Are you coaching your employees adequately? Most managers would answer yes. In one survey, 93% were under the impression they were coming in at around three hours of coaching per rep every month. But if you ask the employees of those managers, only about 44% would actually agree. Yikes. So what does coaching really mean, and how do you know you’re doing it right?

Who to Coach

Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson of the Sales and Service Practice admit that data shows “both managers coaching tendencies, and companies response[s], are misguided.” Most managers tend to focus on what Dixon and Adamson refer to as the “tails.” The tails are the lowest and highest performers.

While in theory, this seems like a reasonable approach, the truth is that focusing on coaching the tails on your team doesn’t make much headway. Meanwhile, the response of balancing the attention to the tails with more egalitarian methods leads to developing “elaborate systems” that can make the coaching process unnecessarily complex.

Dixon and Adamson advise “the real payoff from good coaching” comes from the middle 60%. They found that in this group, quality coaching can improve performance by as much as 19%. While this doesn’t mean you should neglect the tails of your team entirely, this data exemplifies the impact that coaching can have when it is done well.

Quality coaching not only makes for more confident employees but also results in practical benefits for business that come from enhanced performance. The bottom line is most managers coach, but fewer coach well.

How to Coach

Coaching is definitely a significant and strategic business practice. So what strategy is best? Different industries may use specific methods, but overall the proactive approach to coaching is often the most effective. Proactive coaching is more than just working with reps when you notice their performance is slipping; it’s about making sure reps don’t get to that point in the first place.

Proactive coaching is in contrast with reactive coaching, which is what most of us are used to. In an article for InsightSquared, Gareth Goh describes coaching using the metaphor of fire-fighting. The firefighter puts fires out as they come up, just as reactive coaching deals with issues when they arise.

Conversely, the fire prevention specialist does all that they can to instill the best practices so that the firefighter doesn’t have to show up in the first place. That image is analogous to proactive coaching.

When you resort to reactive coaching, you put your company at risk. Lack of formal structure or pattern means that any lessons you think you’re imparting most likely won’t actually be reinforced. This results in even more coaching or training becoming necessary to compensate for the knowledge or experience that wasn’t instilled in the first place.

Proactive coaching is a strategy that involves an organized plan, including aspects such as regular performance reviews, pre-determined coaching sessions, and specific coaching topics. Consistency in coaching, just like consistency taking care of your smoke detectors, means that you’re less likely to deal with an emergency later down the line. Consequently, proactive coaching enables reps to solve their own problems, “making for a more effective and efficient work process all around.”

For example, you can use a tool such as Prodoscore to track your reps daily productivity and work habits. Instead of waiting until the end of the quarter when sales are down, you can see which reps are struggling currently compared to the rest of the team and then make adjustments.

For example, if a sales rep isn’t getting much done in the morning the manager can talk to the rep and have them focus on their simple tasks first thing while they’re sleepy and easily distracted. By changing the rep’s routine, they can keep up their productivity and sales numbers.

The caveat here is that not every problem can be aided by coaching. There will always be those who just aren’t a good fit for their current position, though that is not always the case. In fact, it’s less likely to be the case if you’re coaching proactively.

Proactive coaching isn’t done in a countable number of hours per week. It’s an ongoing series of practices that is part of your commitment to the cultivation of a productive, healthy workplace. As Dixon and Adamson’s research demonstrates, proactive coaching is more than being on the look-out for outstanding numbers.

Essentially, proactive coaching involves a personalized, subjective approach to objective metrics. Coaching is directed at reps not as a result of their metrics, but in anticipation of improving their metrics and reducing the chances of a problem.

Go Team!

Take a look at the data, but don’t let it rule. You get to decide how you utilize those metrics to proactively coach your team.

Learning to coach proactively is a serious commitment in which the entire team should be involved, but in return, proactive coaching benefits your team’s results and morale. Take advantage of the metrics by using the opportunity to coach your reps equally--not in the sense of time, but in a personalized, proactive approach.