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How to get your coaching culture correct

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1st Oct 2014
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Organisations that build a successful coaching culture will help drive high performance throughout the business, says Graham Scrivener 

It may not come as too much of a surprise to know that in a recent global survey, conducted by Forum EMEA in association with The Sales Management Association, coaching was rated as having the greatest impact on overall sales performance compared to other activities such as salesperson training, new customer acquisition and cross-selling/up-selling. Over the last 40 years or so, various studies have shown a link between coaching and improved levels of motivation and engagement, which in turn drives performance.

However, what did interestingly emerge from the research - entitled 'Measuring Sales Management's Coaching Impact' - was the amount of companies that struggle to build a coaching culture, despite knowing the importance it has on the business bottom line. In fact, the research showed that high-performing companies coach 15% - 20% more than low-performing organisations.

Out of the 200 companies interviewed, representing over 500,000 sales professionals worldwide, a quarter of managers including sales managers and other non-sales roles like HR, do not personally coach their sales people. Yet teams that are coached directly by their managers tend to be higher performers.

The most popular excuses for not coaching directly were, they were too busy, they didn't know how to coach, they were not expected to coach or held accountable for coaching.

Those that do coach are doing it with little structure or purpose and, therefore, with little effect. They do it only when they have to, for instance if someone requests it, or is performing poorly, or when there's a new joiner, rather than as a proactive part of their daily management routine with pre-defined objectives, which are designed to develop the whole team.

Support and guidance

Overall, we found that managers need better coaching support and guidance from their organisation. But coaching that drives real performance improvement throughout the business, both in the short and long-term, isn't just about teaching managers a few fundamental coaching skills. It's about building a strong coaching culture which starts at the top of the organisation and filters down through every level of leadership with managers held accountable for their coaching success. It's a culture which learning and development can initiate, build and drive but which needs executive endorsement to succeed.

Compare, for example, a high-performing organisation to a low-achieving one. We found from our research that the most compelling differences between the two types of organisations was in the way managers were asked to administer coaching directly to their sales team. In highly productive companies, executive leadership promotes sales coaching, managers are coached as well as sales people, coaches are trained to coach, and coaching effectiveness is part of a manager's appraisal and promotion criteria. In summary, coaching is a fundamental requirement of being a leader and not a bolt on, 'if you have time', element to the role.

Managers in high-performing organisations make coaching a strategic element of their daily management intervention with the sales team. They don't just wait until there's a problem or situation where it's required. Nor do they just base it around informal feedback or on winning specific opportunities close to hand. They continuously coach the entire team as part of a long-term plan to elevate and sustain performance across all sales people and not just to bring poor performance back to acceptable levels.

Establishing a coaching programme which emulates that of a high-performance organisation may sound relatively straightforward. However, the sticking point for many learning and development professionals is getting executive leaders and stakeholder buy-in in the first place and then retaining their support, in order to build and sustain a strong coaching culture which lends managers the right skills and tools to coach effectively.

Share best practice

The best way is to treat coaching like other mission-critical sales change initiatives. Establish measures of success, provide appropriate training and track performance so leaders and other key stakeholders will buy into the coaching programme. Use high performance teams as good case study examples to share best practice and to sell success across the organisation.

Then, when rolling out the coaching programme, ensure baseline expectations are established. Check that managers have a clear understanding of what sales coaching is, its relevance to other performance management activities, how it impacts the business and what the company expects from its coaches and those that are coached. This will establish a clear link between coaching and performance, which will help buy-in support from management as well as ensure any coaching stays within the company's coaching culture parameters.

It's also important to ensure that senior leaders 'walk the talk' and lead by example, as this will help garner coaching support at all levels. Senior leaders should be clear of their role in providing coaching to managers, who in turn are expected to coach their sales teams. Therefore, in any coaching programme for all leaders, learning and development should include: manager training, formal coaching objectives, and appraisals of coaching effectiveness.

Finally, continuously monitor and measure to ensure that managers are aligning coaching to specific behaviours, competencies, and performance objectives required to meet the organsation's long-term goals. Managers are best to prioritise competencies considered essential to each sales role such as, for example, sales pitching and presenting, as well as focus on activities further upstream like pursuit strategies and qualifying opportunities to show how these skills tie with the long-term vision of the business.

Once you can demonstrate the link between coaching, improved performance and meeting the goals of the organisation, then harnessing senior leadership buy-in and stakeholder support will be much easier, and from there, so too will be building a culture where coaching will thrive along with its people.

Graham Scrivener is managing director of Forum EMEAa recognised global leader in linking learning to strategic business objectives. Follow them on Twitter or connect on LinkedInClick here to download Forum's infographic on The Business Impact of Sales Coaching. To listen to a replay of Forum's webinar, Sales Coaching Best Practices, click here.

Methodology

Forum and The Sales Management Association conducted their Sales Management Coaching global survey between March and May 2014. It was conducted among sales people, leaders and support across 200 companies in EMEA, APAC and USA. Firms were predominately large in size. 38% of respondents’ firms have annual revenue in excess of US$1 billion; 70% of respondent firms have annual revenues in excess of US$25 million. 14% of respondents work in a direct sales management role (i.e. managing salespeople). 33% work in sales operations leadership, and another 24% as senior sales leaders (i.e., managing sales managers). Other respondents included managers from non-sales functions (including marketing, operations, and human resources; 21%), and salespeople (7%).

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