort and privacy must be ensured, and the environment should be non-threatening.

Planning

Most coaching opportunities occur immediately after a sales call or presentation. This can cut into your preparation time. You may consider taking notes in a small notebook, daily planner or coaching form. The sight of a manager taking notes sometimes causes uneasiness. You can initiate discussions about your note-taking or wait until asked. I would usually say something like, "You will notice that I take notes. I write comments similar to the ones you would type in your computer. I may also write down ideas that come to mind that are not related to your sales call. Thirdly, I may write personal notes to myself, such as 'pick up eggs and bread before going home.'" People usually get comfortable with the note-taking. I show them my notes after our discussion if they are really curious. Coaches should have nothing to hide.

You must prepare the angle you wish to pursue. Usually, there are many observable behaviors that could be the focus of the coaching session; however, it is best to prioritize and settle on a few. Keep a list of the others, because they may be important in addressing trends in a certain behavior.

Mental rehearsal

No one really likes to be evaluated, so expect some tension. Think of the areas you would like to coach and how you might bring them up in the discussion. Anticipate the employee's response and the flow of the session. How will you handle surprise, anger or other emotions? How will you keep matters focused on tangible examples? Practice these coaching scenarios mentally to improve your ability to handle any circumstances.

Employees should feel that you are there to help them rather than to hinder their development. Your goal is to make them self-sufficient. Total self-sufficiency is like perfection; it is never reached, but you can get close to the mark.

The state departments of transportation publish rules of the road to direct motorist behavior. This concept can be adapted to serve as a coaching model. Coaching to improve performance should be demonstrated in easy-to-remember techniques.

Speed limits

Many presentations are too fast for the conditions of the discussion. The presenter may be nervous. The pacing is rapid and the customer may not have a chance to ask a question or state a point of view. The customer may not be ready to receive the message. The conditions of the sales call may not be ideal because of distractions or lack of interest on the part of the customer. Other points that may illustrate or cause excessive speed in a sales call include:


•Â Ability to listen to customer questions (intent).


•Â Perception of concern for the customer.


•Â Missing buying signals or visual cues of interest or dissatisfaction.

Speed can be addressed by not only mentioning that the representative talked too fast, but showing them the impact: Did the customer ask any questions? Did you see the pensive look on his or her face? Why was that?

Traffic signals

This traffic light model can be used to remember which representative behaviors should be encouraged or discouraged. Actions performed during a presentation can be separated into three groups: Actions that are a go, those that should be delivered with caution, and those that should be modified or stopped.

Green light (go). Actions performed during a sales presentation that went well get the green light. There are several ways to begin the discussion on the "go" areas. You may ask the employee to identify what was good in his or her presentation and find out why he or she chose those techniques. You should ensure that the representative is thinking at all times, so any action must be thought out. In other words, you need to minimize random acts. The goal is to anticipate and reproduce the good techniques. If a representative has difficulty identifying the "go" items, help show him or her what they were.

Yellow light (caution). A sales presentation may contain some actions that should be viewed with caution - these are the yellow situations and may include:


•Â Giving incomplete answers to questions.


•Â Failing to use enough information to prove the message (such as brochures, support documents).


•Â Spending too much time on items the customer doesn't care about.


•Â Failing to fully develop the message.


•Â Not taking advantage of the customer's comments to sell him or her on the product.

This is not an exhaustive list, and it can be supplemented by discussions with your sales team. Keep in mind that yellow items may not exist in each presentation.

Red light (stop). The third category represents behaviors that should be modified or stopped. These non-negotiable actions must be halted because they could damage the company and the salesperson's reputation and credibility. A coach must not tolerate:


• Shabby appearance or lack of manners.


•Â Lack of preparation for the sales call.


•Â Illegal or immoral actions.


•Â False or misleading information.


•Â Violations of guidelines or industry practices.


•Â Failure to use courtesy and professionalism when dealing with customers and their personnel.

Coaching sequence

The order of discussion of these signals should be green, yellow, red and green. The first green emphasizes the things the representative did well. The yellow shows things to consider changing before they cause problems. The red represents items to modify or stop. The second green covers a summary of the actions the representative should take. This order helps to initiate and complete the coaching loop.

The goal of coaching is to guide employees to see what improvement looks like through the eyes of the coach. Since you may not be present most of the time, the goal is for them to become excellent self-coaches. This will extend your effectiveness. I once saw a cartoon that featured a salesperson with a life-sized cardboard cut-out of a manager. The caption read, "My manager says I always work better when he's around." This could be a side benefit of developing excellent self-coaches.

Coaching is a skill that can be developed to an art form. There are many coaching models, but it is important to use different techniques to communicate your observations. Coaches must evolve their approaches to communicate the message of growth and reach higher expectations and peak performance. PR

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