the “big daddy” of coaching

Sean Spurgin

Imagine for a moment a place where performance is high, people are happy, conflict is reduced, trust is high, people are growing, they feel they contribute and their work has meaning. Where people feel empowered to do the right thing, customers love what they do and business results look healthy.

Sounds great doesn’t it and it’s achievable.

If this is the sort of place you want to work in then read on, It takes effort, practise and resilience to achieve it, but the payback is huge and worthwhile.

Coaching has a horrible reputation.

There is a vast industry out there, with everything from books, conferences, blogs and online courses, which promise to turn you into the “master coach.”

This is all well and good if you have the money and time to burn. For your average, newly-minted first line manager with limited life experience and an inbox larger than their one-bedroom flat, becoming a “master coach” is a distant dream – not to mention entirely unnecessary. The one thing we don’t need in the business world is more ‘managers’ with a big aggressive M. The world needs fewer scorers, processors, feedbackers, demanders, commanders, controllers, critiques, short-term thinkers or empire-building protectionists.

What it needs is more experts – experts who can engage, motivate, energise, praise, thank and generally turn the lowest performing team into the highest performing team within the business. What we do need is a whole phalanx of people who are brilliant at encouraging, stimulating, invigorating, tickling, inspiring and otherwise nudging their people to keep making it human every day in small and concrete ways.

It is this stuff that turns the dial, shifts the needle and delivers an ROI.

It’s this stuff that helps create a lasting culture where people want to show up, are happy, are engaged, productive and are effective, and guess what? The only cost is time.

Many coaches will tell you the answer lies within the person being coached and they just need a bit of help and a few smart questions to root it out. But customer experience and sales are – brace yourself – a skill. If you don’t know how to do it – and we’re talking science-backed behaviours and mindsets here – you will not magically be able to find the answer within yourself. If you are coaching effectively, you MUST know what brilliant customer experience and selling looks like, sounds like and feels like.  If you don’t, then you simply haven’t got a “cat in hell’s” chance of being able to coach someone else.

Think about it, if you’re going to hire a tennis coach, you will want to hire someone who can actually play tennis well.

‘You don’t know what you don’t know’ 

In my experience organisations are full of coaches who are well trained technically, however, their emphasis is entirely on asking open questions, with a view to helping the individual to find the answer within themselves. The thing is, if you don’t know how to achieve the skill required, then how are you going to find it within you? Someone has to help you. Great coaches are people who know what good looks like and can get certain behaviours to appear in other people. Too many managers we observe and simply tell their team member what the results are, what the shortfall against the target is, then say ‘get more to-day!’ They don’t actually explain to them how!

The best skills coaches work with their team member to ensure they know how to improve. They focus on Skills Coaching, which closes the performance gap and addresses the ‘how’. If I were to say to a frontline person, ‘ask better questions’, the chances they just look back in confusion thinking, ‘How the hell do I do that!’, are fairly high. A great coach will work with that individual on ‘how’ to ask better questions, ensuring they know how to use that skill within the context of their job role.

Question:  What is the answer to skills coaching?

Answer: ESP – Explore, Show and Practise 

ESP is the “big daddy” of coaching techniques, and it goes like this.

Pick a skill or mindset you want to explore. Now ask the person you are with, what do they already know about it and how they would rate their current ability. Then show them how to do it through real play by taking their part and they play the role of the customer. Demonstrate what good sounds like and let them hear the difference.

Finally, switch the roles with you then playing the customer and they play themselves.

Why is ESP so important?

If the ultimate goal of your coaching is to make the customer conversations within your organisation feel more present, human and connected, then you need to have some real conversations. Do you want your people to get better at something? Then you need to help them hear and feel what better looks like in practice. Once you have pinpointed the specific skill required, focus on exploring what your coach already knows. It is pointless telling them things they already know, so explore what they know already by asking questions! Your job is to close the knowing/doing gap (if they already know what to do, but are just not doing it).

Show them how to do it.

Don’t be shy, demonstrate what good looks like with real playUsually, if you mention the words “role or real play”, people tend to come out in cold sweats, as It somehow makes them think of traumatic times in their school drama class. So, don’t mention role play. Talk about practising instead. Make it quick and easy for them and practise it all the time. Be casual yet upbeat about it and just make sure that you are coaching well by getting your people to speak instead of making them just sit and listen to you. Try being the frontline person and let them play the customer, or go on the phones and serve a customer. Do their job well whilst they observe. By building your own credibility, you prove to them that the skills solution you are suggesting really works.

Make sure you practise alongside them. This time you be the customer and let them play themselves. Make it safe for them to try out new things, make mistakes, get it wrong and improve. Make it fun not scary.

Ultimately, they need to perfect their new skill with you, not with a live customer, and when they are ready let them try out the skill with a customer and listen in so you can give them encouragement and praise (and assess how much more support they will need from you). Many managers (and team members) dread coaching sessions as it is perceived to take up precious time, which they could best spend doing some “actual work, however, a conversation which makes a tangible difference to performance doesn’t have to take an hour.

In fact, the likelihood of having a good return on the effort expended is likely to decrease the longer the session takes. So, the best non-coaching sessions are usually the shortest as they have a much higher ROE (return on the energy)

Go on give it a go!

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