Where do you look for and uncover that ‘perfect’ coaching moment? How do you recognize where your direct reports need coaching and could benefit from the coaching most?
Actually, uncovering what you can coach someone on, from a tactical perspective, is actually the easy part. Managers are pretty good at recognizing problems, needed strategies and desired outcomes. However, it’s uncovering the why (the real source of the issue) and the who or the often very elusive and limiting thinking, assumptions or outlook people have which is ultimately preceding and driving their actions and behavior that is the tricky part and why many of the strategies and answers managers share either do not work or work well enough to become the long term solution. (If you’ve ever found yourself delivering ‘repetitive coaching’ or having the same conversation with your direct reports, that’s a sign that you haven’t gotten to the actual source of the issue or you’re spending your time on the wrong issue, digging in the wrong hole with no treasure to be found.)
Demonstrating this ability to get to the core of the right issue that leads to measurable and positive change is a true testament of an exceptional coach. The good news is, you can learn how to more precisely uncover those exceptional opportunities to deliver timely, relevant and powerful coaching. Here are some ideas that will guide you on the path to do so.
Regardless of the topic, skill, problem or mindset you’ve identified as a possible focal point in your coaching, there is one factor that’s always applicable in every coaching scenario. It also happens to be the very thing each coaching opportunity has in common. That is – The Gap.
The Gap is the space that exists between where the person is today and where they want or need to be or what is possible for them to achieve. It’s the void that exists between the person and their goal or solution; and where the coaching opportunity will evolve from that they often cannot see on their own. As a coach, it’s your responsibility to identify and fill in this Gap. The question is, how, exactly, do you accurately uncover this Gap?
There are three primary ways you can identify the Gap.
- Through Observation. It’s essential that every manager takes the time to observe their direct reports in the field or on the phone, presenting or interacting with their customers and prospects. This is one of the most essential activities any manager can engage in. Otherwise, you run the risk of relying solely on what you hear from your salespeople and while it may be a truth, it’s only a subjective or partial truth or piece of the puzzle based what they see solely through their eyes. Like a great sport coach on the sidelines, observation will help identify the ‘blind spots’ that every salesperson has in order to get a full panoramic view of the most objective truth and what is really going on. After all, it’s very difficult to self diagnose when you’re in the middle of the game.
- Through Conversation. Whether on the telephone or face to face, regardless if this happens during normal conversation or a scheduled coaching session, the Gap can also be identified in every interaction you have. Creating the safe space that allows people the time to process their thoughts, challenges and feelings on their own encourages a deeper level of self awareness which fosters more accurate self diagnosis and strengthens their problem solving skills. While certain strategic opportunities, skill gaps, assumptions or misconceptions can be identified, keep in mind; any great coaching must be complemented with observation so that you have the first hand evidence of what is really going on without relying solely on one source – the person you are coaching.
- Through Evaluation and Inspection: While many managers hide behind and rely too heavily on diagnosing problems through inspection and the analysis of reports, spreadsheets and data, it is ironically often the least effective of these three strategies managers count on to uncover the Gap. Even conducting peer to peer or customer interviews to gain further insight about your direct report, while immensely valuable, still only provide you with a portion of the story. However, when used in conjunction with the other two strategies, this becomes another useful complimentary component to identify where certain activities, results and skills may be lacking. Keep in mind, data only shows you what is going on and can also be subjective. It doesn’t tell you why it’s happening. As such, observation and coaching conversations must also be leveraged to get the full story, rather than a small portion of the story to uncover the specific areas you can coach someone on. Remember, you are, first and foremost a people manager, not a data manager.
Instead of sharing what you perceive to be the solution to a problem before understanding the person’s specific needs, challenge or root cause of an issue, rely on deeper questions to assist in recognizing the Gap in every coaching conversation or situation with your staff. Whether the Gap is identified by you or the person you’re coaching, this will elevate your awareness so that you can pinpoint what is really going on with laser-like accuracy.
Any great coach realizes there’s not just one ‘right answer’ when coaching or only one way to uncover a powerful coaching moment. Leveraging these three distinct approaches will ensure that you are precisely coaching to the relevant Gap. Moreover, it will demonstrate the importance of investing the proper time to uncover a meaningful coaching opportunity rather than one that is hollow, inaccurate and ineffective. Improving your accuracy in uncovering the proper Gap to coach on will facilitate the changes in behavior that will lead to improved performance – and masterful coaching.