The FT Word
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Welcome to the December 2001 edition of the FT Works Newsletter, a monthly review of trends in the support management arena. In this month’s issue:
· coaching strategies
· a reminder that there are only a few days left to take advantage of special pricing on The 10 Commandments of Support Pricing booklet; and announcing the release of its companion booklet Cutting Support Costs. Details at the end of this message.
As a manager we are often called upon to offer coaching, either as a developmental tool or as a reaction to a less than wonderful behavior. What can we do to ensure that the coaching “works”, that is, that the individual being coached applies the coaching, and applies it successfully and consistently? Here are a handful of suggestions for a positive coaching experience on both sides.
1. Coach privately
Especially if the coaching addresses a specific issue, do it behind closed doors. If an issue needs to be handled on the spot, perhaps during a customer conference call, take over the situation using a neutral statement and handle the actual coaching later.
2. Coach soon after the fact
While you don’t want to coach right on the spot if you can’t have a private conversation, and you certainly don’t want to coach until your emotions are under control, it’s important to provide the coaching soon after the event that motivated the coaching. That way, both parties will remember the events better and there won’t be any feeling of “If you only had told me about this sooner!”. Target to give negative feedback within 24 hours of the event that motivates it.
3. Coach on behaviors
It’s hopeless and very frustrating to try to change other people, but you can model and require specific behaviors. So don’t exhort your staff with vague directions such as “act professionally” or “project energy”. Be very specific. Suggest that “Good morning” is a good professional greeting while “Yo, dude” is not. Model how to define deliverables at the end of each interaction to reassure the customer that appropriate actions will be taken.
Much coaching fails because it is not specific enough and it assumes that value-laden concepts such as “professional behavior” are clearly understood by all parties, which they are not.
4. Coach on one thing at a time
While you’re at it, you might as well address your employee’s chronic lateness, the poor handling of the last customer escalation, and also tips for communicating effectively with executives, right? Wrong! It’s best to focus on one issue at a time, and also to separate out negative feedback (you showed up late) from developmental coaching (here’s how to get across to the execs).
If you feel there are many issues, tackle the most important one first and work your way down the list once you see tangible progress. And I would reserve my developmental coaching efforts for staff members who have no major performance issues to begin with.
5. Coach repeatedly
While some coaching has immediate results, most of the time you will find that you need to reinforce the new behaviors several times before they become solid, especially for developmental coaching. Some of my fondest coaching memories and successes were years in the making… Of course, you may be more effective than I am!
If you are coaching for a negative behavior, you will want to move beyond coaching to a more direct performance management mechanism if the behavior resists repeated coaching attempts.
6. Coach their way, not your way
This is the hardest part of coaching: adapting to the other person’s way of doing things. Without going into a full-blown discussion of personality types, the best way to get one’s point across is to take the trouble to understand what makes others tick and how they like to approach new information.
When coaching someone who is very direct and forceful, you can be direct and forceful too (actually an indirect approach may be upsetting to them). You will probably find yourself counseling them to slow down, quiet down, and pay more attention to others’ feelings and unexpressed opinions. Be sure to provide direct feedback on improvement.
When coaching someone who is charismatic and outgoing, your challenge may be to get a word in edgewise… Listen to them (you have no choice anyway!) and engage them in the problem resolution process. To avoid misunderstandings down the line, be very specific when defining goals for improvements. Encourage them to pay attention to details
When coaching someone whose main value is precision and correctness, arm yourself with patience and be as specific as you can in your feedback. Do not rush them. It often works to let them think things over before coming to a final decision so they have time to accept the information. Encourage them to be accepting of gray areas.
When coaching someone who is focused on relationships, tread lightly so that any negative feedback is not interpreted as a personal slight. Provide plenty of encouragement and encourage them to embrace change and to be more assertive.
7. Make time for developmental coaching
You can hire talent, but it’s fun and effective to develop it, so set time aside for coaching before the escalation monster eats your entire day. It’s perfectly appropriate to set aside a portion of your staff meeting for group mentoring sessions if the entire team is ready for it, or to target 1-1 meetings for individual coaching.
Practice makes perfect: if you coach often you will get better. How about a New Year’s resolution for providing coaching?
Special Introductory Pricing on “Cutting Support Costs”
Until 1/31/02 you can get a special price of $25 (including shipping and handling) on the latest FT Works booklet entitled “Cutting Support Costs”. The booklet covers strategies for minimizing costs without hurting customer satisfaction and for the long term. Details and order information here (the special pricing is available to newsletter subscribers only).
Last Days for Special Pricing on “The 10 Commandments of Support Pricing”
You have 10 days left to take advantage of the special price of $25 (including shipping and handling) on “The 10 Commandments of Support Pricing” booklet, which covers strategies for maximizing support revenues and profits from designing the support packages to selling them and managing renewals. To order, go here (the special pricing is available to newsletter subscribers only).
FT Works in the News
SupportWeek published an article I wrote entitled The Support Manager Test, a quick assessment for prospective support managers of whether they have what it takes to be a good support manager. This piece could be a good complement to a coaching session for a team member whose goal is to get into management: http://www.supportgate.com/supportweek/20011211/article2.html
Curious about something? Send me your suggestions for topics and your name will appear in future newsletters. I’m thinking of doing a compilation of “tips and tricks about support metrics” in the coming months so if you have favorites, horror stories, or questions about metrics, please don’t be shy.
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