My first sales position entailed taking inbound phone calls from people wanting to set up new cable TV service. My job was to convince the new customer that, instead of “basic” cable, they really wanted/needed one of our packages that included premium channels, additional outlets and other extra services. Training consisted of two weeks in the classroom learning the products and software along with a few hours here and there listening to experienced reps take calls.
I finished the training class and was assigned to a cubicle. When it came to start taking calls, my supervisor plugged in and listened as I stumbled my way through the first three. As the third call ended, he unplugged his headset and said “Well, it looks like you’re good to go.” He walked away, leaving me to fend for myself. That was the extent of the coaching I received. The next time there was any discussion of my performance was during my annual evaluation – one year later.
Excuse #3: “I coached them last week/month/year.”
This excuse implies that coaching is an event; either a one-time occurrence or even a series of unrelated meetings that have to be spaced out over time. In fact, a lot of well-intentioned coaching programs support this belief. In order to provide structure and accountability to the coaching process, they advocate scheduling each coaching activity, allowing time in between for employees to practice and develop specific skills.
And, to a degree, this is true. When you dedicate time to teaching someone a new skill, it takes time for them to achieve mastery of the skill and still longer before the new behavior becomes a habit. Scheduling a specific time at some point in the future allows the employee to work on their technique and integrate the new skill or skills into their daily work style. But simply walking away until the next scheduled meeting rarely produces the desired results.
As I discussed in the first article of this series, very little of what’s discussed in a classroom training setting ever makes it into real-life practice. A number of factors contribute to this:
• Too much information was presented, so only bits and pieces are retained.
• Information focused more on theory than practical application, so the employee isn’t sure how to modify their behavior.
• The employee isn’t motivated to actually change their behavior.
• Once the employee returns to their normal work environment, they see no evidence that they are actually expected to change.
The point I’m trying to make here is that coaching is a process, not an event. As in sports, a good business coach understands that in order for the team and the individual players to perform at their best, constant coaching is required. And a variety of coaching methods, both structured and unstructured, scheduled and unscheduled, will be used.
Since we’re in the midst of March Madness, allow me to use a basketball example to illustrate. Let’s say a basketball coach wants to integrate a new offensive set into his team’s game. He’ll use a variety of tactics to accomplish this. Possible structured/scheduled coaching methods are listed here along with some unstructured methods [added in brackets afterward].
• In a meeting, the coach will explain how the set works. He’ll detail under what circumstances it makes sense and why it’s so effective. He’ll use diagrams and film of other teams to clarify expectations so that everyone can see clearly what is supposed to happen. [During and following the meeting, the coaching staff will check for understanding by periodically checking with each player to ask questions and reiterate their particular role in the new play.]
• The coach will devote specific blocks of time to practicing the new concept on the floor. He starts by walking through the movement of the ball and how each player should position themselves as the set unfolds. The team will repeat this over and over until they understand what’s required. [Members of the coaching staff will observe how the players move, provide reinforcement, and where necessary pull a player aside for individual attention. They’ll model the desired behavior, have the player practice it and then observe them as they reenter the larger group.]
• The coach will then bring in a defensive squad. This allows the team to practice the play in a slightly more realistic scenario. This will be repeated several times. [Play will start and stop as the coaches observe small tweaks that need to be made. The tempo will gradually increase so that the behavior can be practiced in increasingly game-like scenarios.]
• The new offensive strategy will then be incorporated into a full-blown scrimmage game. The new set will be mixed in with established plays so the team can get used to switching tactics as needed. [Like a dress-rehearsal, this full-blown role play will test to see how well individual players can modify their behavior on the fly. Play doesn’t stop in order to address issues. Coaching takes place in real time. By now the team will have demonstrated an understanding of what’s required and spot coaching and reinforcement takes the place of heavy coach involvement.]
• Finally, the new concepts will be implemented in the midst of an actual game against another team. Once the coach feels his players have grasped the concept to the extent that they can demonstrate the desired behavior repeatedly and consistently, he’s ready to unleash it on the other team. [Even as the game is taking place, the staff is actively engaged in coaching. Players are applauded for demonstrating their new competencies. Others are pulled to the side, or even off the floor, to receive corrective coaching after a missed opportunity. Timeouts are utilized to reinforce the need to properly execute the new skills.]
I hope you see the importance of viewing coaching as an ongoing process rather than a periodic activity. There is a definite need for a system of scheduled, well-structured coaching sessions. But it’s just as important to take advantage of the unscheduled, in-the-moment opportunities to restate expectations, provide positive reinforcement and correct undesirable behavior. Top coaches know that their number one job is the development of the individuals on their team. They never stop coaching.