Coach’s Corner

Muriel Watkins

Helping Your Organizations Enhance Top Talent Performance

by Muriel Watkins

Marty, a regional sales leader, was one of the most successful sales managers in the company, beating all revenue goals consistently.  Recently promoted to lead the East Coast sales team, Marty moved from a direct selling role to one of oversight of a team of sales people.  The HR Director immediately started getting complaints that the sales team felt Marty wasn’t giving them the space to manage their accounts.  Fearful of a revenue decline in a key market, the HR Director and the division’s VP, met to discuss how to help Marty make a successful transition, particularly when Marty seemed unaware of the affect he was having on his team.

As HR leaders, this situation is likely to sound very familiar. You are often the internal coach to your business leaders.  You develop an expertise in, and are entrusted with, helping people develop and enhance their performance and the performance of their work teams.

One of the trickiest areas to coach on is when there are “blind spots,” developmental needs that a business leader is unaware of.  Because the individual is unaware, “blind spots” can block development and impede a business leader’s ability to successfully advance in his/her career.

Typically, a coaching approach in this scenario involves first identifying and then  making an individual aware about his or her areas for development.  Blind spots are usually related to specific behaviors or personal characteristics, rather than skills or knowledge gaps.

In my consulting experience, there are several themes that are consistent examples of the types of personal characteristics that may be perceived by others and are blind spots for leaders.  The list includes the following:

  • Poor relationships with other business leaders
  • Failing to build an effective team (often because of over-managing or lack of delegation)
  • Unable to think strategically
  • Unable to adapt to organizational change
  • Insensitive to others
  • Leadership style issues– overbearing, abrasive, intimidating, cold, aloof, arrogant
  • Not trusted
  • Seen as overly ambitious or political

Left unaddressed, these issues can derail an individual’s career. Because blind spots are behavioral and based upon the perceptions of others (as opposed to skills or knowledge-based), the use of an assessment instrument, such as a 360-degree feedback survey, can be an effective first step in gathering perspectives that put the spotlight on these “blind” areas for development.

Then, by structuring a series of coaching conversations, you can start to work with the coachee to dive more deeply into the assessment feedback to discover the key learnings and surprises in the feedback data.  Eventually, you want to create awareness and understanding, and gain commitment on a set of developmental activities that will allow the coachee to address those performance blind spots most relevant to the individual’s success.

Coaching is about skillfully leading people to their own solutions.  Ask open-ended questions that guide individual’s to their answers:

  • What do the comments offered as feedback suggest to you as areas of development?
  • What actions might you take to be responsive to these areas of feedback?
  • Can you understand why people have given you this feedback?
  • Think of specific examples that illustrate the points raised in your feedback.  What might you have done differently in those situations that would have created a different outcome?
  • What might be ways of adapting or broadening your style to reflect the changes you’d like to make?

You must have the patience and the perseverance to resist the urge to give your coachee their answers.  Allow your coachee to come up with their best actions.  Don’t deliver the developmental action plan as if you know better what they need to do.  This is your opportunity to unleash your coachee’s creative capacity for problem solving, which can be the richest and most rewarding outcome of your coaching relationship.

By developing strong rapport with the coachee, and building trust and confidence in the process, HR leaders can achieve the outcome desired, which is the enhancement of the performance of the top talent in your organizations.

These action steps were followed in Marty’s case, focusing on his team management abilities.  With the assistance of HR, Marty underwent a 360-assessment, soliciting feedback from his direct reports, peers and his manager.  Based on the feedback, the HR Director was able to help Marty recognize that he was over-managing his very competent team of sales people.  Further, the HR Director was able to help Marty understand that his over-management was a result of his years of direct selling responsibility, where his success was driven totally by his own efforts.  They were able to develop strategies to allow Marty to effectively work through others to achieve results. Marty is well on his way to being a coach and a developer of people.

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Muriel Watkins is Founder & President of MRW Consulting, an HR consulting organization that delivers solutions focused on building organizational and individual capability.  For further information, visit www.MRWConsulting.com