Thursday, April 18, 2013

Coaching vs. Managing

You wouldn't expect to see a football coach stop an important game to run out onto the field and teach a lineman how to block. It never happens because the time for
coaching is during the week, before the game. During the game, there is no time; everyone is under pressure and emotions are running high.

Sound familiar? That is how we often manage our staff. When everyone is busy and the office is chaotic, we are tempted to micromanage the situation. Like a coach interrupting a game to run onto the field. There is a better way.

By coaching instead of managing, we can help the individuals on our team to improve their performance. It is the athlete on the field who has to perform, not the coach. And regardless of talent or experience, the athlete can always improve.
In "Coaching Conversation", author, Brian Souza suggests we schedule 15 minutes a week with each employee for an informal conversation to ask the following questions:

    - What were you accountable for getting done last week and how did it go?
    - What are you focused on this week?
    - How can I (as your the coach) help you?

Unlike annual or quarterly reviews, weekly coaching sessions provide timely feedback. These casual conversations allow your team members to make adjustments, experience growth and build a relationship of trust. Staff members who are reluctant to speak up in a group setting feel more comfortable to open up and honestly express themselves during these one-on-one conversations. Keep notes on the topics you discuss. Then if something comes to mind during the week, write it down and mention it at the next meeting instead of interrupting their daily work flow.
By coaching on a weekly basis, issues are addressed and real progress is made in your business.

Five Year Plan

One Saturday afternoon, I was sitting on our front porch thinking about a five-year plan for our business. At the time, we had four teenagers at home so I started to wonder where they might be in five years. The first thing that came to mind was, "They don't know how to cook!" They will be out on their own but won't know how to prepare a meal.

My wife and I decided to test them. We gave each of them $20 to buy, prepare and serve a meal for our family. They would be allowed to keep the change. I really expected our son to buy a box of Cheerios and pocket the change; but he didn't. Each week, one of the kids would prepare their meal for the rest of us. They all did a great job and were very proud of their accomplishment. Apparently, they already knew how to cook from watching and working with their mother over the years. Fathers always seem to be the last to know.

In the same way, we need to consider where our business will be in five years. With your company in mind, write each employee's age on a piece of paper and then add five years to it. You may be surprised. I was.  Now is the time to start planning for replacements so that your future employees will be in the pipeline and ready to go to work when the need arises. Do I need to point out that you will be five years older too? Now is the time to start planning.


When you have a problem in your business, who can you tell? You can't tell your banker because he will call in the loans. You can't tell your customers, because they will think you are in trouble. And you can't tell your wife because heaven knows, she has heard it all before. So, who can you turn to? A business coach.

A business coach will listen to your problem without the emotion that often blinds us to the reality of the situation. They are able to direct you to take a step back and see your situation from a different point of view. They are able to identify areas in which you need improvement; usually something that your wife has been trying to tell you for years. But for some reason, it sounds better coming from someone else.  

A business coach is not just for wealthy superstars. A coach will meet with you on a regular basis, assign projects that will stretch you and help you discover strategies to overcome the limitations that we place on ourselves. Your business will be change as you begin to change. Your coach will make you accountable. Oh, no. Not that. But if you are ready to break out of your fears and begin to live the life you were meant to live, find a coach and move yourself and your business forward, one yard at a time.

A Trusted Advisor

When our company was making plans to install several 18,000 gallon propane storage tanks in the late 70's, my wife asked, "What do you think the neighbors will say?" Because she was not directly involved in the business, I politely ignored her question. When the tanks were finally delivered to the site, we were suddenly engulfed in a great deal of opposition. It became a big story in the local newspapers and on TV. We were sued by our neighbors which started a grueling six year court process. The public was divided into three groups: those who supported us, those who didn't care and those who felt that we were getting what we deserved. It was a strain on all of us. We eventually won the court case as well as the appeal.

At one point during this arduous process, I asked my wife, "Didn't you say something when we first started, about how the neighbors might react?" She just smiled sympathetically. Listening to your wife's cautions is a critical part of making  wise business decisions. And it is a subject that you may never hear about in any business curriculum.

