A HR Director in an international company was asked by a divisional Director to help improve the performance of one of his Account Teams. The HR Director decided that external coaching could be the answer as it had been successful in an organisation she was familiar with, and she was aware that her company were thinking about introducing a coaching culture. Being an early adopter could bring her kudos within her function.
Whilst delighted to be asked to help, being asked by the client (the Account Director) would perhaps have been preferable. It became apparent that the Account Director had been told that his team’s performance was unacceptable and that he had to work with a performance coach to “sort themselves out.” The core Account Team was made up of 3 full-time people and around 8 other part-time staff representing some 2.5 Full-Time Equivalents (FTE). These 5.5 FTE’s were responsible for a Major Account that had generated £150,000 of Gross Margin in the previous year – far less than their pay cost.
A series of 6 coaching sessions for the Account Director and an initial 2 sessions for all the team was agreed with the HR Director. A clear “coaching contract” was agreed with the HR Director that made clear that the prime responsibility of the coach was to the Account Director. How progress would be communicated to the HR Director was also agreed, as was how communications with the divisional Director would be handled.
The initial session with the Account Director was used to establish relationships between the coach and the Account Director, and to agree a “coaching contract” between the two. The Account Director was concerned that the work with the coach was the first stage of a performance management process that could see him leave the company only 6 months after joining. He explained how and why he had joined the company and outlined what had happened to him since joining. He said the person who had recruited him had really impressed him. Unfortunately, she had not told him the entire truth about the Account he was to manage (he did not understand before joining that the Account was unprofitable.) On top of this the person he was recruited by moved to another role in a completely different part of the company two months after he joined. He now had a new boss who he had met in company about five times, and individually once for 10 minutes.
Performance coaching is personal and always confidential. 5 coaching sessions of approximately 75 minutes each were undertaken over the space of 3 months with the Account Director. This case study will not outline the contents of the coaching sessions. However, the sessions did not cover ground that one might expect to be covered to achieve a major turnaround in account profitability. The coaching did not address account planning, or generating new leads, or closing existing leads, or any of the technical aspects of selling and relationship management. The coaching responded to what the Account Director needed right then, and enabled the Account Director to connect with the resources available to him.
2 sessions were held with the whole Account Team in the third month. The two team sessions were led by the Account Director, following preparation with the coach. It was important that the responsibility the Account Director had for team leadership was supported by the team sessions, not undermined by the involvement of the coach. Again, a “coaching contract” was agreed with the team so the role of the coach in the team context was clear, and the accountabilities of all were also clear.
One more coaching session took place with the Account Director about 3 months later.
- Gross Margin for the Account was doubled to £300,000 in the financial year in which the coaching took place – in effect making the Account about break-even. This was viewed as good progress because the sales cycle was between 6 and 18months long.
- Gross Margin in the second financial year for the Account was £1,500,000 – a ten-fold increase over the initial £150,000.
- The Account Director was invited to become one of the team of internal performance coaches that the company was introducing, training and supporting under the sponsorship of the CEO. The Account Director’s profile in the company was enhanced.
- The Account Director was really happy, and was pleased with his Sales Incentive Plan results, and his newly-bought house!
- His Account became one of the Accounts that people in the company wanted to work on, making it easier for him to deploy some of the best people in the company for his customers.
- Make sure you agree clear “coaching contracts” when using external coaches. This isn’t a written legal document; it is a conversation and a clear agreement between you and the coach. A good coach will have a well-developed process for establishing this clear agreement.
- Allow your external coach to contract with the client directly. Trust between a coach and a client is absolutely key. In this case, the Account Director feared that the coach could be part of a process that would lead to his dismissal and was somewhat suspicious of the motives of the coach at the beginning. This fear was allayed by the understanding that the coach’s paramount accountability was to him.
- Allowing your external coach to contract directly with the client requires a degree of trust on your part. In order to trust the coach, take time to understand them, their coaching philosophy and motivations, and their experience. Also find out about their qualifications, and their adherence to the standards of professional bodies such as the Association for Coaching, The European Mentoring and Coaching Council, and the International Coach Federation.
- Ask the coach about their Continuous Personal Development and find out about the breadth of their coaching. Some coaches have a particular tool or technique or process that they use. If this is all they have they will be effective in situations where their tool is appropriate, but may struggle in other situations. The analogy is that you make everything look like a nail if you only have a hammer!
See also www.dancewiththeelephants.com