If this had been the only time that I had ignored my wife's cautions, I might have thought it was just a lucky guess on her part. But, time after time, I have gotten what I thought were brilliant ideas, ignored her warnings and found myself in some sort of trouble. This pattern has also been repeated by others that I have known.  
They usually have no idea why some of their projects have failed.

Another time, my wife and I met a local businessman at a social event. On the way home, she said, "I don't trust him". He seemed harmless enough but several months later, it became apparent that she had been right. So now, I keep a respectful distance from him.

So, before you make that next major business decision, be sure to run it by your most trusted advisor.

The 80/20 Rule

When we plotted our propane sales on an Excel spreadsheet a few years ago, we were very surprised at what we discovered: 85% of our business was home heating and 15% was everything else. The "everything else" included temporary construction heat, a small amount of forklift cylinder delivery, some single small appliance use (stove or dryer) and various other applications. It was Pareto's 80/20 Rule almost to the letter.

It became obvious that our home heating accounts were our ideal customers. A very small segment of our business activity was taking more than 80% of our time and resources. When I mentioned this revelation to the delivery guys, they were already aware of it. (I guess I was destined for management.)

We decided to concentrate on the 85% that yielded the best return and began to eliminate the 15%. When we started in this new direction, the other people in the office thought I was crazy. And for a time, I thought they might be right.

Several things happened as a result. Our labor costs dropped because we were no longer getting phone orders at the last minute for temporary heating deliveries or other low margin activities that only made us look busy.  Profitability went up and the stress level in the office dropped dramatically because the business that we were now focusing on could be planned ahead of time. 

Even though your market mix is probably different from ours, the principle remains the same. Determine your ideal customer and focus on them for your best return on investment.  

Follow Your Own Recipe

My wife's grandmother used to cut off the ends of a ham before putting it in the oven. This went on for years. As a result, everyone in our family prepared hams the same way. After Grandma passed away, my wife became curious and wondered what the secret was to cutting the ends off before baking. When she asked her aunt, she replied, "Her pan was too small so she had to cut the ends off to fit in the pan."

Those of us in business do the same thing. We copy competitors because we assume their methods must be right for us as well. Not true.

For example, when we first started sending newsletters to our customers, I copied the way a large competitor was doing theirs by putting on a tie and placing my photo on the front page. After the first edition, a friend suggested that I get rid of the tie and just be honest about who we were. He suggested that we replace the photo with a casual shot of me and my dog. He explained that when he had added pets to the web sites of his clients, traffic increased considerably. Then, he asked if I had a cat. "No, but I could rent one!" He dismissed the idea and convinced me to be honest and stick with the dog.

I began to include articles about mistakes that I have made as a husband over the years, which insured a wealth of material. The more I revealed about myself, the better the feedback from our customers. It was a risk worth taking.

Instead of blindly conforming to the way other companies do business, take pleasure in being as different and unique as you can possibly be. Be yourself!

Define Your Goals

Steven Covey conducted a survey of over 23,000 employees across a wide range of companies and industries which revealed the price of not communicating the vision and goals to our company's employees:

  • Only 17% said they have a clear understanding of what their organization is trying to achieve and why
  • Only 20% were enthusiastic about their team's and organization's goals
  • Only 20% said they had a "clear line of sight"  between their jobs and their team's and organization's goals
  • Only 15% felt that their organization fully enables them to execute key goals
  • Only 20% fully trusted the organization they work for*
If your company were a five-year-old soccer team, the lack of communication of the company's vision and goals would look like this:
  • Only 2 of the 11 players on the field would know which goal is theirs and how to score a goal
  • Only 2 of 11 would care
  • Only 2 of 11 would know what position they play and what they were suppose to do
  • Only 2 would feel they had the coach's ok to kick the ball
  • And all but 2 would be keeping the ball from their own team members rather than the opponent
 *Courtesy Rick Wallace (Next Level Coaching)

When our organization is without clearly defined goals, we just do busy work all day. However, when we know where we are headed and we effectively communicate that to our staff, we become more effective and are able to move our company forward as a team.